I have struggled all my life to cure this tendency to daydream, lest it should carry me into remote waters.
On a boat, rowing through the rose waters of the Sambhar salt lake, passing shimmering cranes and pink flamingoes, I reach the unreachable shore – the one until then only accessible through books and mental images – where things weren’t as beautiful as I thought : they were either more or less, never exactly as I’d pictured them. On this isolated land, I witnessed a scene I will never forget : hungry, in the middle of the barren white of salt, I see a tree on which hangs a bunch of grapes : no, on closer inspection, a bunch of gemstones. Gemstones? One cannot eat gemstones, but I soon realized that this was not the infamous real world, anything was possible here: to be nourished by jewellery, to be healed with poetry, one could even die of light here : no life, no possibility out of bounds.
But the effort of swimming against this gentle current takes away some of my vital strength.
None of this is, of course, true, I know. I am aware. Under the fragile sunlight of a foggy morning in Jaipur, I know this daydreaming, this other world must end, and to make myself aware of the strict boundary that exists between reality and dreams, I pick up a white rose from my blue vase and try to feel its thorny reality, alone, in the middle of a room: at the end of the solemn moment, I try to imagine how I look : a woman with a rose in her hand, two dead bodies holding each other. I feel exhausted. So much death and destruction, of bodies and souls, with one stony word : boundary. Its synonyms, so many.
And if, in fighting off daydreams, I gain in terms of action, I inwardly lose something very precious which can never be replaced.
This must stop, I think again, I convince myself as I pick out clothes for a cocktail party : I look at saree after saree, cottons and chiffons and silks; colour after colour, reds and pinks and whites; earrings and more earrings, lipsticks, nailpaints, rings, perfumes, no no not this not this not this. This cannot be it. Nothing is happening to me, I say, and I cannot believe that the moment I’ve feared all my life had arrived so silently, so casually, in the middle of an ordinary afternoon, while I was picking out clothes for a cocktail party. I try to make myself a cup of coffee : the cardamom is not where it usually is, the bottle of vanilla won’t open, I can’t find the sugar, and now the plunger of the French press has disintegrated in front of my own eyes. Nothing is as it should be, everything broken, misplaced, and fragmented, I will never be able to write again, or live ever, no wait:
Had I traded sanity for reality? Could it be that I couldn’t afford it: so expensive, so alluring, strong and durable : no, no, such good things are not made for someone who is used to not paying much for anything, who has never handled things that don’t break, now what to do with this gorgeous opaque silk through which nothing can pass?
But one of these days I shall have to go, without worrying where I might end up.
So now what? The payment was made, the transaction complete, who cares if I am now left with nothing except the very thing I don’t want? In my hands, this world – without the other – shining brilliantly like a piece of diamond : but in this world, you can’t eat jewellery, and you can’t buy fruits, spices, oil, or even a bottle of gin with diamonds : nothing I wanted could be bought with what I had. Now what? How to go back to the world where anything could have happened? In the middle of my gloriously sunlit room, someone – it’s not hard to predict the future now – will find, centuries later, a skeleton of a woman wrapped in silk, with a diamond somewhere in her bones. Cause of death : starvation.
I could have lived if only I would have let myself go mad.
(this was first published in Kindle Magazine, where I write a monthly column on cities, memory, etc.)