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Just breathe

22 Jun

Many times over the last three months, I’ve caught myself in a loop of guilt. It’s usually at the most inopportune time, just as I am about to allow myself a brief break. When I most feel like I need to catch a breather. Once the guilt has arrived at my door, taking stock of how much I’ve done and if I deserve the break, taking it becomes so much harder. And in that moment of guilt, I convince myself that I am not worthy of taking time out.

Because, you’re not working yet.

In the past few weeks, I’ve felt this way more often than I’ll care to admit. I know this is partly my nature. This compulsive need to justify and earn every little break. But this time, it also has to do with the limbo we have been in since taking the decision to move back to Bangalore.

On the surface, most of the basics are settled. Life has resumed in a new city, a new home that’s set up enough for us to occupy and live in but that could do with a few more frills and spoils, I even dragged my feet back to some kind of efforts at work after the unplanned and extended hiatus. But I’m constantly torn between focusing on all the extras that remain to be done, and just putting a full stop on it and moving on with real work.

Maybe that’s just it?

The nebulous nature of things, with my line of work and with the current state of my life — with no real “plan”, no pressing demands, no conventional schedule, no impending deadlines — that leaves me with little validation or justification for the effort, time and energy I am spending day after day. No deliverables, no neatly packaged articles, no money flowing into the bank. Yet so much energy and money flowing out. Energy, money, effort and time that we have expended in making this move. This, combined with the hardcoded, deeply-ingrained notions of “hard work” that still rule my world means I still don’t always take my own effort seriously, unless it fetches me external validation and affirmation, preferably by way of a handsome fee. At times like this where life happens and one just gets on with it, and there is little prodding or congratulations, I feel empty, depleted and exhausted.

This is not a complain about the external world not congratulating me for getting on with life. It’s just me acknowledging my ego and the way it works. I often beat myself up about not working the past three months. A one month break unexpectedly turned into a three months off. Not because I decided to take time off, but because we landed ourselves in the midst of a mildly life-changing shift that needed our time and focus. I’ve had my hands full for the most part of the last two months, at least, working at smoothing things out in this time of transition. And yet, I’ve had this low hum gnawing the back of my brain out slowly – you’re not working. You should be working.

When I usually feel the need for time out, it is following a period of hectic activity, when I need to refuel and recharge my batteries. And my way to do that is to indulge in the things that fill me with a good, happy energy.

Like sit back and enjoy the fruits of our effort the past few weeks.
Like write the many blog posts jammed tight in my brain.
Like leisurely writing out the story ideas I’ve accumulated in the last three months.
Like meet with people I’ve been meaning to ever since I got to Bangalore.
Like finish reading those books I began in May.
Like begin to enjoy Bangalore a little more.

So, when guilt arrives at my doorstep, taking stock to check if I need or truly deserve the break, it puts a spoke in things. Instead of rejuvenating myself, I feel guilty. And that  quickly spirals into a a loop of desperation when I realise how little I have in hand — again, little is measured purely in conventional terms.

It then makes me feel like I ought to get going, not relax. And since this is fundamentally at loggerheads with what I intuitively know I want to be doing, I get stuck. Not moving towards what my head tells me I should do, or what my heart tells me I should feel.

Temporary relief follows soon after because the good thing is I’m beginning to notice and pin point these patterns, and I am quick to correct myself. But it is only temporary. I let go briefly, only to quickly feel the panic and the lack of doing things again.

In my head the idea that to be productive, useful and busy is still tied in to churning out one assignment after another, bringing those cheques in one after another. I’m slowly but painfully realising that this is what I am trained to believe, and not what makes sense to my soul.

My life the last few years has been a series of gradual shifts towards being my own boss. I don’t mean that professionally alone. I mean it’s been a constant work in progress towards tuning in and listening to my own cues and working on feeling content most, if not all, of the time.

The inwards tussle this time around, is with knowing that yes, I do need to work and earn some of my bread (even though I have a perfectly capable, willing, giving partner who provides it for me), but no, I don’t have to make myself unhappy and exhausted doing it. I am privileged and lucky to have a situation that allows this.

***

A couple of nights ago, we had friends over for dinner. Even though we’ve been living in the new home for almost three weeks now, and had my folks and VC’s folks over for a meal, it wasn’t until this past weekend that I felt like we’d put the home in this home — complete with  a gas connection and water and internet. Right before our friends arrived, I looked up from where I was sitting, at my dining table.

And I realised — this is the validation I needed. This is what I’ve been working on. This is the sum total of the work that has kept me physically and mentally engaged since early May. Making a home from an opportunity I stumbled upon and grabbed with both my hands, even when my heart was aflutter in the anticipation and overwhelmed with change.

I often forget to that work cannot only be measured in the time spent strapped at a desk — whether in an office or at home. Heck, right now I don’t even have a desk. And yet, I’ve been working for the most part of these last few weeks. Moving cities was work, getting the house up and running took a lot of work, setting up a new home has hard and exhausting work.

This has taken a lot of work. And it has been tiring. Even more so because I haven’t allowed myself to acknowledge this simple fact, or allowed myself a real, refreshing break from it.

It’s true, work fuels life. Not just by giving us the currency to do the things we want to do that cost money, but it also fuels our sense of worth and pride. But I’m gradually realising that the nature of what qualifies as work ticks different boxes for different people, and it can change constantly from one phase to another.

The last few years in Goa, I immersed myself in a fulfilling kind of work through words. It was right for that time and place, and it made sense for where I was then. But it makes no sense to force fit that definition of productivity to the rest of my years. Somewhere, these past few weeks, I’ve lost sight of the reason why we moved out of the boonies and back to civilisation. A significant part of that reason was to be able to mingle a little, dip my toes into the spoils of the city a little, and surround myself in the the company of folks I’ve been longing to be around

I’m finally here, in the right space and environment that makes sense for me now, and here I am trying to be productive and busy doing things that don’t make sense right now. Here I am berating myself for being not as useful or independent as I can be. When the truth is, I’ve been busy. This transition has taken work. And I am not less productive, less useful, less anything for not putting in time at my desk chasing bylines.

Maybe I need to get out of my head for a bit, to explore and create a new definitions of work for myself. To allow the newness of this experience to break through the old moulds I’ve held it all within, to come out and soak it in. Maybe it’s time to loosen the grip and re-create new sense of what this time, place and phase asks of me.

Maybe it’s time to revel in the fact that this is me, now and there’s no way to expect an older version of me to thrive in a new set of situations. Maybe instead of brushing aside the guilt, as everyone tells me to, I should hold it up, look it squarely in the eye and understand that the guilt is just my ego in another form, luring me back into an older way of being, one that makes little sense now. And even as it writhes in my grip and wriggles it’s way back into my everyday life, I must look at it, accept it, maybe even wallow a little bit in it. But eventually, I must just remember to breathe. And live a little.

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Changing seasons

31 May

I snapped this picture on my last day in Goa, right before we were hit by a tornado of cardboard cartons, bubble wrap and plastic, amidst entertaining movers and packers, handling puppy distractions, impossibly generous friends who brought us chai on tap, provided meals and also who opened their homes out to us for when we were bed-less without a roof over our heads. The thing about this kind of hurried relocation is there’s no escaping the general mayhem that is likely to ensue, no matter how organised or planned you think you are. While we had our tasks slotted across an entire week, between relentless following up (because nobody ever does anything on just one service request anymore!) saying goodbyes to the handful of people we wanted to and getting our lives wrapped up into 73 boxes, the week running up to our eventual departure from home was insane to say the least.

But I snapped this picture smack in the midst of one of the last day in Goa, the craziest one. It’s currently the home screen on my phone and makes a fitting symbol of the freshness of change that often feels like a lease of life, especially when caught in an oppressively difficult time. Its an apt reminder of the insane time that the months of April and May have been. Made worse by the impossibly high temperatures we faced in Goa this year. And the way in which we were forced to just surrender to the plan that seemed to fall into place without much doing. We decided to just go with it. And this right here, has been a humbling experience for me.

I’ve said before that I’m hopeless with change, but this time it’s been different. That there was anticipation, a certain desperation even, for change, is true. I suppose this is what has helped in making this a smooth process, even as it tested our energy and patience. This time, there has been more acceptance than digging my heels in or gritting my teeth in defiance. There has been easy relinquishing control, rather than inhuman efforts to retain it. For once, this unexpected change of scene has been the silver lining. Much like the blooms in this picture.

Because wanting to leave is enough

27 Apr

A little over seven years after I wrote this very telegraphic post, I’m back in the exact same spot. I came to Bangalore early this month in search of a break, new beginnings, to get a feel of all things city-life again, and to house hunt. I’m aware of how ridiculous this sounds considering I am from Bangalore, but the truth is seven+ years away feels like an entire lifetime. And we’ve both completely forgotten what living here used to be like.

Very soon, I’ll be in this phase. The last time, I was leaving the security of home to fly off into the unknown, with mixed emotions. It was a happy-sad farewell. I was sad to go, but bracing myself with a hint of excitement about Goa and newfound freedom. This time around, I want so desperately to move, and after such a roundabout hunt, I’m coming back home. Yes, Bangalore is nothing like it used to be, but there’s nothing better than returning to familiar ground, home turf, right back into the safe space that is being around parents.

It’s strange how one tends to always end up right where one belongs. Even if it takes a long time getting there, and sometimes it’s the last place you imagine and believe you want to be.

That we wanted to move, was fact. It has been in the works for about two (painfully long) years now. What took this long was closing in on a destination. And that proved to be the hardest part, rife with unplanned twists and turns, and multiple choices, difficult conversations that weighed out the pros and cons a hundred times over, which made the decision-making process a bigger test than we ever imagined it would be.

I’m facing the “why are you moving?” and “why Bangalore?!!” question at least once a day and I find myself strangely at peace about it. Perhaps it’s because I’m not really feeling all that heavy-heart-y about leaving Goa. Yes, there’s a lot I’ll miss terribly about Goa, but for far too long now I have felt that I need to shake things up and move on. So I’m feeling more positive and ready about the present and what lies ahead, than wistful about the past. It has little to do with which destination makes a better home, and everything to do with where we are in life at this present moment, and what we want from it.

Also, we now have a home in Goa and I envisage some back-and-forth-ing is in the works. Every time the big city gets hectic, it’s nice to know we’ll have a space to camp out at in Goa. So it really doesn’t feel like a sad close to this amazing time, rather a much, much needed segue into a brave, new world.

And so that brings me to Bangalore, where finally, we have found a new home. I say new, because it feels like a new phase, but it’s an old home in an area I grew up in. Talk about full circle, eh? D pointed out to me this morning, how our bodies talk to us. It’s a connection I’d made, but hadn’t articulated quite the way she did. It’s very telling of the slow and steady, step by step movement towards acceptance of why I must go, how and when that eventually gave me a push. Closure, peaceful acceptance, the serenity of everything happening for a reason only really fell into place when I answered the why now? question with honesty. When I accepted the most fundamental reason that needed no further explanations or justification. To borrow the words of the inimitable Cheryl Strayed:

Go, because you want to. Because wanting to leave is enough.

Getting to this point of clarity has been a humbling exercise in learning to let go and trust the process. It took everything out of us, but without it there was no decision to be made. Once we got there, though, there was no stopping or turning back. Before we knew it, various elements had snowballed right before our eyes, pushing us into relocation mode faster than we could fully register what was happening.

I’ve always believed I don’t do well with change, but for the first time in a long time, I’m hungering for some.

For now, it’s goodbye Goa. And in true VC-style, there had to be a goodbye video. Featuring me and my very itchy feet that have been raring to go.

As ​7.5 brilliant years in Goa come to a close, I’m eager, thrilled and so at peace with being at the brink of change and beginning a new trip. Until next time, stay amazing, Goa. You’ve been everything.

In-stages

26 Apr

By no deliberate design the frequency of my Instagram updates dwindled at the start of the year. Scrolling back the other day, I realised that aside from work updates, my feed (before April began, that is) has an unnaturally high number of pictures focused on my feet. And legs. (Remember this and this?)

I don’t know what brought this sudden preoccupation on, but the whole thing is kind of telling.

March 5, 2017.
When I was a bit resigned to keeping my head down and getting from one day to the next. Knocking off assignments, doing the drill. I was still very much in limbo.

In transit.

March 14, 2017
Holi day began with a big breakfast of idlis and vadas. And I saw this splatter of pink at the entrance of the restaurant. It was a week when things began to shift for the better and a quiet reassurance was creeping in.

And I think everything is going to be alright. No matter what we do tonight.

March 16, 2017.
Somewhere in all of this, the positive swing made me realise that I needed to focus on getting my head together and moving on, which required time and attention. Attention I couldn’t squander on much else. Not even work. But this wasn’t an easy thing to accept. My inner Type A rises to the fore way too frequently, bringing up a perspective that is at loggerheads with the one that one that demands silence. This is where I began to really question what ambition, productivity and the rest means to me.

It was also my quarterly reminder to stop holding myself to irrationally high standards or productivity, and to just keep swimming.

There is literally nothing in nature that blooms all year long, so don’t expect yourself to do so either.

April 9, 2017.
By the beginning of April, it was clear I was going to be on my way. A sabbatical, some time off was on the cards. And given that I intended it to be an indefinite break, we decided to go away for the weekend with some friends. And their pups.

At the end of a deliciously easy weekend away, on the eve of my trip to Bangalore, I came away ever so recharged and happy for what lies ahead.

Things about Goa I’ll miss the most: weekending outdoors. Spent my last one amidst cashew groves, lazing in the summer heat, reading, waking up to chirping birds and having these two at our feet.

April 20, 2017.
This trip to Bangalore has had a definite relaxed mood like never before. It’s been without the rush to do the things I’m always urgently wanting to tick off because I only ever have a few days at my disposal. Very high up on that list is getting some down time with S&S. As it happens, we try and combine it with sampling some food, or a menu or restaurant I haven’t tried before. But this time, we met only ten days after I got into town. In a relaxed, beer tinged evening at home, spent gabbing while we waiting on our home delivered Thai meal to arrive. It was a good taste of times to come, of one of the few things that promise to make living in the city bearable again.

To more nights like this <3

Step by step, in stages, I’m getting through it after all.

I get by with a lot of help from my friends

25 Apr

Honestly speaking, I’m all into this mindful seizing of day, living in the present business. I really am. For the most part. But for the longest time now, I have literally felt like I am existing in-between. Like I’m passing through a conduit of endless waiting. In limbo. And it has meant enjoying the present is a tough ask. It has tested the absolute life out of my capacity to stay still, to remain present without racing ahead of myself with dreams of the future or being stuck in a loop of lamenting about the past.

It’s been painfully slow to move, this time of transition between one phase and the next. And the pain started as a smidgen of dissatisfaction with what had become of my life. Feeling limited in the littlest ways, and that longing to go beyond — at work, in my city, with people around me — constantly clawing away at me, in tiny nibble-sized chunks. A little minuscule molecule of dissatisfaction in a period of almost 24 months morphed into a burgeoning restlessness that rumbled on endlessly, just beneath the surface. And when I was unable to decipher and deal with it adequately, it festered. Gently at first, a very covert sort of twist and churn, making itself seen and known in small, but shocking ways. Eventually, the churn got bigger, noisier, and the made its presence felt in painful, alarming ways, more often than I cared to be reminded of it.

But that was just it. As I busied myself with convenient distractions in the form of the pursuit of over achieving, outrageous professional goals and what not, the rumble continued to make itself known, nudging me to stop filling my everyday life with distractions, and instead look at the bubbling cauldron of pain I was in. I saw the signs, and I took every one of those events as an affirmation that the pain I was feeling was real. But I just didn’t know where to go to begin to fix it. To find my way out, I had to stop and acknowledge the situation I was in, and accept that I couldn’t and didn’t need to do it alone.

But everything has a tipping point. Over time, the fuzzy restlessness turned into a distinct surety that my time here was done. And that was really hard to wrap my head around. I mean this is where my life is. It’s where adulthood really began. In Goa, in this phase of my life.

It was in Goa that I landed quite by surprise, and then cobbled together a home with the man I love, built little every day experiences and got through eight years together, ploughing through an assortment of situations — good, bad and ugly. t’s here that I trudged through expanses of most no work prospects and yet carved out a flourishing career in a manner that made sense to me.

This is where I’ve made, nurtured and lost friendships, relationships, associations of all kinds. This is where I found other sides of my identity, and it’s also where I shed them. This is where I learned to appreciate solitude, the bliss of silence, where I stumbled and fell multiple times, picked myself up and gathered myself time and time again, where I truly embraced the slow life.

This is where I hit my stride and became the adult I was waiting to be. This is where I discovered sides to myself, found my feet, explored hobbies and chased experiences I wouldn’t have had in my other life if I had continued the way I was going in 2010,

This is where the naive decision to pick up our lives, wrap them in 13 little boxes, and a car and get going came to fruition. My life since has been full of experiences. Enriching, enlightening, eye-opening, humbling, and so much more. This blog, more than anything else, is testimony to the changes we went through, the various milestones and setbacks we hit along the way. There has never been a more transformational time. This is where I had the best years of my life.

To go from near-eight years of that to a sudden, but very rapidly consuming limbo was all sorts of painfully incapacitating. For a while now I’ve felt this building up of everything to a very pregnant point, this growing ennui has gone on so long. It has only kept pointing me closer and closer to all the little, seemingly insignificant aspects of my life that I was ignoring (some by choice, some by sheer ignorance itself) because it would mean facing difficult questions, difficult choices and difficult conversations.

For the first time, I realised what having a empty life was like. While I was consciously and unconsciously filling my days with all that I thought needed my time and attention, life was doing it’s best to pare itself down, so I would just focus for a moment, on that which needed it the most.

In the bargain I stripped my life down to the bare minimum. The friends I have left will affirm this. Only a handful know what’s really been going on with me. I found it impossible to expend even an ounce of energy in explaining any of it to an audience just because they were curious or concerned. It’s not like I chose to alienate people, but it is what happened as I sought the company and conversations of folks who cared to check on me, understood when I explained, and kept conversations from going back to talking about themselves. With work already taking up a fair bit of my mind space, I had very little left to spread between therapy and those few who did get my pain. Fewer still were the number of people who realised that my needing some time and space to myself was not a reflection on them, and therefore no reason to take offence.

In many ways the experience of the last 2 years has been a large filter, holding a mirror up to the quality of interactions I’ve accumulated over the years. It’s been a slow withering away of those that existed at the fringes, held by weak ties, and pulling those I hold close, even closer still. Without much effort or doing, it became exceedingly clear the friends I was clinging on to, many of whom, ironically, weren’t close to me in proximity. Spread between Bangalore, Bombay and even as far as Singapore and America, they’re the ones who stayed. Pitched in when they had advice to give, insights to share or answers to those 12 am questions. And sometimes even when they didn’t. They’re the ones who had the constant reminders to not be hard on myself, to take my time.

For the absolute first time in my life, I realised what it was to be lonely. I fully fathomed the pain of longing for the company of folks you love, because they get you, and are so far away.

Despite the distances, though, pain has a strange way of bringing those you need the most closest to you. In a late night call with N one day in March, she reminded me of this really pertinent snipped from Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior.

…we think our job as humans is to avoid pain, our job as parents is to protect our children from pain, and our job as friends is to fix each other’s pain. Maybe that’s why we all feel like failures so often — because we all have the wrong job description of love. What my friends didn’t know about me…Is that people who are hurting don’t need Avoiders, Protectors, or Fixers. What we need are patient, loving witnesses. People to sit quietly and hold space for us. People to stand in helpless vigil to our pain.

It was the kind of conversation that clicked something into place in my head, and set off a ripple effect of things that were just waiting to happen. It set the wheels in motion, in a way that wouldn’t have happened without the push. And just like that I felt like the vacuum that was the two-year limbo suddenly released, making way for movement again.

I’m grateful for the timely reminders.

I’m grateful for the kindred spirits and the uncanny commonalities we discover in our lives.

I’m grateful for the company that blurs distances and erases time zones.

I’m grateful for the gentle nudges and the wholehearted pushes.

I’m grateful for my tribe who has consistently sat quietly, holding space, sometimes in helpless vigil, to my pain.

I wouldn’t have realised my pain, and made the effort to move through this two-year limbo, without them.

It finally feels like I’m at the start of something new, rather than wasting away in the dregs of something old, done and dusted. And I’m so very ready to get going.

More books (and a mini Bangalore update)

24 Apr

There’s a lot of stuff I had planned for this break. Yeah, roll your eyes. I’m that person who makes a plan even when I’m on a break. The last few weeks before I came to Bangalore have been a blur and in order to focus on some important things on hand, I had completely ignored work, and to a large extent, home too. So I wanted to spend my time here, working in earnest again, get some writing (that’s not work) done, fleshing out some long pending ideas that have been sitting in cold storage and make some short term goals and plans for the months to come. The decision to spend an indefinite amount of time in Bangalore was also spurred by the fact that the emotionally tumultuous phase I’ve been through had me wanting the comfort of home, family, friends and familiarity. Bangalore was the last place on my mind when I thought about taking a short sabbatical from my life in Goa, and somehow after roaming halfway across the globe searching for options that ticked all the boxes for this kind of a break, I found myself booking a one-way ticket to Bangalore, of all places.

This was not part of the plan. The plan was to go away, not return to where I used to be. This was meant to be a month of meandering. A relaxed, routine-free and spontaneous few weeks with no immediate end in sight. At least that was the plan.

It’s how I fool myself into believing I’m in control of things — I make systematic plans and work out intricate routes and systems for the way I want things to move.  But yet again, life has shown me it has it’s own plan, and that in fact so little of it is my doing, or even in my control.

When it comes to plans, I’ve got nothing on life. So, a twist in the tale the moment I landed in Bangalore brought on a completely unexpected turn of events. And I spent the first ten days of my trip (starting from the very next day after I landed) house hunting. More on that later, but all this to say I haven’t had any time to do the things I planned to, and have instead been playing to the tunes of this other plan that’s playing out all on it’s own.

What I have been doing instead, while I wait for brokers, on cab rides between destinations, at the dining table, in between conversations and right before bedtime, is reading a lot more than usual. That has been a welcome change.

(I also realised just now that of late my Instagram has been pictures of books I’m reading and my feet/legs. And sometimes both.)

The High Priestess Never Marries, Sharanya Manivannan
Quite easily the most intense and visceral book I’ve read this year. The High Priestess Never Marries is a collection of 26 short stories about love, longing, lust, desire, relationships — each told from the perspective of women at the heart of the story. Featuring women from diverging backgrounds, social make-up and geographies too, Sharanya Mannivanan presents women hopelessly in love, some deeply committed, some spurned and looking for requital, some flirting with infidelity or polyamory (depending on how you look at it) — and every single story made me stop and question my notion of commitment, fidelity, marriage. Densely packed, beautifully crafted, it was a slow read and I literally had to use the dictionary on every single page. And yet, I gobbled it hungrily. I haven’t had a book grab me and break me slowly, beautifully, enveloping and taking me in more and more with every page, like this book did, in so so so long.

Karachi, You’re Killing Me!, Saba Imtiaz

I picked this because I wanted a quick, light read and I suddenly heard this had been made into a movie (out now!) featuring Sonakshi Sinha, but of more interest to me, Kanan Gill and Purab Kohli. So of course I’m going to be watching it. This is a very light read and delivered on the quick bit too, perfect for the weeks before my visit to Bangalore, when I was busy as hell. This is a little bit like a Pakistani Bridget Jones meets your most typical, cliche chicklit book ever. It has all the right ingredients — a 20-something journalist (who lives in Karachi), lots of angst about where she is in her life, adequate mention of alcohol, partying hard, fashion, high-society, and of course a sweet and very predictable love story woven in. I went in with no expectations, and rather than coming out happy, let’s say I wasn’t disappointed.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer
I was very late to get to this book that has come so highly recommended many, many times over. But I’m so glad I finally got to it, because it was another book I just devoured in record time. Largely because it is written in epistolary form — which is easily my most favourite style. But also because it is such a heartwarming book about books, writing, a writers pursuit for a subject, and the depths to which book lovers and writers go to unravel the secrets within stories we’ve only read in words before.

It’s 1946, in London and through a series of letters exchanged between Juliet Ashton (a writer seeking a subject for her new book) and a man (who becomes her primary source for said subject that completely consumes her) that draws Juliet and readers into a mysteriously wonderful and dream-like world amidst the members of the curiously names Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society. The author, the main character, is . strong, critical woman very aware of her independence and choice, and navigates post-war society with thought, but without losing warmth and grace. The writing is charming and flows easily. The story, even more so.

All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg
I picked this book from this list (yes, it’s yet another list of several compelling titles to now knock off) because the short description was so compelling:

Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up follows a 39-year-old woman who lives her unconventional life — unmarried and without children — by choice and on her own terms. But when her niece is born with severe birth defects, she is forced to re-examine herself and what being an adult really means. A raw, honest, and often hilarious ride of a novel.

And it did not disappoint. I absolutely, thoroughly loved this book because it was so damn relatable. The writing is tight, super honest and chock full of brutally honest vignettes that any millennial will identify with — from the angst of choosing to earn a living versus following a calling, to carefully cultivating a deluded sense of poverty, to having misguided priorities, to our difficult relationships with our parents, eventually finding our way to and out of therapy, dealing with love, loss and emotional upheaval. Another book that really drew me in and I finished reading in under two days.

I think I read this book at an apt time in my life. After a rather intense burst of therapy, returning to spend a longish period of time at home with my family, reworking notions of my existence and independence vis a vis the part I play in the various relationships I am a part of.

It was also oddly surreal to breeze through this book much the same way I used to breeze through books lying in my bed, spending sunny afternoons peeling back the pages from cover to cover, without a care in the world. This felt like the kind of book that reaffirms your current reality.

It really, really feels great to be home.

Serendipity

11 Apr

I’m a hopeless believer of serendipity. I find myself irresistibly drawn to making connections when seemingly unconnected events line up in a row to articulately spell a message, or provide direction, or sometimes simply to reiterate what is already in my mind, even when I’m being too daft to see it.

Last night, it came in the form of an essay “on (and against) ambition”, that D shared with me. It was the last thing in a day of continuously running into affirmations about a decision that looms large, and it was just the thing I needed to read to reaffirm what I already know but am often too afraid to admit. And to commit to wholeheartedly. So while I swing along with it as the courage comes and goes in waves, this essay was yet another pause, followed by a swift blow to nail, right on its head.

I’ve written about ambition before, and my tussle with accepting what it means to me versus what it means to the world at large. A world that’s constantly sending me messages of what it means to be ambitious, productive, useful, good. To fight the labels, the boxes, the messages and to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were, to find that which makes most sense to me and cling to it while all about me the world continues to make something else entirely of me, has been a constant work in progress.

The fight has always been mostly internal. And it has been a fight we all have seen ourselves go through in some aspect of our lives or the other. It is a fight to stick by a choice, no matter how atypical it may seem on the outside, because it is what makes most sense to us on the inside. So if you find yourself struggling to fully embrace alternative choices even when it’s what is best for you, if you tire of constantly going against the grain, if you’re wondering if women have it harder (we do) this is a great essay, and maybe it will be a much required blow to the gut for you, like it was for me.

Read?

The Snarling Girl, by Elisa Albert. Notes on—and against—ambition.

A few things that stuck out and sealed the deal for me.

Ambition: an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment. Note: we are not speaking here about trying to pay our bills, have a decent place to live, buy decent food, access decent health care, get a decent education. For the purposes of this particular discussion, those fundamentals are assumed. And there’s nothing in there about spiritual betterment, social service, love, or happiness. The entire concept can therefore be seen as anti-feminist. An ideal matriarchy would concern itself exclusively with the quality of our days. Whither the collective desire to make life better for everyone? Ambition is inherently egotistical; it is by definition about being in service of the self. Which has never, not once in the history of humanity (can you tell I’ve not bothered to read Ayn Rand?) made anyone anywhere “happy.”

(I have tried, and failed to get through Ayn Rand a couple of times before. Recently I made the discovery that two of my closest friends have had the same experience, for the same reasons.)

When I was little I wanted to be the president, a fire woman, a teacher, a cheerleader, and a writer. Now all I want is to be happy. And left alone. And I want to know who I am in the context of a world full of hate and domination.

Word.

What I would like to say is: Lean In my hairy Jewish ass.

Double word.

But mostly it was THIS, that got to me because it rings so. damned. true.

Taking care of myself and my loved ones feels like meaningful work to me, see? I care about care. And I don’t care if I’m socialized to feel this way, because in point of fact I do feel this way. So! I am unavailable for striving today. I’m suuuuuper busy.

And this.

Keep your head down. Do your work. Focus on the work at hand, not the work that’s done. Do the work you’re called upon to do. Engage with what moves you. Eventually you’ll get recognition. And if you don’t get recognition? Well then, all the more badass to continue working your butt off. Recognition has nothing to do with the work, get it? The work is the endeavor. The work is the process. Recognition comes, if/when it does, for work that is already done, work that is over.

As of yesterday, I am in Bangalore. It was meant to be a longish trip to test waters, but it’s just been 24 hours and already my reasons for doing this have become clear. In my mind, I’ve had well laid plans, but outside of me, things are in churn, full tilt. While I’m gathering my thoughts and trying to proceed through this time one step at a time, around me things are hurtling towards an unclear space in the future at breakneck speed. Reading this though, gave me some much needed clarity. Peace. And, like icing on the humble(and truth) pie, I got two great sounding book reccos out of this essay, and a renewed faith in serendipity too.

What I’ve been reading

16 Mar

The reading habit has really slowed down in recent times. Actually, so has the writing, as you may have noticed. For the first two months of the year it was my preoccupation with work, in the last few weeks it is just this sense of ennui that has wedged itself into my current life. I am at a crossroads of sorts, and choosing a way forward is turning out to be a time consuming, tedious and sometimes emotionally exhausting affair. An older me would have taken to fighting it and immediately swung into action to introduce a sense of movement, and do whatever it takes to speed up the process. But I have recently tasted the real joy of letting things be, like, really be. To make room for a slow unfolding, rather than pressing fast forward to get to the end. If this all sounds zen to you, let me quickly say, it isn’t. Because it means sometimes taking the risk of putting myself in a difficult place, making difficult choices I would otherwise evade, asking myself questions that push me into a vulnerable state of mind, and waiting patiently for the answers to come. Painfully slowly as it sometimes is.

I thought it was the perfect time to allow myself to temporarily switch off, so books seemed like the logical escape. But it’s hard to read with the constant din that is my preoccupied mind. The background chatter, the opinions and counter opinions (all my own) are rarely quiet. So in an attempt to turn the volume down low, slowly, in it’s time, I’ve let things go one by one. Reading too. However, this is what I’ve finished recently:

Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea
Another recommendation I picked from Veena Venugopal’s Would You Like Some Bread With That Book, Girls Of Riyadh was pitched as a tell-all about the lives Saudi women, otherwise kept under wraps. Told entirely in a series of anonymous emails penned by one of the women characters, it is the story of four women who hail from a privileged segment of society. And yet, their lives are shrouded in mystery and restrictions galore. In each of their stories, a journey is revealed, one that involves not just travelling out of their home country, but also coming into their own in four very distinct ways. In the bargain nuances of their customs, society, and culture are revealed. That it is told by an “insider” makes it particularly telling. If like me, you expected it to be shocking and borderline depressing, it is not. I didn’t learn too many things I didn’t already know about. So in that sense it didn’t evoke an strong feelings in me.

Things that Can and Cannot Be Said, Arundhati Roy and John Cusack
I have previously devoured Arundhati Roy’s non fiction, particularly her long reads and essays, so the premise of this book which seemed like it allowed me to be a wallflower listening in on a secret meeting between Edward Snoweden, John Cusack and Roy, was deeply fascinating. The central theme is the role of The State, the powers it weilds, the machinery that it has at it’s service, and the ripple effects it has on us as people. Incredibly telling, shocking, and very very relevant — it covers everything fromquestioning what patriotism means in our current context, the role and purpose of a national flag, climate change, war and the downsides of a free market. Though intense in content, it’s a short, quick read.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
I decided to revisit this book that I have previously only read as a text in literature class. Twice. Once in 11th grade and another time in 1st year of college. I have loved it ever since, and this time was no different. However, I was shocked at how long it took to get through it. Something about reading that style of literature, which is far less descriptive and narrative, but so heavily set in dialogue and intricate character building. It’s also hard to read a book as just a book when you’ve treated it as a text twice over. So I found myself noticing nuances in style, elements of emerging themes, pivotal points in the story arc.

It is of course impossible to miss the obvious strong themes of morality, feminism, sexuality and female agency. But I think I wanted so badly to be able to look at it with fresh eyes as compared to the angsty teen that I was, but maybe I will need to give it another go?

The Smoke is Rising, Mahesh Rao
This gentle, layered, beautifully written book is based in the city of Mysore, perched at the cusp of massive change. In exploring the lives of multiple characters not all intertwined or connected to each other, Rao reveals the nature of India. Quirks and unmistakeable aspects of our plural society, the changing political climate, the two edged sword that is development. It’s the story of a small town about to explode — a story that reads like it could be Bangalore, or Goa. And this is why I enjoyed it so much. Rao’s style is delicious. It’s gentle, coaxes you to peel back the layers, subtle satire, impeccable observation and lovely, narration that reads like it’s as light as air. I loved this and I’m looking forward to reading his next.

Whisky-shisky

6 Mar

The longer, boozier story I mentioned was in the works? It’s live. It’s about an Indian whisky being distilled in India, but it’s also about what makes it Indian, what it’s like being a Master Distiller, and what’s generally been shaking up the whisky scene in India.

john-distilleries-34

If you’d like to read it, head on over here: A Scottish-style Whisky with Indian Characteristics

Given my headspace and the lights fading on my life and time here in Goa, I’ve been steadily moving away from writing Goa-centric things, but when the opportunity to write this came up, I just couldn’t pass. It’s also nice when the end result is so far off from where the idea is at — in a good way — that the process of writing takes you to people and places you wouldn’t have connected with otherwise. This was one such gig. The story benefitted from my meandering, for sure, but even more than that is the lessons I learned.

Aight, so go read? I promise to be back with some updates that are more than just stories being plugged in and passed off as blogposts. Soon. Soon.

Kitchen Soup for the Homesick Soul

3 Mar

So here’s a little known detail: Somewhere in 2014, I was suddenly inspired to write a book. It would be a food memoir, I’d decided. Threading memory, tradition, nostalgia, food, and how it had all shaped me into the accidental kitchen-lover that I’d turned into after moving to Goa. Fragments of ideas popped like mustard seeds in a hot wok of oil. The time was ripe, I thought. So I jumped into it all guns blazing. Took 2 weeks off, went away to Bangalore with the intention of doing nothing but writing. It was a glorious time away from all responsibility and I spent my days writing and reading furiously, adding bits and bobs in the cauldron that was brewing my book. I came back to Goa with what I thought was more than 50% of the writing done, and confident that all that was left to be done was finish it. The draft has been sitting in cold storage since then, a series of episodic events that I needed to somehow tie together with a more than just coherent narrative, to take it from reading a blog to make it a book. Farr too often, I’ve seen bloggers, especially food bloggers, make the mistake of thinking that a successful blog is a validation of one’s ability to write a book. There have been some truly atrocious food memoirs and books to come out of the Indian food blogger community and I suddenly became very conscious of adding to that list. It also has to be said that in the time between then to now, my interest as it was then, in food, also waned. As I found more avenues and stories to go after, I found myself looking beyond food in the myopic way that I was: through the lens of nostalgia and memory alone. In case you haven’t already noticed, I shut down my food blog somewhere along the line too, and until I find a compelling reason, I will probably not resurrect it. With time, it became alarmingly clear to me that I no longer wanted the book to be just a chronicle of disjointed food-related memories peppered with recipes. Eventually, it became clear that I didn’t want to finish the book at all, not in the form it was.

But at the end of last year, I decided the least I could do was pick out episodes from the book and turn them into essays that explore the gamut of emotions, experiences, thoughts and memories I made in the seven years that I have lived in Goa, where my love affair with food began. So, I went ahead with shaky hands, to pitch this. As luck would have it, my very first attempt landed me this opportunity with Arre, a website whose distinct style intimidated me. This was really gratifying to write for more reasons than one. Besides being able to finally find an outlet for the umpteen stories in cold storage, it was made made even better by a delightful edit experience that is becoming increasingly rare amongst Indian publications.

*****

Kitchen Soup for the Homesick Soul

cooking

I remember sitting cross-legged on my mother’s kitchen counter, eating beans palya out of a steel katori, while she put finishing touches on a meal. I remember watching my grandmother deftly work the large grinding stone in her kitchen, breaking down fresh spices with a mesmerisingly giddying turning of the stone. I remember the excitement stirring every time my grandfather stepped into the kitchen to make his six-hour slow cooked mutton stew.

I remember always being a mere observer, a taster. I had no interest in the cooking, a process that everyone in my family took such pride in. The one time I succumbed to being taught how to cook, I was coerced into it. I was 13, and holed up in stuffy classroom with girls. It was the home science laboratory, and we were in groups of four, poring over our single-burner stoves, atop which were pots of bubbling pongal. While every other girl in the room lovingly stirred her pongal to buttery, smooth goodness, I was looking at a solid mass, fast transforming into a something that resembled industrial strength adhesive.

I’d rather have been out in the field playing, to be honest. These were electives, extra-curriculars, as they’re called. And I wondered why the only choices for us girls were aerobics and home science. Why were athletics and sport not up for grabs? I stared down at the gloopy mess that lay before me. While every other girl in the room lovingly stirred her pongal to buttery, smooth goodness, I was looking at a solid mass, fast transforming into a something that resembled industrial strength adhesive.

Right then I had decided this domestic business (okay, home science) was not for me. Years of tender convincing on my mother’s part turned to goading and silent worry. How would I feed myself when I moved out? How would I provide meals for my future family? Given that I couldn’t boil a pot of water without a minor casualty, her concerns were valid. But all that gentle persuasion was only met with my staunch rebellion.

I was convinced cooking was a completely unnecessary skill and played no part in my womanhood.

Over a decade after that ill-fated pongal incident, on a blistering day in March, I found myself setting up a new home, miles away from my own. Nothing shatters a self-satisfied, smug existence like a reality check. Mine had arrived less than 24 hours after I had landed in sunny Goa, in the form of six large cartons of kitchen equipment that I didn’t know what to do with.

I realised very soon that two-minute noodles and quick-cooking oats simply weren’t going to cut it and that there are only so many ways to cook eggs. Before long, I was deeply regretful for not watching Amma make phulkas. For wishing I knew what to make from the three different kinds of dal in the supermarket. Was there some way to thinly slice onions, without gouging my eyes out?

Resisting slipping into the identity of a homemaker that this situation demanded of me, I chanted repeatedly: Cooking isn’t for me. But, I had to eat my words. Along with the badly made meals of dal, rice and sabzi.

I began to cook in my new house because I simply had to. I was overwhelmed by homesickness and hunger. I had been wrenched out of a job I loved, uprooted from the only city I have ever called home, and was starting life over in a dusty home that didn’t feel like mine. I had no choice but to make sense of the demands of this new space I was in. This kitchen, this home, and this life in general. I had to recreate an identity and purpose in these new circumstances.

I began first with taking solace in recreating the comfort of rasam and rice. When I needed a challenge, I attempted to deconstruct a biryani from the memory of taste. When I felt lost and weightless, I grounded myself in the mundanely tedious rhythm of peeling garlic, making a massive batch of tamarind extract, rearranging my kitchen, or cleaning the fridge out. When I simply needed to occupy my mind that would race toward unwanted and sometimes destructive thoughts, I went into the kitchen and cooked a meal. When the emptiness felt like it was consuming me inside out, cooking filled the void. All of it to bring some semblance of sanity back in my life.

Memory is a wonderful thing. Almost every single day, my mind would float back to the humble homely meals, festive celebratory meals, skimming over the traces of taste, texture, and aroma that lingered at the back of my mind, thoughts of customs and habits related to food. I recalled things I didn’t know I had stashed away at the back of my mind – the way my mother stored her coriander and curry leaves in the refrigerator, the exact dishes she made when she was strapped for time, the way her pressure cooker was the centre of all kinds of magic. All of this simmered together slowly, and gave me a sense of self again.

Before long, my days began with praying the dosa batter had risen, picking out the weekly vegetable and fruit supply, and haggling over best prices of grains and pulses. I don’t know when I embraced the kitchen, even less when I began to find contentment and joy in cooking.

In finding myself, I somehow found my way back home too. Through simple, hearty meals to satisfy hunger at first, and more complex challenging ones, to satisfy my mind and find my feet again. When every other aspect of my life, and strong facets of my identity felt like they were slipping away from me, cooking helped put it all back together again.

I was not only teaching myself to cook, but was also recreating my own sense of home. Donning the identity and roles I’d observed all the strong women in my life play so very well, being in the kitchen was no longer an aversion. It was my sanctuary, and cooking, my raison d’être.

In the process, I rekindled relationships of a new kind with my mother, grandmother, and aunts. They gifted me cookbooks, emailed me recipes, and sent me tips and tricks I could use. I forged new ties with friends when we gathered around my dining table. Eventually, though, and possibly the happiest consequence of all, I found a career in writing about food.  In an odd roundabout way, stepping into the kitchen, into the very role I believed was a trap, had liberated me.

Thirteen-year old me would most likely be disappointed to see how contempt has been replaced by a deep affection for the kitchen. But if only I knew back then, that it would eventually be food, that would teach me to love my life again, and that learning to cook had little to do with being a woman but everything to do with identity, I’d probably have tried to just keep calm and stir that pongal to perfection.

(A version of this essay first appeared on Arre)

Ten reasons why I love the girls I’m in long distance relationships with

23 Feb

(AKA things a man friend will likely not be good for)

The effortless way in which we can go into collective raptures over anything from this delicious Instagram account to why Hidden Figures was so amazing.

The absolute ease with which I can ask to be listened to every time I need to vent/bitch/rant/froth at the mouth, because I know I will not be judged.

The obscenely granular level of detail we can go into while discussing everything from saree weaves we love to the exact nature of PMS.

Virtually no topic is off the table, not farts, not poop, not body parts, not the abysmal lack of decent underwear.

No matter how shitty I’m feeling, or how much I’m beating myself up describing the serious levels of fail I think I’m hitting, they’ll always make me feel like I’m actually amazing.

Constant, heartfelt reminders to stop being hard on myself.

They listen. Even when they don’t have the answers. Especially when they don’t have the answers.

They know when to just stfu and let me vent, because they know what it’s like to just need to voice some thoughts – no solutions offered, no explanations given.

They’ve made opening up easier, taken me closer to honesty – with myself, with them.

They make literally everything fun. Surprise trips. Holidays. Holidays. Holidays. Whatsapp groups. Conversations. Gossip. Long distance friendships. The whole nine yards.

*****

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This isn’t just a post-Hidden Figures high talking, but watching the movie last night I really came home feeling grateful for having a bunch of women in my life with whom I have found the space to live my belief in genuinely rallying together through thick and thin, propping each other up, and always creating space for the kind of intimacy we’ll never find in our relationships with men. Several times in my life, I believed I had it – but nothing comes close to where I’m at now in terms of having relationships that are grounded in trust, transparency and utmost comfort. This is all kinds of liberating. Yes, it took upwards of three decades to get here, but I’m so fortunate to have found it.

*****

I used to be that girl who was really surrounded by boys all the time. Who believed having women friends was laborious and tedious. For a long time I honestly believed that maybe I’d just encountered the wrong kind of women. I was the wrong. It wasn’t the women I encountered – it was me. Somewhere down the line, life happened and #3 from this amazing essay kicked in. So I was so incredibly choked up to see it articulated in such simple honesty here. I don’t know how I’ve missed sharing this already, but it is the truth, it is life. I could start quoting the many things I love, that spoke right to me, reached out and grabbed my heart, yadayada, but I’d essentially be quoting the whole damned piece, so do yourself a favour and read it.

And then go tell your girlfriends how much they mean to you.

Roads and Kingdoms

22 Feb

A fair bit of writing about beverages has consumed me in recent time. It was a nice little segue. I’m delighted to have had two quick pieces out in Roads & Kingdoms’ 5 o’clock somewhere segment, in quick succession. And I have a longer, boozier feature in the works for them, coming out possibly later next week. Heady times. In more ways than one, but more about that later.

For now: want to read the pieces I wrote?

The latest on drinking feni in one of my favourite little bars in Panjim.

chilli-feni

And another on enjoying mangoes on sticky rice, pretty much all through my trip to Thailand last year. I might have made a passing mention of it in this post, and saved this little nugget for the story.

 

 

Pointless post

15 Feb

Today feels like a I.can.not.able.to.do kind of day.

In under an hour I’ve gone from feeling what I think are flashes of maternal feelings for the puppies we just got sterilised and released back in their home ground, to raging over tech difficulties updating my LinkedIn.

Is there a more unintuitive, non-user-friendly, lets-get-people-to-hate-us-completely platform that LinedIn? I think not.

Yesterday I was all wise and zen in talking A out of a panic attack where she thought she was the shittiest writer and really stupid for thinking she can do this freelancer gig thing. Today, I am in A’s place.

Can.not.able.to.do.

I had a massive breakthrough yesterday. A result of a nap I allowed myself to take, despite crazy amounts of work that were keeping me from succumbing to it for a full two hours before I actually gave in, and a conversation with R. I live for aha-moments of clarity like these.

I started writing out what I felt, in my notebook, as opposed to here. Half way through I stopped and wondered why. I don’t have an answer.

I’m headed to Bombay this weekend. It’s going to be a hectic trip, I just know it. I’m feeling travel inertia like nothing I’ve felt before. The thought of packing and taking a flight and everything else is making me want to just call the whole thing off. But I cant. And the only thought keeping me going is that I get to meet Niyuuuuuuu. And my folks.

Okay. Time to go fight the worst case of Imposter Syndrome I have had in a long, long time, before it paralyses me completely. Because this week is not the week for me to buckle under the pressure. I do not have the luxury of taking it easy or taking a break.

If you’re still reading, your morning is probably currently as pointless as mine.

Thank you for listening. Go work now, k? Bye.

Commitment issues

9 Feb

Of late, I’ve really begun to feel like navigating the freelance life is a lot like dating. You know, serial dating without wanting to commit? I want to aim for the best on my wishlist, I want to associate with the names I admire and am attracted to, I want to have the freedom to write and say the things I want to that give me satisfaction, and I want to do it all with just the right outcome of contentment. Basically, I’m playing the field. Wanting all the best ass, being extremely picky, choosing only the best of the crop of men out there watching and looking for traits that excite me enough to just dip into, taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that from multiple sources, relationship testing, if you will. And yet, I want every experience to be wholly uplifting, without the pressure to commit to something long term. I want in, but only as much as is exciting and beneficial for me. And then I want out, and I want the freedom to flit to the next thing, whatever else rocks my boat.

The reluctance to drop roots and get into a long term entanglement is in part caused by the aversion to the ups and downs of the typical relationship curve. The tedium of the entire exercise, learned habits, the forced behaviour patterns, the expected stereotypical acts that beget those expected outcomes, the whole tired song and dance of getting to know one another and settle into something that fits. Only to be inevitably disappointed when the inevitable crash happens — the display of an unsavoury habit, a terrible attitude that shows when you’re least anticipating it, good old boredom. Basically all the things that tend to come into the light once the thrill of the chase has ended and reality kicks in.

You know what else playing the field and freelance writing have in common? The fear of rejection. In good measure. Debilitating enough to make you not even want to attempt a pitch or story, for fear of having it rejected or not find a home. Of late, though, it’s really  begun to feel like I’m more turned on by the thrill of the chase. I get such a high from turning stray thoughts into potential ideas. Playing the field, basically. And it’s oddly satisfying. I’ve realised it’s so much easier to operate this way, without having to engage long term in an in-your-face sort of way. So much easier to flit in and out of little interactions over shorter spans of time, just until the deed is done and each of us gets what we want from it. This way we’re also mostly just  exposed to the pleasant bits, and the minute the inevitable disappointment strikes. Want me to write on spec? Want me to write for exposure? Want me to write on a ridiculously short timeline? Want me to source pictures for no extra cost? Want me to believe you’re too busy to answer even when you’re opening my emails every day? Bye Felipe! There’s always the lesson learned and you segue swiftly on to the next thing.

You know the other by product of the thrill of the chase? The ones that  have positive outcomes. You grow your ladybits large enough to be brave, you put yourself out there, you even do that dreaded networking thing and roam the marketplace, you indulge in some sales-ey tactics you always thought you’d never have to resort to. You’re relentless, determined and persistent. You work hard, focus on your target. And suddenly, you strike. Lasso around the one you really, really want. You’re ecstatic. Your heart racing, palms sweaty, face flushed. Could this be the start of a heady new something? All those familiar feelings of the first time rush in.

And then, you freeze. Suddenly, all you can think is dafuq did I just do? Now I actually have to date this guy. I mean write this damn story. Suddenly you feel like the most incapable person. Your worst inadequacies and insecurities rise to the surface and you’re convinced you’re the world’s most incompetent person for the job. Every now and then, despite all the good, positive and altogether encouraging developments my work life have shown me, I arrive at the crossroads of what-the-fuck-am-I-even-doing-here, also known as the junction where self-doubt meets extreme procrastination.

Today’s procrastination involved introspection to understand what kind of a writer it makes me if I suddenly don’t find the ability to write the stories I claim I so badly want to write, immediately after someone gives me the green signal to go forth and conquer. I haven’t really ever played the field in my years dating. The one time I came close, I chickened out very early on into the game, leading me to believe I’m made for the simple, straight and narrow. Could it be that this is that hitherto unexplored side of me finding an outlet.

*shudders*

*****

When I think about how I arrived on this life of writing that I now have, I feel incredibly privileged. Privileged to be able to scratch the writing itch, to quit a full time job and be able to sit at home pursuing this slowly and steadily at my pace, experiencing no immediate fall outs to the quality of my life. Reading this incredibly eye-opening piece about the almost unbearable, but very real, privilege (and struggle) of doing what you love, I realised once again that I am in such a small, astoundingly privileged minority to be here today.

After a day of struggling to get myself going, to finish all the pieces I started at the beginning of this week, to avoid picking up yet another distraction to keep me from getting down to it, in a whatsapp exchange with M today, I caught myself saying “It’s nice. I’m finally close to where I want to be.”

Where is that, she asked.

“Writing for the most part of any given day,” came my answer, without so much as a seconds thought.

It’s true. Despite the debilitating self doubt, the weight of feeling horribly lucky and undeserving in equal measure, the incredibly high highs and the very low lows, the loneliness of working from home, the days of fumbling around in the dark knowing not what the fuck to do, the Herculean efforts to get up and get going with nobody to answer to, I’m incredibly happy to be here. Playing the field, serial dating, flirting with my inability to commit to a full time gig.

Busy times, apparently

31 Jan

At the start of the year, it felt odd not to log in here everyday and type out a post. I found myself wondering how I managed to write something everyday for a whole year. How did I cull out time? Which is another way of saying, I’ve been busier in January, than I was for the larger part of 2016.

I have had so much going on to keep me on my toes, and my mind buzzing. My folks visited us over the long weekend, which though it went by in a blur, was an amazing four days for me. Multiple ups and downs with domestic help has meant I’m back in the kitchen. 6 am wake up calls meant I’ve been perpetually running low on sleep. Weekends have been spent either typing up loose ends with work or chilling out so much I couldn’t be bothered with the computer. So I’ve been busy. The only difference is this time around I have no inclination to sweat over meals and dishing out something new and fresh every day. So we’re making do with a lot of rolling leftovers, quick one pot thingies, baked stuff and sometimes that means eating chaat for dinner. Old me would feel terribly negligent and guilty for not being able to efficiently manage my home and kitchen duties, but new me is too busy writing to give a fuck. It helps that VC’s response to most questions about food is one of two things: Please don’t make me eat dal or Whatever you’re eating is fine. On that dreaded weekend, he made me cheese toasts two nights in a row. We’re getting by, and if it means I can keep calm and write without losing my mind, I’LL TAKE IT.

As a result I’ve had a good month of work. Had a landslide number of accepted pitches, turned in all my work on time, and it continues to be good and positive. And there have been no downsides to any of this as yet. I’ve met my targets not just for January, but February too and I honestly can’t remember the last time this happened. So whatever’s at work here, letting me have this good run, thank you. I’LL TAKE IT.

Today, I broke into VICE. VICE-VICE. Even though I’ve written for some other VICE channels (Broadly here and Motherboard here)before, this is something I’ve been thinking about for over a year now. I’m even more glad I could do it with this story, that’s also been brewing in my head for over a year now. Alex’s work has fascinated, inspired and moved me ever since I first watched a video some time in 2015. Since then, I have been drawn to his unabashed and unapologetic spirit and I was so overwhelmed when he, Sudipto and Nilay gave me their precious time to share some very interesting, insightful and very thought provoking ideas with me. Two interviews ran well over an hour, and meandered across subjects, into a freewheeling discussion about things at large. I love it when that happens. Even the writer in me who really procrastinates until the very nth hour, before I actually pick up the telephone and make that call, loves interviews like these. The last interview ended at 11.20 pm. And I came away so charged, I couldn’t sleep so I got down to writing the story immediately. I know an issue or a topic has touched me when I am able to take away from the interview not just answers to my questions, but little nuggets of information to keep thinking about, when I learn fascinating new details and facts that I am prompted to google immediately, and when I feel like this issue deserves so much more than a single story. So I’m going to work towards that. But for now, the story.

Being Gay Is Illegal in India, but That Doesn’t Stop These Drag Queens

alex4

“I started performing in drag in 2014. I came out the very next month,” said Alex Mathew, laughing unabashedly. “For 6 months, I had been framing a coming out letter to my parents. I don’t like being fit into boxes—I call myself queer, I think sexuality is fluid. So it didn’t go well. But Mayamma literally yanked me out of the closet.”

Alex is a 28-year-old communications professional in Bangalore, in India—a country where sexuality, gender and identity are deeply intertwined with religion, superstition and caste hierarchies, allowing little or no room to go against the grain. Coming out as gay or lesbian is much less publicly accepted than it is in many Western countries; to claim fluidity in one’s identity, then, is an unapologetic and daring move, much less to perform publicly in drag, as Alex does when he transforms into Mayamma (aka Maya).

In India, performing in drag invites potential for ridicule, social ostracization and the risk of persecution—Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, introduced in 1860 under British rule, criminalizes sexual activities that are “against the order of nature.” But Alex, alongside a rising class of performers spreading the gospel of drag throughout the country, has taken his performances to nightclubs and stages throughout the city, where Maya gets to push the envelope to incite progressive conversations and encourage LGBTQ acceptance.

Whether sashaying in a crisp white saree, singing an emotional rendition of Frozen’s “Let It Go” with jasmine flowers strung through her hair, or belting a boisterous cover of Lady Marmalade, cleverly renamed “Lady Mayamma,” every performance encapsulates an idea Alex holds close to his heart: to be uncompromisingly true to yourself. It’s as much a deeply held philosophy as it is a message about individualism, feminism and gender equality.

“Drag is a performance art; it’s what I do. My sexuality is my identity,” said Alex, carefully separating the two. Little wonder that it was a brush with drag that spurred his coming out: Growing up on a steady diet of Bollywood movies and classic Hollywood musicals, Alex developed a natural flair for theater. “I always wanted to be a Broadway performer, so I learned different forms of dance, acting, improv, and performed in local theater productions. But I always felt like I was missing the excitement and adrenaline rush that I expected from being on stage,” he said. When he revisited the 1993 comedy Mrs. Doubtfire as an adult, he was inspired to give drag a shot.

“Performing as a woman gave me a different rush,” he said. “It was an entry into a creative life that had been waiting for me.”

The act of men donning women’s attire to perform as women is far from new in India—it was previously common in traditional and folk art forms, like KathakaliYakshagana and Theyyam. But in the western, RuPaul’s Drag Race-inflected sense, drag as we know it—as a political act and performance art—has only recently risen in the country. Ironic, then, that to embrace the life of a drag queen is seen as a somewhat political act, given India’s cultural history of similar forms of performance.

Unlike Alex, who arrived at drag after searching for a creative outlet to better express himself, 23 year old Sudipto Biswas’ first performance happened somewhat by chance. Training in Western classical music, singing, songwriting and performing have been central to Sudipto’s life, but he found performing to be more frightening than exciting, because he was scarred by early memories of being mocked for his effeminate mannerisms.

“I’ve been singing all my life. But I have also had huge body image issues and stage fright because I’m not exactly a ‘manly man,’” he said.

He was introduced to drag in 2014 after watching Alex perform as Mayamma; RuPaul’s Drag Race was also gaining in popularity at the time. By marrying his childhood fascination with fabulously unapologetic divas with his desire to sing, he developed his own drag avatar, named Rimi Heart. He had the opportunity to perform as Rimi at Bangalore’s Queer Carnival last year, a fundraiser for the city’s Pride celebrations, which he said liberated a fearless performer within himself.

“Once I was on stage, I felt a radical different level of confidence!” he said. “You know the saying ‘ Give a man a mask and he’ll show you his true colors’—I didn’t hide my mannerisms. In fact, I was exaggerating everything!”

“Drag, by definition, is meant to attract attention. ‘Bad reactions’ to drag are heavily influenced by social conditioning, where it’s almost a sin for a man to do anything feminine. Hyper masculinity makes straight men worry that even remotely interacting [with male femininity] will somehow emasculate them,” said Sudipto. He’s now pursuing ways to break barriers to the public expression of femininity, and use drag to reach a wider audience for his performances.

22-year-old Nilay Joshi is a graduate Engineering and Psychology student with a clear goal—to use his foundational knowledge of psychology to develop his drag performances and bring the realities of LGBTQ lives to stage.

“When you are a drag queen, you get to boldly take to a platform and talk to an audience who wants to watch and listen to you. I feel it’s best way to talk about relevant issues,” said Nilay. His drag character, Kashtaani, is a portmanteau of Kashi bai and Mastani, the two wives of the 18th century Peshwa ruler of Central India. “I was inspired by their diverse personalities. Kashi is caring and subtle, a typical Indian woman, and Mastani is bold and open-minded,” he explained.

For some, drag becomes a way to make a direct political statement about the LGBTQ community itself, like Harish Iyer, a well-known Indian LGBTQ rights activist. You’ll find him applying foundation as he reflects on what drag means to him for filmmaker Judhajit Bagchi’s lens: “Even some of the supporters of the LGBTIQ community feel that it’s okay to be LGBTIQ as long as you don’t overdress or go over the top. I know what they mean—they mean drag,” he said. He told Judhajit that he does drag to represent “the effeminate gay man, the masculine lesbian…(who) are still largely ostracized,” even by the LGBTQ community.

Given the frightening rise of homophobia in India, people like Harish, Alex, Sudipto, Nilay and more are using drag to help subvert the idea that gender roles are binary and sexuality is rigid in a country trying to reconcile deeply ingrained tradition with our modern, global era.

“It’s extremely important to understand that just being a man in heels and a dress dancing and singing is a political act,” said Sudipto. “But there’s a lot of genius and thought process there, and real talent. It would be nice to see people focus on that, too.”

Homosexuality is still criminalized in India—in July 2009, a Delhi high court decriminalized private, consensual homosexual acts proscribed by Article 377; then, in December 2013, India’s Supreme Court recriminalized them. Last February, the Supreme Court heard arguments against its constitutionality, then decided in June to decline to re-examine Article 377’s validity.

The back-and-forth is indicative of the push-pull nature of LGBTQ rights in India. But whether it’s Alex speaking in drag at prestigious conferences, Sudipto pushing gender boundaries with daring performances, or Harish going further still to point out self-hatred within the LGBTQ community, drag may be an art form whose time in India has come.

(This story first appeared on VICE.)

Protected: Because I want to remember

22 Jan

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2017 book beginnings

20 Jan

Sula, Toni Morrison
Admittedly, I’d started reading this book about a year ago, but given that I spent the first half of the year unable to read, it was very quickly abandoned. But what little I read was so delicious, I had slipped it back on to my to-read list. The book spans over ten years of the lives of Sula and Nel — two black girls from the American Mid-West. The story begins in the year 1920, and is filled with telling and detailed descriptions of the life, time and culture of the village the girls were born in. The arc traverses the lives of these girls as they take off on two completely opposite ways of life — one choosing to stay (physically and intellectually) while the other, Sula, leaves the village and embraces a fast-paced city life. She returns, and there is a stark contrast in the way their lives have shaped them as individuals. The telling is delicious, as I said. Raw and real, making you really feel the emotions slip underneath your skin. It is equal parts horrific (as one would expect given the setting), poignant, and extremely touching. It is a story about girls, about women, and so it evoked a lot of feelings ranging from empathy to anger in me. More specifically, it is a vivid telling of what it must have been like for a black woman in Mid-Western America, in the 1920s and 30s. Do read, you wont regret it.

The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
This is one of those odd situations where literally everyone who has read this book raves about it, so you pick it up, and then you struggle to finish it, and you wonder what could possibly have gone wrong, or what you’ve missed, because you just. dont. get. what. the fuss. is. about. The Happiness Project is quite literally the account of a year in the life of Gretchen Rubin, being committed to finding happiness. It’s a great premise, I’ll admit. I know how many times I’ve thought the exact same thought that spurred Rubin to write this book — time is flying and I’m not focusing on the things that matter. And it’s why I finally got down to it. But like some other books I read in the same genre and category, it just felt a little oversimplified, and a little too basic to warrant an entire book. There are a few obvious, but decently explored truths in the first couple of chapters, and I thought hmm, this is a good book but as with Daring Greatly, I very quickly began to feel like things were way too general and basic for me to find anything revelatory in them. I mean I didn’t need to read a book that is apparently based in sound research to tell me I need to be tidy, minimalist, organised, calm, positive in order to stay happy.

Every month of the year is dedicated to one aspect of her life. From work to friendship to finding contentment to being present. The chapter that I found particularly grating was the one where she deals with her marriage that she says had gone rough around the edges – repetitive, mundane, boring. It was super painful reading detailed descriptions of exactly how she used tired, cliched tactics like communicate, be present, put down that device. OMG it was super tedious.

Anyhow, judging by how super popular the book has been, I wuldn’t dismiss it as a terrible book. It obviously works for some folks. But it just didn’t have anything new to offer me. It also made me realise my short-lived self-help phase is probably over. If I pick up another book in this category, I’m going to expect it tp be meaty, detailed with research, and really give me something fantastic to implement in my life that can push the needle and make an impact.

The Rachel Papers, Martin Amis
This delightful book is often placed right up there with Catcher In The Rye. I honestly thought it was better. Maybe it’s my fondness for subtle, clever, Brit-style wry humor, or maybe it was the detailed travel right inside the mind of a 19 year old boy looking to get laid, essentially. It really just describes the incredibly layered, yet very single-minded, that pursuit can be, and it’s a riot. I also read that Amis was just 24 when he wrote and published this which is ridiculous. Because it’s so mature in the style. There’s clever turn of phrase, intelligent innuendo that doesn’t jar, and makes a lot of descriptions about his sexual urges seem so beautiful. I enjoyed this one, even though it took me abnormally long to finish it. But I’ll put that down to being very preoccupied with work.

2017 reading is off to a good start.

 

 

Work. But also life.

19 Jan

I started 2017 with a couple of mini work goals. One, to send out a minimum of 20 pitches every week. And second, to just consistently do it without losing heart or feeling wasted.

I did the former fairly well, but semi-sucked at the latter. It has to be noted that the second half of last year saw me rolling way back on the effort to find new work. With everything else going on I was consistently only just doing enough to keep me going, and stay in touch. So I kind of began January with a clean slate that needed to be filled from scratch. That’s a scary place to be especially when your bank balance is slowly diminishing and there are bills to be paid. So my restless self began to despair just one week into January.

Why won’t people respond soon?

Why can’t my emails just be acknowledged, even if it is to politely reject my idea?

How long should I wait before I move on?

Maybe I should try something else.

Consistency has never been one of my strengths. I have the attention span of a housefly most days, and the patience to stay with something even when it seems like nothing is moving comes in bursts and spurts. So I hoped that this would be an exercise in gaining some chill. And getting it to stay

Additionally, the ups and downs of last year, the number of weeks I took off from work has meant that the motivation to keep writing has also been sporadic. Even though I did write something every single day, turning it to work is another thing entirely.

I’ve had numerous instances of giving up too easily, way too often. I really want to change this. To eork hard in the true sense of the word. Not only when I have a deadline having over my head. I want to taste the sweet success that comes from slow, but persistent consistency. I don’t think I have ever focused on cultivating that with my work. 

I was hoping to give this a shot by focusing harder on making a daily habit of pitching. The idea being that in order to do this successfully, I’d have to work on having a lot more ideas in the bank (which would mean having my thinking and working caps on even when I have no assignments on hand) and working doubly hard on turning accepted stories in (assuming they’d convert faster!) on time, to keep the ball rolling.
After one week of what felt like thankless pitching, I was disheartened when I didn’t receive as many responses as I’d expected. Maybe folks were still surfacing from the holidays? Maybe my emails weren’t good enough? Maybe they got lost in the slush-pile? I don’t know what it was. But I got no bites. Just a lot of crickets.

I took the weekend to regroup and decided I need to really, truly just chill out, and for once in my life focus on the process, trusting it wholeheartedly, doing the task at hand with sincerity and intention, without lusting over the results, or obsessing about how fast or slow they are to come.

And that right there was the hardest part. Not the idea generation. Not the writing of numerous LOIs. Not the combing the internet for contacts. Not the actual pitching. Just the pushing aside of all thoughts of why and how, stomping down on that imposter syndrome that is constantly trying to make a comeback, waving away the self doubt and fear. And just. keeping. my. head. down. and doing. it. day. after day.

Several days later, suddenly, smack in the middle of the week, I landed 4 stories in 2 days. Including breaking into another international site that’s been on my wish list for ages, one Indian glossy (it’s a really small piece, but still!), one international print mag, and one essay — and this last one has been the most satisfying conversion of this week. It’s an excerpt from a memoir I attempted to write not so long ago, but gave up on after much deliberation. For a year now I’ve been wanting to pick bits of it to turn it into publishable essays so at least some part of it sees the light of day. It took me one whole year to get cracking believe I can do this. And surprisingly just 2 days to land the story. Remind me again, why I didn’t do this sooner?

I think the hard work that went into keeping calm is what is at play here. I’ve been consciously spending significantly lesser time on all platforms of social media. Well, to be fair, I only use fb and instagram. I’ve returned to meditating and I begin every day with a big dose of affirmation. For this, I have A to thank.

I took up simple bullet journalling to keep track of my pitching, daily todos and wish lists and goals for three month and week. 

There’s the gratitude journaL, which I know is making a huge difference to my general state offer mind. I try and consistently stay positive, and be thankful for what I have and where I am and believe that it is enough. Part of this means I’ve further cut down the noise – sticking to my routine, being goddamned adamant about not missing my workout, and meeting only a select few friends in whose company I feel uplifted and happy. It takes a little being selfish, and isn’t always easy. But it pays. 

Most importantly, I think it was the deliberate effort to brush aside negative thoughts that spark laziness, self doubt and the inevitable spiral of apathy that makes my motivation turn to a sorry trickle, that boosted my confidence. 

I know I’m a creature of habit. I need a vague framework of routine within which to play. I like having a plan most times. And I’ve been a firm believer in daily habits. So, if the mindful and deliberate effort to bring this all back to my life is putting some basics into place, I cannot complain.

Is this what mindfullness really is? I’m not sure. 

I have to also say though, it’s not all me. I gather an immense amount of confidence boosting motivation from my virtual writer friends. Even as a silent spectator privy to a host of discussions, being exposed to an amazing variety of work, being a fly on the wall in so many discussions about ethics, professionalism and the right/better way to approach situations I thought were rare, I’ve gained a lot.

Despite the spotty year I had, I was a bit amazed when I realised how much work I’d gotten done. Today too, I realised that from feeling motivated to aim higher, to do better and to expect to be paid more, from learning to deal with rejection to never giving up on my ideas, from going about this in a nice-to-have kind of fashion to turning it into a practice for my daily life, I really couldn’t have done this on my own. So much of my will to keep at this without giving up, comes from the inspiration of others who have surged ahead, and been there and done everything that I am now doing. Their unabashed and absolute generosity to share, with zero insecurity is refreshing. It has taught me to open myself up, offer help even when it isn’t asked for, and basically never hold back if I can help it.

Sometimes I feel like writing is just the medium. What I am working at, what actually gets bigger, better and sweeter in the process, is life.

For all the help I get, I’m so grateful.

Two new pieces

13 Jan

The work genies have been good to me, and 2017 has started off on a good note. I’ve had two new pieces go live in two weeks, and I’m in talks with multiple folks for work that I’m compulsively trying to fit into my pipeline. Exciting times because I haven’t felt this motivated, positive or content with my work (save for a few snatches last year) in a while. Of course, just when things felt like they were going swell, I had a really slow, procrastinate-y day yesterday. Because, you know, things have to be evened out. If it feels like things are too good to be true, they probably are, and all that. And what good ever came form that kind of consistency, pthooeyy.

Anyhoo, this piece, my first (hopefully of more to come!) for Momentum.Travel: vignettes about my love for tea and buns, weekend breakfast or evening snacks had at local cafes in Panjim. I feel compelled to say that while writing this, I made a couple of trips to these cafes – to look around some more, to tale pictures, and to eat of course. It happened to be right after November 8. And on one particular evening, I have a distinct memory of scraping together all the change we could find between the two of us, so R and I could share one plate of buns and channa. It’s a moment that was telling, for several different reasons. And a moment I won’t forget in a rush.

Then there was this piece that was in the bank for – goodlorrrd – way toooo long. Apart from being a very satisfying story to research and write, it was a big of a win for me because I (sheepishly at first) learned that it’s okay to move a story when you’ve done all you can to see it through, but it’s just sitting on the bench for reasons that aren’t clear, or don’t work for you. Keep looking and find a way to tell the story you want to. After waiting almost seven months to see this story live, I was convinced my efforts were down the tube and that it would never see the light of day with publication A. Until I saw a call for stories from Motherboard, a publication I never thought to pitch, and frankly never imagined I’d ever have something relevant to pitch to! But it happened. And I’m in a science mag. Even waiting seven months for a story to come out has a silver lining, I suppose.

Okay, that’s all. In case you’re keeping track, here’s where you can find it all: shiny, updated portfolio.

Have a good weekend. I’ll see you on the other side. Let’s not get too loony in the aftereffects of the full moon and Friday, 13th.

(I know I’m trying.)

Inconsequential posts you really don’t need to read

12 Jan

You know you’ve been off the grid and out of the work force for far too long when you feel the need to prep for a skype call. I still take my appointments seriously. Half an hour in advance, I decided I needed a cup of tea. I figured ten minutes before the call would be a good time to make it. So I did. And then I made the evening snack choice, grabbing the entire bag as opposed to the usual, taking a small portion in a bowl. It was a new client, and I wasn’t sure how long this call was going to be. I didn’t want to be stick on a call, tethered to my system, snacks just out of my reach. So I set myself up. Snacks within arms reach, mug of tea close at hand, I was ready for the call. Only to realise it was a video call.  And the only thought I had was, fuck the snacks, I need to wear a bra.

So much for prep.

*****

Battle scars. It’s what I call them. The scars I don’t notice. The scars I’ve resigned myself to perpetually bearing. Honestly, it’s because I don’t register them when contact happens, because I’m usually too involved in boomboompowpow to register it happened. But a few hours later, the bruise tells a completely different story. And I only realise something is wrong. Usually when I’m standing in queue at the checkout line in the supermarket and I see the group of aunties behind me staring strangely at my arms. Or when I go waxing and the parlour waali inquires about the bruises that to her shifty eyes look suspiciously like marks of domestic abuse. Or when I go from one class to the next and people ask really what happens in my other class. So I just say, battle scars.

*****

Early this week I felt major pangs of missing my friends. Like proper, tugging-at-my-heart feelings that I’ve felt only for boys I loved. The kind of intensity that has in the past made me abandon everything on the spot and rush to be with them. I think it’s the first time that I can remember it has happened with my friends. I told them as much. I said this feels like we’re all in a long distance relationship, we need to reunite soon.

So we’re working on that.

Hah.

*****

I’ve started a wee little habit. Gratitude journaling. Inspired last year by N, who mentioned it several times, and even did a month long challenge on more than one occasion. Then I did it briefly when I took on a 10 day abundance activity. I found it surprisingly revelatory, because it forced me to really zero in on the tiniest things that I am happy about and grateful for. In a year when I felt a lot of discontent, scarcity and unsettledness, this helped build a solid base of positivity. I now know what it means to operate from a place of abundance. It’s a state of mind that has helped me coast through many a low day. So this year I’m attempting to do it for as long as I can. I considered doing it online, in the name of being accountable. But seeing as how I’m working towards completely stopping all social posting, save for work updates, and this blog, that plan was quickly abandoned. And I went back to a good old journal.

Red ink <3 yellow light. Handwritten.

Twelve days in, I can safely say it’s the best ten minutes of every day. No matter what the day has been like.

Have any of you tried this? Any insights for a noob?