I like collecting pretty things: jewellery, sarees, books, stationery, anything that catches my attention.
During our separation, my ex-husband used it to chide me—I was replacing people with things.
His statement has stayed with me not because I think it is true, but it reminds me of the loneliness that I had to wade through, to come across.
Most people stick around through difficult relationships because they are afraid to be lonely.
I left home at 17. But till my divorce, I truly had never had to face myself. I was always surrounded by a group of friends, relatives and colleagues.
Most of us are, aren’t we?
You have siblings and parents at home. Holidays are filled with cousins. We are never trained to deal with being alone. School life has tons of friends and college is a fun roller coaster ride surrounded by people. Hostel life comes with roomies and, really, when does one ever get the opportunity to be alone.
It was during my first job in Mumbai that I had to stay by myself. I remember calling my boss, shrieking and yelling that a giant lizard had come home. I thought my life was over having to handle that situation on my own. The poor man had to send his help across to Yarri Road to deal with that nightmare. He didn’t have to, he did anyway!
I hated eating alone. I would rather skip a meal, then sit comfortably with myself in a restaurant, alone. Even if friends were ten minutes late, you could see me fidget uncomfortably worrying if was being noticed as the loner.
From that situation, to having to get out of my marriage and break ties with all my circle at 28, was a such a painful and daunting task. The fact that I would not have any one to pick the phone and call, just to relay a silly encounter, share the news of an accident, talk about something my kid did, just ramble. From having a schedule worked around tons of people, to living a life around just your needs. Boy, the thought was scary.
I remember, a lady had set up some hand made jewellery to sell in the cafeteria at work. I wanted to explore, but, in my head, it was awkward. How does one go by themselves? (I know, seven years later, it sounds hilarious.)
But at that point, I made a hundred excuses to not go. And the moment I reached there, I regretted it. Next to me, were three people — a couple and their friend— a horrible reminder of how alone I was. I put on the usual act and continued looking through, but I guess, it shown through. This colleague stopped doing what he was and looked at me, “No, take this one. It looks better on you.” It may have been one of a very few instances in the four years that we spoke to each other, but his random act of kindness has stayed with me through the years. I am not sure what compelled him to, but it was in that fleeting moment when a stranger reached out and touched my heart, that I realised that being alone is not as bad as I imagined it to be.
But from that point, there were only possibilities.
I had just moved to Pune and once again, I was feeling overwhelmed with the loneliness engulfing me. I walked out of the house one late evening and started walking in a random direction. Suddenly two women drove up, parked the car and sat down at the pavement, deep in conversation. I am not sure what compelled them, but they smiled at me and included me in that conversation as though they had known me forever. I left that conversation with a Christmas party invite in a strange city, among strangers. And just like that, they had reached out and left me ready to face another chapter of my life.
From then, I have gone to movies alone, visited some art galleries, explored markets, some theatre, sat myself in a cafe and read an entire book. It still doesn’t come easily. It took me a lot of courage and some inspiration from the lives of some brilliant people around me to coax myself to enjoy my company. To look beyond the number of people who surround me, but the quality of the friendships I have and the kind of time we share together. But it didn’t have to come from random strangers. Neither I, nor any one else, should have to fear being alone. There should never have been a sense of failure attached to being a loner. I wish instead of of the hundred subjects we were taught in school, we were also trained early on to understand ourselves better.
We train our kids to make friends, we seldom teach them self love.
We talk about working in a team, we hardly train them to self-direct.
We tell them to stay away from strangers, what about the conversations around inclusivity?
We teach them about purpose-driven lives, we rarely talk about pointless explorations.
We give them destinations, hardly help them with the journey.
I wish we were trained to introspect, and appreciate who we were as people; Given opportunities to explore and accept ourselves.
Even now, I often worry about my son not having many friends.
Instead I should be appreciating him for being the confident, self aware person he is turning into.