That arctic-blue coloured land phone

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I still have a vivid picture of that arctic-blue coloured land phone that I stared at for most of the year when I was three. It had been days since my dad had called and I didn’t have the proper answers to why he didn’t find the need to call me even once a week when my cousins got a call from their dad more than twice a day. I got my answer eventually – he didn’t need me.

My grandfather used to call my cousins into his room back then and tell them tall tales of his childhood. If I set foot into his room, I was shooed away. I was three, what blasphemy could I have done? I didn’t know. But I told myself again that he probably didn’t need me too.

The few times I was welcome to play with my cousins and the rest of the kids around, I was made the denner in every game over and over again. I cried, I was tired. No one really needed me or even wanted me around.

A few months later, my uncle moved back into the same city and he had started getting a choco pie on his way back home everyday. Choco pie was a treasure back then. So when the choco pie did come, it used to be taken into the kitchen and cut into exactly two halves. Each of my cousins used to get one. I was the youngest and I still had no choco pie, ever.

I probably sound ridiculous right now, writing about choco pie and being the denner in all the games. I’m exuding some major cry baby syndrome, I know. When I did realise this after a while, I sucked it up, tried to forget all about my major “deprivations” in life and move on. And I did move on.

By now, I had reached adolescence, transforming from a cute kid to a fat girl, all the choco pies and all the tears forgotten. But then boys came into the picture and so did toxic friends. There were also those more than occasionally visiting relatives. All of them had that one common problem with me, I was fat. Every conversation started at weight and every conversation was forcibly terminated at weight, a short while after which I used to be given a dismissive look. I learnt to walk away. I wasn’t needed. That feeling lingered on – be it a group of people talking or making plans, I would assume the worst, I wasn’t needed. And in all probability, I wasn’t needed because I was fat, unacceptably fat.

I was 20 when shit suddenly hit the roof one day, health-wise. It was a do or die scenario and I decided to pick the stronger side and emerge out of it 30 kilos lighter, two years later. A million things changed around me. The way I looked at the million things around me changed, more like. But one thing always remained, that feeling of not being needed. And this time, it hit me hard and I had to ask myself some major questions because to contradict my so called “not needed” feelings, I had amazing friends who actually went the extra mile for me, always. I felt that I was being unjust to them by still feeling this ghost of a self-deprecating emotion. When I shut myself indoors for a few  days trying to yank that insecurity out, I was surprisingly taken back to the arctic-blue landphone, to the choco pies and to my grandfather’s room and of course to my fat adolescence.

Every single thing added up, every drop made up for that huge ocean of insecurity that had been roaring in my head all along. After having cracked that, my next step was pretty simple – I had to fix it. But fixing something so innate couldn’t be an organic process. It had to be meticulous and planned. So every single time I thought myself not needed, lifeless or boring, I categorically told myself to believe in the possibility at the other end of the spectrum as well. I tried telling myself that probably people don’t understand the amazingly complicated personality you have, or start loving yourself, read better books or just cut everyone some slack, maybe they’re just busy. I’ve been doing this for a while now. I still don’t know if I’ve been successful. But one thing I do know is the fact that I don’t feel all that awkward or not needed or unwanted around people anymore. 

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Vanishing from public memory

Diary of an INFJ

Apparently, the only thing people remember about you at the end of the day is how you made them feel. I feel an overwhelming amount of things that happen around me. When I say feeling, I mean absorbing. Except, I hardly ever react; not in the first year of knowing a person. As a result, I don’t end up making anyone feel anything. If you are an interesting person that I’d like to be friends with, then I would require you to talk to me for a year, consistently, so I can open up to you, accept your love and project it right back at you. If you’re a guy walking past my table everyday and trying to hit on me, I’m not capable of showing you that I probably like you too unless you keep knocking on my door repeatedly.

I’m no Queen Victoria. Only a handful people, who are now my friends, have had the patience to go through this awkward, tumultuous phase with me; the rest have pinned an arrogant ‘A’ on my dress and never looked back. Naturally, if you ask me why I am this way I may not be comfortable answering the question because I would not know where to begin and you would lose patience by then. But sit me down, order a cup of coffee, and we’ll be discussing inferiority complexes, childhood bullies, fear of rejection, single parenting, daddy issues, weight problems, health anxieties, over-thinking and irrational insecurities among other things during the course of the conversation. Or maybe I’ve pondered on past life regression techniques way too much or maybe, just maybe, like I said earlier, I mostly don’t react because I highly absorb every emotion in the room and it becomes too difficult for me to asses my own and project it.

Whatever be the reason, I don’t expect anyone to stay. I don’t expect anyone to take me to a coffee shop, sit me down and ask me why I haven’t acted when I should have, why I show no interest even when I am being persuaded to do so. I don’t expect anyone to do this for me, although I want someone to do it, badly. Instead, I crash and burn in my head, unable to withhold the feelings in my silent heart, wondering why they are never reciprocated while not realising that they have never been projected from my own self, in the first place. I become an introvert, I become a cynic and a shy observer. All the drama is in my head and I will never know how I made someone feel.

Crashing, burning out and reaching depression is what’s happening within my head, but I realised that it is much worse outside of me. I’m being erased from memories, and worse, I’m being erased from the present. Trust me, I want to hold you tight and tell you that everything will be fine before you destroy yourself, I want to sing aloud with you and join the merriment, I want to be there, reacting, reciprocating, always. I’m just awkward, dejected and shy. So sit me down over a cup of coffee and ask me why, will you?

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Also, now that we’re talking, how about take this test?
MBTI test

Beyond surreal, it’s unreal…

'Isn't all fiction autobiographical?'

Here’s to letting go, but never forgetting;

Moving away, but never moving over;

Giving up, but never giving in;

Burning out, but never losing the ray of hope;

Here’s to realising that the best things that happen to you are your feelings, not the people associated to them.

(The following post was written in November 2014)

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Dreams can be vicious.

I struggled to let go off the most beautiful yet the most painful thing that happened to me. It was a person. I fought with myself and my conscious mind. I fought with myself because I didn’t know if letting go was the right idea. You don’t let go off the best thing that has ever happened to you, right? My fight didn’t last very long because my practical mind gave up and I decided to stop putting myself through the pain of forcing myself to let go, even if that meant sulking in a corner when this beautiful thing is on your mind but not around you. But I needed my answers. Answers for the absence. I got them one fine day, unexpectedly, after months of searching and asking. Then here I was, in this vicious dream and I saw this person hanging in thin air. His feet almost 6 foot above the ground and his head a little below the tree that had its branches spread right above. He wasn’t physically in touch with anything. His feet were fallen, his head twisted. There was no blood. He was dead. I woke up in the morning with a pleasant feeling. I dreamt of close people dying before. I could never pass through any of those days without 30 minutes of crying after waking up, comfort eating chocolate, calling the dream-dead person up to make sure everything is fine and making a trip to the temple to feel better. But it appalled me how I was feeling pleasant after this dream.

I flipped through the entire of Sigmund Freud’s ‘Interpreting dreams’ for the nth time. The book didn’t have answers this time. So I concluded that this is probably the godly-version of this person in my head, coming to rest. Little did I know then that it was ten times worse. The truth was, this person was dying for me, ceasing to exist. He was slipping into my surreal. There were times when I used to sit at a coffee shop sipping my coffee and I could physically feel a small figure of this person leaving my head. He was dying for me. He was slipping into my surreal. That’s how you feel about dead people. Initially, I struggled to pull him back. You can’t let something that you have kept so close to you, just leave your soul like that. But it was too late, it wasn’t in my hands any more. I gave up. I let the figure slip. I never felt the difference between the feelings of the heart and the feelings of the mind so strongly before I let the figure slip. I have memories but they don’t bring smiles any more. I remember this person but I don’t remember how it feels like to be around this person. The worst part is that the absence doesn’t bring pain any more. Letting go was a better idea than slipping into surreal. Now when I think of this person and I think of all the amazing possibilities, it doesn’t seem right. This person doesn’t seem to do the things this person does or act like this person does. It’s all weird. The feeling has been completely erased. Once you cross the layer of surreal, it’s all imaginary. You feel like you’ve been lying to yourself all this while, all these years. Because now it’s all so unreal.

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When I sent this to a friend of mine last November, he instantly sent this song back to me. I could never piece it together till today. Till I could see this post from a third person’s perspective.

I could see this post from a third person’s perspective, finally. And from there came the nerve to publish it.

One stop ahead of sexism

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Through a blanket of dust, through shattered pieces of glass, a splash of water and a shower of red chillis; the quintessential Tollywood hero makes his entry in the middle of an action sequence, exhibiting his machismo to the goons and, through the screen, to the audience.

He beats up the bad guy and his army, protects the victims, seeks revenge, slaps the female lead character when he thinks she is being stupid and delivers a page long dialogue about being manly. That’s it. There is no more to his character. Wait, let’s rewind, he slaps women. He has no character.

The female lead on the other hand might as well sit at home in the comfort of an AC. But no, she comes on the screen every time the male audience is bored of ‘pants and shirts’ and the female audience wants to connect with the dumbness and dependency she epitomizes. Oh, more importantly, she turns up to be a part of the most redundant yet unavoidable sections of a film- song and dance.

Boy meets girl, boy stalks girl, girl feels uncomfortable, boy makes sexist jokes about her, the whole cast makes sexist comments about women, then boy ignores girl and girl falls in love with the boy. The stalking could be the other way round also, but the sexist comments are a constant.

I’ve grown up watching Telugu films. Don’t jump to conclusions, I was exposed to my fair share of international films, songs and other pop culture as well. I mean, I did have Hi TV and SS Music, Pogo and Cartoon Network and the legendary Skyline theatre for my monthly fix of good English films. But the truth is, our cinema provides such high decibel entertainment value that it is extremely difficult to sit at home, shut your ears and ignore its existence. So week after week, we flocked to the nearby RTC Crossroads, stared in awe at the god-sized posters of our heroes and enjoyed the hooting and immersed ourselves in the story line or the lack of it, while increasing the occupancy levels of an already highly occupied South Indian cinema hall.

Being the 90s kids, Telugu cinema for us has been synonymous to Mahesh Babu and Pawan Kalyan. Of course there was Indra, Narasimha Naidu, Manmadhudu and Samarasimha Reddy, but Obul Reddy, pata basti, kabbadi, Pandu gadu, vayyari bhama nee hamsa nadaka, made in andhra kurrollu and Siddu Siddhartha Roy will forever be fresh in our memory. These landmarks in Telugu cinema came at a point when Bollywood had stopped sexist portrayal of women and started exploring the sensitivity of a man behind the macho. Bollywood produced Dil Chahta Hai, Rang De Basanti and Fashion. It produced some good love stories as well. Stories where the girl and the boy played a man and a woman and the relationship was built from a genuine connection. Sex also became an easy thing. But Tollywood couldn’t say sex, they still had to jump into song and dance. The 2014 Mahesh Babu starrer ‘1 Nenokkadine’ is probably the only film where you feel that the girl and the boy might have a sexual relationship as well but it leaves no clues, because honestly, the film could have done away with the female lead character if given a choice.

Mahesh Babu and Pawan Kalyan thus churned out a million films with chauvinism and sexism sprinkled all over them, with love stories with no emotions and female characters with no importance. Tollywood simultaneously boasts of SS Rajamouli. The guy is a great director, he has never had a flop in his career, agreed. But Kajal Aggarwal plays an extremely dependent, insecure and suspicious character who falls for a stalker, in Magadheera, Genelia D’Souza exists in Sye to cheer lead and let’s not even get to Tamannah’s character in Bahubali: The Beginning. Again, I don’t blame the actors, I blame most of the directors who probably still think that women belong in the kitchen. I don’t mind making a list of the most sexist directors in Tollywood for anyone who is interested. Srinu Vaitla would undoubtedly top the list, followed by Gunashekar.

I shamelessly watched Mahesh Babu and Pawan Kalyan portray such sexist characters again and again. I adore Mahesh Babu, so I watched each of his films 10 times in the theatre (including the highly sexist films such as Dookudu), knowing fully well the influence they had on public and trying to ignore the offensive content, because the punch dialogues and forced comedy were too entertaining. I watched and I watched and I watched until I got tired and saturated and couldn’t take the sexism anymore. I saw Aagadu once and cringed at the idea of watching another Telugu film ever again. I had had enough. Just because you grew up with something doesn’t mean you let it disrespect you for the rest of your life.

Almost ten months went by and I didn’t dare watch a single Telugu film, not even on TV. Then came Bahubali: The Beginning, dragging me to the cinema hall. Apart from the magnum opus that it was, the emotions in the film were disappointing. While it had Tamannah and her immature love story on one side, it had Ramya Krishna roaring the screen on the other. It gave me hope. But avoiding sexism is not about making female dominated films. It’s about making an equally strong female character in even a male dominated film. But that sounded funny and Tollywood producing something like that was impossible.

It was August 7 and my deeply rooted love for Mahesh Babu drove me to a nearby cinema hall in New Delhi. Higher taxes and costlier popcorn, Srimanthudu better be worth it, I thought before entering the screen. The film got over and I walked out realising that I hardly ever noticed Mahesh Babu in the 2 hours and 43 minutes. Both my eyes on Shruti Haasan and all my heart with the writer and director Koratala Siva. I went back to the screen the next day hoping to feast my eyes with Mahesh Babu, but I saw Shruti Haasan yet again and fell in love with Harsha.

Harsha is the name of Mahesh Babu’s character from Srimanthudu. I watched every single film of Mahesh Babu’s a thousand times over. But I don’t remember falling in love with the character he portrays in any of the films. I read a lot of books and watch a lot of films in other languages and I’ve fallen in love with some fictitious characters before. But never one played by Mahesh Babu. Harsha was different, Harsha was acceptable and Harsha was respectful. He treats Charuseela (Shruti Haasan’s character) with immense respect and thinks she is beautiful on the inside. He doesn’t stalk her, he doesn’t pass any comments on her. He values conversations over coffee and he acts on the little things Charuseela says and accepts with dignity when she rejects his love.

Charuseela on the other hand is a strong independent character. She doesn’t fall for a stalker, she doesn’t encourage bullshit. She is smart and does anything to stick to her ideals, including rejecting the man she loves. She shows a confused Harsha the right path in life and he, finds his passion there. And the relationship between them is love, the real, genuine one (I don’t think I ever felt the love between the male and the female lead characters in a mainstream Telugu film before, as much as I felt in the scene where Charuseela and Harsha meet each other after 3 months, in the second half of the film). It is not a high school (fight with each other type) equation, it is not a damsel in distress falls for the shining knight equation and it is definitely not a love story made for the songs. It is, simply put, the light at the end of a long tunnel. A long dark tunnel full of Tollywood films.

Today, I don’t write this post to appreciate the fact that my favourite hero’s film managed to portray what was deemed to be hopeless and impossible in Telugu Cinema. Today, I write this post because I am genuinely happy as a woman. I am genuinely happy that an industry I grew up watching and giving so much of my time, mind and love to, finally respects me back.

Here’s hoping that Srimanthudu doesn’t remain as a one of a kind film but sets example and standards to all Telugu films in the future and marks the beginning of a much needed change in this industry that we love like no other.

At the Turning of a Road

'Isn't all fiction autobiographical?'

She woke up around 10 am, took a long shower, smiled at the pleasant Sun outside her window and put on a Sunshine coloured cotton dress, slipped on her white shoes and headed out to pursue her favourite Sunday morning activity. Going to the Shakespeare and Company book store, spending hours contemplating, reading, talking to new people and making new friends, every Sunday morning, had become a ritual for her ever since she had moved to Paris a year ago.

There, she met people who wrote books, who read the same books as her, who read much different books, who for once didn’t condemn her views on Jane Austen and didn’t always start a Murakami bashing. She loved those non-judgemental, life is much deeper, let’s ‘read between the lines, for figurative, literal and literature purposes’ conversations. After which she generally walked to the grocery store in the adjacent lane and spent another hour picking some healthy food and followed it by a coffee with her usual book store friends.

But this particular Sunday morning, her spirits seemed a little more joyous than usual.

The elation could be sensed in the air of her walk, for she moved like an angel with hidden wings. There was an aura of determination and confidence that took over her.

As she reached the book store and turned in to take a step, she lost it all. Her confidence left her like a baby out of the womb. A dry, burning and painful sensation in the pit of her stomach, replaced her elation. It had become so dominant that it was now physically painful.

‘This is a familiar feeling, I’ve felt it before,’ she thought to herself but she couldn’t quite place it. When she invested another five minutes to jog the origin of the feeling and emerged a failure, she decided to blame her capricious mind for it.

Not wanting to project her mood on to her friends, she quietly walked toward the languages section of the store, picked up a book she had been eyeing for a while and later seated herself in the mythology section and started reading various versions of Helena’s story and her perspective. After an hour of reading about Helena and buckling herself up for her forthcoming assignment in Greece, she walked ahead to pick up some books on the country.

She had reached a narrow but long room stacked of books. It was the ‘Travel’ section. There were two ancient looking wooden doors that opened into the room on either sides.

She went up to the Greece section to chose a book to read when a man who saw her entering walked up to her and said, “Excuse me, could you help me with this map.”

She turned around, looked at the map first. The man took two steps backwards and said, “Whoa! Hi?”

“Oh. Hi,” she said in a really low tone, trying to sound disinterested. But on the inside, she was blank. She didn’t know what was happening around here.

He then walked ahead and tried to engulf her into one of his big warm hugs which she quickly cut short after a small arm hug. Feeling a little awkward, he said, “It’s been four years. You..you look so different.”

“I know,” she said with a self-ascertained smile on her face.

“Well, that’s new. What are you doing here?” He asked.

“I’ve been here for a year, working.”

“That’s nice. I just moved here,” he said.

“Okay, that’s great. You’ll love this city.”

She looked into the map he was holding in his hands and helped him with the direction to the museum he wanted to visit.

“Hey, I have to go. It was nice bumping into you, see you,” she said and walked out of the wooden door on the opposite end.

He kept looking at her walking away. The farther she walked, the already narrow book store narrowed down further for him. He could see all the stacked books storm off their counters and blind his view once she reached the billing area. “Shit,” he muttered under his breath. A sudden stroke of regret overwhelmed him. He found himself wishing that he had never gotten things to a point where the only way they could see each other was by bumping in.

She, on the other side, got the book she picked up at the languages section billed and walked out of the book store emitting the biggest sigh of relief that had ever existed. She turned to the left and walked away from his sight forever.

He just stood there, motionless. He couldn’t gauge what was happening to him. Amid all the chaos that he had witnessed, he tried to calm himself down and think usefully. He had his answer. He wanted to talk to her this time. He ran out of the store to look if she was still around. But as luck would have it, she wasn’t. His hand immediately reached for his phone and waited for her message, like old times. A good five minutes later, nothing came.

“She wouldn’t make the effort to find out my phone number to message me. Why would she anyway,” he thought to himself while resolving to find her number.

He immediately called one of their mutual friends for her latest phone number and got it within a minute.

Not wasting a single second, he called her asking her where she was and if they could get a coffee.

Sounding wary, she replied saying she was in the grocery shop in the adjacent lane.

So he went there, met her and spent a few minutes while watching her pick up various things for her kitchen.

When she was done, they walked up to the coffee shop, in silence.

“So what’s your work here like,” he asked her after they took their table in the coffee shop and ordered for coffee.

“Well, I work for the UNESCO. For the culture part of it. I basically go around the world, seeing the condition of monuments, assessing them, reading up more about countries and histories, figuring out if we have left anything out and stuff like that.”

“Wow, that is immensely interesting. You’re definitely loving your job here.”

“Of course I am.”

“So I’m writing books, I don’t know if you know,” he said.

“I know. I read them all,” she replied even before he could finish, adding, “They are quite the best sellers, you know.”

“Haha yeah, so I also work for this agency which asked me to move to Paris for a while. I said why not, it’s a great place to write better as well.”

“If you could write any better. Sure. But yes, new ideas and plots, definitely. But like they say, I don’t know how far some imaginative “love” in the air of Paris can help you write better though.”

“Wow, you’ve become really cynical,” he remarked.

To which she flashed another one of her self-ascertained smiles, which was still new for him to see on her face. He was being taken aback by them.

Suddenly, sensing that they were going to run into an awkward silence, he said, “Let me see which book you bought from the store.”

She dished it out for him, the title read ‘El amor en los tiempos del cólera’.

“The Spanish version of ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’, nice. I didn’t know you could understand Spanish.” he said.

“We’ll yeah, started learning new languages a while ago. Did a Spanish course. I was with a Spanish guy last night, started talking to him Spanish only to realize that I was decently good with it. So when I attained enough confidence about the language, this was the first thing I was determined to do. So did you read this book?”

“Yeah, a long time ago. English translation, though. But why did you pick this book out of everything?”

“Well some books stay with you, you know. And this has in a major way. I took an extremely long time reading it when I read it in English around four years ago. The incidents in the book had started resonating with my mind so much that I stopped reading it mid way.”

“What do you mean incidents resonated with your mind?”

“Well, you know, Florentino Ariza was hopelessly in unrequited love. He was pathetic. But Fermina Daza was having a decent time in her marriage. I mean why is he the one suffering with unrequited love. Where is the damn balance. She does not go through any major suffering at all, anywhere in the story. So I stopped when I figured what was happening. When I figured he was going to wait for her for fifty years. I didn’t want to do that with my life. It was really uncomfortable. I couldn’t accept it. So I stopped reading. There is no literary justice, poetic justice. When she comes back to him after fifty years, he should have really walked away, let her die in misery. Now that would be literally justice.”

“So when did you start reading again?” he asked.

“Well, just a few days after, when I figured he had a point. He made sense. He loved her, after all. It’s very hard to stay away, say no, hurt the other person.”

There was silence when she finished. Their coffee had arrived meanwhile.

He took in everything she said and he knew what she was talking about, for he still couldn’t get it out of his head, the way she refused to hug him properly. She still liked him. And he regretted that he didn’t have the capacity to reciprocate it, back then. As a reflex action, he bent forward to her lips and gave her a small but lingering kiss. She cooperated but didn’t kiss him back. He didn’t show any regret.

She lounged back in her chair, looked away, a tear now rolled down her cheek.

A moment later, he said, “hey, I want to go around the city today. Will you come show me around?”

“Well, I am not kissing you under the Eiffel Tower,” she said, got up and walked out of the coffee shop.

He followed her. “When can I see you next?” he asked, his tone almost that of suffering.

“Well, you need to figure out what you just did. And if you don’t regret it, you still need to figure out what is going to happen. If you’ve already figured it all out, like you usually do, you still need to wait, for fifty days at least.”

“Fifty days?” he said, sounding terrified.

“Well then, that’s too much, isn’t it. But it’s better than the five years that I’ve gone through.”

His face fell.

She turned away, grinning brightly and thought to herself, “literary fucking justice. I’ll make him suffer for fifty hours, at least.”

Far Away

'Poetry arrived in search of me'

Tears dry out faster,

Memories refuse to stay longer;

Many winds my way blow

With you far away now.

I succumb to fleeting emotions,

And rejoice in my superficial notions;

“Oh that is beautiful,” I quip

At any frivolous nip.

Words don’t come to me these days

I struggle to express in all ways.

Thoughts were all aligned fine

But the story didn’t sound like mine.

Those empty sheets of white

Stared at me, questioning my might.

“Why haven’t you filled us?”

They treated me like a cuss.

“Why haven’t I filled them?”

No answer came from my stem.

No feeling came to my mind,

My heart lacked feelings of every kind.

Shallow I was like the bubble

Happy without any emotional trouble.

I forgot what it was to truly express

Until situations didn’t impress.

Around you, my soul filled

With emotions that had left unfulfilled.

Not a word did I spare,

In front of you I didn’t care.

Empty white sheets lie there

Bearing no testimony to my despair.

Words finally come but so does sorrow,

Because you are gone too far away now.

It is not meant to meet the eyes

'Poetry arrived in search of me'

I stood at the threshold

Watched him be so cold;

Gave him valuable advice

To not salvage his love for life.

In solitude I shed silent tears

Telling myself this is not yours,

your love is not wise,

It’s not meant to meet the eyes.

But I’m no saint, cried my evil

Selfish I was like the devil

So I let myself hope for the fine,

That one day his love will be mine.

I sailed through tough times

And continued with my crimes,

Aiming at a distant hollow,

Containing all love my heart could follow.

I was a culprit, filled with hopes

Punishment came in due course.

When I dared to meet my own eye,

The mirror refused to be an alibi.

I gave up to chase a better life

But you never salvage your love for life;

So I decided to wait till the end of time,

Because one day, that love will be mine.