It’s 5 AM. Somewhere in the climax of your dream you had an anxiety attack. So you wake up – exhausted from sleep apnea, acidity piled up on the tip of your throat, bladder bursting out. You look at the man sleeping beside you, unaware of your night terror. Like a zombie you walk to the bathroom. You empty your bladder and try to have a dump. But no pressure yet. You had a fast yesterday to worship the Monday God. You ate fruits, yogurt and drank 8 cups of tea. Your stomach growled the whole day, but your mother told you it’s all worth it. The God will fix astrological errors in your birth chart.
You get water. Drink nearly half of the bottle – twist your waist on both sides for ten times like Baba Ramdev shows on YouTube to treat constipation – get your cigarette and mobile –head to the pot again. You take a long, deep drag of the smoke. It enters your system like acidic nicotine. You check Facebook. People shared some more memes on the Prime Minister. Some more new baby pictures. Some more vain armchair activism on beef ban. Some more funny dog videos. This is why I don’t like Facebook. It’s depressing, you think and check Instagram. Your newsfeed is full of #digitalnomad, #traveljunkie, #writersofig photos. What show off. As if it’s so easy to quit your day job and live off your savings to travel the world. Of course you too would like to quit being a content writer and do some real writing while sitting somewhere in Tuscany. You too would like to take covetable pictures of being all fancy about life, freedom and magic in the air. But you and your man have to worry about paying the bills.
You get paid well for the job. But your manager is not going to release you from that dead end glassware company project unless (they are your company’s second biggest client after all) you get promoted to be the senior content writer. Today he is going to announce the promotion. Today is also the last date of submission in that acclaimed literary journal. Once again you couldn’t find time to find a story that is worthy enough of being told.
Shit. It’s 5:45 already. You are still constipated. But you need to hurry now. You have to catch the 7:35 AM train to work.
Even if you have to have a day job, you would have loved being a bus driver, you think. You could meet interesting people every day; you would get more breaks to write about the things that catch your fancy, you would get more air in your lungs. When you think of this, you think of Paterson. But in the movie Paterson was a poet and you have your heart set on fiction. In between writing about the lame awesomeness of microwaveable bowls, posting meaningless tweets about the new range of electric kettle for social media promotions, maintaining grocery lists, cooking dinners and visiting the in-laws during weekends to hear about their diabetes you find no time to develop a story in your head and sit down to write the first draft, redraft it till perfection, edit it and reedit it till it’s spotless. It requires too much discipline.
The shower washes away your grim and sweats from the night before. You think of the dream you had last night. You were in Murakami’s house. You knocked on his door; his wife appeared and refused to let you in. You took rounds of his house and finally found a window open. You saw him writing and sipping whiskey. You knocked on the windowpane when a gang of crocodile-faced lizards attacked you from behind. You jumped on the roof of his house and tried to shoo them away but they kept crawling towards you. You ran and ran and ran, and reached Mexico. You were running in the dessert thinking of Murakami and a nameless river when you woke up in sweat. Scrubbing Dove liquid soap on your body and thinking of Murakami could point to a sexual fantasy. But you don’t mind that, do you?
You are spending too much time thinking nonsense. You can’t be late at work today.
Why do you dream of Murakami so often? Needless to say, he is a fad in this country, but you have a special fondness for him and you really do get his stories. Although you don’t get Kafka and Rushdie. Their way of magic realism goes way over your head. Could it be because Murakami is more fluid? Because you think your pneuma is made of both Naoko and Midori? Because no matter how flawed, the raw emotions in his stories stay with you for a long time?
You pack rajma curry and roti in your man’s lunch box. Make a cucumber sandwich for yourself. Eat half now for breakfast and pack the other half in your lunch box. You are trying to eat healthy these days. Your choice of food affects your anxiety disorder – Google says. You think of seeing a real doctor sometimes, but they will put you on nerve calming meds. So you smoke marijuana in the evenings instead. Google says pots will only worsen your focus and night terrors. You think of quitting and trying meditation. But pots give you easy, instant peace. Your man have started going to Art of Living and tells you the kriya will help your anxiety. Someday, you tell yourself. Who has time to sit and focus on breathing, right?
You get dressed in a pair of washed blue jeans and a white kurti. You haven’t had a hair spa in months and your hair is all frizzy. You tie it in a top bun. There are dark circles around your eyes. Your skin is all dry. But you don’t feel like hiding yourself under makeup. The corporate is sucking the writer inside you; you can’t care less about dress for the job.
It’s May, but Calcutta doesn’t feel like a stewpot today. The roads are still wet from last night’s nor’westers.
You fight your way through the office-goers and get into Bidhan Nagar local train. You squeeze a spot to stand near the gate. The train crosses suburban ponds, houses with petticoats hanging in the balconies, kids playing cricket. You search for inspiration. The lady beside you is giving off a stench from her unwaxed underarms that remind you of talcum powder soaked rotten fish.
Your man is expecting an update on his H1B application. It’s the second year his company has filed his application. Last year his name didn’t come up in the lottery. Your mother took you to the astrologer and he said you have Vish dosha in your kundli and it’s affecting your man’s success. He asked you to keep fast on Mondays to please the God. You are following his instructions for last 8 months.
Your man asks you to be hopeful. But there are rumours the President is going to cut down more on the H1B quota. Indian IT employees battling for USA onsite is in a shambles these days.
If you could go to the USA things will change for better, you think. You might as well apply for a writers’ residency program there. But you heard they don’t entertain you unless you have a fancy MFA degree or own a respected award.
Your man’s USD salary will be enough to take care of the bills without your pay cheque. On a dependent visa you will have no other choice but to sit your ass down to write. You need that breathing space to ideate, you think.
You get down at Ultadanga and take an auto to your office in Sector 5. Its rush hour and everyone is heading towards the tech zone of the city. You share the backseat with a couple. They work in the same company, evident from their chat. They are keeping their affair a secret to keep away office gossip. On the way you see a big hoarding of Deepika Padukone. She is coming to the city next week to celebrate mental health awareness month. Of course she will be talking about why we need to pay thousands in therapy to treat depression, but she won’t shed a light on the difference between clinical and situational depression.
You think, like Murakami, depression has also become a fad in this country. Its impact is real, yet not many people understand it. Except that talking about half-baked social awareness is the new cool.
You still have some time before you need to be on your desk, so you stop by the tea stall near your office building. You know the owner because you come here every day for tea and smoke break. One elaichi chai, Ajit da, you say. You need to clear your head, but hell, you see Sneha coming to the stall as well. She shares your workstation and lined up along with you for today’s promotion. You share pleasantries with a constipated, professional smile. She buys lemonade. I don’t drink tea. All this caffeine does so much harm on your nerves, she often says. What a bitch!
Nervous for today?, she asks. You are in no mood to make small talk about your predicaments. A tad, you say. She gives you an ‘I have been there’ smile. You hate her nonchalance. She reminds you of your gynaecologist. You visited her last year when you were late by 4 months. Your home pregnancy test showed one red line every time. You checked thrice. The doctor doctor explained you the ultrasonography result and told you that it’s premature menopause. She had an expression that screamed no biggie. She wrote you a bunch of treatment options for pregnancy. You hated her for being so cavalier about your conked out ovaries.
Sneha is not married and you think a marriage will teach her the lesson for good, just like it did you. You want to be there when her wall of composure will fall down.
She says, I’m not going to accept the promotion even if I get one. I’m leaving next month.
Oh, just great! Please say you are getting married, you think, but ask, Really? Where to?
I got enrolled in the Creative Writing program in East Anglia. Leaving for UK next month.
You feel the acid taste from the night before has come back to your throat. You suppress a sour burp and congratulate her with a dry smile. You pay for your tea and walk towards the office.
How is it possible to live without anxiety when a content writer lives the life of a fictioneer manqué?, you think as you punch your entry card in the office lobby.
You sit on your desk. The office boy brings you another round of tea. He is your favourite person in this office. Your mobile vibrates. It’s a WhatsApp message from your sister. She is married with two kids and pompous like a frog in the well. She has forwarded you another crappy video on why you should consider donor eggs. You send a thumb up smiley in response. You know how the discussion with her on this is going to go. You explaining your dismissal of not begging for eggs to make a baby are Hebrew to her.
Your family doesn’t understand why you are shifting your focus on your making it as a fiction writer instead of spending lakhs on producing a child. They don’t understand how a woman in her mid 30s, with a 6 years old marriage, can think beyond crying over premature menopause.
Your manager calls you before lunch. You are sitting in the conference room facing him. You can’t feel your legs. You can never know if you deserve the promotion or merely a second choice. Sneha is going to be one of those with a fancy MFA degree and bag a writers’ residency someday and you will circle around the mediocrity of your life, marriage, failed ovaries and unfulfilled ambition, and work your ass off fulfilling your monthly sales copy targets. You think it’s your time to quit and save the remains of your dignity. But you have responsibilities to fulfil with the pay cheque. How could you?
Your stomach feels like a void. Your temple aches. Your mobile vibrates. You look at your manager, deadpan.
He promotes you. Tells you the revised salary. Explains you the added responsibilities. Releases you from the glassware brand. Gives you your own team of content writers. Puts you in charge of writing trade copies and devising content management plans for all new and existing clients. You no longer work on a monthly quota of content. You are given new targets.
You can’t decide whether to be happy and relieved, or hate yourself for not showing the courage to quit. You are climbing on the corporate ladder but your heart wants more air. You can never be worthy of meeting Murakami. You will end up dying in this backward city with a stillborn dream.
Your mobile vibrates again. It’s your man calling.
You need to tell him the news and get another cup of tea. You are feeling dizzy. You are probably going to have another anxiety attack. You need air. Is claustrophobia associated with anxiety disorder? How Murakami dealt with the anxiety of leaving his up and running jazz bar to write novels? Your mind is losing track of reality. Your man calling again.
You dodge him for some more time and take a sip of the tea. You light your fifth cigarette of the day.
You tell your man the news of your promotion. He notices you are not happy. How great it is to have someone who loves you, you think.
He gives you his news now. His H1B application has been approved. You might very well have to travel within next 6 months.
He tells you the project needs him to be there for at least 3 years. You can turn down the promotion and quit if you want to. Or you can keep working till you’d have to leave for USA. The choice is yours, he says.
You smell orange blossoms springing all around you. The land beneath your feet feels like opening up. But it’s not hell down there. It’s a heaven filled with cumulus clouds. You step on one of them. They are so puffy that you are afraid to fall off balance. But you are also determined to take your chance.
Somehow you know that’s how Murakami felt after that baseball match in 1978.