Day 116: Bad news never had good timing

I suppose it’s safe to say my honeymoon period in Bangalore is done. At least as far as tolerating (turning a blind eye) the shit show that the city is, goes. On the one hand, being closer home has been all kinds of beneficial. Satisfying, happy-making, revelatory, even.

It was such an exciting challenge to be back in a city, so close to home. And the challenges and newness of it all occupied my focus. Coming back to Bangalore made me face a lot of the things I didn’t even know I had run away from, and that has been a whole other journey in itself. I’ve had my fair share of closing the loop on many things, lots of recognising unfinished business and acknowledging it if not beginning to finish it, lots of owning up to many of my demons in hiding. And best of all, entering into a phase that has seen me making peace and feeling the happiest I have ever been.

For our desires to give our business a shot too, this was a crucial move. To be out here in a competitive space, where standards are so far from the ones we had and knew in Goa. It’s been both eye-opening as well as reassuring to know where we stand.

As far as family goes, moving away happened so fast at a time when I was so very young, naive and otherwise occupied with keeping my sanity in a new marriage living with my in laws, that I never really processed the subconscious push and pull that possibly really drove me away from Bangalore. On the surface it was about work and the like, but really, it was so much more. So much more that I am only coming to understand now. In the process I’ve had to recognise and re-integrate facets of myself that I had ignored, denied myself of and just never allowed to shine through.

I have a new found love and adoration for my family. My own, as well as the one I am married into. I’m finding new levels of acceptance I didn’t know I am capable of. It’s been an essential learning of resilience, empathy and gratitude. And I’m convinced it is the kind of learning that wouldn’t not have happened in theory, over a distance.

There is no better place than here, and no better time than now for me to be working these things out for myself.  All in all this was a very necessary and timely move for us. I know this now, one year down.

And what a honeymoon it has been. Months of easing myself into everything slowly, taking time off from work like I haven’t ever done before, making and breaking and remaking friendship, revelling in the togetherness of being in such close proximity to my mother father and sister — all of this has created for me the best time and space to focus on my self-improvement. It has consumed my focus was for most of the last twelve months.

That has ensured that I was mostly distracted from the shitty mess that this city is, because I also made mad attempts to stay focused on the good, on the reason why we’re here, and the good things that have come out of it.

Now, with enough time having flown by, the creaky everyday mundanities are in full-swing, and the rhythm of life set, I’m slowly beginning to feel the opening scratchy strains of a strange kind of melancholy about my surroundings.

Now that I’ve been back long enough, a yellow-y mouldy jadedness has well and truly caught up with me. It started with waking up one day and suddenly realising just how extremely noisy my neighbourhood always is. It seems like this city is always in massive states of construction. Drilling, tile cutting, wall breaking, carpentry — on any given day I hear at least 3 of these noises for a good length of time. This, in addition to the burgeoning traffic just outside my home. My folks have lived on this street for upwards of 30 years now, and so we have watched the neighbourhood morph from a quiet by-lane of old-time Bangalore to the monstrosity it is today with larger-than-necessary buses zipping down, horns blaring, two wheelers snaking through dangerously, the constant loud chatter of people.

Slowly, the traffic is getting to me. Not just the volume and the unruliness, but the brazen way in which all laws seem to be null and void. I resent and feel physically helpless that a large part of driving in this city is about constantly taking chances — chances at a signal, chances at every turning, chances with getting past pedestrians.

That’s not all — the air quality is significantly worse. My allergies have flared up ten fold since I’ve been back. And I’ve been on three antibiotic courses in the last year, with a sore throat and cold attacking me on the dot once every four months. This is four times more than the average illnesses I’ve had in Goa.

OH, oh, oh, most of all I marvel at how so much of the shittiness I talk about has been this shitty since I left nearly ten years ago. It’s almost like absolutely no improvement is to be seen, and things have only gotten progressively worse. How can Silk Board still be a nightmare, for example? How is the quality of power still so terrible? One gust of wind before a summer shower is still enough to knock the power out for a couple of hours — this happened multiple times every day, for the last five days in our home.

Bangalore is a glorified, overgrown village, at best, masquerading as a city, with large swathes of people deeply in denial.

When I was tiring of the village life in Goa, I imagined that being in a big city would have certain definite advantages. It does, I wont lie — I LOVE that I don’t have to step out of my home for most things. A lot of my requirements come to my doorstep. Most everything is accessible online. And for everything else, there is Dunzo. But, I cannot help but feel the workings of all of this is still so small-town. Nothing is 100% efficient. Nothing is 100% dependable. This big-small difference between not having access to these facilities in Goa and having them here in Bangalore is that in Goa I’d just get out and get shit done myself. In Bangalore, when systems fail (and they do, a fair bit) the option of getting out is SO daunting because one has to think about traffic, parking, and invest at least an hour for the smallest chores. It doesn’t feel like this is a big city at all some times.

Slowly, I’m realising that something or the other is beginning to nag me. The people. The sheer number of people gets to me some days. Some days I long for the open spaces. I think back wistfully to my street in Goa where I’d drive out and immediately hit third and fourth gear in my car. I don’t get to do that very often in Bangalore. I get out of my gate and hit a speed hump.

Slowly, I’m realising that not a single day goes by when at least one or two things make me very vehemently think FUCK WHAT HAVE WE DONE, WHY DID WE COME BACK TO THIS, loudly, in my head.

It takes a lot of effort to constantly remind myself of the real reasons, focus on the good and bubble wrap and protect my brain from the shit here — whether it’s the environmental damage, the insane traffic, the widespread construction, the completely apathetic citizens — Bangalore is really, really falling apart and there’s no denying that. Realising all of this and being a citizen here makes me feel so extremely helpless.

I take solace in knowing that we never meant for this to be a destination in itself. It was always meant to be merely a stepping stone to a future we’re yet to discover. But if I’ve learned anything at all from the uncertainties of the last three years of my life if is to try and not cast anything in stone, not even my aversions or dissatisfaction.

I’m waiting for a day when I feel like this to materialise. Meanwhile, I’m going with the flow.

One year ago: In-stages
Two years ago: Day 116: Bits and bobs

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Day 115: Today I don’t feel like doing anything

I’ve been going over my blog posts from last year, and the ones from April 2017 particularly with a sort of fascination, like I can’t believe it’s stuff I wrote myself. I shouldn’t be surprised, really, because in those very words, I see the seeds of threads of my existence that sprung to life, bloomed and thrived into full, lush breathing organisms in the months after.

But, when I think back to the time, all my conscious mind remembers is the confusion. And the efforts to stay with the confusion and move through it rather than avoid it all and busy myself with easy distractions. With enough distance, restrospect is a wonderful thing. I feel oddly satisfied to see now, that I’ve been on the right track, steadfastly stuck to listening to the cues, simply going deeper, and on my way.

It’s a refreshing change from the many years before, when I flitted from this thing to that, one thing to the next, restlessly, anxiously in search of some consistency.

One post in particular really stands out. This one — that I titled Serendipity for some reason — and wrote just one day after I landed in Bangalore (clueless that I was going to in fact have to move back here).

In the essay I linked to and talked about one of my all time favourite essays — The Snarling Girl, by Elisa Albert. Notes on—and against—ambition. So much of it still speaks to me much the same, with as much intensity, if not more. But it’s nice to see how entirely different segments of it pop out at me today, 12 months after I first read it.

Same fantastic essay. Same essential thread of continuity in my life. The same thing I’ve talked about only so many, many times. Same idea, different expressions. Different times, different quotes to remember.

Same excellent essay. Give it a read, and maybe like me, you’ll find yourself going back to it so many, many times in any given year. And yet, find something entirely new and different speak to you every time.

Sample this:

The work, not the hearts and likes and dings and dongs. And maybe I can float the possibility that the work is best when it’s done nowhere near the hearts and likes and dings and dongs. Maybe I can suggest that there is plenty of time for hearts and likes and dings and dongs once the work is done, and done well. Maybe I can ever so gently point out that a lot of people seem rather addicted to the hearts and likes and dings and dongs, and seem to talk about and around writing a hell of a lot more than they actually do it. Maybe we can even talk about how some self-promote so extensively and shamelessly and heedlessly and artlessly that their very names become shorthand for hownot to be.

No prizes for guessing why that spoke to me.

On the solitary-ness of figuring out The Happy.

Nobody can tell you how to be happy because being happy is one of those things you figure out by figuring it out, no shortcuts. Or maybe you don’t figure it out, maybe you never figure it out, but that’s on you. Everything worthwhile is a sort of secret, anyway, not to be bought or sold, just rooted out painstakingly in whatever darkness you call home.

On the dangers of generalising “ambition”.

And isn’t everything we do, everything we reach for, everything we grab at, each of us in turn, a way of struggling onto that ledge, that mythical resting place on which no one can fuck with us? Don’t Fuck With Me seems as good a feminist anthem for the 21st century as any.

But the mythical resting place is … mythical. And trying to generalize about ambition is like comparing apples and oranges and bananas and flowers and weeds and dirt and compost and kiwi and kumquat and squash blossoms and tomatoes and annuals and perennials and sunshine and worms. Wanting to be first in your class is and is not like wanting a Ferrari is and is not like being the first in your family to go to college is and is not like wanting to get into Harvard/Iowa/Yaddo is and is not like wanting to summer on Martha’s Vineyard is and is not like wanting to rub elbows with fancy folk is and is not like wanting to shatter a glass ceiling is and is not like wanting to write a lasting work of genius with which no one can quibble. Our contexts are not the same, our struggles are not the same, and so our rebellions and complacencies and conformities and compromises cannot be compared. But the fact remains: whatever impresses you illuminates your ambition.

On finding rhythm, contentment and possibly ambition too, in the everydayness of life. On rejecting the glorification of striving.

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.

On the difference between what I call what-I-want-versus-what-I-want-to-feel.

What I would like to say (so that I might be forced to align myself) is that there is nothing material or finite that I will allow myself to rest on wanting. Okay, so dresses and clogs and art and peonies float my boat. But fool myself into thinking that these things constitute an end point, or that their acquisition will make me whole, or that people who are impressed by these things are my friends? Nope. No way. Not for a minute. (Well, FINE, maybe for a minute. But certainly not for two.)

On external validation. Possibly a la social media.

Sixty thousand shares is not a win, see; it’s a random, synchronistic event. The number of eyeballs on a given piece of writing does not confer nobility or excellence upon said piece of writing. If the number of eyeballs on a piece of writing excites and impresses people around me, that’s great, in that it makes possible more of the work I want to do. But it doesn’t make said work any easier! And I’m going to do said work regardless, so… what?

So What? Let’s add it to our list of proposed feminist anthems: So The Fuck What?

AMEN SISTER! If I had a penny for every time that someone told me I was wasting my talent by not pursuing my writing more seriously and sitting around at home, I’d be RICHHHHH.

I mean, writing is liberation. And for some of us who can afford to keep it that way, it is enough.

I don’t write because I “want to be a writer.” I don’t want to be famous and I don’t need my ego inflated. I write to make sense of things, to make order from chaos, to make something from nothing, to examine my own thinking. Because what I have found in the writing of others sustains me. Because while I am struggling to live, the writing—a kind of parallel life—helps me along. Because language is my jam. Because I never learned to play the guitar and no one ever asked me to sing in a band.

I mean, writing is liberation!

On the problematic assumptions around which ambition is conventionally defined.

Here’s what bothers me about conventional ambition, the assumption that we all aspire to the top, the winner’s circle, the biggest brightest bestest, the blah blah blah, and that we will run around and around and around our little hamster wheels to get there: most of these goals are standardized. Cartoonish. Cliché. Beware anything standardized, that’s what I would teach my daughter.

Try to be vulnerable so you’ll come acrossbetter?

Yeah, I need to tell myself this every time I have the passing thought about a blog post that I really need to write (because it’s my way of making sense of the jumble in my head) comes out feeling like “it’s not good enough,” or like “I’m so self-indulgent”.

“Try to be more vulnerable,” he said. “You’ll come across better.”

Come across? I don’t have time to orchestrate how I come across, dude. My job is to write shit down. More vulnerable? I feel like I’m walking around without skin most of the time, hello. Anyway, my vulnerability is not for goddamn sale. I’d rather suck a thousand dicks. I was overcome with weariness, and I thought: Fuck it, I give up. But no, that’s not true, either. Nope. Not at all. The snarling girl is still out there, in here, flailing, desperate, and who’s going to throw her a rope? I will. Onward.

It’s probably hard to believe that I haven’t pasted the essay in entirety down here, but really, I haven’t. These are just a few of the gems in there. So do yourself a favour and read it. Even more so if you often toss up ideas of ambition, success, productivity and find yourself struggling to choose what your heart really wants because you’ve been taught by your family, society, people in general that it isn’t enough — read it.

One year ago: I get by with a lot of help from my friends
Two years ago: Day 115: Mean things I want to say out loud, but can’t

Day 114: Just a stirring in my soul

This past week has been all about my grandmother who is visiting. It so happened that my parents were both away for four days and my sister and I ended up being home. I haven’t had this kind of time to spend, close to my grandmother, in years and years.

I’m grateful for the time we had. The meals we cooked and shared. The mangoes we gorged on. The conversations we had. For the energy and spirit she has well into her 80s. For the trooper that she is, enthusiastic and light at heart. Always ready for some fun. And if it involves a good meal and dessert, she’s all in. Always.

I’m so grateful for family. For serendipitous summer togetherness. Just like when I was younger and we’d visit my grandparents in Mumbai.

I’m grateful for the turning of tables and being given the chance to look after her, the way she has, us for nearly all our lives.

One year ago: More books (and a mini Bangalore update)

Day 113: You know it used to be mad love

A few (more) thoughts on relationships and communicating with people in our lives. Some brain-noodles I’ve been having. Some pleasant epiphanies. Mostly notestomyself.

One of the things I’ve noticed with focusing on my personal growth is that once the process of change has begun, it’s basically a journey of turning into something entirely different from my peers. At various points of the journey, a series of differences present themselves. And they appear in so many, many ways, showing up in big and little things. Unexpectedly sometimes, predictably at others.

My immediate tendency of course is to be afraid of that change and the challenges it poses to my relationships. Or at least that was my default, until very recently when I have experienced a significant change in the way I feel and approach this.

I say this so often, and I’ve written at length before (I seem to be seeing, feeling and acknowledging it a lot more as time goes by) about the essentially solitary nature of this journey. By nature, it is a process that requires a boundaried existence, that inevitably makes me feel alone at times. But, accepting rather than fearing and resisting this has brought about a surprising change. And learning to recognise relationships that no longer serve a purpose, and letting them go has now become empowering.

I’ve realised:

It’s okay to be disappointed by people. Sometimes it gives the much needed breathing space to rethink wrongs (theirs and our our own), reaffirm the rights, apologise if necessary, forgive (ourselves too) sometimes, and move ahead. Sometimes it brings out a much needed truth that was in hiding. Sometimes it affirms the fact that a relationship has run it’s course. It’s nice to keep the lessons and let the disappointment fade, if it does. There’s no point hanging on to it. Because sometimes when the disappointment has gone, and enough time has passed, it’s easier to notice that people have changed. As much as I have. Allow yourself to change your mind about said person/s. Second and third chances are all kinds of exciting.

Words and gestures aren’t the only way to make people I love know that they’re loved. Sometimes all it takes is a conversation. Sometimes just sitting in silence, listening. It’s so nice to be seen and heard as much as I feel loved.

Communication, even when it’s hard, ugly and scary, and promises to potentially lead to disappointment, is so crucial. It’s not always easy, but I’ve been making efforts to choose that discomfort, over resentment and stagnation. Choose honesty over politeness. Without that honesty, I don’t think there’s space for anyone to grow in a relationship. And really, if we don’t keep moving/growing/changing, we’re already dead.

Funny story: I once had a friend who resented the fact that I had changed. Too fast. Too much, I suppose. And their way of dealing with it was to insist I hadn’t changed, and that everything I was saying and doing was “in my head”.

LOL.

I should have seen that as a sign then, but I didn’t. I stayed and spent my energy trying to convince them of the many ways in which things had changed for me, and why. And I encouraged them along to try it too. Several years later, after many, many fits and starts, I realised that this was the crux of the issue: our inability to have honest conversations.

I really should have seen it sooner, considering the repetitive loop we were in and how many times we found ourselves in the exact same situation. It always left me feeling emotionally exhausted.

Which brings me to the next realisation: be careful who you want to extend this honour to. Choose your people with care. This is something I’m still learning. To trust my instinct, listen to my gut feeling and overcome fear of loss when dealing with people.

Creating and nurturing an environment of honesty, seeking it in the little everyday happenings, without waiting for confrontation to test it out. Sharing opinions, even though they may differ. Speaking up when I’m hurt or offended. Sharing when I’m feeling vulnerable. Asking for help. These situations will invariably help gauge if the friendship is too precarious, is taking up a lot of energy just to stay afloat, or threatening to fall apart over difficult conversations or plain honesty.

If you feel this at any point, it means that the relationship probably needs to be examined.

If a relationship actually does fall apart as a result of a difficult but essential conversation, it wasn’t strong enough to begin with, was it?

Two years ago: Day 113: Stop

Day 111: Doesn’t mean I’ll stop

Connie is back to posting again and today’s post is smack on for the way I’ve been feeling this past week. Some Sobering Saturday Wisdom.

(If you’re reading: I love you so much, Connie!)

This feeling of taking two steps way ahead, and one mini little one back, every now and then; the feeling that I am kind of sort of lost and fumbling my way through the dark (and that’s okay, and yet knowing that I am right where I need to be; these alternating bouts of calm and restlessness like I’m at the brink of change — this is all part of the process.

I know this now.
I know it for sure.

Two years ago: Day 111: Happy music fix

Day 110: I was born this way

Two days ago, I stepped into LifeStyle after nearly a decade. And I needed to scarf down an entire donut when I stepped out, to rid myself of the horrible taste the entire visit had left in my mouth.

First, I didn’t find a single regular, well-fitting tee-shirt that 1) wasn’t trying hard to be clever with a stupid caption printed across the front 2) didn’t cost an arm and a leg for something as regular as a basic tee. Why is it so hard to find basic tees that fit well, are made in good quality cotton and that don’t have stupid slogans/captions/prints/embellishments splattered all over them? An no, there ought to be regular brands that make these without having to rush off to the sports/athleisure brands of the world.

Minor displeasures aside, the visit was a frightening reminder of just how boxy fashion trends are, no matter what the year or season. The level to which the fashion industry perpetuates truly regressive stereotypes and women and their bodies, even in this day and age, is shocking.

Sample this:

Is it just me or do each of those “fits” look nearly identical?

It didn’t help that I was there with my MIL and SIL, who are far more avid shoppers than I ever will be, and do more to keep abreast with fashion trends than I ever will. I used to think of them as my pathway to knowing what’s in and what’s not, even though I have never really dressed in keeping with a trend. But something has clearly snapped inside of me, in these weeks of re-looking at and re-examining the way I look at my body.

While my in-laws samples this and that, trying on and rejecting a pile of clothes because, too boyish, too dowdy, too transparent (“I’ll need a skin coloured bra”), shapeless, too short, too long, my husband won’t like this, I spent my time trying to will my eyeballs back from the place they were wedged in at the back of my skull, because of the constant eye-rolling.

And then I had an epiphany. That perhaps my subtle, but unconscious slip into pressuring myself to change my body in the last one year is a result of hanging around with this family. All said and done they’re deeply entrenched in patriarchal notions of what’s beautiful and attractive. There’s literally just one body type that they find acceptable or desirable, which means they’re always feeling flawed, insecure, ugly and inadequate about something or another.

I think some of it has subliminally rubbed-off on to me.

The beauty and fashion industry is always peddling a new thing every few months, and in the process instilling the idea that we are always somewhat flawed. The promise of the newest trend, product, attire to fix that flaw is strong. And more than enough women will believe what they are told and what they see in stores, in advertisements, in popular culture, movies, TV shows and drawing room conversation, without a second thought.

My discomfort with arbitrary body trends was always high, but it is fast bubbling over into a tremendous discomfort, unease and rage towards the fashion industry, and how much of it is about adhering to a certain type. So much of it perpetuates fixed, rigid ideas of gender. Tom-boy, androgynous, girly, boyfriend-this, girlfriend-that, so on and so forth.

Most bodies remain largely unchanged through the lifetime of a person. Sure, I may lose or gain a lot of weight, but my bone structure and body type underneath it all will remain the same — for good. I have a typically Indian wide-hipped body, for example. Even at my leanest, my hips were always the widest part of my body. So it would be really stupid to attempt to fit into straight-cut jeans or pants that don’t have enough room to accommodate my ample backside.

I cannot possibly aspire to make every new trend work for me, because it will mean requiring a new body every few months. I can either embrace my body as is, wear whatever I want that makes me feel comfortable and look nice, or I can believe a fashion trend and give up the idea of ever wearing an entire set of clothes that I’m told aren’t for “my body type”.

That’s one thing. Another aspect is how everything about the way we dress, and how we choose to look, is done keeping men and their desires in mind. The extent to which how we view ourselves is linked to how we think other people think of our looks/appearance is appalling when we stop to examine it. (This realisation was one of the first wake up calls in my own life. I was disgusted with why I was so interested in fitting into certain kinds of clothes because certain kinds of people would be seeing me, more than I was interested in being comfortable and myself.)

And so here’s the thing; not everything I do to my body, my face, my skin, not every piece of clothing I put on or take off, is done to be beautiful. Sometimes I just like a piece of clothing, or a fabric, or a style or cut. Sometimes it’s too hot for one thing, and perfect weather for another. Sometimes it’s practical to wear shorts, sometimes it just makes sense to be layered. Some days I feel like making the effort to look nice, some days I don’t really care. I really value the freedom I have to dress and carry myself the way I see fit, regardless of who is going to view me. My choice to wear shorts even with unwaxed legs, to not give a shit about my bra straps showing from beneath a sleeveless tank-top comes from the same place.

The flipside of this privilege is also that I don’t always think I’m pretty. And that’s okay. Some days of the month, my acne flares up and it doesn’t make me happy or feel gorgeous to see it. I have stretch marks that I live with, but don’t love or hate. My teeth aren’t perfectly aligned despite the ridiculously tedious orthodontic treatment I’ve been through. My jaw and smile is a bit lopsided some times, in some angles. I don’t necessarily find any of this to be pretty all of the time. Some days I live with it some days I think it makes no difference. Most days it’s just the part of the human being I am. I don’t have to always look and feel pretty in order to be worthy of going about a day in full view of people around me.

I feel the same way about clothes. Sure, it is important to want to look nice and presentable, wear all the clothes I wish to, yada yada. But it’s just clothes. I don’t need to be beautiful and presentable all of the time, in the way the world needs me to be, for me to feel worthy. Not every little detail about my appearance, whether physiological or sartorial, needs to adhere to an acceptable kind of prettiness suited to the male eye.

Far too much of how we dress is about making various factions of society feel safe and comfortable, and not enough of it is about how we feel and the choices we want to make. I’ve seen this happen — random uncles appreciating me in a saree, not because I just look nice but because “it’s nice to see you looking womanly”, well-meaning relatives telling me my short hair is taking away from “feminine face-cut”, enough members of my husband’s family who won’t think twice before telling me I’m “too thin” when they’re simultaneously commenting on all and sundry being “too fat”.

It’s on days like this that I wonder what it will take to really get more women to feel better about ourselves and our bodies. And how we can extend that to our clothes — sometimes the ability to wear whatever we want with confidence, sometimes to realise that there isn’t any one kind of “fashionable”, and most of all to be okay and as accepting of our bodies as with our means to clothe ourselves. Because, let’s be honest “fashion” doesn’t come cheap or easy to everyone alike.

We’ve got to take the focus off of appearances in general.

People are going to have opinions one way or another. Body trends will continue to be unhealthy and brutal to our mental health and general well-being. Fashion is going to always peddle a new normal to make us feel inadequate. But historically, and evolutionarily, human beings have been about diversity. We come in a massive range of shapes and sizes. Add to that our personal preferences, the sheer subjective nature of aesthetics, our genetic make up and predisposition, cultural backgrounds and what have you, and there’s literally a million ways in which we’ll want to dress or look.

How on earth can all of that be slotted into a handful of looks, trends, types for us to adhere to?

The mind boggles. Gimme that donut.

Two years ago: Day 110: Go far, they said

Day 109: The times they are a-changing

There’s something that has been swimming around in my brain for a long time now. and I’ve talked about it sporadically here, here, here and here. I just sent out a newsletter putting together some bits of these posts, and more thoughts that I’ve been able to dwell on, now that I’ve had some time to mull over it all.

There’s still so much more to be said where this came from, and maybe I’ll get down to it some day. But for now, here’s the newsletter that just went out.

If you’d like to subscribe to it, please head here:  https://tinyletter.com/HaathiTime/

***

I don’t know when the appropriate response to “How are you?” has switched to “So busy!” from the good old “I’m fine/Just so-so/Doing good, thank you!” (or whatever other version of this you might prefer), but of late, I find myself bored with this turn of conversation.

Like all epiphanies, the startling truth usually sparks only when it hits so close to home that there’s no looking away from it. This one was no different. It was some weeks ago, when I uttered the words “I don’t know if I’m going or coming” with extreme discomfort, that I realised this is just the sort of feeling I have carefully steered myself away from these past months. And yet somehow the tyranny of busy had briefly re-entered my life.

This is a syndrome — this addiction to busyness — afflicting us all. I do find it is far more pronounced and in-my-face in Bangalore, than I did in Goa. Is this a big city thing? Or does talking about how busy we are make us feel purposeful/productive/like our lives have meaning?

It’s true, work has been a little manic over the last month. But the welcome change has been how much my inner-self steadfastly resists getting caught in the undertow of that mania. To be able to ride the highs, give myself wholly to work when it demands it, but also being conscious of how much, and stopping just short of being completely consumed in what inevitably feels like a mindless chaos, is the joy I strive for.

The joy is in being mindful and present. And exercising that ability to make that choice as many times, and as often as possible. Busy times have a place, I know, but I’m becoming acutely aware of the price I pay every time I hit a particularly busy patch. I say price because I in 8/10 conversations about busyness, I sense that hint of regret, frustration and tussle at not having as much time on hand, as we’d like. Why is that delicate, precarious balance constantly just out of reach?

The only way I am able to have some handle on it has come down to being vigilant, aware and very, very deliberate about what I’m doing, and why. By consistently and tediously questioning my motivations, I’ve found the answers, though sometimes difficult to accept and digest, have freed up not just time and space, but a lot of wrongly held ideas in my mind.

The notion of extreme productivity to mark my days, for example. It left little room for rest and recharging my batteries, which is lethal for a creative person. Or the idea that our dreams and desires can only be fuelled by bone-breaking hard work. It’s nonsense. If the hard work comes at the cost of my sanity, health an joy, and I can get help to achieve those same dreams instead, I’ll take it. It’s been immensely freeing to shed the unnecessary glory attached working hard, or my own twisted ideas of self-worth that were entangled with ambition, ability to earn money and be “independent”. Most of this, when I began to inspect it closely, I’ve appropriated from external sources — whether my middle-class upbringing and values, my parents as role models, cultural messages that are constantly screaming hashtags and labels dictating what kind of women we ought to be. And in the bargain, I’d moved so far away from listening to the messages my own inner-self was giving me time and time again.

So now, when things get uncontrollably busy, the first step I take is to realistically, and (brutally)honestly examine my motivation — the whys behind all the actions/tasks that fill up my days and bring in The Busy. Step two is to then drastically realign and cull that accumulation of to-dos, making time for that which I most want to do (and this, after I’m convinced about why).

That’s it. There is no step three.

The whys are crucial for me. And the more I lean in to them, the more I find I am able to simplify my life, not just in terms of resisting spreading myself too thin, but getting to the heart of what it is I really, really want and chasing only that which uplifts me and brings me joy, the more I realise that life slows down.

I’ve had it all wrong all this while.

For a greater part of my adulthood, I’ve chased the “ideal” life based on what I want — money, travel, a nice home, lots of books, the flexibility to spend my money whenever/wherever I want to. But this has really gotten me nowhere. And in fact left me exhausted, physically and emotionally, and with frequent periods of feeling scarcity and inadequacy.

More and more, I find turning in and allowing myself to be guided by what I want to feel — secure, alive, content, healthy, at peace — brings me far more joy. Joy that lingers over weeks and months, rather than rushes in and out like a gale storm. It comes in sprinkles and healthy doses, a little bit everyday, goes a long, long way. It brings an ease, an un-rushed energy with it. And since it isn’t tied to stuff, it stays.

The more I allow myself to be guided by what I feel, I find myself making choices that feel like serendipity and I find myself in situations that seem like they found me, rather than the other way around. Conversely, I find myself moving away from situations that go against the grain of this truth that is fast becoming a cornerstone in the way I approach life itself.

It takes little or no time at all, to tune out of conversations revolving around The Busy, because personally, I am finally, actively moving towards that elusive balanceI don’t mean “work-life balance” because the term is too tied to tangible things, and is woefully inadequate.

My life today is quite unlike it has ever been for me. I am aware of and very grateful for the incredible privilege that it is, to take things slow and at my own pace, having complete faith and trust in knowing that I am looked after and well provided for. Where all my needs are met with barely any room for inadequacy. I’m fortunate to finally be in a place where I can actively resist the The Busy for the most part.

However, I don’t talk often enough about the journey to getting here. Nor nearly enough about the fact that this is a choice I make every single day. That it is not without it’s moments of doubt and worry. That this commitment has become a way of life. And a large part of the reason I cannot give in to being Busy anymore is because it will mean letting that commitment go. Leaving me with not having enough time to notice the signs, take the cues, examine my motivations and steer myself forward for the right reasons (for me). And the price to pay for that, is just too goddamned high.

It’s been a long and bumpy road (and maybe that’s the stuff of several other posts) to really accepting deep in my bones and to the depths of my very soul, that my worth is not tied to how much I work or how much I earn, rather how I feel when I do the things I do to work or make money. I resist The Busy because I finally accept how wonderful it is to take help, be looked after, and choose to build a life in connection and sync with the forces that work to make things happen for me.

Two years ago: Day 109: Essay aftermath

Day 108: All the small things

I am so incredibly grateful for the privilege to take life slow and at my own pace, having complete faith and trust in knowing that I am looked after and well provided for. Where all my needs are met with barely any inadequacy.

I often think about how this is a choice I make every single day. That this has become a way of life, but I don’t always give thanks for all that is at work (and play) in enabling this.

This is a week of mostly relaxing. And after the burst of activity in the past six-ish weeks, it is welcome. For three days in a row, I have finished up my emails and work for the day by 11 am, leaving the rest of the day for me to do as I please.

I have enjoyed tea and books. I have watched Netflix. Gone for a movie. Run errands for my father, shopped some. I have cooked dinners and lunches. I have spent time with my grandmother who is visiting. I have gone to bed on time. Made it to the gym every day. I have enjoyed aloo buns and sponge cake at tea time. I have enjoyed my home being back in order, and having it all to myself. Later today, I’m going out gallivanting with my MIL and SIL.

This kind of freewheeling day is the sort of privilege I am deeply, deeply grateful for.

Day 107: Where is the love

As it happens, I have just finished two consecutive books centred around the theme of marriage. Two very different genres, perspectives and very, very different takes. But both interesting reads in their own right.

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
This was a slow, deeply thought out, insightful and very, very honest look at marriage. Set against a backdrop of the severe consequences of discriminations and inequality in the criminal justice system of America.

Narrated in first-person, through voices of multiple characters in the story, An American Marriage looks at a typical marriage and what happens when Roy is wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He is released in 5, but by then too many things have already happened to his marriage with Celestial. The journey there-on throws up a series of difficult, surprising and very relevant situations ad questions about loyalty, infidelity, right and wrong.

As such, my own views on the institution of marriage have undergone a wild shift in the ten years of being married myself, and reading this book really brought a lot of my own inconclusive thoughts front and centre. The book is simply written, and the story is pretty simple too, but through the theme and the different perspectives of the characters involved, Jones has done a splendid job of bringing out all her questions in a raw, rousing and very real way.

Standard Deviation, Katherine Heiny
Several reviews on Goodreads claimed this was an absolute laugh-out-loud book. I can say for certain that it was not. Not for me, at least. That is entirely an issue of the style and how it didn’t really make me laugh out loud. At best, it made me chuckle and smile a lot, but that was it.

That said, it was a lovely read. Again, this is a story about the marriage of Graham and Audra who each bring their own idiosyncrasies as well as quirks and ample baggage from the past with them. They’re also raising an 11-year old son with Asperger’s, which lends a whole other complexity to their marriage. Audra is the diametric opposite of Graham’s first wife, and through the book the contrasts are presented over and over. This story takes a hard look at how things change, how it’s possible for a person to love such differing personalities. Obviously, I loved this aspect because this sort of fundamental needle-pushing change is what I’m currently obsessed with observing in my own life. So it really ticked the boxes for me.

It’s a light-hearted but poignant look at modern marriage and the many ways in which it seems to be transforming, giving couples space to define a whole new level of normal, outside the expected, stereotypical boundaries of what we have known marriage to be.

The style is light and warm, but has a punch. Audra’s character is full of life and that really comes through, while Graham is subdued and calm, which also comes through in an entirely different way. It will give you the fuzzies in parts, make you chuckle and also touch you. This felt like a Nick Hornby or David Nicholls book told by a woman. I loved reading it.

Day 106: Remind yourself: nobody built like you

For two weeks now, I’ve been back at the gym. I hesitate to say I’ve bounced back. Because, I haven’t. I’ve allowed myself to ease back into it. Pushing myself just enough to get going on most days, yet giving in to sleeping in or taking a rest day when I’m sore, lazy or just plain not up to it.

I’m making this attempt to take the focus off changing my body, and putting it instead on changing how I think and feel about it. So far, so good.

Reading Roxane Gay’s Hunger really hit very very close to home. The book couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. As a predominantly thin (and I cringe to even use these words anymore, so please take this as a mere descriptor and nothing else) person who has had the privilege of consistently pursuing an above-average fitness regimen for the greater part of the last fifteen years, reading the book made me realise how immensely superficial and ridiculous the rather unconscious shift in my focus has been this past year. I became acutely aware of my privilege, not just in what I am able to do to my body, but the sheer number of things I get away with because of my size and physical stature. It made me much more aware of what “big” people have to deal with, and how incredibly fortunate I am to have none of those issues. Consequently, it put all my fitness “concerns” into perspective, and really made most of them seem so ridiculous.

But all of this has got me thinking a lot about where the pursuit of feeling good about myself (as I am, as things stand) blurs into self-love. Doesn’t self-acceptance inherently come with a requisite amount of vanity? Doesn’t self-confidence dictate that I feel really happy, fulfilled and wonderful about myself more times than not?

I’m trying more and more to drop my disdain around vanity (mine or others’) and instead recognise where it is coming from. Because a healthy level of self-acceptance requires a healthy amount of vanity. A comfort with oneself, thinking and believing that I’m absolutely gorgeous just the way I am.

And so, if I was working desperately hard to alter parts of my physical self to meet some arbitrary standards (mostly self-created, but largely influenced by culture), under the pretext of loving my body and wanting to make it stronger, better, faster, how much of that love is real at all?

It has been interesting to admit how despite feeling the best I have physically (when I was on the food plan and working out harder than I have in years), my motivation was fuelled by a very distinct dissatisfaction. With my shape, my size, my ability. It’s like nothing I had achieved was enough. If I’d come this far, I must go farther, was the predominant motivation.

Unlike all the years before, when I have mostly felt gorgeous, beautiful, amazing, fit, fabulous, fine, and strong, despite being “larger” than the size I hit last year.

I see now, with utmost clarity and honesty that last year, I clearly traded all the self-love and self-acceptance I had garnered and nurtured, for a purely vanity-fuelled attempt at fitness.

And thankfully, I failed so miserably I had to wake up and bring myself back on track.

I could have gone on, not eating carbs, not touching sugar, and working hard at the gym. I probably would have even enjoyed the feeling of becoming fitter, faster and stronger. But since there’s no escaping how what’s on the inside dictates the changes on the outside, inevitably, I had to give in to my changing belief that being “strong” (literally and figuratively) was just overrated.

What I needed the most was to ditch the pursuit of being strong, and turn instead to learn to be soft. Vulnerable. It has meant allowing myself to accept my failures, recognise what I can, cannot and will not do. It has meant being a lot more truthful to myself, to tune in to my inner voice and listen more carefully, rather than shut it down and overpower it with an external message. It has meant aligning what is going on on the inside, with every single action on the outside.

Gradually, I’m coming closer to accepting that there needn’t be any kind of pursuit at all. I don’t want to lift more, feel stronger, do pull-ups or any of that. I don’t want to work towards any of it. I want to just work out because it keeps me active and feeling healthy.

I am okay.

And it is okay to be just okay. My body is worth celebrating most days. And there will be days when it disappoints me or triggers massive self-loathing. Some days I feel frustrated that a certain pair of pants will probably never fit. Some days I’ll delight in all the other kinds of clothes I confidently wear.

That is okay too.

Self love and vanity will co-exist. And hopefully they will bloom and grow into two well-grounded trees that will mingle, intertwine and co-exist.

A few years ago I loved my body hard enough to make it do things that challenged it. Now, I love it enough to just let it be.

I am okay.

This needn’t be a downward spiral or an uphill climb. Today, this is just a beautiful path, along this journey I am on.

Things have changed, it happens.

And I am okay now.

Two years ago: Day 106: Satisfaction

Day 103: I got mad, mad love

This past week, I felt immensely grateful for all the work coming our way. We had multiple meetings, an unusually high number of leads land open up out of the blue, and a fun and satisfying shoot on hand.

I am so grateful for the luxury of being our own bosses, reporting to nobody but ourselves, planning our days the way we want, doing the work we love most days. And I’m so thankful for the clarity and for being on the same page about the value of time we both need off. And the ability and privilege to take it when required.

I’m grateful for the shift in my definition of being busy/productive and for new clarity, new boundaries and new realisations in this respect.

I’m very, very grateful for my family. Especially my mother who keeps the “normal” going when I hit these busy spurts. I’m thankful for the hot home-cooked meals, her concern for how we may be overworking ourselves, and for her comforting company when I am chilling at home. And my sister for her endless love, warmth, entertainment, and ability to make me laugh and cook a darn good meal.

I’m so thankful for VC for having taken the professional calls he has these past few months. It’s not always immediately apparent, but I love when things slowly work out for the best. Being in that spot watching it unfurl is lovely.

I’m thankful for coffee. It’s been such a booster every morning this week.

I’m thankful for the beer and dinner with S, despite threats of being unavailable to meet me before June. And the unbelievably fantabulous (non-alcoholic and veggie) dinner she and I managed to catch with the other S. Burma Burma, if you’re interested to know.

I’m grateful for the connections that were rekindled quite unexpectedly this past week.

I’m thankful for N and our sporadic intense conversations. I love the ease with which we can take to whatsapp with our bouts of verbal diarrhoea and unburden/unload, knowing fully well that we may not get immediate responses, but when we do they will be conscious, heartfelt and thought-through. In these days of limited engagement, and wanting to only really talktalktalk about a handful of things, I am grateful for this channel being always open.

I’m grateful for my kindle.

Two years ago: Day 103: Lucid

Day 102: And I’m feeling so bohemian like you

This week:

  1. My house turned into a makeshift studio. Which is to say it was turned upside down entirely. We papered over our living room windows with black chart, cleared out the flood seating, dragged a heavy-ass carpet over from my folks’, set up lights and a tripod (which one set can’t be moved until the shoot is entirely done). It’s been four days and counting. No sign of finish yet.
  2. My house hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned like it usually is every day. Because we’re unable to move this very elaborate set up out/around to allow said cleaning. I’m happy to report, I did not lose my shit.
  3. I added hand model and stop-motion art direction intern to my list of roles/responsibilities at Something Filmy. That would be in addition to my existing titles and roles as co-founder, partner, co-director, friend, foe, confidant, general errand person and master of all resources.
  4. My fridge turned into a restaurant fridge with four kinds of plated meals and a gazillion sides being piled in there, for the shoot.
  5. My freezer turned into a cold stone ice cream shop and my living room console has enough toppings and cones and waffles stashed to open up a little pop-up.
  6. We knocked off a major part of an edit for a stop-motion film we were asked to make. It was challenging, because we had such a steep learning curve, figuring things out on the go, realising it was much more physically taxing than we anticipated, and yet thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying.
  7. I got an extra workout every day from all the physical labour that stop-motion filming demands, and I’m hurting in places I usually only hurt when I lift weights after a break.
  8. Despite good intentions and great ideas every single day, I have been unable to turn my laptop on and post on here. For obvious reasons. My hands have been busy elsewhere (read point #3), and my brain too (read point #4). So I’ve been doing a lot of lazy posting off the phone which always leaves so much to be desired. But the shoot involved a lot of good food, dessert and ice cream. So it took priority. These things happen.
  9. When I haven’t been working, I’ve been either completely relaxing — there have been naps on some days, hangs with the sister (who is all healed and well now!) lazy meals (mostly cooked by amma or Niyu) with the fam on others, plenty reading — or letting my (non-existent)hair down with friends.
    Is this what work-life balance is? Because I fucking love it.
  10. I crossed two major milestones and couldn’t get around to writing what I really wanted to, to mark them. But. Good food, dessert and ice cream took priority. These things happen.

Two years ago: Day 102: Mondays like this

Day 101: Forever inbetween

Cheat post, in the nick of time with a Pessoa quote that I love, and the rare occurrence of a bathroom mirror selfie.

We never love anyone. What we love is the idea we have of someone. It’s our own concept—our own selves—that we love.

One year ago: Serendipity

Day 100: To the gypsy that remains

Two milestones today. And I’d like to think that too is not a coincidence: finishing 100 days of writing this year, on a day exactly one year since I landed in Bangalore, in what ended up being the first step in a series of many many steps towards uncertainty and an open ended kind of oblivion.

I have many, many thoughts about how far we’ve come since we took this leap. Of faith, and so much else. It was not just the start of life in a new city, but the start of a committment to tuning into myself and cutting out the external clutter and noise. So, it makes me extremely happy today, standing where I am, to look back at things I wrote 365+ days ago, and see I was already on this journey. And that I’ve steadfastly stayed focused and committed to it. And that I’m all the better for it.

It’s truly gratifying to see how one year ago I was talking about all of the same things. Back then I was eager and yearning for change — my voice was filled with trepidation, yet it was hopeful. Today, I feel a confidence and conviction, even as I am still talking about the same things. I can see the journey Ive made so far, and I know which way I am longing to go, in the coming future.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this journey. Of the place mindfullness and self-care or self-improvement or growth or authenticity (to me, they’re all different words for the same thing) has come to occupy in my life, and what an incredible value it has added to my daily life. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll do a look back. But today, at the exact moment that I realised it was the anniversary of moving here, I was in this sunkissed office, and something about the way the golden light streamed in and set everything aglow, gave me a moment to ponder. And all I wanted to do was to give thanks for every little thing that went into pushing me to do this. And all that continues to hold me up, helps me keep going and make all this movement continually possible. And no, I’m not talking only about moving cities. But you already know that.

To me, moving to Bangalore has been something of an inflection point in life. But it is also a symbol of possibility. A reference point of what happens when I suspend thought. A memory of the ultimate move of self-serving love. A prototype of the kind of agility I want for the rest of my life.

Day 99: You’re beautiful, it’s true

Unexpected validation in unlikely corners. Just in case you’re feeling debilitating low self esteem on your way up the stairs.

***

I took today off to catch up on some really long pending, much delayed errands. And then I took the afternoon off to read, which went into a really long nap. Then, I woke up and went for a haircut.

Somewhere in between, I caught up with S over a call — most uncharacteristically. But it left me with the fuzzies and I made plans to catch up in person later this week.

In the evening, I called A after literally putting off the call for one whole year. And she said something that again gave me the fuzzies.

“With you, there’s no need to talk every week or every month. No matter how long it’s been, we always pick up just where we left off.”

I couldn’t agree more. I met A back in the good old days of blogging. We’ve met all of three times in person, and we realised today that we’ve actually been talking for fourteen years, and have seen each other through some pretty transformational, life-changing phases.

I don’t always acknowledge the many ways in which kinship finds its way to me. But it does. And today made me feel blessed for it, right in my bones.

Two years ago: Day 99: On being average