The more I drink of Time, the more I feel thirsty.
Last year, on 9 June, I was wandering in a village in Spain. I was alone, yet I was with others. I was 40 that day, yet I felt I hadn’t been born at all. Last year, I walked and walked on that day. Miles and miles on the Camino trail.
This year, on 9 June, I was back home in Bangalore. I was at home yet alone. I was 41 yesterday, yet I felt I hadn’t been born at all. This year, there were no miles to walk. No countries to travel to. A walk, these days, is a luxury, you realize.
I stepped out for that luxury because my feet have been craving fresh air, the rustle of leaves, and the delight of catching a flower in full flight. It’s a luxury we have denied ourselves for three months now. So, this walk was my birthday treat to me. “How things have changed!” I thought as I stepped out, talking to my friend in Dublin on the phone.
Life heard me and unfurled a paper scroll of memories. I watched as I realized how wrong that thinking was.
2019: I stayed in a town with beautiful murals like this:
2020: As I step out of my house, I come across a house I had seen earlier, but hadn’t really seen. You know what I mean. I stop my walk, gazing at its rainbow walls and, yes, the murals. Creepers paint the walls. I had thought this was a kindergarten because it’s unusual for houses here to have murals like these. But I was wrong.
2019: I smiled at a cat glaring at me in the middle of rolling hills.
2020: A cat casually strolls across the road. Brown tabby fur resting for a while in my eyes before it clambers up over a wall and disappears. Hi, my Spanish cat.
2019: I reached a cafe where I saw a man on a broom and oddly, Tibetan flags. How unusual, I thought. Finding the Buddha here, of all places, on a Christian trail.
2020: As I continue my walk, I am ranting with my friend. About life. People. Stuff. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a flickering light. I go closer. It’s a tree. Someone has hollowed out a little space inside. A lamp has been lit for the evening. Sanskrit slokas are hung on a board on one of the trees. I stare at the words. They don’t make sense to me. But the moment does. Finding light here. Of all places. In the middle of a pandemic.
2019: In the evening, I met people of all shades and colors in that village. I shared my dorm with 100 others. I was on a search for faith, and I thought I had walked 400km already in dispelling that inherent cynicism from me.
2020: I laugh when I see this mannequin. Only in India. I laugh at the sheer absurdity of life.
And then, a woman taps me on the shoulder. “Do you have money?” she whispers. I don’t know whether to move back to the “1 meter” safe distance or stand there. I half shuffle back.
“I need to buy medicines,” she says.
“I don’t have any money.” It’s the truth. I wasn’t carrying my wallet with me. But I had my phone, and that’s enough to pay in India. But who is to believe her?
She nods. “I lost my Rs 100,” she says, walking ahead. I shrug. We are used to this, aren’t we? Scam, we think. A little later, though, I see the same woman come back with a young man. They walk into the pharmacy. My heart sinks. Is this the price of cynicism?
I wait outside to see what happens. The woman emerges from the pharmacy, and then a bike screeches to a halt in front of me. A friend. He grins, wishing me. I turn to him, distracted. In that flash, the woman is gone. So is the man with her. I will never know if she was real in her need. I don’t know if the other guy was less of a cynic than me. I try to find her, but it’s like she never existed. The streets of Bangalore flow in glorious chaos. People jostle past me. I stumble over bikes parked on the pavement. I curse.
And then, I realize – I am walking. This is me. On a walk.
I was walking last year. I am walking this year. And this path doesn’t change despite all the changes.
I thought this year is a shuttered hell of nothingness. In all the madness of this year, I had forgotten about all that remains the same. But see:
I have friends who love me still the same.
Those who weren’t in my life last year aren’t there this year too. Their loss, eh? 😉
But there are more who JOINED my life. How beautiful is that!
I have a family who is just as mad and annoying and lovable as families are.
I have gained weight and lost it just the same.
I have bargained, manipulated, schemed, cajoled, and coerced Life into being the same tattered self it has been to me. Just the same. But so different. Life is wearing fancy new clothes every day for me. I smile at her deplorable fashion sense.
I am idiotic, wise, annoying, depressed, melancholic, cheerful, funny just the same.
2019. 2020. Two different years. Two different times. Same me. Different me. Same life. Different life. What’s a year?