The three kinds of talk

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The other day, while trying to explain my introversion to a friend, I realised that there are three kinds of talk:
  1. Social talk
  2. Routine talk
  3. Real talk

Social talk is the endless jibber jabber most of us engage in everyday. It is the conversation that flows at parties and large dinners. It is a life-saver when you meet someone new and if you are no good at it, well, you'll end up hemming and hawing your way through awkward 10-second encounters, the way I usually do.

Not all social talk is shallow, though I wish that were true. It is the art of presenting one's knowledge in topics of mass interest - such as films, television, fashion, music and food - in the most entertaining way possible. I have found that sadly, literature is rarely a topic of mass interest. Nor is analysis about why we think the way we do and the mysteries of the universe. Little wonder that social talk is far from my area of expertise.

But if you can master this art to the extent that it comes naturally to you, (most often this process takes place as we grow up but some of us manage to get through it without much socialising and pay for the omission later) then you are guaranteed help from folks whenever you need it, and usually, success at a faster pace than the the ones who aren't adept at it.

Routine talk is what we practise with family and the people we live with. How was your day? What shall we have for dinner? When will you reach home? Is your cold better? You get the drill. Far from being boring, routine talk is a great source of comfort for most of us. When it comes to people we love, the mere exchange of words is a pleasure - even if those words are nothing monumental.

Now in the digital age, a strange phenomenon is taking place. Routine talk is being exchanged with complete strangers thanks to chat and messaging services. But as long as it serves the same purpose - that of reassuring you, making you feel that the mundane details of your life matter and you are not all alone, I think it's absolutely fine.

But real talk is where the magic of communication resides. These are the long, heart-to-heart conversations one recalls even years down the line. Real talk heals, inspires and rejuvenates. And it is with only a select few that we can indulge in them. I would put any conversation with some 'substance' in the realm of real talk. And I believe this is indispensable for one's happiness. One can survive without social and routine talk but real talk? That's non-negotiable. And cultivating relationships with people with whom we can enjoy this privilege, is an effort one has to be willing to make (note to self).

One observation that came up in my conversation with the aforementioned friend is that a lot of talk does not make one an extrovert. If most of your talk consists of social prattle, then you may be as closed up as an introvert who barely speaks. True extroverts are those who feel comfortable sharing intimate details of their life with all their friends. Then again, may be the definition of 'extrovert' is broader than that.

In conclusion, the things we say are a disorderly combination of the consequential and the inconsequential. Too much of the former and you're broody. Too much of the latter and you're shallow. Just the right balance of both - and you're the friend who's always in demand. Me? I'm happy with my pointless theorizing. :P

10 - The girl who died next door

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Death. It comes in myriad ways but the one distinction between all these ways is the pace and it’s corollary - suffering. The nature of death is defined by whether it is gradual or sudden; whether it comes in bursts of suffering or one swift stroke. Death from burning – long and torturous; but death from a fatal bullet wound – instant and merciful. If I ever had to murder someone, I’d go the merciful way. To spare myself the torture of watching of course. Why should another person’s pain bother me if I can’t feel it? Compassion, most of the times, is feigned. Feigned until people are convinced they truly feel another’s feelings – an absolutely illogical and fanciful notion. Compassion traverses the blind area between imagination and reality.

Of course, all this conjecture about death applies only to the living. Suvarna’s death on Shayan’s canvas was another matter altogether.

I spent my days on tenterhooks ever since the day I’d seen Shayan in pieces over (dead) Suvarna’s aging. I kept waiting for the day when it would all be over and I was never certain if it was happiness I felt – or fear. Perhaps I’d always had an inkling that it wouldn’t be pretty when Suvarna’s spectre followed the footsteps of her physical self. I was driven crazier by the fact that I could confide in no one. I took to recording my exchanges with Shayan on a private blog I called ‘The girl who wouldn’t stay dead’. On days when I’d had too much wine, the title would crack me up and I’d giggle every now and then, while I typed macabre words.

Monsoon had made way for the suffocating warmth that was the city’s sorry excuse for autumn. I’d have to add that to my bucket list – experience autumn in its faded mahogany emptiness. While I was musing aimlessly thus, I heard a deafening crash from the house next door. It sounded like a cupboard, or something of that size and heaviness had toppled over. And then there was silence. Unadulterated silence. No screams of pain, no shouts for help. No excuses to offer for my immediate panic and compulsion to check on Shayan.

His apartment was filled with smoke and the acrid smell of it. The man had turned into a monstrous smoker. The haze made it difficult to see and for a few moments, I blundered forward blindly; my eyes watering. Then I saw him. Slumped on the floor, sobbing, while his beloved easel lay on the floor, the palettes of colour leaking into the tiled flooring.  I allowed myself to dwell over the strangely beautiful sight of different colours forging their individual paths and tributaries on that pale white expanse. Then I pulled myself back to the pitiful figure in front of me. What aspect of that was capable of charming a woman? Nothing at all. And yet there I was, a repulsive mass of unbidden concern. “You stink.” He looked up, tear-stained face and all. “It’s over,” he whispered, so low that I had to read his cracked lips. “Finally.” He didn’t seem to have heard me. “I have no reason to live any more. All I want is to die.” And he collapsed into wracking sobs on the last word. This was insane. With a sudden burst of righteous anger, I grabbed Shayan’s largest painting brush off the floor and tore through his last painting with its pointed end. Shayan may have screamed but I did not hear him. The torn canvas gave me the rush I imagined murderers felt when they severed veins. I drove the brush through every painting I could lay my eyes on. I hacked through her doe eyes, her luscious lips and her lustrous hair. I drove It through her very soul and I found mine rejoicing.

And then I felt, rather than heard him rise off the floor. With a flash of warning from my primitive sense of self-preservation, I spun around and caught his arm before he could bang my head with the heavy painting he held in his hands. “What have you done, you bitch?” he raged. “How could you kill her like that?” “I didn’t kill her!” I shouted back. “She was already dead! A simple fact you could never fathom!” and then I was rushing out of his apartment, away from him; away from his sapping insanity.

I moved out of my apartment that very night. Since several months, it had brought me no peace. And now I was in desperate need of some.

You might ask why I’d been so obsessed with Shayan that entire while. Why had I allowed his madness to impact my perfectly normal life? Why hadn’t I just let him die in that apartment, which I had anyway eventually done? I don’t have an answer to that question. Any more than I have an answer to why Suvarna insisted on extending her sorry life on paper. All I can say is – there are some impulses none of us are powerful enough to ignore; whatever may be the consequences. Or perhaps – because of the possible consequences. For every dark turn that my relationship with Shayan took, there has been an alternative turn glimmering in the corridors of hope. My subliminal hope.


Memoirs of innocent artifice

Pic: Ankita Shreeram

From a dusty drawer, the ghost of a scared child peeps
From another, a stoic teenager
The child has scrawled a Wordsworth quote
Sitting pretty on feigned adulthood's moat

Heartfelt essays now bear the dust of lies
Of a pretence in half-hearted disguise
Memoirs of innocent artifice

In a blue jewelled box, a seashell lurks
A piece of joy, locked away for posterity
Un-caged, the memory flies
Loosening its grip on a heart that sighs
For all its inhabitants, condemned to be temporary

Time has left arrogant stains on the creatures of my past
Kept alive like bloodless vampires
Staring at me dolefully
Why have I not spared a single thought for them in all these years?
Never held them to my bosom
Or fed them with my lusty tears?

Erasers, mechanical pencils, dog-eared notebooks and glittering cards
A child's possessions
But childhood is no more than a fleeting memory
Devoid of sensation, of smell, of touch or sound
Childhood would be a fancy bed-time story
If not for these accusing diaries - hard-bound

I save some from the ogling bin
But none of them matters to me
Not really
Nothing feels real except the chiming of the clock
And sometimes, not even that

Some relics I wrestle with, like this delegate card
My hand hovers, and is pulled back by my pleading, bleeding heart
Like a husband held back by an emotional wife
The husband succumbs, the card returns
To the Pandora's box that is my nostalgia.