It’s a cloudy night. It’s been a stressful day, you’re out for a brisk walk. Your earphones are plugged in. Not that you’re really listening to the music - your thoughts are elsewhere.
You’re neither in the welcome precincts of the neighbourhood you grew up in, nor the familiar premises of your hostel’s dorm building. You’re miles away, in a different, unknown city, for an interview that’s just days away. You need to bag an internship.
Your thoughts meander - a break from hours of concentration. They loom around your stresses, your work, your commitments, and then drift away. Then you think, with some awe, some amused envy, about how easy this must be for people like Harsh.
Harsh is your classmate and friend of six months. Athletic, toned, masculine, and nothing short of an Adonis. Undeniably bright, but also suave, debonair, and charming. On the podium at every sports event, on the stage at every competition, the guy everyone swoons over.
Cynically, you wonder if he’s even had to prepare. He could breeze through his interview with one night of prep. Ah well, you think, things are different for those who aren’t inherently gifted. C’est la vie, each one lives with his own limitations.
Your thoughts are suddenly interrupted when you bump into someone. It’s a girl - she looks like a high-schooler. It’s Khushi.
Khushi’s returning from her coaching classes. A day of drudgery at school, followed by an evening of pure tedium at her coaching. And of course, the internal struggle with the voices in her head.
Her father got transferred to this place not very long ago. To her, it came as a devastating blow. It meant that she’d have to leave all her old friends behind. With emotionally unavailable parents and the lemons life kept throwing at her, where should she find succour? And then there was Juhi, her best friend.
It was a tumultuous change. New people. A new place. Yet, she resisted, desperately trying to hold on to old connections. But they seemed to be drifting away. She hadn’t heard from Juhi in weeks. Maybe she’d just forgotten about her. She felt something in her stomach sink.
But it wasn't the case. Juhi wasn’t the fair-weather friend. No, she hadn’t forgotten. She was always there for Khushi to fall back upon. But when you’re shouldering someone, you need to swallow your own weaknesses to exude strength and hope. You cannot afford to shake.
It was an emotionally taxing responsibility she didn’t know how to face. Fighting her own confusion and self-doubt while sharing her strength with someone else who needed it too. How could she sustain it all?
But does Khushi know? No.
The teacher at her coaching classes was a hard-to-please, middle-aged man with rimmed spectacles and a stentorian growl that shook order into the most reckless brats. There he was, doling out even more homework. Khushi scowled.
A sour mood seemed to perpetually linger around his wrinkled, pallid face.
Yet he had his burdens. Debt.
A career that left him more dissatisfied with each passing day. Having to work multiple jobs.
Society patted him on the back when he married off his daughter at 23, but its superficial praise did nothing to assuage his fresh wounds of loss. Life seemed unrewarding, but it had to go on.
But does Khushi know? No.
To her, Juhi is the ‘bad friend’.
The person she staked all her emotions on, whose unavailability seemed almost like a betrayal.
Her teacher is a menacing disciplinarian, incapable of feeling. Someone who takes sadistic pleasure in giving ridiculous amounts of work to complete in an equally ridiculous amount of time.
She does not know.
You bump into her tonight, she mutters a ‘sorry’ to you. You give her a slight smile and a nod. Then you continue along your separate paths.
You do not know. You do not even know her name, let alone be her acquaintance or her connections. You haven’t ever seen her before and will quite likely never see her again.
To you, she is a mere nobody. A fleeting memory that’s bound to fade away.
You do not know her hopes, her losses; her aspirations, her frustrations; her confusion, her purpose.
And she does not know yours.
Yours go unheard. Hers go untold.
Your train of thought resumes its interrupted journey. You muse about how easy Harsh’s life must be. He wouldn't know a day of hardship.
Little do you know.
Every night, he wrestles with his past. He’s been through a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. The causticity of those memories eats away at him, slowly.
Men don’t cry.
Haw! He could be hit by a girl!
He cannot vent. He cannot cry. He cannot heal, because you only need to heal when you’re hurt.
And men can’t be hurt. A man who feels pain isn’t a man at all.
He bottles it all up within himself.
His German Shepherd, Lily, died a few weeks back at the ripe, old age of fifteen.
His canine friend was his only solace.
Fate is cruel, but its cruelty is tangible only to its victim.
In solitude, he clenches his jaws and tries to control himself, but he can’t. The tears trickle down and fall away.
But the moment he hears a noise from behind - chin up. Be a man. Men don’t cry.
Act the man. Be the Mr Perfect. Look shatterproof.
Lock your vulnerabilities away.
You do not know.
He goes unheard.
Your stresses, your worries, your loss?
He does not know.
Every person you meet, every person you see, is a complex network of feelings, situations, actions, and reactions.
The hundreds who pass by you when you walk on the sidewalk. The people you saw for all of a moment, and never again, when you were travelling. The people in your queue in the refreshment stalls.
They all have their own stories.
They have their hopes, their losses, their aspirations, their frustrations.
They have their reasons.
They have their own demons to fight with in their own battles, as you have yours.
They have their own grief, their own succour.
You may never hear their stories. You may never hear my story. I may never hear yours.
We all go untold, unheard, and unnoticed.
But maybe, just maybe, if we choose to acknowledge the battle every person is fighting, though we cannot see them fight,
If we choose to listen rather than judge,
If we choose to smile rather than frown,
If we choose the benefit of doubt over blame,
If we choose to recognise one another’s trials rather than discount them,
Above all, if we choose love over hate…
Maybe, just maybe, the world will rise to a brighter day.
Choose kindness, choose empathy.
(This article was inspired by Navya Jain's piece titled Grief - The Treacherous Tsunami. Check out the Wokelee section in the 33rd issue of our weeklee newspaper to read it.)