Before Opening Door No. 34

Every birthday is a door. When the arbitrariness of life leaves you in front of a door each year, you are oblivious to what’s behind the door. Sometimes, you say a little prayer before turning the doorknob and you step into the room with hope and determination. Sometimes, you curse under your breath, wish you could relinquish the privilege of staying alive, and wait for the ground beneath your feet to swallow you right at that moment. Despite exercising free will, the act of opening the door feels involuntary when uncertainty crosses your mind. Once you step in, the room can appear like many things — a bootcamp, a field of sunflower, a trap, a dog park, a cat café, an ancient library… In 365 days, what’s behind the door works with the elements which make you you and eject another person when it’s time to make you appear in front of the next door. All your life, you go from door to door, surrendering the person whom you are, and collecting a person marked, touched, blessed by each door.

Time slips into civilian clothes for a few hours before your birthday every year. You are neither how old you are nor how old you will become. When Time is not watching, when Time is off duty, do you age at all? At the moment, I am in that timeless zone where Door No. 33 starts to flicker, and I pause to gather my belongings and pack my bags.

When I opened Door No. 33 last year, I didn’t pray and curse, and I was just grateful for having been given another opportunity to touch the cold doorknob one more time. Now when I look back, I can see that it was a unique year, just like every other year.

Behind Door No. 33, there was a room with a view. When I opened the windows each afternoon, I recalled what Edith Wharton wrote: “Set wide the window. Let me drink the day.” Each time I opened the window, the world waited to say hello. Clouds incessantly paraded, a young crow who aged along with me, a sparrow, an orange butterfly, a bunch of restless pigeons, a cursory glance of my neighbours living their lives… On some difficult days, I called all of it The Pandemic View. When I caught myself complaining about the spectacle that was exclusively staged for me every day, I wondered if I would have lived a different life if the pandemic didn’t exist. I didn’t need to answer. The Pandemic View would again morph into A Room With A View.

Behind Door No. 33, there were discoveries. How To Foster ‘Shoshin’, an article that I read on Pysche taught me how to walk behind things which constantly evoke awe. The article’s author Christian Jarrett mentioned, “Paraphrasing Albert Einstein, the researchers wrote that ‘one who never experiences awe ceases to discover’. The message is simple: to increase your open-mindedness, try taking the time to gaze in wonder at the stars.” My love for cosmos was born. I discovered my passion for astronomy, astrophysics, space science, and space opera. Like a sniffer dog after a scent, I hurried to watch videos, read articles, bury myself in books, and to claim a piece of the universe for myself. On days when the spirit moved me too much, I perched my binoculars on a tripod, and trained the mirrors to receive light from the Jovian moons and Saturn’s ring. Along with photons, more questions, terror, and existential dread poured into me, but so were awe and solace. Whenever I stood under the stars, when I thought about all the possible civilizations revolving around them, the absurdity and futility of life smothered me, and I felt crushed under the enormity of this universe. But, the consolation prize was how looking up helped me to stay grounded, to appreciate the human consciousness I was gifted with to observe this universe, and to let my insignificant ego be dissolved in the black ocean. As Carl Sagan said, we are all ‘…on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.’

Behind Door No. 33, there were lessons and chances to check my privileges. I might have read a slew of books in the last 12 months, but I worked on a personal project to read more books on India’s caste system, to understand and be aware of my privileges. The process of learning about social justice, and being agitated about the system, and the liberating internalisation of how I became the very system, demanded a heavy price – unearthing what was swept under the rug and recognizing discomfort and divisiveness as byproducts of the learning process.

Behind Door No. 33, there were friends and fun. The terrace garden that my mother lovingly raised. The basket of hibiscus she offered to her gods. The vegetables she harvested every week. The ritual that she carried out to remove evil eyes cast on her plants. The snail who appeared in the garden out of nowhere. The game trail that the Plant Whisperer paved just to say sweet nothings to every leaf. If friendship is about knowing, being there, and growing together, the garden, the snail, and the hundreds of sunsets I watched with the great love of my life, were my best friends.

Behind Door No. 33, there were words. My two-year long struggle with accepting my writing voice came to a quiet end last year. After shutting down and reopening several blogs, I made peace with what I have here. Among many things, the stars taught me that the very earth’s life is just a blink in the cosmic scheme of things. During that blink, my battle with my writing is nothing. My return to the stars is imminent and I might as well send myself off with some words, even if they are imperfect. Writing a blog that is 1,000 words long makes me believe that it’s easier to sell my soul to the devil, but as a writer, even though a reluctant one at that, I have decided to negotiate with the devil. If there were no words, what would I do with this long and short life, this will to keep going?

Behind Door No. 33, there were miracles, losses, health scares, my own body that I disrespected, my mind that broke and came together, helpers. There were anger, abuse, forgiveness, and reconciliation. There were moments of confusion and revelation. There were answers and questions for which there could be no answers. There were even conventional successes. What I saw behind the door, did it keep me happy? Even after opening 33 doors, I don’t know what happiness means, but what I am certain about is, that it was a good life.

As Door No. 33 flickers in quicker intervals, I choose to give myself the credit for trying hard to accept everything I could understand and everything I couldn’t fathom. As Door No. 34 beckons, I realise that I don’t have to bear the capitalistic expectation of measuring my life using the scale that wasn’t meant for me. The temptation is hard to resist though. I might even give in sometimes. But, when this planet’s lifespan itself is too short, I will choose to try harder to not lash at myself for not fitting in, for being different, for being obsessed with this wild life in my own ways. The voice in my head continues to sound like a 25-year-old’s. It’s curious, impressionable, open, and it’s often stifled by the world-weariness, the cynicism, and the wisdom of the 33-year-old in me. The more number of doors I open, the dissonance becomes louder. When there is no instruction manual, when the system is broken, when knowledge gathered by years of human intelligence can’t help humans to go ashore, I become the ultimate authority to judge and measure my life, and I live it the way I want.

12 thoughts on “Before Opening Door No. 34

  1. D, this is the most beautiful post! ❤ I love the accompanying picture of a contemplative Anu Boo and your exploration of that timeless moment before a birthday! I have been lucky to get to share some lovely moments via the vastness of social media and am do grateful for it and you! Your writing is always soaring higher even if the first piece I read from you was already utterly amazing, you are so talented. Will reach out again soon with birthday wishes ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bina, thank you for always rooting for me. Among many things I love about the Internet, sharing some vignettes of my life with you and our little chats about books, animals, and shows are my chief delights. I am so grateful for our friendship. Thank you, again, for receiving my writing with warmth. It matters the world the to me. ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a wonderful post, D! Loved it! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! Hope when Door No.34 open, you find beautiful Narnia on the other side filled with wonderful adventures!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gorgeous! Just…gorgeous. I’m going to have to pause, just to try to gather some kind of coherence beyond that.(Maybe I’m also a little anxious that you mentioned cats. You know that’s thin ice on which you tread, given your biggest fan’s jealousy of other four-legged creatures in the world beyond those doors.) Okay, so I think that what I really love about this is the complexity, how you have captured so many different kinds of feelings about these thresholds, the nuance that there is no way to pin down this question of open-closed-through and betweens. I also enjoy the little literary flourishes, a classic title that peeks from behind the curtain, and the blend of non-fiction, the cosmos!, and the whimsical. Nicely done. Please don’t deprive the world of any more words. Let them fall onto the page and dance into your 34th entranceway.
    PS Happy Birthday

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear BIP, thank you, thank you, thank you! In truth, our e-mail exchanges gave me the strength to bring some thoughts to my keyboard. So, many thanks to you for inspiring me with some ideas on how I could approach a personal essay. I wanted to gather my thoughts and make sense of the way years are rolling on because 34 seemed like a big number. It’s been more than two months but I haven’t stopped thinking about the number. It’s strange, this thing called birthday, the way the earth just keeps going around the sun. 🙂 But it feels good to drown the sorrow in words and bury it in fur.


  4. This is a lovely essay. Your reflections on the transition between doors are a pleasure to read from beginning to end. I’m glad you’ve stopped worrying about your voice as a writer. It rings with authenticity. Its thought and language are beautiful. Keeping to a thousand words strikes me as an excellent idea. It’s a good discipline and makes things easy for readers on the run. Fortunately, you pack your particular “thousand” with nourishing thoughts that will remain with this reader, at least, for a while. Thank you for writing it. I hope you will continue to write as you explore your journey through Door 34.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for reading, Andrew. Sometimes, I don’t write for months, and sometimes, I am so engrossed in writing that I snap at reality when it tries to intrude. I am trying to establish a discipline. With a full-time corporate job, it’s hard, but trying is my way through. Many thanks, again, Andrew.


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