"Are you awake? If awake, are you tired or sleepy? If no, are you free? If yes, could you please talk to me for half an hour?"
Yes. I send these kinds of SMSes in the place of “Are you free now?”. That long-winded question, actually a nested questionnaire, which lays out excuses neatly in pyramidal pigeonholes of possibilities and levels of reluctance can only be the product of a heart that desperately seeks to soften the sting of "No." Not for me, the petitioner but for the petitioned. Not an attempt at lessening the effort of hearing "no." but of saying it. Self-addressing postage-paid envelopes so that my friends can despatch their rejection slips effortlessly. Discovering loopholes in my no-guilty plea and including them in my defence so that I get maximum-sentenced promptly. I love the fact that my friends relish building a monstrous snowman of refusal minus the inconvenient frostbites of scorned sulking, that they can run up debts of endless refusals with the confident abandon of them being written off by me, a moneylender offering infinite credit. Sometimes I believe that people love me best for saying “It’s OK. No problem.” Tirelessly. Just as I love people for saying no all the time. For saying no in every manner.
The brusque firmness of the busy “no”s that brush away your verbal grit off their ears with a quick shake.
The outstretched arms of the cheerful no that emphasize unavailability through a shrug and then hug you in consolation.
The fiercely awkward no of the self-conscious that portends studiously casual ignorance of your glances, waves and smiles for the next week.
The whispered no brimming with the futile regret of people who like me, have pronunciation problems with the word.
It's not out of weakness (a popular attribution) that I refuse to refuse but of memory. I remember the unquestioning concern of the nameless KVCLRI student who rescued me from ticket less ignominy in a PTC bus. His guilelessly warm smile was an infinitely greater gift than his three rupees that kept my change-deprived hassled self from being kicked off the bus home.
The senior who noiselessly switched her socks and shoes for my overlarge sneakers when I was left stranded shoeless and electric shock-vulnerable outside the MT-II E-Mech lab. I cherish her thoughtless spontaneity more than the deduction of a 15-minute detour in the quest of my shoes or the addition of 1.5 marks to my lab total.
The never-said-hi acquaintance who spent an uncomplaining hour applying eyeliner over uncooperative eyes quivering problematically with the silly thrills of dressing up for batch-snaps. Her final fatigued nod of satisfaction has lingered longer in my mind than the smoky eyed picture that I presented that day.
The kindnesses I’ve received, from strangers, the best of friends and everyone in between and beyond these brackets, may not be lifesavingly Samaritan, or breathtakingly generous and yet, it's not the magnitude of the deed but its sincerity that keeps mine breathing. A portable dilator that frees up oxygen passage for my acquiescence every time it asphyxiates in the toxic clouds of doubt.
Being grateful and expecting gratitude are two faces of a desolate planet, a planet across whose skies my comet tail will never wag. Gratitude, after all is a foul word.
To love without second thoughts but to be parted sans a fleeting goodbye and a backward glance. To throw real hard and then miss by a mile. To transplant seeds from plastic packets labelled politely with question marks to the slushy fertility of ready assent, and then get fenced out of the mangrove. To lend freely but square your shoulders and swallow knots of your longing while walking back empty-handed.
I hoard these, not as the heartbreaks nursed selfishly by the romantic, or the poverties prized by the self-denying, or as virtues paraded by the fakely self-righteous. I hoard these as simply, as mindlessly as a narcissist would the scars of her battle-wearied body and the flaws that profane her once-upon-a-time-perfect visage. I wouldn't ever swap them for a monotonic lifetime painted in the million perfectly white shades of yes.
March 5, 2o17. Houston. Tx.
3 months ago