Blank

I’ve had a strange day with high highs and lows lows and wild swinging between the two. I’ve had to streamline all the things I had planned for two weeks to now be done in two days before I jet off unexpectedly. Top on my list was getting a haircut and my phone fixed. And somehow I’m in less of a tizzy now that those “crucial” things are done.

Right now though, my mind’s just blank.

Three years ago: Fullness

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Looking within

Things might be a little quiet around here from time to time, especially on days like today when spontaneous events lead me away from a set plan and I try and allow myself to go with the flow without overthinking things too much, and some times leaving posting for the day to the very end, or forgetting it altogether.

I’m allowed to flake on my own well laid plans, I realise. And I don’t allow myself the luxury enough, without beating myself up about it just a wee bit first.

I guess this isn’t going to be a second year of flawless posting everyday. It holds the promise of enough potential for forgotten posts and several back dates posts.

I’m just going to go with it.

***

It’s been a week of zipping around, getting work done in the pockets around social commitments that were strewn right through the week and into the weekend. I feel a buzz in my head, even while the rest of my body seems kind of disconnectedly calm.

I’m not sure what it’s about, and for once I am trying not to figure it out, but just go with it.

One year ago: Trust me on the sunscreen
Three years ago: Letting it go

This new abyss

For two weeks now, therapy has been a deep dive into very abstract, nebulous, intangible waters. Or at least it felt like it was set up to be a deep dive, at first. But the outcome has been more like all I could seem to get myself to do is wet my toes, test waters…and freeze.

For two weeks now, I have have had a moment that made me shut down, stop in my tracks like a deer in headlights, and just shut down.

For two weeks now, I have had a full body experience of what it is to be a slave to my constantly overworking mind. And how much it can turn on and off what my body (and heart) is capable of feeling. Because from that moment on, for two weeks now, I felt nothing. I felt totally detached and disconnected from myself.

I find myself wondering what I am resisting, because this feels like a defence mechanism, an unconscious reaction to protect myself from…something. I’m not sure what. But my sense is it’s a perceived, not real, threat.

I don’t know what I imagine will happen if I push through that point, if I choose to step into the unknown that my mind is making me shut down and shut myself off from.

Why is letting go so scary? Why is it so necessary to make meaning of this experience? Why is it so hard to believe the unknown abyss is where meaning may very well be?

Right now though, the abyss feels like a dark, lonely place. And I don’t feel like I can swim these waters. When I imagine letting go, and jumping in, I feel like I will drown. I feel afraid — of being taken down by a weight, of not being able to handle it on my own, of having to go it all alone, of being alone.

Last week, I became aware that I was resisting something. I shut down and I let it be. I distanced myself form it. This week, I feel like I’m sitting beside myself, mindfully watching this big blob of unnamed abstractions that are scaring me, fully aware of sitting right beside it. And avoiding it.

This is the kind of uncertainty and a state of not-knowing that tests me the most. I have been here before, but I have seldom allowed myself to stay here longer than what is my natural limit, beyond which my mind kicks in and begs me to start making some sense. Today though, I feel like I need to sit with this, a little differently. Not to push it aside in the name of letting it go, but to really look at the nothingness, and to befriend it. And to get to know what that makes me feel like.

For two weeks now, I have been carrying around this constantly bubbling feeling thats a combination of excitement and trepidation. The kind of feeling I get before I do anything new. I feel like I am at the brink of something (I have felt this way for a while now), but that something is intangible, unseen and just out of my reach. I don’t know what I have to do to get there, and I don’t know what it will take of me if I do go there. So, for now, this will do. Until I am ready to go in, this will have to do.

The question I keep asking is, but how do I do all of that?

The only answer I keep encountering or arriving at again and again and again is that there is nothing to be done. The trick is not in the doing, as much as it is in the being. And I feel like I am being called upon to learn yet another aspect of being that has so far been completely unknown to me.

One year ago: I get the strangest feeling you belong
Three years ago: Fam-jam

A good day to give thanks

Gratitude this week for:

My body for reminding me how resilient it is and how much I can push and stretch it to do things I sometimes think are unimaginable.

Access to a gym, to be able to afford it and to put money, mind and body into fitness as a priority.

My trainers and for the commitment and focus they bring. And for inspiring and pushing me.

One year ago: Love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves

Finding flow again

It’s been a while since I experienced a state of flow like I did today. I’ve only ever felt it when I’ve been so completely into doing something that it absorbs me wholeheartedly in a way that makes me zone out, the world spinning on like it does, but all I can see or hear, all that I am aware of is the task I’m engaged in. It has consumed me fully, taken me to a strange otherworldly state of bliss. I have experienced this with baking, writing and reading before. Times when hours had passed, but I was entirely clueless of the passage of time and when I suddenly snapped back to reality, I was in utter disbelief about how long it had really been, and how deeply engrossed I had gotten. This was years ago.

Today, it happened at the gym.

I was so slow to wake up. Even though I went to bed early and got a good night’s sleep, that old familiar feeling of wanting to hit snooze till eternity came over me. So, I got to the gym ten minutes later than I usually do. It’s the kind of thing that used to earlier really bother my Type A mind that could only work a regimen to the T, the way I have it chalked out in my brain. Even the smallest deviation would make my motivation drag and a 10 minute delay would sometimes mean I’d cancel the workout completely. But some things have changed, I suppose.

So anyhow, in my groggy state this morning, while trying to get myself out the door before I give in to the deep desire to sleep again, I glanced at my workout of the day, saw only the top line mention a 20 minute run and thought Oh, that seems easy enough. It was all the push I needed. And off I went. Earphones on, Sapporo (currently the only album that’s fuelling the running) on full blast, I began to run.

I don’t know what happened after, but the next thing I know, the 20 minutes were done I felt like I’d barely been running for 5 minutes. Energy pulsed through me, and I  could almost feel it charging down my legs urging me to get going some more. It’s been challenging getting my running form up again. Every day last week I’ve had to really, really push myself through to the end of the running bit of the workout. It has taken every ounce of willpower to push through that burn and not give up when I think I’m done. The wonderful thing about finding this flow today, was how all of that difficulty just dissipated entirely, without my awareness. It’s the sort of switch that makes pain turn sweet, makes that inner voice (that sometimes tells me to give up) just disappear, and makes every moment spent with the task at hand an absolute and perfect joy.

Running those 20 minutes were a visceral pleasure that I could feel in my soles snug in my shoes, in my quads taking me farther with every step, in my hips that were no longer straining to keep up with me but were working in perfect synchrony, getting my legs to find the rhythm they’ve been gingerly trying to get a hold on for the last ten days.

Then. The killer.

I glanced at my WOD and realised the 20 minute run was just the start. The next few lines to follow “21 minute run” went like this:
5 minute rest
15 minute run
5 minute rest
12 minute run

And as if that wasn’t enough, a 15 minute conditioning burst to finish.

Misreading that is usually the kind of mistake that would make me either go back home, or fudge the rest of the workout. But today something took over me. I don’t know if my supplements are finally kicking in, or I needed 8 days back at the gym to find my groove again, or if Shingo Nakamura kicked things into place for me today, but today it really felt like divine timing waiting to happen. Like disconnected parts aligning slowly and moving towards that one moment when everything clicks into place just so. Like perfection waiting to happen. As a result, something really special, and surprising happened today.

I didn’t fudge the workout. I didn’t feel the need to give myself the I’ve-just-started I-can-go-easy excuses. No shortcuts, no sneaky cheats. I finished.

And I felt utterly blissful.

It’s a different matter that when I left the gym there wasn’t an inch of dry surface area on my tee, I wished for one of those Tesla cars that drive themselves, and a remote controlled house key that needed only a click of a button.

Boo-yeah.

One year ago: Just go ahead, let your hair down

Mostly nothing

After spinning like a top for two weeks, I had a much needed quiet weekend of mostly nothing, all to myself. It was just what I needed to hit reset, make the wheels in my head stop spinning. And it was good to just resign — to sleep, to cooking for myself, to eating eggs and toast for dinner, to binge watching shitty movies, to just being without doing much else.

I say nothing, but it wasn’t an empty weekend. It was just a low-key one, filled with basic, mundanities. The stillness of a regular routine, of being able to do whatever I want of my time, of lying low like the afternoon sun slanting in, stark yet sleep-inducing, is seriously underrated and I don’t know what it will take for me to remember to indulge this luxury that I have, more often.

If on Thursday I was confused and disconnected, this weekend reconnected the link that had snapped. Who knew all it needed was a weekend spent simply, spontaneously?

There are times where I arrive at perfectly regular, unspectacular days like these. Where everything is just normal, and I get the sense I’ve been here before. I know this, it works, it has worked before. And the way in which they ground me and bring me back to myself, I sometimes feel they heal — harder and deeper — than the epiphanies and breakthroughs on days that come like a spectacular bolt of lightning and shake the ground beneath my feet.

I wish for more days like these. Where the truth is easy, and it dawns unannounced. Where there is love in simple acts of pleasure. Where I feel grounded and held, even when I’m going about my home all alone. When I suddenly realise that what I’m looking for has been here and within my reach all along.

***

It began on Friday, actually. With S coming over for lunch, I ended up cancelling all plans to work. This wasn’t part of the plan, but I just went with it — and this is something I am trying to let myself do more often without attaching judgement to it. I enjoyed cooking that meal complete with greens, salad, curry and millets. There was filter coffee post-lunch and we ended up gabbing till well into the evening, having to forcibly stop because I had to leave. Else we might have gone on and on, I suspect.

On Friday night I drove an hour across town (willingly, excitedly, on Friday evening. I don’t know who I am anymore.) met with A and caught Girish’s Karnad’s Rakt Kalyan, a Hindi translation of the original in Kannada, directed by Sunil Shanbhag. The play was stellar and deeply moving because even though it’s a tale of a perfectly idyllic society degrading to despicable levels of anarchy and bloodshed, it felt all too real and relevant for where we are as a country today. However, it was dense, intense and in such perfect Hindi, I had a hard time not tuning out. It wasn’t the play, it’s me. I realised that night that I’m just not in the headspace for anything densely engaging right now. It’s why I haven’t been able to read a full book this year, and why my journal writing is fragmented and staccato, not flowing like it was just last month.

The feels come deeply and sweep over me and I can’t do much but sink with it — a feeling I don’t quite enjoy. It makes me listless, my mind torn between over-engaged and letting go, stuck in between and doing nothing.

The play made me feel something. A little too deeply. And when we got out to catch dinner, I found myself nursing the idea of breaking my carb fast to chase the blues that had descended away. Luchi-aloor-dom it was. And it did not disappoint.

***

On Saturday morning, I woke up early, ostensibly, to hit the gym. My body has been stretched to the max this week and that morning I felt it in every inch of my muscles. I was very, very tempted to chicken out, but I persisted and pushed myself out the door. Thankfully it was a spot running workout, and even more surprisingly, once I was past the 7 minute mark, something inside of me kicked alive and I began to enjoy the run. Even so, I was battered — in a good way — by the time the 45 minutes were done. I’m still only running 50% of the stipulated time, and everyday that I make a small improvement whether in a new distance reached or a better pace, I feel good for it.

There is something ridiculously satisfying about getting my workout for the day done before 8 am, coming home to a super hot shower, getting back into my night clothes and back into bed for a daytime snooze. In summer, with the AC on, it hits the spot a little more. I meant to catch a short nap but woke up 2 hours later, when the doorbell rang.

I then spent half an hour sorting and arranging flowers around my home. This week I got two deliveries worth of flowers which means there’s currently more vases with excessively dressy flowers in my home than there are humans. The ratio is 5:1.

A lunch of leftovers was meant to be had, but after binge-watching the Bong Eats youtube channel yet again (I have no idea why it’s so addictive and makes me go on and on, one video after another, losing track of time) I was craving a simple masoor dal. So I made myself some and ate my lunch in bed, watching Netflix.

A few hours of Netflixing later — I really got into the gritty and raw Delhi Crime (can’t dial into anything serious, she says) — I received an annoying Basecamp notification from a slightly irrational client who I suspect has the idea of timelines all wrong in their head. I was so triggered in the moment that I decided right then and there to just give them what they’re on my case for (even though the timelines they expect are crazy). Sped off to Third Wave, which has become my go-to when I need to kick my productivity in action, and pounded away for a few hours getting some work done even though working on the weekend was the last thing on my mind.

Somewhere in between D texted me and what ensued was a really funny conversation that had me stifling loud laughter and wiping away tears. The dude working at the table next to me kept glancing sideways, with a very perplexed and worried look. Later I realised it must have looked like I was crying, violently shaking as I was from trying to mute the noisy laughter that was threatening to erupt, while wiping away a stream of tears. I really needed that bout of laughter, and the endorphins that rushed in.

I came home and made myself a boiled egg sandwich with Kasundi (thank you, Bong Eats!) and ketchup, salt and pepper before calling it an early day.

***

Thank God for Sunday being rest day. And after the brutal week it’s been in the workout department, I was looking forward to it. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hit my Sunday walk again after so many weeks. We promised to try. Except I woke up and promptly listened to my body, — clearly begging for some rest — cancelled and went back to sleep for two more hours.

I spent the rest of Sunday pretty much horizontal. I managed to read a bit, cook myself some cholle for lunch, loll about for extended periods of time for the rest of the day, watching Delhi Crime. Niyu came over in the evening and we chilled for a bit, before I caught Captain Marvel (again!) in the evening with D.

***

Time and time again I am shown the beauty and wonder that slowing down, minimizing and steadying myself has to offer. Most times, when I have nowhere to go, no place to be, no timelines to worry about, I am happy. This past weekend I was all alone. My folks are travelling, my maid took the weekend off and I had no real plans — something that hasn’t happened in many weekends now. The plans that got made, happened spontaneously, with ease, and because I wanted to. No obligations, to stretching myself more than needed.

Cerebrally, I know the benefits of letting go, going with the flow and all of that. And for the most part I am in sync. But there are times, like the last two weeks, when everything about my being decidedly rejects the idea and insists on staying on the run. I must remember to especially slow down and stay still at such times, not to see what I am getting away from when I run, but to see what emerges when I stop.

I know what it was this time, and I feel a little silly that it takes a weekend of forced staying in and nothingness for me to dial in to that. When will this become my default? When will that inner knowing be fine-tuned so much that I don’t have to think about it and I just know when to pause, without having my external life orchestrate the pauses?

I was chatting with VC the other night about how much I am loving what has become of my life. Aside from the fact that it’s missing his presence sorely, I am thoroughly enjoying how much space I have for me, for what I want to do, even if it is sometimes nothing at all. I hope I can get myself to turn the negative self-talk down more often and really make the most of this time. That was after all one of the major motivations of staying on in Bangalore.

I must remind myself more often.

Three years ago: Piece of peace

Love-filled

I feel soft and full of love today.

***

Today, I cooked the first proper meal all by myself in my home. I’ve had the extreme, extreme luxury of hopping over to my parents place for every single meal since I got back from holiday over ten days ago. Between feeling disoriented and resuming a killer workout schedule that has rendered my movement in the rest of the day a little compromised, and a whole week of hectic social activities, I have unabashedly leaned on amma and her unrelenting capacity to give and keep giving. Whether it’s hot meals, breakfast every single day, her car whenever I need it (which has been every day these days *eyeroll*) and just generally being that fall back I always have. It has meant I didn’t have to stock up my kitchen till yesterday, I didn’t have to worry about my nutrition as I stepped into the 6-week program, I didn’t have to do a thing other than show up and be fed with wholesome, nutritious food.

S is coming over for lunch today, so I decided to cook rather than order in or go out. While cooking this morning, I realised that to be able to slip into domesticity as and when I feel like, rather than bound by necessity is such a game-changer at this present time of my life. This is one of the big issues I fought in Goa, right before I left. I felt bound and tied down by some parts of domesticity, and constantly felt like doing them was keeping me from doing the things I really wanted to. I feel grateful for the proximity to my parents that allows this, for amma’s constant presence and support in ways I don’t even have to ask for, and for how life sometimes conspires to make possible the smallest, seemingly insignificant details of my life a reality, and for how hugely that impacts my life.

***

I woke up this morning feeling fresh as a new summer day. I’ve been having some incredibly good sleep since resuming working out harder. My digestion feels more settled, my skin feels better — these, and some other small niggling physical changes in my system that had begun to creep up last year seem to be on the wind-down. It’s amazing what a little extra movement, some essential burning of excess energy and regulation in food and hydration can do. I’m grateful for another opportunity to workout with S. For the new sneakers I got this past week. For access to a gym so close to home. For summer mornings that make waking up easier. For VC’s constant, unquestioning support in this area of my life.

One year ago: Somebody holds the key
Three years ago: Silence

Everybody says I’m fine

Today I realised stillness is not something I can achieve. It’s not a thing that I can trap and make mine, captured in me forever. It’s fleeting, it’s constantly transforming, it’s constantly elusive. So much to my disappointment, I realised in therapy today that despite many past brushes with the virtues of stillness, it remains to be something I don’t quite know. It comes and it goes and when it goes it becomes something to win back again. It’s something to constantly aspire for.

I’m not very good at accepting these realities about myself. These dips, these realisations of the two steps back that we all have to take every now and then. Even now, despite all the work and movement, I hold myself to an unnaturally high expectation of constant upward movement, rarely giving myself a break (on this emotionally exhausting journey) even when body and mind are screaming for it.

To let go of that expectation, is to invite in the fear of crashing, of falling those 2, 3, 4, 5 steps back from where I’ll have to work my way up again. To let go, is to begin to wonder what a step back means. In some senses, in my head, to let go is to fail. And today, in therapy, I realised this is what I have been running from. This is why I have avoided being still.

It’s so much easier to say I’m fine. And maybe I am, but to acknowledge that small part of me that isn’t at this moment? Would that be such a bad thing? I don’t even know what it is like to acknowledge it without the riders and the disclaimers of being “largely okay”, that stem from my deeply hardcoded nature of emotional adjustment and flexibility that compel me to look on the bright side.

To let go of this expectation is the only way to move forward again. And so while I may pride myself in being emotionally agile, constantly flexible and finding the good/happy in me even when other parts are in distress, today I’m trying to just be still. To let go of this need to be okay constantly. To see what happens when I do.

One year ago: We’re up all night for good fun
Three years ago: Giving thanks

It’s been a long time coming

I got back to my daily walks pretty soon after we got home from Benaras. Summer is here, good and proper. So it’s ridiculously bright, warm and muggy at 7 am, not at all like the crisp mornings I enjoyed when I left for Goa.

I felt physically uncomfortable for days after we returned, feeling my body heat and dry up from the inside out. It was like my insides were revolting the drastic turn in climate. Would you believe Goa was cooler?

On the upside bright, early mornings have meant waking up super early to sunshine streaming through my curtains. The exact opposite of winter when it’s dark and grey, making it impossible to wake up and get going.

So, waking up has been easy. It’s been good but more than that, the feeling of getting going, of the wheels beginning to move and run from the get go, is such a summer feeling I love.

And then there’s splendour like this where I go for my walk/run. And it has made all the difference in helping me stay consistent.

Since the start of the year, I’ve listened as my body as asked for a little movement, and then some more and a little more. I started with walking on Sunday, then a few more times in the week, then I started running some of the time before eventually rejoining my yoga class. Slowly, I’ve been feeling my body come alive after a whole year of what felt like hibernation.

This week, I went back to a gym. My body has been screaming for some weights and so I listened. It’s been five days and such a viscerally felt thrill to be back on a treadmill, pounding the kms away, picking up a pair of dumbells even more so.

This sense of an awakening in my body has been slowly trickling in spurts. This week I really felt like I’d rekindled and revisited an old friend within me. And old self I’d loved and lost. And regained again. That meeting, that felt like a coming back home to myself once again.

It’s been just so, so, so good to be back.

One year ago: Love, let’s talk about love
Three years ago: On unlearning and relearning order

Things that are shiny and new

right now. These events, these feelings are just so precious, I want to cradle them in my palms lined with baby blue cotton, so they’ll remain unbroken, yet fragile for long as I can help it.

So I don’t forget this little milestone:

  1. Vulnerability for precious vulnerability sake. Not as a tool for validation. Not even to measure my worth in my own eyes.
  2. Vulnerability with myself first — and how it is deeply linked with the most honest, authentic connection with my inner self.
  3. Laughing at myself and some of the rubbish narratives I’ve built and held for so long.
  4. Deeply honest conversations with VC, that are pushing the levels of empathy and understanding in me, showing me reserves that I didn’t know I had.
  5. Making a new kind of space for us, redefining our relationship.

One year ago: People say I should forget

Out there

I meant to post on the weekend, because so much happened that I want to mark and remember but I’ve been rather preoccupied, mentally. Too much happening, too many places to go to, some engagements, some recreation, a lot of busy-bodying around and barely any time spent at home at all. I’ve been very not inclined to sitting down to compose my thoughts and put them in coherent form here. I only realised last night that the corollary to this is that what I’ve been is inclined to distract myself.

I’ve been a little emotionally overwhelmed and scattered since getting back from Benaras. And this invariably makes me feel a bit disoriented/disconnected from myself, what I’m really feeling. It’s a bit of a catch-22. When I’m feeling disconnected and overwhelmed, the logical thing for me to do would be to slow down and sit still. But sitting still also means facing some of the emotions that have been bubbling up — the overwhelm of the trip that moved me, swinging straight into regular life and getting used to being minus VC all over again, settling back to the Bangalore groove again (which always takes time), constant preoccupation about the Bangalore-Goa conundrum, and the impending trip back there in about a month and all that I want to do here in the meantime — cumulatively this has occupied a lot of my mental bandwidth silently. Sitting still would mean facing it really, and fully. And that is what I have been running away from.

This past week instead of giving myself, and reconnecting with myself some time and space, I’ve felt drawn to frittering my time away outside the home. This should have been my first indicator of what was going on, but I guess I am that disconnected right now, that I didn’t pick up on it.

And that’s okay.

I’m currently straddling two worlds and trying to find a meaningful balance, between knowing and understanding my feelings, but also not going overboard and obsessing over every little up and down.

My outer world always mirrors my inner world. There was a lot of outward movement in my life, high activity, travelling long distances, long hours spent outdoors — to the coffee shop, ostensibly to work, but I’m getting done only a mere fraction of what I am otherwise capable of, catching what I thought would be a 1-2 hour lunch with a friend and having it turn into a 6-hour massive catch-up, I’ve watched two movies since I’ve come back, and my mum has had guests and rather uncharacteristically I offered to drive them around town and catch the few Bangalore meals they’ve had on their bucket list. I should have realised this is me moving away form myself.

It wasn’t until last evening (Sunday) that I realised I am unconsciously voiding being home. Avoiding being still. Because when I am still, invariably emotions become clear, seen.

I’m not sure what I am avoiding seeing right now. But I hope to regain some balance and connection this week and tune in some.

Three years ago: Abandon

Happy spots

I watched Daniel Fernandes perform Shadows tonight. I’ve been thinking I haven’t really explored comedy, despite having access to so many live shows here in Bangalore so last week it was past midnight and I was having trouble so I was browsing a booking app (yeah, this is what happens when you have no social media) when I saw he was performing in town. I didn’t bother to check where, just went ahead and bought myself a ticket.

This morning, when figuring out how to get to this venue I’d never heard of, I realised it was a club all the way across town — I’m talking 50 minute drive even early on a Sunday evening. Not an auditorium like I’d imagined, or like the place I watched Abhishek Upmanyu. Suddenly, momentarily, I was a little apprehensive, wondering what it might be like going to a club alone. Would it be worth the long drive, going alone? Where would I sit, who would I sit with, what would I do, what would it look like? But I went anyway, I wanted to watch him live.

To my surprise and absolute delight, I was seated at a table with five other girls who had come alone too. Initial awkwardness and some stolen glances trying to figure out if any of them were going to be joined by friends later, when the last girl to arrive filled the only remaining seat at the table, we all let out a collective guffaw of relief simultaneously realising we were all on our own.

This was the highpoint of the evening for me. It was liberating to be alone (and I hope I do more of this), and yet I felt a sense of communion to be seated at the table with these girls who were all there because they wanted to watch Daniel live, and couldn’t wait to find company. I checked, I asked each of them.

I’m someone who spent the entire duration of my 20s partnered, and nursing a such a strong yearning for a tribe that I often settled for whatever form that it came my way. I’ve been in a motley assortment of groups and cliques, and when I look back on these experiences I do feel I missed out a lot on the essence of me. Maybe I’d have done a lot more things differently, a lot of things on my own if I had half the sense of self worth I have today.

That evening I felt like I lived a little bit of an experience I knew I had missed, but that I didn’t know I could have now.

Solitary comedy shows. Solitary beers. Solitary long drives back home. And it’s own kind of contentment.

***

The special itself? Shadows — it was quite good. I went without expectations, to be honest. I’ve really liked some of Daniel’s work in the past, but I’ve also sometimes squirmed at some of the things he has said and done. I had no context about what he’s been up to in recent time. Because, no social media. So I literally went in blind.

Shadows wasn’t a ribticklingly funny stand up special. It was the brand of comedy that’s real, honest, a bit dark and intense in parts. Heavily autobiographical, it draws on experiences he’s had over the last 7 years of his life since turning to comedy as a career. From quitting a safe job, being broke, dabbling in comedy, navigating the scene, fighting the expectations and norms of family and society, realising he’s a square peg in a world of round pegs, and learning to be okay with it — the show had a lot of bits that resonated with me as it would with everyone who watches it I’m pretty sure. It was the kind of show that had more awkward silences, emotional pauses and squeamish stifled laughs, rather than loud raucous laughter because it was just that real.

I think what I enjoyed the most was the overarching theme of journeying towards an authentic self, even when realising what you’re discovering it isn’t as pretty a picture as you imagine. And being okay with that.

To embark on this journey needs courage, to talk about it even more so, but to turn it to art and perform it, knowing it may or may not be received the way one expects — the reactions may range from extreme validation to hate — and to do it anyway requires a whole different level of vulnerability. And that’s the bit that touched me the most.

***

Last week, I caught up with V after what felt like 10+ years even though we briefly hung-out over a very hurried meal in Goa some 5 years ago. In the years between then and now he’s gotten married and is now a father to a 2.5 year old baby boy. In the years between, we have also completely lost touch. Not even exchanging the occasional message. So when we decided to meet, I went armed with a book, fully anticipating our lunch would be a quick affair, and I’d make use of the journey into town, hanging out and reading some place quiet.

BUT, we ended up catching up in such intense detail. Discussing everything from politics to marriage, children and pets, future careers and whatnot. And we didn’t leave. For. SIX. HOURS. Over way more beer than I have consumed in a single sitting in about as many years as it has been since I used to know him.

It was fun, yes. But it was also heartwarming that it was possible. It was heartwarming to be surprised. I don’t know if this will happen again, or it even means anything significant for our friendship, but I will cherish that day and that meeting for a while.

***

There was also a stunning lunch at SodaBottleOpenerWala and a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon with D that will be unforgettable for entirely different reasons that I cannot disclose here, and cannot even recollect without laughing so hard, I tear up. But I’m putting it down here so I will never forget.

***

One year ago: Flowers in the window
Three years ago: Moved to tears

The last of the despatches from Benaras

I took a lot of pictures in Benaras and I’ve rambled on for a week about this city and the short time we spent there. It was just 3.5 days, and I even while we were there and I was so clearly taken by the place, I didn’t expect it to have had such an impact on me. But this is the last of the pictures. At least the ones I want to share. So this post will sum it up, before I move on to regular programming.

As it might be clear by now, I couldn’t get enough of the boats.

VC usually has his research down pat: where we’ll stay, how close it is to his select few spots that he’s always aware of before hand, where to eat, how to get there, etc. This time, there was a free-flowing unplanned method to getting around. I had presumed VC had done his thing, but when we got there and I saw he was as much at sea as I was and was surprisingly open to figuring it out on the go, nor desperate for optimum productivity in terms of photography opportunities and to top it all, he was chill about not getting a single good picture from the trip, I really felt something major has changed for him.

As a result we had my kind of holiday, where things aren’t planned to the T, with lots of wandering, knowing not where we were going, taking chances — a turn here a turn there — winding through Benaras and having all the opportunity for surprises — good and bad.

VC takes upwards of an hour, sometimes nearly 2, taking pictures at sunrise and sunset. Sometimes, most times, all of it amounts to just one picture. It probably sounds tedious and painful, and it did to me too when I first realised this was his process. Now, either I’m very used to it, or I have figured out a method for myself too, but it has become the best part of travelling with VC. I get to do the favourite thing I like to do on holiday: plonk myself in one spot and just watch, watch, watch and watch some more as the world goes by.

In a time where travel takes on a very glossy, fetishised quality about it, thanks to all the incessant sharing (mine included), my own thoughts about travel as an activity have undergone change yet again. I’ve gone from calling it my purpose in life, my raison d’être, to rolling my eyes at that same admission a few years on, to wondering if travel was an escape and if so what am I escaping from, to wanting to cultivate a life I don’t have to take off from, to today wanting and craving travel all the time just for the pure experience of it.  The non-fanciness of this trip to Benaras only solidified my belief that travel to me isn’t about the fancy getaways or the swanky stays in gorgeous locales alone. While I love that, I love this kind of holiday too.

The unpredictable nature of our time in Benaras was refreshing. The zero-expectations that were over-delivered was the cherry on the top. This is the kind of holiday that unknowingly moves something in me, and this is the kind of experience I want more of from my travel.

For now, that’s it from this edition of despatches from Benaras.

One year ago: Where the world is impossibly still
Three years ago: Quiet

Benaras: Orange

It is impossible not to feel the sense of reverence and deep, deep faith that people carry when they visit Benaras. It was palpable from the very first time we ventured out on day 1. While faith may be a singular word to describe what I saw, I saw it in many shapes and forms.

It was overwhelming to see how the city attracts all kinds of people, in an array of sizes and colours, from across the world, expressing their reverence in a host of different ways. Whether it was the solitary white man doing his early morning yoga, or the group of Naga babas offering their hawan at sundown hidden in a haze of what was clearly a chillum of hash, or just the blind way in which hoards of people thought nothing of throwing themselves into a veritably, visibly filthy river, or the literal gazillion people-strong crowd that was ballooning over the hour-long evening Ganga-aarti, clapping in unison with the bells and bellowing conches.

It was quite a rousing experience. To witness all of this in the matter-of-fact landscape of a religious place that somehow is the leveller that we expect it to be was humbling.

I witnessed the celebration of birth, or marriage taking place alongside the mourning of death. I saw white people filled with a genuine curiosity and reverence for soaking up the exotic edge they make of our culture, alongside boat-loads of Chinese tourists who didn’t bat an eyelid before collectively pointing all their cameras at the massive funeral pyres along Manikarnika ghat. There was a fancy cruise-liner like fancy boat that floated by the scores of humble hand-rowed small boats and the both co-exist in peace. There was as much a sense of spectacular outpouring of faith that gave me goosebumps as there was a little bit of the inevitable gross display of commercialism that preys off of religion. There was immense offering of gratitude, love and joy in the backdrop of such a filthy city.

The paradoxes were confusing, but also awe-inspiring, because they were just so reminiscent of how the nebulous idea of faith and whatever we make of it is beyond anything we can touch or tame.

I feel really grateful for the opportunity to witness something so far out from the limited purview of my world and beliefs I hold. Faith and belief are very different things for me, as a strictly non-religious believer. It can get very comfortable and dangerously limiting to have a unidimensional view like mine, in the absence of exposure to other opinions and realities. My time in Benaras really shook the ground beneath the foundation of my current thoughts about faith, especially in the context of a country that’s growingly religiously fundamental. I’m glad for the wake-up call to re-assess where I stand. I’m grateful for the opportunity to view what faith looks like for people in worlds so different from my own. To witness what it must be like to surrender faith and suspend belief to this extent, to give in blindly to something beyond oneself.

<3

Looking at Benaras through the lens of faith really brought home the immense polarity and duality in our world. This rock that floats in the expanse of nothingness is a simultaneously harsh and gentle place. It is equal parts enraging and inspiring. It holds its fair share of maddening, infuriating truths, as it does moments of tenderness and beauty. All of that sat front and centre, quickly in just a few days. Seeing up close and personal, the deeply emotional cycle of birth, life, celebration and degradation, and eventually death, held up against a vividly unemotional canvas, I felt a resonance and a renewed definition of being in agreement with life and all that comes with it.

The last thing I expected this trip away to do was send me down an inconclusive, meandering path, thinking. This was a trio unlike many others we have taken, for various reasons but I think VC described it the best yesterday: this was a trip that demanded some soul searching out of us.

It was so refreshing. So unexpected. And for that, it will be unforgettable.

One year ago: The real, deep-down you is the whole universe
Three years ago: How we’ve aged (part 2)

The food, the food

Be warned: this is a picture-heavy post.

This trip was all about the food, for me. I had a pre-planned list of things I wanted to taste, and I am happy to have knocked it all off except for the bhaang which although I was keen to try, just looked so dodge when I saw how it was made that I suddenly had cold feet and didn’t feel ready to experiment with.

Right off the bat I have to say we didn’t have a single non vegetarian meal through out this trip. Now, this is very easy for me to do. While I enjoy eating meat, it’s not a crucial component of a good meal for me. I can go days, and in fact I prefer this, with simple, hearty, vegetarian food. But VC is the kind of person who needs meat. So for him to admit he didn’t miss eating meat at all said a lot.

Our very first meal was breakfast on day 1. We dumped our luggage in the hotel and started weaving our way through the narrow lanes looking for a “breakfast place”, realising very soon that there are no “places”, just beautifully characteristic hole-in-the-wall type establishments with giant kadhais set over hot coals, right at the foot of the store, inviting you with an array of smells.

Kachori-aloo-jalebi is the staple Benarasi breakfast and I wanted to try nothing else. We ducked into the first joint we found because a) it smelt so good and b) a cow was blocking the road ahead.

Turns out they call them kachoris, but they’re actually puris mildly stuffed with something (I couldn’t figure out what, exactly.). For a mere Rs 25, we got a stack of kachoris, a dona of aloo curry — this place had a curry mix with aloo, black channas and kabuli channa faacckkkk — and a couple of hot jalebis. Uncleji handed it to us and watched us for a minute as we tried to juggle all the hot stuff in our hands,  side stepping piles of you-know-what, looking for a place to settle and eat. Kindly, he invited us in. Behind the stove that was right at the entrance to the store, he had two small tables squashed into a room blackened with years of soot from cooking over charcoals. Warm, smiling and just so hospitable, it was a sharp contrast to what people had psyched us about “watching out for” people before trusting them.

Rubbish, I tell you. Across the board, the people of Benaras were nothing short of lovely, warm and helpful. We didn’t have a single bad experience, and I was happy to have my faith in my innate tendency to trust first, until proven wrong, reaffirmed. Of late I’ve been told I’m too quick to trust, and I find that I had begun to sometimes second guess my instincts. I was happy to be proven wrong.

Breakfast was so sumptuous and filling, and was followed by adrak chai and a morning of roaming around the ghats white VC scouted for spots to shoot over the next few days. I just took in the sights, smells and sounds. Benaras had already begun to gob-smack me, taking me in fully from the get go with its bizarre mix of heavy character and just so much life, along with the inherent paradoxes that are so hard to miss. It’s a city that you sense heavily, feeling it under your skin.

We managed to sneak a boat ride in too, and returned to the hotel in time for check-in. We had landed into a 15 degree post-winter morning, but by noon the sun had come out full force, the heat was searing and dry and we realised it was going to be the kind of trip where we spend a bulk of the day indoors. So we lugged back a couple of beers each into our room, fully expecting to skip lunch thanks to the heavy breakfast and settled in to Netflix and chill.

But that was not to be. In a couple of hours we got hungry, but I suspect it was more a curiosity about what we could taste next. We scoped out the closest chaat bhandaar, one of the highest rated ones in Benaras was 400 mt away from us, so we walked there.

We sampled the gol gappas (good), the papdi chaat (excellent), palak chaat ( beyond excellent!), a samosa chaat (it didn’t do much for me — the masalas in the samosa and the gravy they pour over it was an overkill), aloo tikki chaat (much nicer because the tikki itself was mildly spiced, lending just that required starchy potato-goodness that allows the flavours of the chaat to shine through) and the local specialty: tamaatar chaat, which I thought was no big deal. It was essentially a cooked curry of tomatoes, tangy and spicy, covered in a medley of chaat-y toppings like imli ki chutney, green chutney, spice powders and dahi, showered in crunchy sev-like thing (which in Benaras is chunky and shaped like pellets).

Dinner on day 1 was late, and because we didn’t feel up to venturing out a third time in the day to look for food, we slipped into one of the many local “shuddh shakahaari bhojanalays” and packed rotis cooked over hot coals, with sabzi and dal. So satiating and hearty, consumed in bed while binge watching Made In Heaven.

The next morning we set off to catch the sunrise over the ghats, which was a good two hour affair, of which one hour was spent on another boat ride along the entire length of about 25 ghats. This had us occupied and quite frankly just so engrossed, I didn’t realise it was breakfast time. On our way out, we discovered a stall that served what is easily the best tapri chai I’ve ever had in my life. Non-boiled, but just so kadak and good. It was so good that VC, the desi-style chai lover of the two of us, admitted to it being the best tea he’d had and came home and tried to replicate what he’d seen of the chaiwalas method.

But the star of that stop was the bun-maska. OMG. 100 gms of Amul butter spread over 4 buns that were toasted over a smoky charcoal fire, that we dipped in hot tea and gobbled before it fell into soggy blobs into the glass. JUST SO EFFING GOOD.

We made two pitstops at this tapri over the next two days and the bun-maska-wallah had figured I was a fan. I don’t know, maybe the incessant picture taking gave it away?

That bun-maska was just a appetiser, and the real breakfast that followed was this kachori-puri-jalebi, which at another joint was a medley of vegetables — potatoes, carrots, peas and cauliflower. Equally delicious, but so heavy we’d started to share a single portion between the two of us.

I saved the best for last. This right here is the crowning glory of the food we ate in Benaras and since it is only made and enjoyed in the winter, Im so glad we managed to catch it.

This here, is malaiyo, a fluffy airy, cloud-like form of cream and full-fat milk. I’m told it is traditionally churned a day in advance and left out in the open over a cold winter’s night so the dew that settles on it, over the course of the night, helps hold up its airiness.

It looks like rabri, but has the texture and mouth feel of something that beats the best tiramisu pants down. It is quite literally like eating a cloud of rich, saffron and pista rich rabri. There’s no biting it, because it just disappears in a pool of air in your mouth. It is only available before 11-o clock because the heat causes it to collapse so even if you step out as early as 6 am, you’ll find street vendors with giant vats of malaiyo along the way to the ghats.

Our breakfast was fixed, 90% meals comprised entirely chaat, and the remaining 10% was a roti-sabzi affair. VC sampled the famed Benarasi paan on three occasions, but claims none of them really appealed. I am not a paan-eater. I have in fact never tasted the thing and I refuse to even try it, so I could not vet his opinion.

***

And here’s some pictures of the people who made the food, people who fascinated me as much as the food did.

Even though he doesn’t look it here, this was the extra warm, hospitable uncle who gave us space to sit and enjoy our hot breakfast on day 1
Fresh kachoris
Laung Latika (a crispy pastry pocket filled with mava and finished off with a single clove pressed through it) in the making
Mr Malaiyo, my favouritest food-person
Bestest chai tapri just outside Dashaswamedh Ghat
Piles of kachori-sabzi every morning
Benarasi paan-wala who failed to please

One year ago: We form our own boundaries