F is For Forgiveness

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Hurt announces his arrival with a deafening cacophony of cymbals and trumpets and accordions. He slips into a tuxedo and a pair of winkle-pickers, and swaggers in with an intimidating gait. He sinks into a black leather couch and adjusts his wayfarer, throwing a condescending glance at me. He lights his cigar, crosses his legs, and laughs and laughs and laughs. With his face turned toward the ceiling, his laughter turns into a diabolical howling.

He stops laughing only to drag a long puff. The room is filled with smoke, my heart with terror. I shudder. But in some way, I am enchanted. This man who breathes fear into me, is cliched and beautiful in his own way.

I am scared. I wail in pain. I am inspired. I loathe him. I adore him. All at the same time.

And I think of Stockholm Syndrome. Have I begun to love my captor? Is that insane?

*****

“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? …What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

16938984_10212294592336918_8725642749258915716_nAs I wrestle 75,423 questions on my adulation for hurt, Forgiveness sits beside me. When did she come? She doesn’t utter a word. She looks at her palms, runs her fingers on the prints, and takes a deep breath.

The room is foggy. Hurt is still around. I hear his roar. But his laughter is slightly muffled.

Forgiveness stops looking at her palms and offers a benevolent smile to no one in particular. Should I receive it? Or will Hurt snatch it from her? Maybe, it doesn’t matter.

The smile is blindingly bright. My eyes struggle to adjust to its luminosity. When I train my eyes on Forgiveness’s smile, Hurt leaves his couch and walks toward me. He removes his glasses; his eyes are bloodshot. Hurt is livid. He doesn’t like his hostage taking the rescuer’s hand.

Now that I have instigated him, will Hurt unleash more violence? Will I be punished for basking in the warmth exuded by a quiet stranger? Hurt doesn’t talk either. He sits next to me.

I gather that Hurt is not angry. He is upset that I am beginning to neglect him. I inch closer to Forgiveness; Hurt moves closer to me. But Forgiveness is just there. Like a banyan tree.

Forgiveness doesn’t turn or look into my eyes. She seems to be in a silent conversation with her own thoughts. Perhaps, she has no thoughts, but silence. White silence.

I am a wee bit uncomfortable between them. Quite like a child who feels stuck between her parents who have fought and who refuse to reconcile. I am torn between them.

I have always admired Hurt. But Forgiveness is here now, drawing me towards her inexplicable lightness, calm, and peace. Hurt is my good old friend. Forgiveness is my new sanctuary. Will my old friend move into my new home? For all we know, his ego is too big for that.

Hurt throws tantrums. He rolls on the floor, bawls, and recounts memories of all the days we spent together. When was he this emotional really? I pick him up from the floor. I dust his suit and tell him that I cannot leave him forever. He is flummoxed.

I hold Hurt’s shoulders, look straight into his black ocean of eyes. “Dearest Hurt, what’s life without you? I am, of course, leaving with Forgiveness. But what made you forget your own power? When did I not answer your calls? It’s true that I love Forgiveness more. Forgive me for being brutally honest. But you are inevitable. Your calls are too loud to be ignored. Always remember that I will be at the threshold of Forgiveness’s unassuming home when you want to meet me. I will listen to your stories and complaints. I will offer my sympathies. I will stay with you. Sometimes, longer than you can imagine. However, I will always, always go back to Forgiveness. Always!”

I am sure Forgiveness is listening to our conversation. She doesn’t look at us. I am sure she is paying attention. Hurt listens to me, stifling a sniffle. “Are you sure?” Hurt poses that question weakly as though he is too embarrassed to ask. I smile. “Is there any other way? Do you think it’s possible to abandon you?” I say with no trace of regret in my tone.

Forgiveness now stands up, shuffles her feet. She doesn’t offer a word. Not even a whisker. She leaves the room. I follow her.

I turn around to see if Hurt is hurt. He wears his wayfarer, slips another cigar in between his lips, and hums a song. I see a lopsided grin on his face. He is not sad. He is certain that I will come back. He is right all the same.

Forgiveness waits for me. I trot toward her, saying without making a sound. “I am ready!”

After Revisiting VTV

vinnaithandi-varuvayaCall me corny but I am going to confess now. I watched Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (VTV) at Jazz Cinemas this afternoon. *takes a deep breath*

I watched the seven-year-old ‘musical romantic drama’ at the cinemas today only because someone whom I adore has myriad memories about it.

I must also admit that I am writing this blog to seek your forgiveness. 😉 Because…

In 2010, I hurt the sentiment of a lot of people. I arrogantly observed, “Jessie doesn’t know that there is no wall and that she is not a cat.” I offered sympathies to poor Karthik. I spotted numerous flaws in the story and patronised the filmmaker.

Please wait before you ask if I committed the cardinal sin of loathing the album too. I did not. Rather, I worshiped it; I played the songs on loop and dreamed that I would travel to Malta some day. I kept humming Mannippaaya mindlessly that I had to rehabilitate myself after a while. 🙂

Despite the brilliant, brilliant music, I declared that Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa had no depth.

Cut to 2017, be assured that I am not going to present an argument that I find the movie profound. No! I am insane. But not that much. I am seeking your forgiveness because the film made me smile today, it warmed my heart, and I walked out of the theatre, wondering if I am growing young a la Benjamin Button. Snarkier readers might reckon that my cognitive functions are degenerating; I am choosing not to pay heed all the same. At least for the nonce.

I didn’t roll my eyes when Jessie’s affection oscillated. I didn’t judge Karthik when he was hopeless and mushy. I didn’t utter ‘how convenient’ when Karthik revealed that he was a trained boxer. And I didn’t tsk-tsk over the conceited climax. I fail to fathom the reasons but the movie was like a whiff of fresh air, or like eating a fine pastry, or like basking in the morning sun. 😉 Okay. I shall stop.

Perhaps, some movies work that way. Maybe it is not about the movies; it’s about us. Maybe, some of us change that way. Maybe, life and time untie a few knots, making us to surprise ourselves by redoing the very things which we would never envisage doing again.

Maybe, we don’t lose much by revisiting our judgements.

Maybe, that’s where the fun lies.

It doesn’t matter if that stuff is saccharine. So long as it makes us feel alive, then what is wrong in being silly?

Some of Us Are Looking At the Stars

img_20170215_103553_861Father was a fast walker; his strides were long, making his gait seem effortless. When Calvin and I managed to meet his pace during our morning walks in Boat Club, I panted more than my canine companion. I was a teenager then and Calvin was two-years-old. Father was faster, brisker, and more focussed than most morning walkers we met.

We walked and walked and walked.

We trotted on the long road that snaked from Teynampet to IIT. We walked under the thick canopies of Kottupuram trees. We exchanged pleasantries with all the guard dogs while ambling around Cenotaph road.

Father related stories, holding Calvin’s leash and looking down at him once in a while to ensure he took a satisfactory dump. His stories were always hilarious. If the walking itself was testing my endurance, I suffered from pleasure when my abdomen hurt only because I laughed hard listening to Father’s stories. (Have you tried laughing while swinging your arms and taking long, long steps? It’s harder than we think.)

We walked as though life could be lived well just by walking.

We were there, absolutely alive on our feet.

Some times, I reckoned that Father was ruthlessly fast. He made the monks from Thailand walk around the mountains in Thiruvannamalai. I still smile when I think of the men clad in orange robes, breathless, trying to catch up with Father as he covered several feet in each step. He made our family walk from Mylapore to Marina Beach many times. Those walks could have been short. But we walked with our Father; we were always in a race. It was impossible to follow him when he circumambulated the sanctum sanctorum of the ancient temples in Mylapore. He muttered prayers under his breath, used his fingers to keep count of the number of times he walked around the deity, and put one foot after another.

It was quite a sight to see my Father meditate in his own way.

*****

A few years ago, Sister received a phone call from Father. In an unperturbed tone, he said he met with a road accident and he knew he had suffered a fracture. The doctors confirmed Father’s fear.

His right tibia was broken. He couldn’t walk for three months and he couldn’t walk well for six months. But above all, what shattered us was that his walk would never be the same again. Father’s right leg had become a wee bit shorter than the other one.

The anesthesia had just begun to release Father from its clutches but Father was already becoming his chirpy self. A young orthopedician broke the news reluctantly, with his eyes fixed on the fat bandage wrapped around Father’s leg. Father had to lean on a crutch. He had to practise walking.

Father patted the young man on his shoulder and politely asked, “Have you heard of Zen Walking Meditation?” The doctor seemed flummoxed. He surely was a Zen-philosophy-virgin. Father said, “I am going to be a slow, mindful walker and I am going to love it.”

During those three months, I saw Father weep. He tonsured his head, wore a gray cardigan, and watched cricket or read to endure time.

Some times, he was vulnerable. Most times, he wore a grin even when he was in pain. He was conscious about not seeking too much help. He was restless to resume work. He was determined to start physiotherapy and gain some strength. He entertained his visitors, narrated funny anecdotes. He was our Father despite the accident, despite the unpleasant change, despite his battered soul.

To him, it didn’t matter if he had to ascend a staircase only by sitting and lifting himself on his arms to move to the next step. It didn’t matter if he had to start wearing customised footwear to match his legs’s length. It didn’t matter if he couldn’t be that enthusiastic walker anymore.

All that mattered to him was that he was still on his feet and he was thankful for it.

A bone that became short could slow down his pace, but it couldn’t dampen his measured optimism and invincible spirit.

*****

img-20170214-wa0011I have never seen Father complain about his leg that casts a shadow on the quality of his life. In truth, I have never seen Father complain at all. He is always filled with gratitude and hope. He jokes about his special footwear. He doesn’t pose the why-me question when he massages his injured leg.

Father has embraced the accident and the gift that he never asked for. He inspires me more for his acceptance is brave and graceful.

Through his life, he proves over and over again that making peace with changes is not an act of total surrender, but only a pragmatic approach to romance this wild, wild thing called… life.

I heart Father for that. ❤

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

— Oscar Wilde

The High Priestess Never Marries: Between Prose and Poetry

capture3
The book and the filter coffee were consumed on a languorous Sunday evening. ❤

All alone on a night like this — quite as confession and blackwidow blue. Oh what she would give, tonight or any night, for a lover’s mouth, for a lullaby, for a moon so low it could snag in the conspiracy of branches. And she sits there in the darkness and watches the silhouettes of trees against the city sky blanched with artificial effulgence, and admires the silver rings on her toes, and thinks of how a good reading can unbraid everything. She blows a smokey cloudkiss to the Venus flytrap in the corner and even the Venus flytrap doesn’t bite back.

16298748_10212046600537278_7784908729883477375_nWhen I read Amanda Lovelace’s The Princess Saves Herself in this One a few weeks ago, I made a secret wish. I wanted to read something as intense and feminist as her poetry collection, but I wanted the stories to be closer to me. I wanted the characters to drive on the roads I take. I wanted them to speak my tongue. I wanted them to know my gods and goddesses. I wanted them to lose themselves in the ocean where I seek solace.

Then Sharanya Manivannan’s The High Priestess Never Marries happened to me.

As I finished every short story and postcard fiction, I kept asking myself, “Between prose and poetry, where does this writing lie?” I released the question religiously, only to realise that it was an exercise in futility.

Because the stories were just there.

Feral. Timid. Pregnant. Empty. Loud. Silent. Intimidating. Comforting.

The stories were just there.

If Haruki Murakami’s heroes kept making spaghetti in his books, Sharanya Manivannan’s characters were fond of bitter gourd. More specifically, bitter gourd tossed with jaggery.

Dark, bitter, and yet sweet. Quite like her stories.

“Bitter gourd that tastes of love and all its consequences. It is my simplest, most sincere dish: my heart on a platter.

‘This is an epiphany,’ she grins, her nose running, her back resting against the spice cabinet. I watch her for a few moments before reaching to serve myself.

With her clean hand, she grabs mine. ‘Thank you!’

‘Anytime, my love.’ I squeeze her hand, drop the spoon I reached for, and decided to wait. What a pleasure it is to give.

Sometimes a meal is a psalm. Sometimes it is a code, a consolation, a sense of an unbroken coast in a season of ravages. Always, it is an offering. Always, it is an embrace.”

The other motifs created the feminine, divine, resplendent atmosphere too. Toe rings. Mangoes. Neem trees. The colour red. Celestial beings. And of course… sea, sand, soil, and shores. There were myriad omens which made me feel feverish.

I love Sharanya Manivannan’s women. They did not demand my sympathy. They did not offer condescension either. They were beautifully vulnerable, incredibly human. They related their stories in a tone that was free of apologies. Their voices were laden with regrets, melancholy, and pain. But there was no pretense.

I love her women more because those are the ones who can listen to my story without judging me. Those are the ones who can say, “You fucked up? It’s fine. Let’s clear the mess together.” Those are the women who won’t ask me to stay strong. Those are the ones who would say, “Weep. Weep. Weep. It’s okay to be broken.” Those are the ones who understand the need to feel belonged, the need to love, and the need to be loved and cherished.

Those are the women who know what it is like to be a woman.

I wanted to unleash my love on two women particularly — Sarala Kali and Antara. (Oh! The names! There was a man called Mazhai.) Both the women taught me something that I have been meditating for a long while — allowing myself to feel.

I am tired of hearing phrases like, ‘You have always been brave. Continue to be brave.’ Or a patronising one like, ‘Snap out of that depression.’ Or a reduction like, ‘What you are feeling is a mere disappointment.’ So when I met Sarala Kali and Antara, I naturally warmed up to them more for they didn’t wage war against their emotions. They walked into the eye of the storms. They swayed to the tunes of gusty winds. They destroyed themselves. They re-birthed themselves. And when the cyclone had crossed, they were brave and authentic in the way they embraced their sentiments. How can I not love them!

It’s been a day since I finished the book. But I can’t capture one word as such and pin it down to explain how I feel about it. There is a lump in my throat. I want to hug somebody and cry for a little while. I want to take deep breaths. I want to reread some stories from the book. I am giving myself to the quicksand of thoughts. I am throwing a courageous glance at the bright clarity that has surfaced. I feel everything. I feel nothing. I am melancholic. I am contented.

Maybe, I am one of them. Maybe, we all are…

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The Curious Case of Anu Boo

20170126_145036The delivery boy from Amazon phones me when I am at work. “Ma’am, the tiny, brown dog in your house is furious. That one doesn’t stop barking. I am scared,” he pants. Although I assure him that Anu Boo would not attack him and that he can hand the books to Mother, he refuses to listen.

I smile. Clandestinely.

Because when I adopted this tiny, brown dog on 26-January-2014, I didn’t know she can roar. I didn’t know she can breathe fear into strangers. Above all, I didn’t know she would begin to enjoy her life with us.

20170126_144543We rescued Anu Boo in January 2014. She was weak, diffident, and anxious. For the first three months of her life, she had never seen a human. When all her siblings succumbed to hunger in an abandoned house, this little survivor thrived on her brother’s carcass.

As soon as Mother threw a flimsy net on the puppy and dropped her in a jute bag, I kissed her mouth. It smelled of a corpse.

The vet who administered her first vaccinations was amused when I related Anu Boo’s story. He guffawed. But he was certain that she had to be quarantined for two weeks. “This puppy seems way too curious,” he observed. Anu Boo fixed her gaze on another canine client.

I knew then that her battered soul had already begun to heal.

20170126_144525My first dog Calvin was 10 then. We fostered Anu Boo with Calvin as our reluctant aide. He played her nanny, for Anu Boo could trust him. Only him. Perhaps, in their language, Calvin and Anu Boo discussed their family, established hierarchy, and composed clauses.

After fostering her for about two weeks, we realised that nobody wanted to adopt her only because she was a mongrel, she was too tiny, and she suffered from a chronic skin condition.

Maybe, that’s when I believed in the cliche that one’s loss is another one’s gain. We adopted Anu Boo. Officially.

So what if nobody needed her? She was already a member of our pack. She was always ours. It just took a little while for the epiphany to dawn on us.

From that day (26-January-2014), I basked in observing my favourite duo — Calvin and Anu Boo.

He was calm. She was a storm. He was snobbish. She was silly. He was social. She was aloof.

He was a resigned cat. She was a happy puppy.

Life could have been unfair to me then in a million ways. But it never seemed that unbearable. Many thanks to these furry friends.

“That’s a good dog you’ve got there,” he said, tickling Beau’s head. Beau’s tail thumped against the seat. “Yeah. He is a good one.”

“Everybody oughta have a dog,” he said thoughtfully, his hand still scratching Beau. “Dogs teach you love and kindness. They remind you what’s important.” He nodded and took a sip of his coffee. “A life ain’t much of a life without a dog in it, s’what I always said.”

“Yeah.” I let my forehead drop against the cool of the window. All the thoughts I’d had walking had followed me inside. Like ghosts, haunting me. “But dogs die,” I said quietly, almost to myself. “Sure. Course they do. But their dying don’t make their livin’ worth any less.”

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

Three years later…

20170126_145020Calvin has become Sirius. Anu Boo doesn’t share her riches with another animal. As I write this, Mother peels a banana for her. Father employs all his favourite terms of endearment and promises her lifetime supply of bananas.

Anu Boo is sprawled in the divan. Every once in a while, she looks out the window to ensure if that squirrel is still there. She places her head on a heap of cushions and slips into a peaceful slumber.

A sense of accomplishment washes over me.

The Sweetness of Dogs

What do you say, Percy? I am thinking
of sitting out on the sand to watch
the moon rise. It’s full tonight.
So we go

and the moon rises, so beautiful it
makes me shudder, makes me think about
time and space, makes me take
measure of myself: one iota
pondering heaven. Thus we sit, myself

thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s
perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich
it is to love the world. Percy, meanwhile,
leans against me and gazes up into
my face. As though I were just as wonderful
as the perfect moon.

— Dog Songs by Mary Oliver

Her ears dance gently to the tunes of January’s zephyr. She moves her legs as though she is chasing something in her dreams.

In that zennish moment, I allow a question to surface.

Who rescued whom?

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In A New, More Fractured Light

20170118_013754I hate Krithika Ramesh. I hate my only sibling Krithika Ramesh because she is brutally honest, punctual, overbearing, and too perfect.

I love Krithika Ramesh. I love my only sibling Krithika Ramesh because she is brutally honest, punctual, overbearing, and too perfect.

I hate her. I love her. Hate. Love. Love. Hate. That’s our ever-oscillating relationship for you.

What is constant in our relationship though is that she loves me even when she wants to hate me. 😉 I admit that sometimes she wants to chop me up, fry me in an enormous oil pan, and feed me to sharks, because of my self-obsession. However, she is one of my favourite angels. If I ever murder somebody and seek asylum in her house, perhaps she would wail like a banshee when I break the news to her. But she would protect her little sister come what may.

I can always, always trust her; she is a badass that way. *Deepika swallows her ego* 😉

20170118_013637My dearest sister turns 35 tomorrow (January 19). As she has now become an Instagram celebrity, I expressed my desire to interview her for my blog. She agreed. Quite generously. 🙂 Do you follow her Instagram account? If you are a foodie, you must. (Krithi, you love me now, don’t you?)

Since I am a fan of Proust Questionnaire, I have employed it to know more about my sister whom I have known for 29 years.

My dear reader, here is Krithika Ramesh:

1. Your idea of happiness
Adding value to my loved ones’ lives. If they come to me, seeking my help, I try to give my best to make them happy. It could be as simple as helping them with a tiny idea or organising a party for them. Lighting up their lives makes me happy.

2. Your idea of misery
Change. Change in any form. Change of place. Change in people’s attitude. It’s difficult for me to go with the flow. It makes me depressed and I understand that it’s my fault to feel stuck. I have to learn to let go and embrace changes.

3. Where would you like to live?
Wherever my loved ones are. Although I live in the USA, I strongly reckon that I don’t belong here. I feel like I am living in a hotel. I want to live in Mylapore or anywhere in Chennai. That’s my home. I belong there.

4. What is your greatest fear?
Loneliness.

20170118_0136185. What is the principal aspect of your personality?
Bossy. Of course, in a positive way. I am told that I can lead wherever I go. For instance, when I host an event, I can make my audience, laugh, talk, and play along with me. When something is not organised, I can gather resources effortlessly to put things in order.

6. What do you hate the most?
Insincerity. If I am not comfortable with somebody, I tell that person that I am not okay. I expect the other person to be honest with me too. Be who you are.

7. If not yourself, who would you be?
Somebody who is cooler than me. Somebody who is less emotional than me.

8. What is your present state of mind?
I am looking forward to celebrating my birthday, my wedding anniversary, and visiting India. I am always looking forward to celebrating something.

9. How would you like to die?
With no regrets. I dread waking up with regrets. So if I am going to die, I want to die with the content that I did all that I could for my family and friends.

20170118_01373810. What is your favourite motto?
Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. Even if I watch a movie with my son Shravan, I show a lot of enthusiasm by dressing up well, reaching the theatre on time, enjoying the movie with him, and making efforts to create memories. If I choose a present for my favourite people, I enter their heads. I think about what can bring bright smiles to their faces. When they finally receive their presents, they are naturally thrilled. In that unassuming moment lies my life’s purpose.

*****

Krithi, thank you for granting this interview. 😉 I am sure you will make a lot of beautiful memories this year. And I am super sure that you will send me more presents. Yaaay!

20170118_013712Also, Be more silly, Krithi. Have more fun. Be more creative. Be more kind. Be more effusive. Above all, be yourself. Unapologetically yourself!

“The story of human intimacy is one of constantly allowing ourselves to see those we love most deeply in a new, more fractured light. Look hard. Risk that.”

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

PS: I love you! And I am always grateful to you for seeing me in a new, more fractured light. Thank you for looking hard and risking that. ❤

‘Reading is An Act of Courage’

“…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”

I love this passage from Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. Whenever life throws tantrums, I always tell myself that it will rearrange itself. But there was an irrepressible question; it didn’t allow me to cement my conviction in the profound, beautiful quote from the book. Jude St. Francis, whose life the tome follows, seals a young student’s faith in life by making him believe that every loss is compensated. However, Jude didn’t seem to place his trust in that thought. I wanted Jude to live by it. But he didn’t. When he wanted a young boy to trust that life would rearrange itself, why did Jude not believe in it? The question taunted me and I posed it when Yanagihara was in Chennai for The Hindu’s Literary Festival, Lit For Life.

15937169_1397721703629030_3560575257825993351_o
Hanya Yanagihara at the festival. Image Courtesy: The Hindu

The moment I released the question, Yanagihara assured, “Jude believed in it.” I sighed. It’s a fascinating moment to get into Jude’s head. “But…” Yanagihara continued, “There is a difference between thinking you believe in it and truly believing in it.” I knew then why Jude was Jude; I love him more now.

A Little Life was a difficult read. It was as difficult as seeing a loved one living a life that’s refusing to be fair. I wanted to comfort Jude. But as much as I was helpless, he was impermeable to support. That made me more depressed. At one point in time, I lost the faculty to differentiate my darkness from the book’s. It was a singular darkness. A darkness that was bizarrely beautiful. A darkness that lingered on for so long that reconnecting with the reality was like walking out of the house and facing the blindingly bright sun after being in a dark room for days and days. Even that warmth couldn’t restore the equilibrium. Yanagihara was right when she observed that the book is so much like a relationship. “Intimate and claustrophobic.”

After I read the book, I didn’t know how to cope with the grief. I wanted to talk a lot about the book. I read this passage over and over again and washed my Kindle with my torrential tears.

(There are some spoilers in this passage.)

“It is also then that I wish I believed in some sort of life after life, that in another universe, maybe on a small red planet where we have not legs but tails, where we paddle through the atmosphere like seals, where the air itself is sustenance, composed of trillions of molecules of protein and sugar and all one has to do is open one’s mouth and inhale in order to remain alive and healthy, maybe you two are there together, floating through the climate. Or maybe he is closer still: maybe he is that gray cat that has begun to sit outside our neighbor’s house, purring when I reach out my hand to it; maybe he is that new puppy I see tugging at the end of my other neighbor’s leash; maybe he is that toddler I saw running through the square a few months ago, shrieking with joy, his parents huffing after him; maybe he is that flower that suddenly bloomed on the rhododendron bush I thought had died long ago; maybe he is that cloud, that wave, that rain, that mist. It isn’t only that he died, or how he died; it is what he died believing. And so I try to be kind to everything I see, and in everything I see, I see him.”

I asked Yanagihara to help her readers recover from the trauma. She guffawed. Her laughter proved that she empathised. She suggested that I visit A Little Life’s Instagram account where she had shared the titles of books that a devastated soul can read after A Little Life.

Yanagihara’s answers seemed honest. When she was told that a lot of readers had to abandon the book owing to the graphic depiction of violence, she said that the book belongs to the reader once it’s published. I noticed no trace of arrogance or regret in her tone. The remark was just that.

A reader is always judged. I often field remarks like, “Do not slip into a book to escape reality. Just face it.” Or a rude comment like, “Why do you waste so much time and money on books?” Although I have stopped explaining why I read so much, the remarks still make me livid. But Yanagihara made me feel special when she said, “Reading is an act of courage, an act of surrender.”

Of course, you have to be brave to walk headfirst into a book despite knowing that it will leave its hands into your heart, pull it out as blood drips all around you, and make you feel empty… yet full.