MY writing desk faces a window today. I have chosen this space deliberately to turn my back to immediate distractions. It is early winter in Delhi; I can see the dusty tops of trees and a faded blue horizon beyond them. I am grateful for the season, the view and this pocket of quiet that is necessary for words to emerge.
This window before me is reminding me of other windows that have served as witnesses at different turns in my life. As the memories emerge, a mosaic of windows in different rooms is rearranging itself in a pattern before me. Four windows, five decades, one essay.
The first window was on my left side in the room in City Hospital, Ranchi, where I was admitted after an eye procedure. I was five years old and my mother had to leave me alone there because she had two other children at home who needed her. My father was at work and would arrive later in the evening. I knew the web of corridors that Mummy would walk on to leave the hospital from the main gate and the turn in the road that would bring her back just outside the boundary wall that I could see from my window. I heard her cough when she crossed near my window. It was my mother! So close to me even when she had left me alone. She would never abandon me. I was safe.
I never got to look out of the second window. My room in Holy Family Hospital in Delhi was on the second floor. I had been brought to my bed from an operation theatre on a stretcher and left the room in a wheelchair after 21 days. I had no orientation of where I was. But I saw a patch of sky when I looked out of the window from my pillow. I was 12 years old. I was never left alone in that room. My parents and aunts passed the baton to each other, always making sure one of them was there. Relatives and friends visited every day, reaffirming what it means to offer solidarity. I learnt a lot about resilience as I looked out from that window. I realised the vulnerability of adults. The strength of children. I came back to life in that room.
The third window was in my parents’ bedroom where I was lodged after four surgeries in hospital to recuperate for the next few months. I lay there alone most of the time, when my brothers were away in school. I would hear my mother working in the home and kitchen. Overhear conversations of visitors. Endure unbearable phantom pain in my paralysed right hand. I would spend time reading and learning the chemical composition of medicines that I hated swallowing. I threw my nerve medicines out of the window to escape from the wrath of my parents discovering that I was not eating my medicines on schedule. I didn’t realise that they would fall where my father parked his scooter in the evening. Childhood is an interesting intersection between innocence and the loss of it.
The fourth window was in a room in a decrepit Circuit House in a Himalayan town called Tyuni that was so far away from home that I could not imagine the route back from there when I tried to trace it in my mind. I was nearly 20 years old now. I had travelled away from home for the first time, and despite safeguards, a sequence of events had brought me here with a man from Delhi who had become abusive towards me. I was alone and trapped with him. Besides feeling humiliated and scared, I also became sick. At that time, I thought it was heatstroke, but looking back, I realise that it was toxic stress that made my body collapse. I lay on a bed next to the window all day when he went away for his work. A boy from a dhaba nearby would bring me a cup of dahi; it was the only sustenance I had access to. He wrapped some food in a newspaper for me. I couldn’t eat anything for days. I lost weight. I had no energy.
That scrap of newspaper, it saved my life. It was a page from the Sunday supplement of an English newspaper. Just like the page you might be holding in your hand if you are reading this in the newspaper version. When I straightened the creases in the paper, I found a review essay of Pablo Neruda’s autobiography printed in it. I read it again and again till it was time to get on a bus and return to a safer place where I would begin to recover — both physically and emotionally.
Rescued by poetry, as they say. This may be the reason I am a columnist now. You never know who is lying sick somewhere, looking out of the window, biding their time, waiting to save themselves. Words have wings, they reach unexpected places.
— The writer is a filmmaker & author
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