Tag Archives: human circuitry

The Venus Flytrap: These Unspeakable Things

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In the two years I’ve been writing this column, I’ve tried to be honest. I’ve tried to share my life in ways that might be meaningful to strangers. I’ve written about things that might be controversial, if not in themselves then in their autobiographical quality – depression, death, violence, desire. While writers’ block might have resulted occasionally in pieces I can best defend by quoting Maugham – “Only a mediocre writer is always at his best” – never have I known exactly what I had to write about and yet felt so sickened, fearful or bereft at the thought.

How many ways can I tell you this story?

I can tell you the facts: two weeks ago, a close friend of mine was sedated, taken into custody on false claims, and detained in a mental ward where he was sexually abused and improperly diagnosed. I can tell you that this was orchestrated by collusion between his family (who had disowned him months earlier), the hospital, and the police. I can tell you, so that you don’t write to me with information that can’t be used, that this happened in another country, with a different set of laws.

I can tell you about the distance, about the bafflement and panic that ensues upon receiving an alarming text, from a number that cannot be reached afterward.

I can tell you again about human circuitry, the connectivity I always feel to my dearest ones, and how it came alive. I was the first person he texted with his last cents of phone credit – and the only one who came through. All the way from here, I tracked him down. The activist who advised him on his rights, the social worker whose care he is under now, the writer who helped him get down the unspeakable in a police report – every person came through me. (“You texted INDIA?” he was asked over and over, once he was released and seeking legal aid, and in his typically dramatic way, he said, “I was semi-sedated and even then I knew the best help I could find was half a world away, but the closest thing to home”.)

I can tell you about the complexity of emotions that come with being in a situation like this, struggling to protect someone very far away. The uncertainty over what to write – and whether to. The gratitude at the help that arrived. The dismay at how eager people are to turn a person into a poster boy. The outrage at Dr. Siras’s suicide, so closely timed to my friend’s own persecution, and for the same reasons why his family turned against him. The chills I still get thinking of how much hinged on me receiving that one text and taking it seriously. The disgust. The anger. The fear.

How many ways can I tell you this story? Trying to tell it at all cleaves me – do I conceal in poetry, rage in polemic, inform as a journalist, or tell it like I just have – a story about which I am only one part, one participant.

How many ways can I tell you this story? Is it enough to say: these unspeakable things are no story. This is reality. My friend has a witness to the world. There are others who have no such testimony.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

The Venus Flytrap: Human Circuitry

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At the same time that I was asleep and dreaming of a long drive along dirt roads looking for a temple, wondering why we could not just stop and worship at one of the many snake-hills we passed along the way, across the world, she was saying a prayer for me at the shrine of Marie Laveau, Voudou high priestess of New Orleans. A year later, someone else travels to Portugal, and does the same for me at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belem. Again, it is unasked for, unexpected, but welcome.

There are those who fill us at every moment that to think of them is only as natural as prayer. For some of my friends and I, what this usually means is to pray. But even those who don’t pray, invoke. Each time I find myself alone with a decanter I think of all those who should share it with me, and raise a toast. I have become a collector of objects that catch the eye only because they are weighted by their associations.

All nostalgics are masochists; we subject ourselves to the tyranny of memory and history and insist on the accompaniment of ghosts. Sometimes it is beautiful, as when across the breadth of the world, one connects and connects and lights up a web of human circuitry, each point of connection a live wire, always active.

As I was writing this column, a friend asked why I equated prayer with pervasive memory, because prayer is expectation. I realised that this is not how I pray, at least not most of the time. I ask, of course, but mostly what I do is receive. Not in the sense of getting what I hoped to, but in the sense of being constantly plugged in, engaged with the world, connecting. I am blessed with an incredibly rich life only because I am willing to receive it. My relationships are rewarding beyond measure. The only distances that matter are the ones we choose to place between ourselves.

I regularly experience synchronicity, and I think that this is because it is almost as though, from our respective locations, my dearest ones and I are tuned in to the same radio frequency. Someone will tell me she’s trying to find an image online to send me of what she wants to get tattooed: that same image will be on the tee shirt I wear at that very moment. I will send a text message and get a call back instantly – “You won’t believe it but it’s freezing and I am wearing a balaclava and six layers, but I suddenly had to speak to you, and just as I stood up to step out and call, there was your text.” But I do believe it. We could have gone months without contact. It doesn’t matter, it never does, because somewhere, on some profound level, we were connected.

And this is why, when I meet someone who refuses a connection, who reduces it to its most functional or profane terms, I am saddened. If we think again of prayer as a point of connection, as I do, then just as in my dream of snake-hills, some of us are looking for a place to pray, when everything around us is already a prayer in itself.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.