On Monday night, after taking my first dose of the hallucinatory malaria prophylaxis pills, I had a strange dream. I dreamed that I was thinking of amputating my right leg to satiate my curiosity as to how I’d look one-legged in a dress. The glow around the boutique was warm. I was smiling throughout the dream. So was everyone around me. I had an earnest and reasonable question to answer, and there was no indication from anyone else that the situation was odd in any way. It was normal, it wasn’t real. Then, as I lay down on the boutique’s operating table in preparation for my leg to be snapped off, something snapped in my mind. Something changed. I knew what was happening wasn’t normal, I feared it might be real. My panic rose. When I woke up, I moved my legs and then touched both kneecaps, because moving them wasn’t enough to convince myself that I was in the normal, in the real.
I didn’t know whether I was awake or not when the panic was rising, and I still don’t. I couldn’t tell dreams from reality in that moment, but a broader, wider self-doubt has also reigned over me for the last few weeks. The fact that I hadn’t been able to feel deep sadness for a while made me question whether the happiness I was feeling was as deep as I had thought or whether it was false and created. But even creating takes some sadness.
I am in the process of finding constants to ground myself. I find the sound of this baby’s unrelenting wails on the plane to be grounding. The striking cry repeats itself each time with as much depth as the one before. It reminds me that people around me are sharing the experience of being stuck in a long white tube in the sky for 9 hours, that things are moving around me.
I’ve also started praying recently, chanting not to any God, but as a means to transition from one mindset to another. Tracing over the words in my mind is like tracing my finger over the scar on my right forearm from opening my Nani’s cabinet—I’ve done it a million times before.
It’s a constant that I ask myself every time why I am praying. It is a question without an answer, for me. Just as I think I’m getting closer to an answer, the pressure between question and answer collapses, a magnet pushed too far into another with a matching charge—I’m just waiting for one of the magnets to flip and for them both to come together with sheer force. But part of why I pray is because I know the clasp will never come. And in the heart of Mumbai in monsoon season, that small knowledge is one of my only constants.
While I don’t necessarily believe in God, there is something divine about this baby’s wails. I think that crying is a form of praying, and that all art is prayer. Maybe to pray is to embody a question and to not demand an answer—and the conflict with my question on Monday night was fulfilling both aspects.