In which I end up without a phone

In an unexpected but rather welcome twist in the tale, I’ve been rendered phone-less for the last week. It began a good month or so ago with my battery acting up and surprising me with a dead phone at many an inopportune moment, despite being fully charged. This turned my phone into a landline, having to have it constantly plugged into the wall or a portable battery, which in turn meant I couldn’t have it on my person at all times. Which in turn meant less meddling. Less browsing. Less Instagram. Less whatsapp.

Less distractions, basically.

And then finally last Friday the phone died on me. I rushed to give it in for repair and have the battery replaced immediately, but just didn’t feel compelled to use a replacement phone that’s lying around at home. The repair fellows have been behaving like my phone is a convalescing patient, administering a battery of tests and procedures, keeping it under an endless period of observation, and telling me its “getting better, but not fully okay” *eyeroll* while I keep waiting.

It’s been an oddly satisfying week. And some things have been a sharp contrast to life in general. I’ve had to remember to keep cash on me at all times because no PayTM, shopped at the local vegetable vendor because no OTPs, taken autos (because no cab apps), made dates the old way (by connecting via phone and email and then having no room for flaking off or making last minute changes), and basically felt like a college student again — which was the last time I was totally phoneless.

I don’t know if I can attribute this to being phoneless, but I’ve been immensely productive, finishing up my work on time and meeting all my deadlines without last-minute-panic, this week. I’ve also slept better. I didn’t realise how many pockets of time empty out when you don’t have a phone to fill it — whether it’s mindlessly fidgeting with it, endlessly browsing through instagram on any commute, pulling it out to turn on and off the screen a gazillion times while waiting, or even just randomly browsing through it every chance I get.

You know how sometimes you only realise how deeply dependent you are on something when it’s gone?

I met A for lunch earlier this week, only to realise she’s in the same predicament. So with one dying phone between the two of us, and a lunch that we chattered right through, we left the restaurant and promptly got caught in a downpour with not a tree in sight to duck under. Finally, after getting sufficiently drenched, we slipped into the basement of an apartment building down the road where I waited for the rain to slow down before I hailed an auto rickshaw. I trundled home, my palazzos bundled up in my lap, as I perched at the edge of the seat, smack in the middle of the auto, guarding myself from puddles and splashing rainwater on either side.

It was really like a massive throwback in time to when I was in college and used to sometimes take a rickshaw for some par of the commute, especially when a typical Bangalore downpour would strike. On a normal day I’d probably have been staring into my phone, but I was instead forced to I watched the traffic whirl around me, the cacophony filling my ears, the smells and dank dampness settling on my skin, and the cool breeze that made my hair stand on end as I observed people, places and sights around. I was wet, cold, stuck in traffic and closing in on almost forty five minutes of being in that damned auto, and somehow it all felt very quaint and special.

Through the week (and longer), my kindle has been a loyal companion. And with all the emptied pockets of time, thanks to less distractions and actually finishing my work on time (without having to juggle spillovers) I’ve finished some more books.

Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist
I really, really wanted to like this book because the title pretty much sums up the largest preoccupation of my life the last few years. N had recommended it to me a long time ago, at a time when I was struggling to overcome the perfection syndrome. 

But it wasn’t until I saw this on Sprouted Kitchen’s Instagram stories, that I decided to buy the book.

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Because this right here, is exactly my state of mind for the last many years now. But the similarities ended there, going only so far as the title and the premise. In Shauna’s attempt to choose to be preset over perfect, I felt like she tends to shame every other choice that lies in the vast space in between both ends of the spectrum. My own journey on this path has been about getting closer to understanding what I want, why I want it, and accepting and loving where I’m coming for in every single situation. Sometimes that means choosing perfection in some areas – and I am okay with it if I am clear about the intention and the motivation for it. It’s only in the last six months that I feel like I am making some progress with really living what I think is a life that can be truly free of the mindless obsession to achieve, succeed, be rich, be perfect, be tidy, be womanly etc etc etc. Pretty early on, this difference began to grate at my nerves. That aside, there’s a lot of talk of spiritual guidance and mentorship, alluding to Shauna’s own practice as a Catholic, and how rediscovering God has helped her along this journey. Being a non believer, this was completely lost on me.

There are some nuggets of powerful wisdom in here, but it gets completely camouflaged in the Jesus talk, the seeming shaming of a variety of choices aside from perfection, and in just loading what I found to be very, very basic truths in unnecessary verbiage. I know there is a place for self-help, but maybe it’s not the right source for me. I felt this when I read Brene Brown too — that I could appreciate some parts, some excerpts, but not the package as a whole.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
OMG, this was such a fun, fun book. I am tempted to call it the Ove of my reading list this year. First, it’s almost-chick-lit written by a man, which I always find makes for interesting reading. Second, it’s put together very intelligently and the book absorbed me hook, line and sinker, with it’s blend of mystery, gently building unexpected romance and of course twists and turns. It’s clever, funny, delightfully touching in part, and I thoroughly enjoyed the feel-good flow of this very unexpected love story. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I began, but I was pleasantly surprised by the end of it. I’m late to the Rosie Project party, but if like me you have had it on your to-read list for a long, long time, go read it soon.

Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott
It’s an unlikely title for a book about writing, no? At least that’s what I thought, but there’s a bit in the book where she talks about where the name came to be, and it all made sense. As a guide to writing, this book comes highly recommended for aspiring writers. It’s part memoir, but mostly a literal guide to how to write — which Lamott beautifully describes as the pursuit of making sense of what’s going on. It has some really lovely parts that I could really relate to, it’s peppered with advice, some parts are straight-up technical and act as a rather precise guide on how to go about everything from developing plot to building characters to practicing writing. Some of the anecdotes, some of the emotions she shares, some of the events in her writing life were all too familiar and relatable. Some even moved me, some inspired me, some straight up made me chuckle out loud. A significant chunk of the book is directed at aspiring novelists, so I may have glossed over it, but most of the book is a funny, precise and helpful guide to what it takes to be a writer.

Same time, last year: Day 203: Rainy day feels

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Perfect love

So much of all the recent flux I’ve found myself floating through has been about coming closer to accepting myself wholly and completely. All sides of myself. The side that routinely questions how much I truly want, and how much is really, actually enough — how much work? much money? how much shopping? how much food? The side that is re-shaping all the judgements about myself and the world around me, judgements that I didn’t even know I held within me. Judgements of other women, judgements of the industry I operate in, of family I may have perhaps misunderstood. The procrastinate-y, often downright lazy, very frequently uninterested, low-achievement loving sides too. The yes-I-like-being-fit-but-I’m-okay-with-my-wide-hips-and-permanent-food-belly self.

The side that is slowly but surely caring lesser and lesser about the way I look, even as I am completely enjoying suddenly discovering sides of my wardrobe I’d forgotten in Goa. The side that more willingly indulges in a little, unabashed self-love now and then, and is quick to recognise how much more I have yet to go.

So much of all the recent flux I’ve found myself floating through has been brought about real, apparent changes, not just in my thoughts, but my attitude and actions too.

And yet, last Sunday, as I looked at my face in the mirror before I stepped out to lunch with VC’s family, I suddenly noticed my unkempt eyebrows that I’ve stopped threading about three years ago now. From there, my eyes traced a line down to the suddenly very apparent growth of hair on my upper lip — an area I have started to ignore for the most part. It was downhill from there, with my pockmarked-from-acne cheeks and forehead suddenly staring me back in the face, and my obvious disinterest in makeup suddenly feeling like a disadvantage.

It took a moment and an uncharacteristic instance of double-checking with VC, which he was quick to dismiss, before I shook myself out of it. I looked okay. I looked felt great. Even with stray hairs on my upper lip, between and around my eyebrows that refuse to be tamed and grow within well-defined boundaries.

I’ll admit it had everything to do with who I was going to meet, and where I was suddenly going to be — unarmed and steadfastly myself — a fish out of water in a sea of preened and primped women. But even so, it’s baffling how disarmingly simple and quick it is to slip from the cushy comforts of a carefully cultivated self-assuredness, to the depths of self-loathing. How ridiculously heavy a burden this need for acceptance and validation, packed away in a watertight box labeled beauty, is. How deep this notion of self-worth attached to what I look on the outside, runs. How utterly nonsensical that I have to waste precious waking moments thinking about it, side stepping my intuition, second guessing my confidence and tripping up on it so often.

So much of all the recent flux I’ve found myself floating through has been about discovering a deeper, inner confidence. I realised on Sunday that a by-product of that is being hyper vigilant of every stray thought, and being hyper sensitive to fixing them. I don’t always get it right, but I am now more aware of the work in progress and how far I’ve come, than I have ever been before. It has meant focusing on finer, intangible, unquantifiable things like peace and happiness, and allowing the low-hanging fruit, the distracting outward displays that are frankly easier to work with — like a spotless home, a ticked off to-do list and trimmed eyebrows — blur into the distance.

Same time, last year: Day 200: Barely moving

What coming home feels like: Sunday lunch edition

I firmly believe we have entered a time of being grotesquely overfed and unnaturally preoccupied with food. Nothing confirmed that for me as much as moving to Bangalore did. I realised very early on that meeting people had to involve a restaurant or pub. The number of events and happenings in the city revolving around food boggle me. A visit to some of the happening hubs in town make my head spin. 12th main for example,  cannot get over how dazzlingly chock full of restaurants and night clubs and pubs it is. Each one seemingly bursting at the seams, and most of them running full house on weekends with business roaring. It defies logic. Well, at least the logic in my mind, but that’s the stuff of another post.

I’ve been conflicted about this lately. As I think of alternate ways to engage with people — a walk in the park! a play? a concert? meeting over tarot cards? book club, anyone? I find that despite the largeness of a city like Bangalore, and the myriad channels one assumes there will be, to service the varied interests of this people-infested place, I’m struggling to find avenues that don’t revolve around food.

So in these times of overfed everything — from our instagram feeds (I’m so over the here’s what I ate for breakfast/lunch/dinner updates :-/) to the fetishization of meals we put in our bellies, it feels a bit self-indulgent and vacant to say food brings people together. And yet to not state it, in the manner I mean it today feels a bit fraudulent. Because it’s true what they say, food brings people together. At it’s most fundamental level, so many of my memories are bound by flavours, and nostalgia stirs when certain aromas or remnants of events surrounding food are evoked. It could be something as simple as the baby food I’d wait for my 6-month old sister to waste so I could wallop, or it could be the ginormous indulgent buffet i ate for five days straight over my honeymoon, or my grandfather’s very own mutton stew. Food memories have preserved my sanity on more than one occasion.

Flying out of the proverbial nest gave me wings in more ways than one, and one of the bittersweet joys of being away was creating my own set of traditions and rituals — many of which were around food. Festival sweets, Sunday breakfast eggs, nuts to start the day, supaari to end the day. And I’ve missed the grounding and centering effect of many of these simple habits and homely traditions, followed almost too tediously, week after week.

These are the same rituals I sometimes resisted participating in, many times when Iw as young. And stupid. But I was too naive to fully realise how much lingering over a shared meal, letting conversation unravel sometimes, or disappearing into comfortable pockets of silence, mindfully eating the complex outcome of someones thoughtful, deliberate labour, played a role in keeping me grounded, together.

Growing up, our Sunday lunch at home was one such event. It was where the stories of the week were shared. Where sneaky giggles, tired sighs and everything on between came together, in long belaboured detail, for everyone to chew on. The meal itself wasn’t necessarily large and sinful. Sometimes a simple khichdi, sometimes an egg curry with fluffy white rice and a naked salad. But sometimes, like today, it was a leap of faith into a previously untouched cuisine. It was larger than usual, felt fancier than the familiar fare we were usually fed. But no matter what it was, it has always been the heart of Sunday afternoons in my home.

Post lazy oil-bath mornings usually spent tidying up or hurriedly ticking thru homework, after a tiring dance class, there was nothing I looked forward to more than a meal with my folks and sister.

A meal is a magical thing. So much a labour of love, putting together a meal is an energy sapping activity. And yet, when it is done and finished, it is only the memories that linger as aromatic evidence. I realised this on Sunday, as I sat at the table we dragged out into the terrace garden at my parents home. I’m beginning to like that peaceful feeling of acceptance that washes over me, like like telling me I-told-you-so, every time I notice I’ve come full-circle. And it happened again the other day, back at the table on a Sunday afternoon. Even though our family is larger by almost-two and life has taken us all in such divergent paths. We’re louder about some things, clandestine about others. And yet, when we come together, the laugher, the noisy munching, the clinking of spoons against bowls and plates and the hearty fullness of a shared meal remains much the same.

Same time, last year: Day 194: Pedalling again

Books-shooks

My reading habit took a brutal beating in the chaos of the weeks between April and July. More than being busy and having my hands full with the move, I’ve been super preoccupied with just dealing with things and adjusting to life here, which took much longer than anticipated.

I’ve realised that when I get busy, reading is the first habit to take a hit. It’s the easiest thing for me to offload when I have a lot vying for my time and attention. I don’t fight this anymore. That part of the type A person in me seems to be growing old and tired very fast. Instead, in her place is a newfound acceptance (or the lost will to keep it all together all the time) that this is how it is meant to be, and that nothing will change if all my want-to-dos and must-dos are not accomplished in the timeframe I imagine is right for them, and that I will return to the old “normal” when things settle.

At last count, I had three new books I’d barely dipped into before abandoning in favour of doing very interesting things like opening up way too many cartons and setting up a home. Some conflict lead to a much needed reconciliation of sorts, though. And promptly, two weeks ago, the expected happened. I picked up where I left off and got back to reading, devouring these books.

Baaz, Anuja Chauhan
So I was quite the Anuja Chauhan fan, but this book may have changed that slightly for me. I believed no other Indian writer in this segment pulls off the kind of riveting plots and compelling characters like she does, but this book left me so underwhelmed. Even though this book features a male protagonist, the usual elements remain consistent — a fiesty, strong woman, a gorgeous man who sounds too good to be true, multiple plot twists that keep you engaged and wanting to flip pages fast to get through the book. However, I felt Baaz took very long to establish the conflict and really get the pace going. Once the pace picked up though, and just as I felt the story was going somewhere, it ended. Disastrously. I’m probably way off the mark here, but as a reader, it just left me feeling like Anuja Chauhan maybe lost interest?

Heartburn, Norah Ephron
The blurb calls this book a “sidesplitting novel about the breakup of a marriage”, while weaving in recipes, making it “sinfully-delicious” and “soul-satisfying”. It was not any of the above for me. It made for a fun, very quick read because it’s light and was funny in parts, in that sarcastic, sardonic style that is Norah Ephron’s. But the recipes were completely incidental and forced into the narrative, I thought. It didn’t matter as much, to me, because I wasn’t into it for the recipes. It was the promise of a hilarious account of a marriage falling apart that intrigued me at first. Reading it though, I felt there were some all too familiar truths at some poignant moments that will make you reflect on your own relationships, or perhaps your marriage, and you will smile some. But that is all.

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

As much as this book has been talked about, I found myself avoiding it for the longest time. Perhaps it was just the dismal sounding premise, and I’m never up for willingly going into something that promises to be depressing. I’d also seen Oprah interview Paul and his wife some years ago, and the sound of reading a book about the life of a man who knows he’s dying didn’t really appeal — no matter how much I appreciate the spirit that must take. But, when R recommended it, I had to pick it up. And he was right, the book was so goddamned absorbing, I couldn’t put it down. And for the first time in years I stayed up late into the night finishing it literally overnight.

Writing about his life, over the course of the time he pretty much waited for death, Paul Kalanithi somehow manages to write a book about embracing life to the fullest, living with utmost presence and being completely absorbed in every moment of every experience. In his acceptance of life and death, I found myself nodding along a lot. The best revelation was that it was anything but depressing. In fact, I didn’t even cry. I was incredibly moved at several points, but not because of the books inherently tearful premise, but because it was just so life-affirming.

About a Boy, Nick Hornby

Despite having only read High Fidelity and 31 Songs/Songbook, I’m a Hornby fan. I picked up my first physical book in yearrrsssss, at Blossom where I went to sell a ton of books after the massive decluttering spell I went thru after we moved.

It’s fascinating and endearing to read such honest, engaging and easy writing about men bumbling along in the world, through a man’s voice. In About a Boy, he brings two men together — a dorky 12 year old Marcus who is wise beyond his years and a semi-fucked-up 30-something Will who is looking to get his life together. They meet under the oddest circumstances — when Will is at a picnic amongst participants of a single parents club (he is pretending to be one in the hope of landing a girlfriend). Somehow the two hit it off in the most unexpected way and the rest of the book is a heartening development of the relationship between them, what they have to give each other, and how their characters change as a result of it. Highly recommend this one. Apparently, it’s a movie with Hugh Grant and I must now get my hands on it.

Same time, last year: Day 193: Like Nike, but better

What coming home feels like: light and life

The monsoon has hit Goa with all its might and fury and my social media feeds are filled with envy-making pictures, videos and words that are doing nothing to make me feel better for being so far, far away from the best time to be in Goa.

Last year I had an inkling it was to be my ultimate monsoon living in Goa and even though part of me felt like I was inching closer to the reality of it, a larger part of me wanted to remain blissfully unaware. And in denial.

My facebook memories have been brutal in throwing up images and blog posts from all of last year and monsoon nostalgia has taken over me considerably this week.

I miss Goa terribly. I’m hopelessly and inconsolably homesick for Goa.

But. There have been small joys. Silver linings, if you will. Moments of pure surprise or happiness. Everyday realities that have grown on me unconsciously. Until suddenly I woke up to see the light.

After living in west-facing homes for literally all my life, I’m now on the other end of the spectrum. Enjoying 6 am wake ups thanks to the burst of light that no curtains can keep out, loving how the entire home is always bathed in a soft, gentle yellow, and low-key obsessing over watching day-long shadows as they morph on the hour. The sunlight is doing wonders for the plants we got and I’ve gone over six weeks without killing anything.

Daily surprises happen with fair consistency. I’ve got to start looking and acknowledging them more often.

Same time, last year: Day 187: June

I need to sit with the quiet. I know that much.

I’ve been having a lot many thoughts about examining what work means to me and redefining it for myself. I know, nothing new. You’ve heard me ramble on about it here and here. Oh, and here too. And I’m pretty sure there’s a few more related posts that I’m just feeling too lazy to fish out now. Yes, so redefining what work means to me — not the stuff of it, and what comprises work, but the word itself and the implication and ramification I allow it to have in my personal space.

In creating this new meaning I’m trying (and often stumbling in the process) to unlearn and relearn, shed and rediscover sides of myself I have not acknowledged before. It has meant making space for days that I would once deem useless. It has meant wondering about how what was once useless is the very precious space that is nurturing a new idea. A new thought. A new version of me.

It has meant accepting that the useless days have a place too. That they add up in the long run and stack up like milestones in this potholed path I’m on.

It has meant accepting the little details like how rested I actually feel after a power nap that would once leave me feeling just guilty, not rested. It has meant allowing myself to be looked after by people who want to and can  do it, rather than fretting or feeling like it means I am somehow in capable of looking after myself. Or that it makes me somehow a lesser or smaller human being. It has meant learning to accept help, with as much grace as I am willing to lend it — and this has not been easy. It has meant identifying little bits of my ego that are actually working against me and crushing them to tiny little bits.

It has meant feeling love for things and people I was convinced I never could. It has meant letting go of a rigid, absolute idea of myself and slowly embracing the fact that it is no longer what I am. That I am constantly evolving and it is futile to stubbornly hold on to an old sense of self only because it makes me feel vaguely powerful and in control. It has meant pushing through the doubt and fear that comes oh so often, when I’m feeling vulnerable. It has meant allowing myself to be wholly vulnerable. And waiting and watching with a little patience, even when one part of me wants to rush to find a quick fix.

For the most part though, it has meant welcoming the fleeting, quiet moments that drop in between endless days of chaotic cacophonic thought, when they come bearing the invigorating taste of clarity, and enjoying them like shots of coffee gulped down with urgency.

Last evening, chuckling to myself at the bittersweet angst+joy of yet another one of those once-useless-but-hopefuly-leading-me-somewhere-days and a line from Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior suddenly came back to me. And it is what I used to title this post.

PS: Are you completely done seeing pictures of filter coffee and assorted beverages yet?

Same time, last year: Day 183: The rain, the rain

What coming home feels like: Love and abundance

For many years while I was away, I believed I missed absolutely no part of my life back home. It sounds extreme, but for a brief while, this was entirely true. Call it the honeymoon period, or whatever else, but I was snug as a bug in the newness of the anonymity and the pleasures of discovering everything a new life in a new city has to offer. It helped that the Goa I moved to was the diametric opposite of everything I left behind in Bangalore. And I mean this in more ways than one — it was a shift to an entirely different space and time. And that joy lasted a long, long time. The fresh excitement at the newness remained for more years than I imagined possible, for far long after the newness was no longer even new.

But as I’ve discovered near-eight years is a long enough time to go full circle. And I had definitely entered a headspace where I began to slowly miss some very specific things about being home. Big and small, they included everything from being a short drive away from my friends to easy access to fresh filter coffee.

There were days when I longed to wake up to a hot cooked breakfast, amma-style. Or the smell of fresh filter coffee. Or weeks when I’d walk out of the gym on Friday night and desperately long for the luxury of being in the same city as my friends, friends who get me, so we could all gang up at home over wine or beer and do nothing but talk.

I’ve missed experiencing a wide range of food and drink. I’ve missed having options, and I’ve missed having people to obsess over the variety with. I’ve missed the comforts of being on familiar ground, of old haunts an of new discoveries. In the months I’ve been here we’ve already sampled a fair amount of microbrewery beer and I may have found a temporary favourite too.

I’ve missed my family, just being around them even when there is nothing particularly important to say. Breakfast time, evening chai time, and dinner time — which is usually when we gather together. Weekday chai time with amma, weekend drinks with anna, for example. Coming back to this ready set up, where I don’t have to work to provide it or create a space for it has been the change I wanted. When all else fails, I have my parents to go back to.

When enough years of basking in the newfound hermitism grew old, I yearned for some of the bustle that people bring in your life. The right kind of people. Without the frills, without the special occasions, without the stilted conversations and pretence that comes with manufactured togetherness. With equal amounts of silence and the mania that only kindred spirits can appreciate alike. Converging and agreeing on the silliest of things, going into raptures about the most mundane and inane things, and knowing that it is with only just these few that you can and will always be at your unbridled best.

In the last two years of being away, as I rediscovered sides of myself I didn’t know existed — some that I thought I’d left behind had actually resurfaced, and some that I never imagined possible had made a loud appearance — I realised how much the transformation had affected my relationships. Both near and far.

Distance and time are difficult variables to work with. Very unconsciously, I had started to filter people in my immediate circles out. Days and weeks would go by without me getting out of the house. No plans, no get-togethers, no outings seemed to tempt me into engaging with the family I’d built in Goa (save for a few people). And yet, the bonds that grew thicker, stronger and richer were with folks in Bangalore and away.

Here I am now, and even as I carve out a niche for myself again, a large part of the everyday joy of coming back is in reminding myself how I’m so close to all the things I love. Especially the things I was craving in the last two years of my life away.

Anyhow, this ramble just to say that coming back has been difficult in many ways. I’m often taken aback by situations I’ve forgotten how to deal with, overcome with emotion when the stark contrast between Goa and Bangalore makes me question my decision, and there have even been the odd instances where I feel defeated and overpowered by the city whose way is to ensnare everything within its reach.

Yes, this city is overwhelmingly large (literally and figuratively) compared to where I used to be. But within and outside of my home, I have pockets of peace. Sanctuaries of love and abundance that I can slip into. A mere glance through my picture roll on my phone showed me enough evidence of ample instances of this abundance. Unsurprisingly it is about the people, punctuated by food and drink. In each of these images is a reminder of the things I desperately missed until three months ago.

Yes, I’ve left behind a lot and sometimes I’m not entirely sure the trade off makes sense. Especially when I feel the lack — of open spaces, of greenery, of silence amongst many other things. But there is an abundance of exactly that which I was seeking. And it counts for a lot.

Same time, last year: Day 182: Watercolour eyes

What coming home feels like: Revisiting old haunts

I’ve been fighting the worst creative block for weeks now. Work is slow. Both because the energy I’ve directed towards the pursuit of it has been flagging, and also because I’m being a hopeless procrastinator over what little I have going.

I’ve tried everything — locking myself in my home away from distraction, taking myself to the comforts of my parents’ home where Amma plies me with filter coffee, working at night, working early in the morning, tempting myself with afternoon naps as a reward for a morning of writing, reading to get the words going, silence to get the words going. But nothing has really pushed me out of this stupor.

Until today. And this chance visit to an old haunt.

I had a meeting close to MG Road and a few hours to kill until dinner time (which is also happening this side of town, making it pointless for me to trudge home and back again in a few hours). So, I made the wise decision to carry my laptop along. It’s a fabulous day out and I enjoyed a lovely walk from one end of MG Road to here. When the weather stays this way, and it has been splendid, I’m rediscovering the joys of a walkable city again. Little pleasures that make being back in this monstrous grind, just a wee bit more bearable.

And for now, a glass of kadak milky super sweet tea and a plate of smileys seem to have done the trick.

Same time, last year: Day 181: Holiday vibes

What coming home feels like: Seeking solitude

After ages, ages, ages we’ve had a slow Sunday with no plans whatsoever. Just like many of our Sundays in Goa. The thing with being back home is that there have been ample  welcome distractions. I’m dangerously close to my folks, where the promise of an open kitchen and warm home cooked meals and their company is ever present. We’re also not too far from VC’s folks, and there have been weekly visits over to theirs too. With friends around, I’ve been out at least 2-3 times a week – a welcome change from the way life was in Goa – and it’s been a tad tiring. More than tiring though, it has contributed to my not feeling fully settled and rooted.

In order to feel really at home in my home I realised last week that I needed to get into my own routine and do the homey things I’m used to. Potter about, change the sheets, laze around without bathing all day, work into the night if inspiration strikes, cook something spontaneously, stock up veggies and groceries – you know, the little things that go into creating a space to call your own.

Last night, I had a massive attack of Goa homesickness. Something about the weekends in Bangalore brings them closer than I am willing to deal with. Every weekend I feel the stark contrast between life in Goa and life here – and I suppose it’s natural and going to be a recurring event to keep comparing the two – and when I realise there is literally no peaceful, quiet place to go to, where I can slip away with a book to read or write in and sit by myself for a few hours. This is something I did almost every weekend in Goa. Either with or without company, the closest beach was a three minute ride away. I could always choose form at least three cafes that were perfectly silent to go and sit by yourself. A glass of wine or a beer, a plate of fries or a chorice-pao, it was really easy to just order something simple to pass the time when you really wanted to just sit and read.

Alternatively, finding a spot of green, a cliff with a view, a quiet beach, a lonely road winding through green fields was a matter of driving out of Panjim which no matter what part of town you lived was never more than a 10 minute drive. And many a weekend we’d venture out to get some fresh air and a slice of the outdoors. And lets not forget all the cycling. All the cycling.

Bangalore poses a serious dearth of that kind of peace. The kind that’s suited for solitude. And that too has contributed to me feeling a little out of my depth, unsettled and not quite at home as yet.

So finally, this weekend, we vegged out and stayed in. Meals were cooked together, conversations we’ve been dodging because of a lack of time together were had, long naps were taken, I even snuck in a long overdue salon visit to unwind a little, and managed to finish a book I began in May but hadn’t touched until Friday night.

I may be back in the big city, but I think a part of me will always be the silence-seeking, solitude-loving, small-town person Goa taught me to be. I guess I’m going to have to learn to recreate a pocket of peace right here at home for when the weekend blues strike.

Same time, last year: Day 176: Begin

What coming home feels like: Bangalore sky-porn

In Bangalore, the sky speaks. Not just in October and in February (which are supposedly the months with the best skies) but off schedule too. In summer with its stunning, blindingly blue hue and puffed out cotton candy orbs of clouds jetting by. In the monsoon with an audacious grey hunkering. In spring, when it gets staggeringly lucid and clear. The sky sends messages. Sometimes in love notes, whispered gently. Sometimes loud, boisterous declarations made recklessly. And sometimes it speaks in signs. Quietly, showing more than saying. And it’s when I look up and I’m convinced there’s a message begging to be deciphered.

***

It goes without saying that moving back to Bangalore has resulted in a major case of a lot many different feels. If that is not your cup of tea, now is the time to unfollow. Or else you’ll have to bear with me while I let some of it spill over here.

If you follow me on Instagram you’ve probably already seen the hashtag series — snapshots of Bangalore things, home things, moments that stand out and make me want to remember them — that sort of just happened quite organically. They’re usually moments that are so Bangalore, or something that happened which made me feel overcome with emotion, or swell with words building inside me just dying to trail out. So I make do with a snapshot, and a line or two because Instagram on the go only allows for so much.

I’ve also been so full of emotions, but having no words to explain the way I feel. It feels like a massive creative block. And I thought maybe posting some of these vignettes here over time, and allowing myself to go beyond a glib line or two, might be a good way to get back in the flow of writing.

What makes this time of transition special for me is how even though we have been in a moving-on state of mind for two years, Bangalore was literally not even amongst the cities in our consideration set. When it began to creep in to the list, we firmly told ourselves it would be an absolute last resort. But eventually, through ways quite surprisingly not our doing, we made what can only be called a u-turn and headed home.

Anyway, long story short: it’s been equal parts comforting, overwhelming, heartwarming and maddening. And now that the panicked butterflies in my stomach are done dancing around, I’m eager to see what comes of it.

Same time, last year: Day 175: Kursi ki peti

Just breathe

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

Because, you’re not working yet.

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

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

Maybe that’s just it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same time, last year: Day 174: Hit by a crippling case of travel excitement

Changing seasons

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

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

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

Same time, last year: Day 152: Skies that lie

Because wanting to leave is enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Same time, last year: Day 118: This day, that year

In-stages

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

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

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

In transit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To more nights like this <3

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

Same time, last year: Day 117: See Lanka

I get by with a lot of help from my friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m grateful for the timely reminders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same time, last year: Day 116: Bits and bobs

More books (and a mini Bangalore update)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karachi, You’re Killing Me!, Saba Imtiaz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It really, really feels great to be home.

Same time, last year: Day 115: Mean things I want to say out loud, but cant

Serendipity

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.

Same time, last year: Day 102: Mondays like this

What I’ve been reading

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.

Same time, last year: Day 76: Telepathy

Whisky-shisky

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.

Same time, last year: Day 64: Because I want to remember

Kitchen Soup for the Homesick Soul

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)

Same time, last year: Day 63: Shine on