What Rockstar Taught Me About My Mental Health

It was the year 2011—our third year in Vizag, also the winter in which “Rockstar” released. The boys and I were getting slowly used to the Vizag way of life. Or at least that’s what I would tell myself as I wormed my way through the crowds, inhaling the deep dark fumes of this coastal city, trying to fit in with people who  seemed familiar and distant to me at the same time—tired women who on their way back from work would exchange tamboolams in parks; sparkly-eyed ladies with flowers in their hair who would manoeuvre the treadmill with great alacrity even as they gossiped about their neighbors and in-laws; bright-faced girls frolicking with the waves; Share autos that belted the latest hits; men who as soon as winters arrived would turn to Ayyappa; streets that bustled with the chatter of students and bus honks.

Tamboolam-A plate decorated with betel nuts, betel leaves, flowers exchanged between married women in Andhra Pradesh
Photo by Sonuj Giri on Unsplash

Vizag  was funny, sweet and charming. Except that it was not.

You see that was the year, I was fighting many personal battles. Even as I was trying to come to terms with one loss, there came another fresh deception—a deception, the aftermath of which left me ugly, broken and foolish.

 I began to hate men.

I began to hate ME  for being so vulnerable.

It was vicious, sticky and dark because I could not manage it.  And so I did what I did best. I began to write. Even as the boss hovered behind me, even as the bus lurched through crowded roads, even as  I would stuff my face with chaats and panipuris, I would write. There would be a hidden word document on my computer which I would pull up when no one was looking and hit away at the keyboard.

Poetry was my way of catharsis. Or so I would tell myself.

My catharsis was like weak sunshine amidst a Hudhud cyclone– a temporary lull that was dark, hopeful and furious at the same time.

I became attached to my catharsis because now it had sepia tones, frangipani petals and rain scent to it. And of course, I had fans. Fans who would tell me how beautifully/exquisitely/eloquently I wrote and played around with words. And how beautifully I channeled my inner “pain”.  And how it was music for their ears.

I enjoyed it all.

One lady reached out to me during this dark phase and told me how she could connect with my grief. It was another thing she broke off with me after I healed. Funny no?

On some nights, I would sit upon my bed, jolted by a particularly bad dream where I would see myself being involved in a big, ugly fight with someone I love. Afterwards, I would lie tossing and turning even as far away the Goods train trundled along the railway tracks, the refrigerator thrummed away and street lights cast around shadows along the silent lanes.

At this time, “Rockstar” happened.

Actor Ranbir Kapoor in the movie, “Rockstar”

My allergies were spiraling out of control. Twice I had to be admitted in an emergency. I would remain absent from work for days together because my head would feel woozy from all the antihistamines I was swallowing. The sugar levels were also shooting up.  Not only that, the darkness within me was expanding. I knew I was on the verge of serious burnout. Or a breakdown. 

The boys loved Ranbir Kapoor. Every evening when they returned from school, they would rush to the computer, open Youtube, lift their arms and shriek, “Sadda Haq” on top of their voices. And there I would sit amidst them, inhaling the sweat from their uniforms, taking in their small grubby faces, looking with disdain at the mud clinging to their shoes and with growing urgency tell them to take bath or at least change while all the time wondering about the movie and Ranbir Kapoor’s character.

And so we went to the movie. I watched as the young nonchalant Janardhan in skintight jeans and colourful shirts as he morphed into Jordan—A Jordan who sports loose Dhoti trousers and military shirts, who does not think twice before slapping his security guards(or the cops, I don’t remember), a Jordan who is untamed and wild, a Jordan who is hurting and raging, a Jordan who carries the memories of the Dargah walls in his memory and neurology, a Jordan who is ostracized by his own family, a Jordan who blames the society because he is “separated” from the love of his life. A Jordan who is self-obsessed with is “pain” and who celebrates it in his own violent, abusive manner.

And yet at that moment when I was watching the movie, I wept. All I wanted to do at that moment was protect Jordan. It was another fact that during most of the movies I was watching that year, I was weeping. Heck! I even wept during one comedy movie I was watching.

See when you protect someone; you become one of their tribes. Their stories become your stories, their sorrows become yours and you begin to believe in the same set of angels, demons and spirit guides. This is beautiful when it is puppies or babies or your watercolors that you are protecting and this can, of course, lead to the most profound and beautiful of relationships.

Photo by Mark Koch on Unsplash

But what if in the process of protecting yourself, you are nurturing something dark and unresourceful? And labeling it exquisite and wondrous? And you have all the people around you telling the same? What happens then?

Jordan was a self-obsessed jerk who refused to take ownership of his life. In wanting to protect him, I knew I was nurturing the darkness within me.

And when you nurture your darkness, it not only starts growing roots but branches and leaves as well. Ah, perhaps even tiny, miniature baby fruit. I don’t know when I decided to uproot this darkness. Perhaps it was the day I shouted at my son for no fault of his. Or perhaps it was after another sleepless night. Or after another allergy attack.

Photo by Andreas NextVoyagePL on Unsplash

I don’t remember the exact moment.

But I decided to transform while honoring the hurt and humiliation I experienced. The process was slow and organic yet intentional. It was neither a manifestation nor a miracle. No, the whole universe did not conspire to make it happen.

I made it happen step by step, thought by thought, act by act by taking ownership of my emotions and my life. 

One morning, I woke up. Beside me were my two boys. They had their arms wrapped around each other. In the morning sunlight, with their faces peeking from under the blanket, they looked small and vulnerable. As I looked at them, I felt incredibly alive and light. I knew what I had to do, how I had to respond to things and how I had to navigate through my life.

Picture taken by a friend

I stopped writing dark poetry and instead started writing on topics that needed me to observe, analyze and listen. That needed me to step out of myself into open landscapes where people conversed, debated and carried the mundane task of living. Nothing exquisite or wondrous about it. However the quiet awareness of the ordinary itself was liberating—the slant of the yellow sunbeams as they entered my balcony, the whoosh of the idli cooker with steam spilling out from its sides, the smell of crumpled bedsheets after a good night’s sleep, the sight of a few of my old poems which sometimes brought a lump to my throat. And at yet other times made me cringe and laugh from the pit of my belly.

A few days ago, when I woke up the sky was overcast with clouds. The sky looked grey and ominous.  

“I am feeling low,” I thought. And then I smiled. Ah! The impermanence of “feelings”. Like autumn leaves they flutter around. Resting for a brief moment here, resting for a brief moment there and then rising and swirling with the breeze, not becoming attached to their stories, but carrying their fragrance nonetheless.

Photo by Marta Filipczyk on Unsplash

©: Sridevi Datta

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