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from the afterglow

verses, tales & thoughts by Mx. Varsha

My Blue Paradise

Written for Almaarii, a collaborative storytelling project that collects all kinds of narratives surrounding what closets mean for people in South Asia. Artwork by Mrinalini.

As a kid, whenever I felt out of sorts, I'd retreat to the terrace of my building and lay down on the hard cement floor, put on my Walkman, look up at the stars, take a deep breath, close my eyes so I could truly see, and disappear into my ‘almaarii, my sanctuary; away from the noise of the world around me, the numbness I always felt but couldn’t quite explain and wake up to my world. One that I could form and manifest by my own will. One where I could wander freely in my skin, just my skin and not feel the piercing eyes of the world left behind.

This place is wide as the infinite night sky. It is radiant and thriving as an ancient forest. A realm where I can sleep with the dust, eat it and revel in it; where I am a tempest, a storm, unyielding and untamed! Where I disrobe, disintegrate and deteriorate my soul and rebuild myself again. Here, the outside world retreats to the underground, and the cold and hard surface of the cement is replaced by a soft moss-covered ground of the forest floor. Here, the howls of the outside world are silenced by the cacophony of wild sounds accompanied by the trickling sound of the gentle stream of a river, resonating through the air, forming a magical orchestra. Beside the river is a tree. Always a willow tree, but with sparkling silver leaves that shine under the 7 silver moons, painted against the glorious black sky. In the distance, a brilliant turquoise twilight. Look! There's a unicorn flying by.

Here, I am not me. I am many. I can exist; not as a man, not as a woman, but just me. Sometimes, even as vapour. I am not alone here. This world is thriving with all kinds of beings and creatures that myths and legends are made of. Life here looks nothing like you’re used to. Different colours, different scents, but all very pleasing. Everyone is in harmony and they are all my friends. Everyone is in pairs of all kinds because no one should have to be alone.

I live in Mumbai now, and it doesn’t have too many terraces. A window view of the moon is rather rare, and the sky is never that clear. Not too many escape routes out of the oppression! So I just lay down on my bed and stare at the ceiling, and follow the trajectory of the fan blades as they revolve, until my eyes drop, until I slowly slip back into my almaari, through the portal inside my mind.

Away from the expectations and the judgements of the human world, from the callous, indifferent and savage laws that govern that world, and far from the haunting shadows of my past, the present. Here, there is congruence, there is a certain peace. Here I am not defined by my physicality, my anatomy, my language, my birth. Here, there is no malice, no pain, no bullies, no evil, no nasty stares by strangers, telling me my 'different' isn't welcomed.

Here I can breathe. This is the one place I truly feel free, where I've always felt free. This is my almaarii, and it may change in form and space, but it is open for all who need it, and in its tender embrace even you can feel whole again.

Varsha Panikar,

Pansexual, Gender Fluid

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