Seldom does a session with a psychiatrist begin with a reference to flight delays and air traffic snarls. But that’s how we begin our meetings – with small talks and sundry details about the world and its people. It then swerves through different routes, he walking me through the oddities of human mind and the complex ways in which the brain works. He makes it sound incredibly casual and clinical, as if it’s all part of the human enterprise.
‘It can happen to anyone. Nobody is spared of emotional turmoil,’ he assures every time, with a calmness that sweeps over me like a wave of blessing.
‘Even psychiatrists and psychologists?’ I ask him once, my eyes rolling incredulously.
By now, over many sessions, he has sensed my discomfort about the fact that I need to follow his prescription for a prolonged period to set things right in my slightly disturbed domain.
‘Of course, they too. We are all human beings. We all go through the same things,’ he avers. And then, he proceeds to talk about how the entire world is now a troubled lot and how there is a need for a major shift in the way we live.
I nod and smile. I reckon the truth in his words. My contemplative way of living has made me acutely aware of the hard facts of existence, and when he authorizes it with his quiet, accepting way, I am convinced that sooner or later, the turbulence in me will settle. With my own earnest endeavours. The medication is only an external catalyst that I must take to bolster my recovery because there are certain things that only chemistry can fix.
A grief that overstayed and wanders all over me like a nomad pitching tent here and there; emotional sediments from the past that get raked up now and then, personal baggage that refuse to dislodge from my back have all taken a toll, but along with it, there is also an unshakable conviction that I will survive it all and see the other side of the sea.
I smile again when the doctor reiterates, ‘Find joy in small things.’
‘Yes, Doctor,’ I say. It is a practice that I am getting better at with each passing day. Small things. Small joys. Small moments. In them I deposit my life's kernels now.
‘You can have a cup of coffee at leisure, enjoying every sip or you can just have it hurriedly. The way you spend your moments will determine your happiness,’ he reaffirms.
The moment he says that, I think of Appa. Yet again. He is a man who lived at leisure and left in a hurry. But not without leaving footprints on the sand.
His early morning coffee ritual is a sight to behold. It is a picture that I still visualize in vivid detail, wondering how the cosmos could bless some people with such tranquility that watching them itself becomes a life lesson of sorts.
Appa has a tall glass which is filled to the brim with his morning coffee. He settles on the sofa with his right leg perched on the left, and takes long sips that seem to last an eternity. All the essence of his life seems to get packed into those sips. Nothing else distracts him from his coffee – neither the TV playing devotionals nor the newspaper nor Amma's prattle with the maid servant.
He closes his eyes as the coffee energizes him sip by sip. In what contemplation he gets lost in those moments, I have never asked, but he is never in a hurry to finish his glass. He isn’t perturbed even with my mother’s snide remarks about the elaborate ritual. ‘An hour to drink a coffee!’ she would exclaim, but the man will be too engrossed in nursing his coffee to hustle up his activity.
The difference in the way they consume their beverage is stark. Amma makes it look like a routine – a gulp into the guts. And Appa makes it look like a ceremony – a slurp that satiates. Such was the level of his equanimity and contentment with himself. Even the glass of coffee would have been immensely grateful to be his host, morning after morning.
Sombre thoughts about him tug at my heartstrings as we walk out of the clinic. It is close to lunch time and I feel famished. Home is at least 45 minutes away on a traffic-less highway. I quickly take a mental stock of the leftovers in the fridge, which is what I had planned for the day's lunch.
Some dal. Some ladies finger. And some cabbage. They tick me off instantly.
‘No, please. Not the same fare,’ my belly protests alongside.
Spotting a restaurant with a typical name that resonates with the Mallu in me, I suggest to my spouse that we eat there. A veggie meal with mota rice, sambar and such. He too exults at the idea. Funny how in these many years I have converted him from a thorough roti-sabji man to a sambar-slurping dude!
The next half hour passes as if I am in a fluid gastronomic dream. There is nothing exotic on the menu; just the regular stuff that a traditional meal is made of, yet the food tastes so good on my palate that the joy of it stays with me till the end of the day. A lunch for 8.50 Dirhams in a nondescript restaurant becomes the definition of happiness to me on that day. ‘Small things’, I remember the doctor say, and Appa’s image flashes in my mind. I sigh as I realize how he continues to give me life lessons through little signs even after he has left.
Now, as I work on my progress, steering myself out of the mess that inadvertently fell into, I pop a thought along with the tablet every day -
There is a lot of life throbbing in places we don’t see. In corners and crevices, on the sidelines and fringes; there is a lot we don’t savour in our madness to secure the big things.