For some reason and quite coincidentally, a whole lot of my friends became insufferably sad after 23 May. Someone mumbled something about how the political is personal, another sent me a midnight message exhorting me to leave the country rather than live as a second-class citizen, and a third said he was feeling deeply ashamed about having failed the minorities. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to these adults in pain so I promised to do the only thing I eventually fall back on.
“I’m going to write an essay on how loss liberates us. With some tips on how to be a good loser,” I typed into my phone. “Winners get no breaks. Losers get so much time off. You can start yoga again.”
My friend vanished abruptly from the chat window, leaving me alone to make a list of my favourite losses.
Absolutely top of the list is being born a woman. When I first realized that there was supposed to be something not-so-cool about being a little girl, I wondered if it was a dark secret of my community that the presence of girls is not celebrated with the grandiose gratitude it deserves. Soon I was old enough to know that this small-mindedness extends to all cultures and societies and isn’t restricted by boundaries at all. The whole world has trapped itself in a patriarchal, misogynist structure that is hurting each one of us.
So when I think about it, I already know a few things about what it means to be a second-class citizen. To not be included, to be told I am impure, to be diminished for my identity, to be scared for my life while doing something as simple as walking home from a bus stop. To constantly be witness to the humiliation and oppression of others in the world around me.
Did this ever stop me from having fun? From going after what I wanted to pursue? From building a ladder to the stars and climbing on every rung? From being forever young?
Yes, sure it did, sometimes. Once in a while, I get depressed. I knew what suicide ideation was before I learnt it as a smart little phrase. I know what it means to have to work harder and still earn less. If I had the choice offered to me, would I choose to squirm out of this experience and pick the more privileged position of being male instead?
No way. Call it the Stockholm, Reykjavik or Patna syndrome, I would still rather be the loser than the perpetrator within this flawed system.
You know what I do with all these loser experiences? I process them. I separate them and lay them out carefully. I examine the anatomy of disadvantage. I learn to interrogate my own privilege in other contexts. I teach myself empathy. I run with the wolves.
I learnt something else about loss from a close friend recently. She quit her high-profile, high-paying media job after both her parents died. She had been their primary caregiver for the last few years of their life, and I was surprised at her decision. I thought she would choose to embrace work now, something that gave her the highs of achievement, as well as distracted her from her loss.
“This grief is strangely transformative,” she said to me. “It has freed me. I no longer want to please anyone else. I don’t want to participate in this relentless game. I want to return to my own world, nurture myself.”
Sometimes it is wiser to choose to lose. It is a better place to recuperate in. There is a better version of you waiting in the wings.
After Ammi, my mother-in-law, died, my father-in-law and I became somewhat like friends. I mean it’s not like I call him by his first name or anything, I still say Papa in a respectful Urdu tone, but we chat about politics and children and our disappointment with the human race. We grin at each other’s jokes. We read silently together. Which is friendlier than I am with some of my real friends.
Sometimes we need to lose something to remember the value of what has slipped away. It is necessary to lose what we thought was most precious to make place for what we didn’t know was possible.
Often, loss means we can have a better relationship with even the one we seem to have lost. We can be friends only after we give up trying to be lovers. We can work as a team after we give up trying to be friends. We don’t have to blame our shortfalls on others. We can claim them, own them, transform ourselves. We have little left to lose, remember? It is a renewed opportunity to practise grace and generosity.
The worst losses are the ones when one knows one is right, but must publicly concede that if wrong has won, then wrong must be right. The taste of self-righteousness mixed with bitter defeat can sting really badly. Some of my morose friends have been crying real tears.
As a consolation, the opening lines from Elizabeth Bishop’s alluring poem One Art came back to me.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
This is the biggest takeaway from being a compulsive loser. One gets practice in being a survivor. Loss brings back music. It makes time for poetry and silly comedies. It makes us restless to do something, to create from tatters, to put back pieces in search of the whole.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker and the author of the books My Daughters’ Mum and Immortal For A Moment.
She tweets at @natashabadhwar