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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 Mannivanan
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.

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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?

Happier: perpetual WIP

10 Jan

I’m not entirely blind to the unrealistic expectation that is thinking life will turn 180 degrees from where things were, just, well, last week, just because we moved into a new cycle of counting time. This big rock floating in space that we’re on, literally just completed another revolution around the life-giving blazing star, a time period that we’ve chosen to place such undue pressure on, holding it up to our desperate need for fresh beginnings and new avenues.

So it was natural for me to attribute the surge that I suddenly felt throbbing back to life, and persuading me to get out and see the light, to general peer pressure. One week in, I know now, that was a silly thought process. Because it’s not so much about flicking the pages of the calendar, or the turning of a proverbial new leaf, because yes they’re constructs of our achievement obsessed culture that train our minds to get ready-set-go at the start of the year only to lose steam approximately 2.5 weeks in. Which is about as long as it takes for the shine of a spanking new year to fade.

While it’s true that there needn’t be any reason at all for the uplifted spirit from the doldrums that was 2016, with the somethings-brewing kind of churn and rumble that I’ve felt as we turned the corner and stepped into 2017, the truth is, it was a happy coincidence.

The fact that I felt all the multiple diverging threads of my life, that for the better part of last year felt like they were unravelling slowly and painfully, suddenly converging again towards the end of the year, prompted me to take some time to regroup and prepare for a fresh start. That was intentional and well-timed.

Since, there has been a definite, undeniable shift, and I’ve bounced back to a former self I feel I had forgotten once existed. However, this week, I had to remind myself to press the brakes just a little bit. To slow down, not be impatient, and to remember the stillness and calm that I have worked hard to bring back to my life over the past twelve months.

It is crucial for me to make every effort not to lose this precious pace, to the urgency that brews at the start of every new year. To remember to mindfully, slowly, pace it out rather than rush in all guns blazing, only to burn out very soon.


The side of me that’s raring to go and rush in at all my goals like a maniac with a crack addled brain, is at loggerheads with the side of me that has tasted the benefits of letting go and watching things unfurl when you go at them with the tempered calm of a zen monk.

This morning, at therapy, I acknowledged that maybe I was slipping back into letting that pointless restless energy that does nothing but dissipate my focus, creep back and get the better of me. I visualised it as a ball of wires, knotted up, humming, buzzing frantically, the noise building to a noisy crescendo. But I spent the hour after, working those knots out as much as I could. And when I was done, I visualised myself chucking the whole mess of wires out of my life.

Indu shared an instagram picture with me last night, that reminded me of it’s origins in one of my most favourite posts. And it felt like today was a good day to revisit it.

Everyone is trying to find happiness or stay happy in any way they can.

I realise so much of getting through from one day to the next is in simple acts of mindful living. In tiny reminders of moments full of promise of joy that are in the works, waiting to be acknowledged. In schedules that bisect and dissect time the way I’d like it to be. In moments of peace snatched in between mundane chores like cooking lunch and folding clothes. In the little victories of stories submitted, deadlines met (or happily extended) or a surprise telephone call, shared by no one but me alone. In the simple contentment that comes from eating a square of chocolate. In knowing when you need to heal. In choosing to work out the knots. In trying to understand when to stop, and just throw the whole damn mess out. In not giving up on the urge to get better and thrive. In accepting that this is healing at work. In doing the work. And believing wholeheartedly that this itself, is the very purpose of being alive.

ds-happy-02

You do not “arrive” at joy, but you can strive to create it in small and enjoyable ways.

This is a reminder to myself. (And maybe to you too.) That wanting to be happy, getting happier, staying happiest, is WIP. Keep at it, work those knots out, throw out the unnecessary, get help when you need it, find love when you’re feeling the lack of it, demand support from those who you count on, ask for it when they’re not listening, and just keep swimming.

2016

5 Jan

So it’s done. What I’ve called the most forgettable, shitty year, time and time again, is over. It’s true that last year I had more than a fair share of lows. But it’s also true that in bouncing from one low to the next, only keeping my head above water, occasionally remembering to thwack my limbs and move towards the closest object for support, I’ve often needed to remind myself that I’m still alive and breathing. Which is a convoluted way of saying, a lot happened in between the lows that really wasn’t bad at all. But I have been so occupied with just barely staying afloat that it’s felt like I’ve been mostly stuck in a downward spiral of negativity. The bad has a way of eclipsing the good, and painting a picture so dismal, you wonder why this is your life. Which is why I’m thankful for forced stops in the infinite loop of time. We put a date to the end of the year, we decide it’s a time to reflect, and I’m glad we have this opportunity to lay out all the cards, pick which ones to fold over and put away, and which ones to take ahead.

There is such a difference in looking back cursorily, because all I can see is large spans of time spent lying in bed, unable to move, just staring out the window, and looking back one day and month at a time. Broadly, I feel like I spent way too much time wondering why this is happening to me. This, being the thick and heavy fog that consumed me. But, it’s only when I combed through my archive that I realised I was diffident, cynical, exhausted from the get go. I entered the year in a terrible headspace. Maybe it set the tone for the year? Maybe I was a fool not to see how things were hurtling towards an inevitable crash right through 2015? Maybe this was all just a necessary intervention in the making? I don’t know.

What followed was a lot of indecision and confusion that really chipped away at my confidence and left me on very shaky ground. Pretty much the entire year after has been spent trying to regain that solid ground beneath my feet. Whether it was putting my confidence in myself and my work back together and resuming in a direction that made sense to me, but scared the shit out of me, or opening myself up to honesty of a different kind, running all my relationships through a sieve and keeping only the most important ones close, learning to distinguish between an inner and outer circle, basically redefining the very notion of love and friendship, or regaining some bit of pride and a sense of self and identity that I’d lost sight of — everything about 2016 was an effort towards building something in me that 2015 had broken.

I couldn’t have picked a better year to write a post a day, because looking back has helped me see that while 2016 was far from fantastic, it sure was eventful. It was shitty in many parts, challenging in ways I have not previously known but omg, you gaiiis, so much happened!

Mostly, 2016 has been a year of rediscovering honesty. Of coming to terms with many things I was either not seeing right, or turning a blind eye to. It all started with the decision to take some time off. To regroup and clear my head out. I had a breakdown at the end of 2015, that made me realise I was overworked, confused about my priorities and sorely needed some time out. My inability to be honest with myself was pushing me into a cycle of repeated losses that had left me very, very tired.

So, I planned to spend 5-6 weeks unwinding and doing the things that gave me joy, in the hope that it would make room for some clarity. I read and wrote. And that’s not counting my work. There was some drawing, some haiku, and an exercise regimen, all in the interest of building a routine that enriched rather than depleted me. With all the mind space to introspect, it wasn’t long before the truth, or rather the lack of honesty emerged strong and loud.

I don’t mean honesty in the sense of truth-telling. I mean honesty in so many different ways — the inability to break through my denial, my stubbornness in not admitting to seeing things as they were, the fact that far too many people in my life had more to take than give me, the false belief that the work-life pattern I had unconsciously fallen into was necessary for success, my misplaced conviction that it was what I liked and wanted, when the truth couldn’t have been farther from it.

I’d begun to realise a need for a deeper honesty in my friendships. As it happened several of my closest friends found themselves in a bad patch at the start of the year. It involved unravelling, together, and being there for each other and made me realise just how much I valued openness and vulnerability, even in or maybe especially in hard times, as a measure of authenticity of any relationship. I suddenly saw how I was surrounded by relationships lacking in it, even though I considered them to be the solid, long-term ones. I backed away from many that seemed to exist in a perpetual state of hiding behind convenient veils of passive aggression, demanding more from me than I could give, or they could ever give back to me.

This has meant being alone a lot more, staying with solitude and embracing this part of me wholeheartedly. This will always be the year I made peace with my introvert tendencies. After a hectic 2015 chock full of socialising, putting myself out there and pursuing things I never imagined I would have, giving the hedonistic life a shot I realised my place. It’s indoors, with myself, away from the mindless din of connections and networking. I much prefer the loud camaraderie of a few I call my tribe, even if we choose to exist in absolute silence.

This too, required honesty. In laying the tussle between the virtually-social and actually-solitary, to rest. On the one hand, I live what many call a “social” life, especially thanks to frequent and frantic social media posting. And on the other hand, I was trying to teach myself boundaries, to say no, to protect my personal space and energy. This tug-o-war between sharing my life has given many observers a sense of false camaraderie that often oversteps the virtual lines that separate me and them. I began to see through social media veneers, and was disappointed by people on more than one occasion. I found myself wanting to dig deeper and find within myself the strength to accept the differences that these are just virtual interactions, while saving my energy for the solid core of authentic interactions I have in real life. Even when it meant accepting the truth that was far from pleasant, realising that seemingly normal people sometimes display unacceptable behaviour, or that I myself had untowardly let some folks far deeper into my life than was needed.

The need for this honesty came with a price. For one, I let go of the steady promise of work that I had in hand to make room for the work I wanted to pursue. Second, I had to consciously let go of a couple of friendships that I had assumed were easy-going and probably for life.

What I gained, though, was immeasurable. Because the time and energy freed up from it, was channeled into all that I wanted to put my mind to, but had failed to in the years before. I will always remember this to be the year I moved closer to finding myself, and my voice, professionally. The decision to quit a steady, decently-paying gig with scope for growth, to dive fully into the erratic, unpredictable world of full-time freelancing was a pivotal one. A lot of it happened because I had to own up to the fact that clinging to a safety rails was only going to get me that far. Yes, I’d have a salary in the bank at the end of the month, but the hours spent earning that salary was definitely keeping me from expanding my repertoire, aiming higher and going wide and deep into the kind of writing I want dip into. If I were to be honest with myself, and I was, I needed to be brave. Or at least pretend like I was. It was not without its moments of extreme imposter syndrome, but I know I am better for it.

There were moments of immense frustration. A steep learning curve that I didn’t particularly enjoy at all times because let’s face it I wasn’t feeling positive and upbeat for a large part. The long waiting periods, systemic inefficiencies, blatant unprofessionalism made me cynical and under-confident. Incidentally, it was the year with the most number of unsavoury professional experiences. But while navigating the doubt and incertitude with heaps of scepticism, I did manage to get a whole lot of work done. It’s funny how the haze of unpleasant experiences has clouded this reality that. Ironic that the shittiest year is the year I had several work wins that I am proud of. Like this, this, this and this and this and this. I never imagined I’d write essays worthy of being tweeted by the UN Women’s handle. I didn’t think I’d see myself published in The Telegraph. I certainly didn’t imagine I’d find myself in a publication dedicated to science and technology.

I even managed to throw together a website and a portfolio that I should have done a long, long time ago. Much of this had to do with trying very, very hard to unlearn my obsession with perfection. Of quitting the terrible habit of waiting for the ducks to get in an absolutely straight line before making a move. In accepting that well begun is half done, I may have taught myself a thing or two about what is possible when you accept what works for you and hold yourself to slightly more realistic goals and ideals.

One of the best things I did was write and write and write every single day. Whether it was the for the stories I worked on, daily posts on here, scribbles, ideas for stories, half written posts — I made sure I did a little writing every single day and this is a habit I don’t want to lose. I am a little astounded at myself for seeing the daily post habit through to the end of the year, even though I fell off the wagon and frantically caught up again, sometime. Even with all that writing, I have so much more to express and share. So I started a newsletter. Admittedly, it’s taken a break so soon after it was launched but I hope to be back this year. 2016 marked the completion of 10 years since I started blogging. I wrote 318 posts this year having blogged every week, which feels like a fitting way to mark a decade of rambles.

On Day 1, I decided it was going to be a year to move more. In addition to upping the ante with training by joining, pursuing and loving kickboxing, I let the husband get me a cycle. It transformed the middle parts of this year in ways I can’t explain. Unfettered joy and immense satisfaction have been had from the hours spent pedalling through Goa. Cycling changed the way I experienced what could potentially be my last monsoon here. I even finished my first ever 100 km ride.

Part of the reason I caught the cycling bug was the undeniable urge to get out and get out. In the open. To travel. It’s something I’ve denied myself the pleasure of indulging in, for various reasons in the past few years. I travelled back home more than I ever have since I have moved out. Cleartrip sent me an email calling me a Happy Tripper today, for the 18 flights I’ve taken. There was a trip to Chettinadu, KeralaThailand and Coonoor. There were a few mini vacations right here at home too. I turned 32 in the company of these lovelies who came down to celebrate over a weekend of beach time, with me. And it reaffirmed my faith in certain inalienable truths about why some relationships endure and others don’t. It’s the one year VC and I haven’t taken a holiday or travelled anywhere together. And no, we’re not complaining.

The other big change I made this year was I kicking myself back into the reading habit by getting myself a Kindle. It has made all the difference and  finished the year with 29 books read, a high for me. While I’m looking at numbers, it seems a good time to look back at this post where I detailed the few things I want to see myself doing through 2016.

  1. Read a little everyday – check, post-August
  2. Write a little everyday – check, check, CHECK
  3. Give in to the urge to draw/doodle as much as possible, don’t put it off for “later” – check, for as long as the inspiration and urge lasted
  4. Avoid multi-tasking at all costs – yes and no
  5. Wear a saree at least once a week (any more is a bonus!), and don’t wait for the “right” occasion – ditched
  6. Call ammamma more often – check
  7. Meditate every morning, consciously remember to slow down – check for the first half of the year, then abandoned
  8. Go to the beach more often, even if it is for a stroll or to catch the sunset – check, check, check (run a search for “beach” to see how)
  9. Actively avoid clicking random links that lead to news on social media – CHECK!
  10. Whenever posting something on facebook, ask myself if the post would annoy me if I were looking at it posted by someone else – check, followed this for the most part, but slipped a lot, now correcting it by slowly deleting all fb activity from all of time
  11. Generally, avoid oversharing on fb – not every thought needs to be telecast to the world on fb, do it here instead, in longer form – check
  12. Keep phone away from bed and sleep-time – failllll!
  13. Sneak some more kisses – CHECK!
  14. Choose things, make decisions with purpose – CHECK
  15. Make the most of Goa, get out, breathe, watch, listen, do – CHECKCHECKCHECKCHECK, cyclecyclecycle
  16. Reclaim stillness whenever it happens, and when it doesn’t, create it – this is WIP
  17. Fuck perfection – this is WIP

Speaking of WIP, one of the best things I did for myself in 2016, was take myself to therapy. When the cycle of breaking down, finding my footing, stabilising, coasting and only to slip again recurred three times in a span of 8 months, I knew I was in over my head. Again, it called for a kind of honesty I didn’t have, but so desperately needed to find. To accept that I cannot navigate this alone, that I need a fresh pair of eyes to see things differently and help me work my way through, rather than away from this. It has been the best, because it brought to the surface things I wouldn’t have noticed on my own. It made me reclaim myself, discover and strengthen crucial aspects of my identity that were slipping away form me. Much of my newfound peace, focus and positivity is a result of this, and I know that every day I am making progress in facing up to and loving my imperfect self.

It hasn’t been an easy year to live with me. Every break down has brought with it several emotional outbursts, thoughtless spewing of anger and frustration, violent mood swings, long periods of demotivation. But through it, VC has been my constant. Constant everything. Punching bag, sounding board, friend, foe, confidant, co-homemaker, support, voice of reason, strength and solace. We celebrated our eighth anniversary. Ironically, it was a year that made me fully understand how relationships that nurture are the ones that help you growing together, separately, rather than collapse and grow into one entity, and completely turned my beliefs about marriage around, that somehow also brought us much closer.

I find myself feeling a little sheepish about how much I have bashed 2016. It had so many sore points, so many weeks and months I wanted to just wish away. So many events and incidents I wish I didn’t have to go through. It all felt so damned shitty. And yet, when it all stacks up and I look at it in retrospect, it was rather eventful. Memorable, even. But most of all, transformative. They say things sometimes need to get really bad before they can begin to get better. Maybe my bad bits were peppered right through 2016. But right there, in between the bad events, things were already beginning to get better.

This year I just want to build from here. Make some goals, shut up about them, work hard, live big, laugh loud, love hard, breathe deep and smash them to the sky.

*****

Quick guide to posts in 2016
Monthly recaps: APostADay
Bheja fry, since this year had so much of it
Work and writing
Books and reading in 2016
Travel and photographs
Cycling and exercise
Music

Day 366: December

31 Dec

It doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines of the impossible levels of drivel I posted at the start of the month, and tell that I’ve been in a slump. My brain has been impossibly foggy for many weeks now, my motivation levels plummeted to lows I didn’t know possible, and it showed in all aspects of my life. If blogging through this year has been a study in the ups and downs of my state of mind, I hit an all new low at the start of December. This kind of unexplained, debilitating, chronic blues has hit hard, several times this year, but last month when I returned from Thailand, I felt myself slip a notch lower. As an otherwise naturally happy, easy going person, it has been particularly difficult to deal with this. For one, I haven’t known this level of dejection and disinterest that seems to have crept into everything. Second, the inability to put a finger on it has meant I’m slow to recover. Third, my usual recovery time to snap out of a lull is a few days, a week, at best. So this one has completely thrown things out of whack.

Finally, I was prompted to dig deeper, and follow through on a hunch that perhaps there was more to this – a physiological reason – than meets the (mind’s)eye. Turns out I was right, and taking this blood test was one of the best things I did this year, making me kick myself for not listening to my gut sooner. Which is not to say the things I’ve felt and gone through this past year were unwarranted or without other reasons. This has been one of the most trying years in recent time, a time of transition, the sort that only makes sense when you look at things in reverse. When you realise that every sucker-punch moment was a set up for what is to come. I’ve felt for a while that all this confusion, unsettledness and restlessness is not without purpose. That it is leading up to something. You may not recall, but I said it at the end of this post too. It really felt like November was a culmination of one phase. Like December was going to be a time of moving into a better, brighter, positive space. I had an inkling about some sense of a transition at the start of 2016, but I didn’t anticipate it would last all year long and make its presence felt as much as it did. But, the reason I reiterate this is because December felt like I was finally over the hurdle. The same one I have been painfully eyeing and struggling to get over all year.

I’m putting a lot of it down to the multivitamins kicking in and altering the chemicals in my body which have put my fatigue to rest, given me sounder sleep than I have had all year, and generally brought the spring back to my step. My motivation levels have shot up, which is to say, they’re back to normal. I feel upbeat, positive and happy. My moods are more evenly tempered and for the first time in a long, long time, I feel like myself again. All the layers of sadness, nostalgia, PMS, PTS, and dejection have lifted and I feel like the aliens have returned me to my place on this planet, just the way I used to be. (Inside joke: I’m beginning to think I was abducted for the most part of 2016 because I couldn’t recognise the person I had become. Yep, this might be your cue to unfollow this crazy lady.) I’ve dropped the oscillations from extreme highs to debilitating lows. And clarity, sweet, sweet clarity that has eluded me, is coming back to life.

Some part of this sudden upward swing was kicked into motion when I was suddenly jolted out of my misery seeing updates from some writers on a group I’m a part of. Nothing like a look back at the year gone by to really put things in perspective, no? It’s so easy to slip into a loop of negativity when you’re feeling shitty because it’s the most convenient thing to do. It’s easy, and getting up and out is unthinkable. But I was forced out of my lethargy and I had a pleasant and rather exhilarating realisation that despite it all, somehow I’ve had a good work year. From where I stand, looking back, I see so many gaps in my work style. I took so many unwanted breaks that put my progress back significantly, I was slowed down by rapidly dipping motivation levels, I was plagued by self doubt and had my confidence crushed by plenty unsavoury experiences. I ended the year knowing fully well that I hadn’t achieved exactly what I had set out to do at the start of the year. Yet, it wasn’t all bad, it seems. And that came as a very, very welcome silver lining.

A mildly altered morning schedule saw me waking up at 6 am every day this month, which while I dreaded, turned out to be a bit of a Godsend. Because it gave me a solid hour everyday to be by myself, at peace, reading. And I was able to really pick up the pace and finish up so many more books because of it.

Somewhere in between, a long-awaited and very special essay — another one about Indian women who have chosen to remain childfree — went live on The Establishment. It was the byproduct of a lot of data I had gathered for another essay, but was unable to use. So tada, I turned it into a whole different essay. Win.

There were more travels of course, the last of it to close the year. I ran away to Bangalore, and then to Coonoor with S, a trip that came about in the most spontaneous and speedy fashion. Four days in the hills, and a road trip up there and back to Bangalore was really the icing on the cake. I spent four days soaking in the mountain sun filtering through the mist, and questioned my love for the seaside. I saw mighty trees that made me feel oh so very small. And I saw a giddying variety of flowers, trees, fruit and vegetation of the kind that only mountain air can bear, and it made my head spin.

It’s been a year of tremendous travel. I may not have gone very far, but with every trip I snatched some lovely cherished moments and experiences, and have found something that my life was missing the past many years: camaraderie with just the right mix of closeness and space all in one. I came home with my heart feeling very full. It put a whole different spin on thoughts of distance, longing to be with friends I love, and the expanses of time between us. I returned to the news of George Michael’s passing, and it put me in a nostalgic, reflective mood.

But I also returned to renewed enthusiasm and a very refreshed, positive outlook. It feels like I’m over the bump. I was able to write so much in the second half of the month, spruce up the home that I have ignored for a better part of the year, stock up the house and I even spent four days getting prepped for the work weak ahead. I had some time to even reflect on what a surprisingly good year of reading it has been.

December marked the end of a shitfest of a year of course, but I’ll remember it as the month my vitamins kicked in and my body and mind began to behave like I owned it again. It’s the month I closed the door on 2016 in more ways than just the passing of 12 long months. I’m so ready for 2017.

Day 365: All the books I read this year

30 Dec

I know the title makes it sound like I read a whole cartload of books. But the truth is, I didn’t. And yet, I read more books than I have in a long, long time (which is driving my OCD mad because it’s one short of 30 and there’s no way I’m going to finish the book I’m currently reading by tomorrow to round it off neatly. But, I’m trying to fuck perfection this year, so I’m going with it like I don’t care). Also, it has to be said that all the reading fury kicked in in the second half of the year, once I bought myself a Kindle. It has been somewhat life-changing because it altered the very nature of my bedtime routine which now centres around ensuring I make enough time to really read before I fall asleep, it has contributed a greta deal to making me more anti-social because I indiscriminately avoided/cancelled plans in favour of staying home to read, and it has really, really made a wonderful companion through all the travel this year. Apart from all of this, though, 2016 was the first time after years and years of trying to reclaim the habit of reading, that I can say I have succeeded. After what seems like a lifetime, I have given reading a place in my life, rather than fit it into the gaps and empty moments, or use it to keep me company when I was bored/lonely/killing time. And only I know what a difference, not just what I read, but the act of making a habit of reading again, has made to my life. So, in that sense it’s been a very good year of reading.

Anyway, here’s a quick round up of all the books that I read in 2016.

  1. Fiction: 10
  2. Non-fiction: 13
  3. Self-awareness/self-improvement: 6
  4. Memoirs: 9
  5. Collections of essays: 6
  6. Books with marriage as a predominant theme: 11
  7. Books with food as a predominant theme: 2
  8. Books with women/feminism as predominant themes: 12
  9. Books that made me cry: 6
  10. Books that made me laugh out loud: 7

3 best reads of the year:

  1. Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay
  2. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman
  3. ToastNigel Slater and 31 Songs (alternate title: Songbook), Nick Hornby (I couldn’t help myself!)

3 most forgettable reads of the year:

  1. How To Sell Yourself, Joe Girard
  2. Before, and then After, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
  3. The Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman in Your Marriage, Veena Venugopal

And here’s the whole list:

  1. The Untethered Soul, Michael A Singer
  2. How To Sell Yourself, Joe Girard
  3. I Am You: a magical collection of stories and art about awakening, Carrie Louise Hilgert
  4. We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Adichie
  5. A Handbook For My Lover, Rosalyn D’Mello
  6.  Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain
  7. Before, and then After, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
  8. Tanya Tania, Antara Ganguli
  9. Walking Towards Ourselves, Catriona Mitchell
  10. The Girl on the TrainPaula Hawkins
  11. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman
  12. Alphabet Soup For Lovers, Anita Nair
  13. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
  14. This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett
  15. Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
  16. Where’d you go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple
  17. Love, Loss and What We Ate, Padma Lakshmi
  18. In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri
  19. Would You Like Some Bread With That Book, Veena Venugopal
  20. Brave EnoughCheryl Strayed
  21. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown
  22. Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
  23. ToastNigel Slater
  24. Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay
  25. Love Warrior: A Memoir, Glennon Doyle Melton
  26. The Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman in Your Marriage, Veena Venugopal
  27. Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage, Nandini Krishnan
  28. 31 Songs (alternate title: Songbook), Nick Hornby
  29. The Private Life Of Mrs. Sharma, Ratika Kapur

In the coming year, I want to definitely read more fiction. I’ve been building a really long list of to-read books on Goodreads, and hopefully it will help do justice to that goal.

What did your year of reading look like? And what was the most stand out book for you? Tell all, so I can let my reading list growwww. Hopefully, this time around, the habit is here to stay.

PS: You can find all my posts about books filed here.

Day 364: Redemption reading

29 Dec

I needed to quickly redeem myself of the time and energy lost reading these two rather forgettable books last week, so I dived into what I thought was a guaranteed good read. You can’t go wrong with Nick Hornby, no?

31 Songs (alternate title: Songbook), Nick Hornby
I LOVED this book, predictably. And I suspect anyone that has music occupy a significant part of their daily brainspace would too. If you find yourself obsess over certain kinds of music, particular tracks, have a set of all time favourite evergreen songs that never get old, have the compulsive need to share your music and get people to love the same music you do and for the same reasons, bond with people over tastes in music and love the idea of analysing words melodies and inspirations, you will love this book. It’s a set of 31 really cool essays, each featuring a song the author loves. Think of it as a mixed-tape in words! It helps that the mixed-tape includes everything from Led Zeppelin to Nelly Furtado. So if your tastes in music are similarly eclectic (mine are!) expect to enjoy it even more.

The highlight of High-Fidelity was all the deep music references woven right through the story, and I know it’s a major theme in many of Hornby’s novels. So this is like a peek into his personal commentary about why some music makes him tick and other kinds of music don’t.

I highly recommend this book, even if you’re not particularly into music. Because even though every essay is based on a particular track, he delves deep into his insights on music as a creative pursuit, the importance of lyrics and writing in music, his love for analogue in a fast-changing digital world, and so many other things that influence the development of music today. His typically matter of fact, but clever, British way of writing is a charm that’s hard not to love.

The Private Life Of Mrs. Sharma, Ratika Kapur
This book came highly recommended on a couple of lists I saw, and I wanted a quick read to close the year, so I picked it. It was quick, but it wasn’t particularly enjoyable. It’s narrated in this very odd style, which I realise is a deliberate craft employed given the main character – Mrs Sharma – who is quiet, looking for someone to have a conversation about all that she is otherwise reticent about, but it didn’t work for me. I found it a bit forced and that annoyed me a little. That apart, it’s a sweet and simple story of a woman in Delhi, grappling with the challenges of being a single mother to a troubled 16 year old, while her husband is away, working in Dubai to support them. Mrs Sharma leads a “typical” life expected of this demographic of women – straddling a job with her duties at home, cooking, cleaning, caring for her in laws – and in the case of Mrs. Sharma specifically – dealing with a long-distance marriage. She hopes for a life that feels like it is just beyond her grasp at the moment, but she is filled with hope that very soon she will be economically better placed to do the things she wishes, for herself, her son and husband too. In  navigating this angst along with fulfilling her role as a mother, daughter-in-law and being a “respectable” woman as one expects Indian women to be, she finds her life unravelling slowly, leading herself down paths that she is conditioned to believe are wrong or questionable. Yet, she boldly continues, all the while convincing herself that it is normal. The story explores themes of conditioning, coming into one’s own, motherhood — thru the lens of Indian middle-class society.

It was quick, and I read it from cover to cover in a day. Apart from that, nothing about the book really stood out or touched me.