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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.

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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.

Day 363: Rewind

28 Dec


Year-end mode has descended upon me. And today I found myself digging through my archive in search of this post I wrote a decade ago. Yep, a decade ago. When I was 22 with a wee brain a touch more developed than a toddler’s. The embarrassment I typically experience on reading posts from that far back was nowhere to be found today. Instead, an oddly liberating relief and peace has taken its place.

I went hunting for the post because the Sunscreen Song has been on my mind today. And I wanted to recollect the context in which it was last relevant in my life.

I’m at that spot again, the crossroads where I turn to inspirational music, books and pinterest-ey quotes to reassure myself. To remind myself that this is a cycle. Turning and turning in the widening gyre, we are. While only the scenes and contexts change, the recurrence of angst is much the same, presenting itself in different forms. But it is, at its core, the same restlessness that is necessary to forge ahead. To force us to break out of our comfortable shells and just grow, live, shine a little.

I found myself thinking about the Sunscreen Song today. This part especially, because it’s a rather apt summation of what I’ve felt this year, and a little bit of the wisdom I’ve attempted to accept, to make my peace with everything that has happened and move through it.

Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much
Or berate yourself either

Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s

Enjoy your body, use it every way you can

Don’t be afraid of it or what other people think of it

It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own, dance

Even if you have nowhere to do it but your own living room

Read the directions even if you don’t follow them

Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly

Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good

Be nice to your siblings, they are your best link to your past

And the people most likely to stick with you in the future

Understand that friends come and go

But a precious few, who should hold on

Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle

For as the older you get, the more you need the people

You knew when you were young

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard

Live in northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft

Travel, accept certain inalienable truths

Prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old

And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young

Prices were reasonable, politicians were noble

And children respected their elders

Respect your elders, don’t expect anyone else to support you

Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse

But you’ll never know when either one will run out

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re forty

It will look eighty-five

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it

Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of

Wishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off

Painting over the ugly parts and recycling for more than it’s worth

But trust me on the sunscreen.

From the sound of it, the decade old post is a rant related to decisions involving a boy in my life. Which is sweet and innocent haha considering it was a boy that was the epitome of “conflict” back then.  If I could go back in time, I’d tell 22-year old me to relax a little, because the “decisions” and “choices” and “tough calls” I’ve attempted to make this year have made boy trouble from a decade ago feel like a cakewalk.

In the old post I’m clearly making not-so-veiled references to my parents. They’re the “audience” the eyes that I thought would judge me. The reason I felt like justifying my choices. And the hardest thing I did then was do as I damn well pleased anyway, leaving them to deal with it.

And deal with it they did. So gracefully.

If I could go back in time, I’d tell 22-year old me to relax a little, and prepare for a much harsher judgmental pair of eyes to come. Watching closely over every decision I make.

I mean myself, of course. My own eyes, watching my every move. I’d tell 22-year old me to stop trying hard to justify myself to the eyes around, and turn inwards and learn to appease that eager gaze first. I’d never have imagined coming to terms with decisions, building the courage to break and follow through, and learning to go a little easy on myself would ever be so hard.

I’d tell 22-year old me to stop being my harshest critic. Nip it in the bud.

I’d tell 22-year old me to relax a little, because no matter how meandering life is, and no matter how many different ways it unfurls in, no matter how varied, diverse and infinite the situations we find ourselves in, the inspiration, solutions, solace, advice and faith we turn to come from a finite set of things we know to be true.

And thank god for that.

Day 362: Time

27 Dec

Remember the time, loneliness was like a tree*? Large,  expansive, with arms shooting out in every direction, rooted and there to stay. If ever you felt yourself slipping out of its grip, an arm would appear out of no where and scoop you back, placing you at the heart of it all over again. 

Entire worlds would pass you by. Seasons would swim by. Colours changed within and without. 

And the tree remained. Ever pervasive.  Rooted. There to stay. 


Today, loneliness is a speck of dust, suspended in time. There one moment, gone the next.  Floating, free falling, impossible to grasp, unwilling to stay. 

*throwback to one of my most favourite, most loved posts on TRQ’s blog. 

Day 361: Spinning the wheel

26 Dec

2016 seems cock sure and determined not to go out quietly. As if the blows we received this year weren’t enough, today we lost another gem. I woke up to the terrible trending news, and in my head I ran through the whole gamut of GM memories. From ogling him in his itty bitty denim cut offs to heartbreak when we realised he was gay, to rediscovering the full depth and breadth of his repertoire in my late teens, to having some songs associated with some of my best people. Oddly, I spent a whole day listening to GM last month, binging on his entire Vevo channel.

It’s been a year of unprecedented loss, but if I didn’t write the typical social media outpouring of grief or an eulogy for most people this year — not Bowie, not Prince, not Muhammad Ali, not Glenn Frey, not Doris Roberts, not Zaha Hadid, not Harper Lee (I remembered Leonard Cohen, though) — it was because I just couldn’t keep up with the frequency anymore. Most times, words seemed futile.

Today, I feel no different.

So, I’m going to sleep listening to some of my all time favourite George Michael tracks.

 

 

Go well, GM.

Day 358: Home is where the yellow roses are

23 Dec

VC is not usually one to feel the need to state the obvious. He sees no need to tell me he misses me, or that he wishes I was around. For one, he assumes it is understood, and doesn’t need constant repetition. He doesn’t find it endearing. So the only two occasions this year that he explicitly stated the fact that he missed me, I knew there was good reason for expressing himself. This time, I was away for longer than usual. It felt even longer so, with all the hopping travel and transit through multiple modes of transport. While I was enjoying my time away, and at home in Bangalore, I was suddenly told I was being missed. And that I should perhaps lay off on the travel and just “be with me” for a bit. Hein, yeh kya hua? I thought to myself, but brushed the thought aside almost immediately, thinking VC was yanking my chain, or being unnecessarily dramatic. It was only when I landed in Goa at 10 pm last night, and was picked up by VC who came bearing a bouquet of yellow roses, that I realised just how serious he really was. This year has seen one heck of a lot of travel. For both VC and I. Separately. Which has meant a fair bit of time spent apart. It has been altogether wonderful. While I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on my own, home and away, and I know VC has too, I think it has allowed us an opportunity to really miss each other again. And even though I cannot actually remember the last time VC gave me yellow roses, for no damned reason, I haven’t forgotten what they mean. 


Day 357: Cutting the fat

22 Dec

If there’s one unifying theme that ties all my travels, in and out of Goa this year, it has been the spontaneity that kicked all plans to action and the unbelievable effortlessness right through every one of them. Well, that’s if you discount the effort it took to find enough cash to carry in hand before we hit the road last week – *eyerollllll* – but that aside, effortless. And it has a lot to do with the kind of people I was surrounded with, on each of those occasions.

Of course when I think of effortlessness, actual instances of smooth, near-flawless and easy planning and events come to mind. But really, it’s so much deeper. It’s been so long since I have experienced this kind of light, clear and direct quality of relationship in my life that I have come to value all that it brings with it. A large part of which is this effortlessness. The easy way in which personalities, no matter how disparate, plans, people, just fit. And by fit I mean, making it work, without necessarily getting enmeshed or tangled.

I realised this with astounding clarity as S and I were quickly calculating out expenses on the return leg of our trip, over hot filter coffee at the A2B we’d stopped it. The entire exercise was a good reflection of how most of our trips, and some others that I took, have been this year. No loud haggling, no complains, no mismatched expectations, no effort. Very quickly and simply, we knew what we’d spent and how it was to be divided and who owed who what. Done and dusted.

Perhaps it is the slowing down of time, being free from routine and allowing time to empty out your mind that makes room for mini epiphanies like this. Earlier this year R, S and I had a conversation about why some combinations of people work better than others, and all three of us agreed on the high premium we placed on effortlessness and a complete distaste for drama and passive aggressions. Increasingly, I find myself gravitating to effortless people with whom I have an effortless equation. So much so that I notice the daunting, weighted and complex relationships have withered away rather, well, effortlessly. Without trying too hard. Earlier, I would be het up about it. Now, the aftermath is effortless too.

I’ve learned this from VC a long, long time ago – trimming the fat in all my relationships – and on returning form this trip I felt rather pleased to realise it’s become an unconscious, effortless part of my life. I don’t know if this makes me lazy, but it’s not that I want to stay away form putting in an effort or investing in relationships. It’s more about investing in less drama, more honesty and clarity. And I’m extremely glad and grateful I am finally in a place in life where I am surrounded by people who feel the same way, understand and respect it as much as I do. It has made a lot of the events in the last year less painful, less intense and less demanding of emotion and heartache. But most of all, I’m glad I have started to parse people and tell the genuinely effortless relationships apart from those that inevitably leech. I’m better for it.

Day 356: Book post, of course

21 Dec

I’ve read an alarming number of books related to marriage, this year. And before I realised this, I unconsciously picked two more books about women and marriage, to end the year*.

“I want something light and breezy to read on holiday,” I thought to myself. And then I picked these up before I left.

The Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman in Your Marriage, Veena Venugopal
I’ll admit, this might not have been a book I’d have otherwise picked, if I hadn’t already read and really enjoyed the other book by the Veena Venugopal.

It’s a book of individual essays about the experiences of 11 very diverse Indian women, exploring equally diverse and unique marriages. What ties them all to the unifying theme is that each one tells a different tale of why the mother-in-law is the villain she is made out to be in the big Indian family. I’ve heard enough stories to know this not a mere cliche or cultural caricature, but a very sordid and difficult reality for many Indian women.

I was initially excited to read this because the premise was intriguing. I have a less than perfect equation with my own mother in law. While we keep it civil and amicable, and the geographic distance makes things a lot easier, I can never lose sight of the fact that our relationship leaves a lot to be desired. The essays bring out the many facts and complexities of our “culture” and what it imposes on women, especially after marriage. Bring in a mixed-marriage, I saw myself in snatches in a couple of the situations, I could relate to some of the women too. Some tales are funny, some ironic, some downright disturbing with instances of domestic abuse, rape and emotional cruelty detailed. But beyond that I found the book to be a dull and very glib telling. Contrary to the description on the book cover, I didn’t find it rich with “incisive observations” rather just a plain re-telling of a series of interviews, that put in words a lot that I already knew and understand about the complicated, often difficult relationship Indian women have with their mothers-in-law. While the premise held promise, I just didn’t think the contents were meaty enough to warrant a whole book — *shruggy guy*.

Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage, Nandini Krishnan
Maybe I was already worn out with my reading of The Mother-in-Law, or perhaps I shouldn’t have picked up yet another non-fiction book about Indian marriage immediately, but this book was even more disappointing than the one before. Again a series of slice-of-life essays told through the words of a spectrum of Indian women, describing a host of situations they find themselves in before, during and in some cases, after marriage. Again, the premise help promise, but the writing was utterly dull, reduced to she said this, then that happened, then she felt this way and was prompted to do that. It just felt like a series of rather refined transcribed interviews. I really struggled through this one, wanting to give up several times. If it weren’t for the glorious weather, reading in the sun or snuggled under multiple razais while a fire raged in the fireplace in our room, that made it easy, I might have succumbed to the feeling.

Has anyone read a insightful, enjoyable book on Indian marriage that is meaty enough to really dig ones teeth into? I’m almost tempted to write a story or two about this myself.

*As it turns out I’ve surpassed the goal that I belatedly set for myself! And from the looks of it there will be a couple more to go before we really close the year.

Day 355: Too much nature ho gaya

20 Dec

I find myself unable to fathom the proliferation of vegetation I’ve seen up here. It’s in the mighty trees, the dazzling slopes of glistening tea bushes, a mind boggling array of flowers in every colour possible, the piles of zesty winter veg in the every corner veggies, the fruit we ate straight off the trees. Just breathing in deep fills me up with a freshness I cannot get enough of. Maybe nature is on a heady high of much the same stuff. It makes everything look positively luscious. Eye popping hues, shiny petals and peels, textures and grain in the irregular horizon, the sharp way in which the sunlight streaks everything, casting a glow and providing enough warmth for life to persist.

Just look at this, will ya?

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