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Work. But also life.

19 Jan

I started 2017 with a couple of mini work goals. One, to send out a minimum of 20 pitches every week. And second, to just consistently do it without losing heart or feeling wasted.

I did the former fairly well, but semi-sucked at the latter. It has to be noted that the second half of last year saw me rolling way back on the effort to find new work. With everything else going on I was consistently only just doing enough to keep me going, and stay in touch. So I kind of began January with a clean slate that needed to be filled from scratch. That’s a scary place to be especially when your bank balance is slowly diminishing and there are bills to be paid. So my restless self began to despair just one week into January.

Why won’t people respond soon?

Why can’t my emails just be acknowledged, even if it is to politely reject my idea?

How long should I wait before I move on?

Maybe I should try something else.

Consistency has never been one of my strengths. I have the attention span of a housefly most days, and the patience to stay with something even when it seems like nothing is moving comes in bursts and spurts. So I hoped that this would be an exercise in gaining some chill. And getting it to stay

Additionally, the ups and downs of last year, the number of weeks I took off from work has meant that the motivation to keep writing has also been sporadic. Even though I did write something every single day, turning it to work is another thing entirely.

I’ve had numerous instances of giving up too easily, way too often. I really want to change this. To eork hard in the true sense of the word. Not only when I have a deadline having over my head. I want to taste the sweet success that comes from slow, but persistent consistency. I don’t think I have ever focused on cultivating that with my work. 

I was hoping to give this a shot by focusing harder on making a daily habit of pitching. The idea being that in order to do this successfully, I’d have to work on having a lot more ideas in the bank (which would mean having my thinking and working caps on even when I have no assignments on hand) and working doubly hard on turning accepted stories in (assuming they’d convert faster!) on time, to keep the ball rolling.
After one week of what felt like thankless pitching, I was disheartened when I didn’t receive as many responses as I’d expected. Maybe folks were still surfacing from the holidays? Maybe my emails weren’t good enough? Maybe they got lost in the slush-pile? I don’t know what it was. But I got no bites. Just a lot of crickets.

I took the weekend to regroup and decided I need to really, truly just chill out, and for once in my life focus on the process, trusting it wholeheartedly, doing the task at hand with sincerity and intention, without lusting over the results, or obsessing about how fast or slow they are to come.

And that right there was the hardest part. Not the idea generation. Not the writing of numerous LOIs. Not the combing the internet for contacts. Not the actual pitching. Just the pushing aside of all thoughts of why and how, stomping down on that imposter syndrome that is constantly trying to make a comeback, waving away the self doubt and fear. And just. keeping. my. head. down. and doing. it. day. after day.

Several days later, suddenly, smack in the middle of the week, I landed 4 stories in 2 days. Including breaking into another international site that’s been on my wish list for ages, one Indian glossy (it’s a really small piece, but still!), one international print mag, and one essay — and this last one has been the most satisfying conversion of this week. It’s an excerpt from a memoir I attempted to write not so long ago, but gave up on after much deliberation. For a year now I’ve been wanting to pick bits of it to turn it into publishable essays so at least some part of it sees the light of day. It took me one whole year to get cracking believe I can do this. And surprisingly just 2 days to land the story. Remind me again, why I didn’t do this sooner?

I think the hard work that went into keeping calm is what is at play here. I’ve been consciously spending significantly lesser time on all platforms of social media. Well, to be fair, I only use fb and instagram. I’ve returned to meditating and I begin every day with a big dose of affirmation. For this, I have A to thank.

I took up simple bullet journalling to keep track of my pitching, daily todos and wish lists and goals for three month and week. 

There’s the gratitude journaL, which I know is making a huge difference to my general state offer mind. I try and consistently stay positive, and be thankful for what I have and where I am and believe that it is enough. Part of this means I’ve further cut down the noise – sticking to my routine, being goddamned adamant about not missing my workout, and meeting only a select few friends in whose company I feel uplifted and happy. It takes a little being selfish, and isn’t always easy. But it pays. 

Most importantly, I think it was the deliberate effort to brush aside negative thoughts that spark laziness, self doubt and the inevitable spiral of apathy that makes my motivation turn to a sorry trickle, that boosted my confidence. 

I know I’m a creature of habit. I need a vague framework of routine within which to play. I like having a plan most times. And I’ve been a firm believer in daily habits. So, if the mindful and deliberate effort to bring this all back to my life is putting some basics into place, I cannot complain.

Is this what mindfullness really is? I’m not sure. 

I have to also say though, it’s not all me. I gather an immense amount of confidence boosting motivation from my virtual writer friends. Even as a silent spectator privy to a host of discussions, being exposed to an amazing variety of work, being a fly on the wall in so many discussions about ethics, professionalism and the right/better way to approach situations I thought were rare, I’ve gained a lot.

Despite the spotty year I had, I was a bit amazed when I realised how much work I’d gotten done. Today too, I realised that from feeling motivated to aim higher, to do better and to expect to be paid more, from learning to deal with rejection to never giving up on my ideas, from going about this in a nice-to-have kind of fashion to turning it into a practice for my daily life, I really couldn’t have done this on my own. So much of my will to keep at this without giving up, comes from the inspiration of others who have surged ahead, and been there and done everything that I am now doing. Their unabashed and absolute generosity to share, with zero insecurity is refreshing. It has taught me to open myself up, offer help even when it isn’t asked for, and basically never hold back if I can help it.

Sometimes I feel like writing is just the medium. What I am working at, what actually gets bigger, better and sweeter in the process, is life.

For all the help I get, I’m so grateful.

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Two new pieces

13 Jan

The work genies have been good to me, and 2017 has started off on a good note. I’ve had two new pieces go live in two weeks, and I’m in talks with multiple folks for work that I’m compulsively trying to fit into my pipeline. Exciting times because I haven’t felt this motivated, positive or content with my work (save for a few snatches last year) in a while. Of course, just when things felt like they were going swell, I had a really slow, procrastinate-y day yesterday. Because, you know, things have to be evened out. If it feels like things are too good to be true, they probably are, and all that. And what good ever came form that kind of consistency, pthooeyy.

Anyhoo, this piece, my first (hopefully of more to come!) for Momentum.Travel: vignettes about my love for tea and buns, weekend breakfast or evening snacks had at local cafes in Panjim. I feel compelled to say that while writing this, I made a couple of trips to these cafes – to look around some more, to tale pictures, and to eat of course. It happened to be right after November 8. And on one particular evening, I have a distinct memory of scraping together all the change we could find between the two of us, so R and I could share one plate of buns and channa. It’s a moment that was telling, for several different reasons. And a moment I won’t forget in a rush.

Then there was this piece that was in the bank for – goodlorrrd – way toooo long. Apart from being a very satisfying story to research and write, it was a big of a win for me because I (sheepishly at first) learned that it’s okay to move a story when you’ve done all you can to see it through, but it’s just sitting on the bench for reasons that aren’t clear, or don’t work for you. Keep looking and find a way to tell the story you want to. After waiting almost seven months to see this story live, I was convinced my efforts were down the tube and that it would never see the light of day with publication A. Until I saw a call for stories from Motherboard, a publication I never thought to pitch, and frankly never imagined I’d ever have something relevant to pitch to! But it happened. And I’m in a science mag. Even waiting seven months for a story to come out has a silver lining, I suppose.

Okay, that’s all. In case you’re keeping track, here’s where you can find it all: shiny, updated portfolio.

Have a good weekend. I’ll see you on the other side. Let’s not get too loony in the aftereffects of the full moon and Friday, 13th.

(I know I’m trying.)

Inconsequential posts you really don’t need to read

12 Jan

You know you’ve been off the grid and out of the work force for far too long when you feel the need to prep for a skype call. I still take my appointments seriously. Half an hour in advance, I decided I needed a cup of tea. I figured ten minutes before the call would be a good time to make it. So I did. And then I made the evening snack choice, grabbing the entire bag as opposed to the usual, taking a small portion in a bowl. It was a new client, and I wasn’t sure how long this call was going to be. I didn’t want to be stick on a call, tethered to my system, snacks just out of my reach. So I set myself up. Snacks within arms reach, mug of tea close at hand, I was ready for the call. Only to realise it was a video call.  And the only thought I had was, fuck the snacks, I need to wear a bra.

So much for prep.

*****

Battle scars. It’s what I call them. The scars I don’t notice. The scars I’ve resigned myself to perpetually bearing. Honestly, it’s because I don’t register them when contact happens, because I’m usually too involved in boomboompowpow to register it happened. But a few hours later, the bruise tells a completely different story. And I only realise something is wrong. Usually when I’m standing in queue at the checkout line in the supermarket and I see the group of aunties behind me staring strangely at my arms. Or when I go waxing and the parlour waali inquires about the bruises that to her shifty eyes look suspiciously like marks of domestic abuse. Or when I go from one class to the next and people ask really what happens in my other class. So I just say, battle scars.

*****

Early this week I felt major pangs of missing my friends. Like proper, tugging-at-my-heart feelings that I’ve felt only for boys I loved. The kind of intensity that has in the past made me abandon everything on the spot and rush to be with them. I think it’s the first time that I can remember it has happened with my friends. I told them as much. I said this feels like we’re all in a long distance relationship, we need to reunite soon.

So we’re working on that.

Hah.

*****

I’ve started a wee little habit. Gratitude journaling. Inspired last year by N, who mentioned it several times, and even did a month long challenge on more than one occasion. Then I did it briefly when I took on a 10 day abundance activity. I found it surprisingly revelatory, because it forced me to really zero in on the tiniest things that I am happy about and grateful for. In a year when I felt a lot of discontent, scarcity and unsettledness, this helped build a solid base of positivity. I now know what it means to operate from a place of abundance. It’s a state of mind that has helped me coast through many a low day. So this year I’m attempting to do it for as long as I can. I considered doing it online, in the name of being accountable. But seeing as how I’m working towards completely stopping all social posting, save for work updates, and this blog, that plan was quickly abandoned. And I went back to a good old journal.

Red ink <3 yellow light. Handwritten.

Twelve days in, I can safely say it’s the best ten minutes of every day. No matter what the day has been like.

Have any of you tried this? Any insights for a noob?

Happier: perpetual WIP

10 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

ds-happy-02

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

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

2016

5 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Day 366: December

31 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 365: All the books I read this year

30 Dec

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

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

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

3 best reads of the year:

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

3 most forgettable reads of the year:

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

And here’s the whole list:

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

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

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

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

Day 364: Redemption reading

29 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 363: Rewind

28 Dec


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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your body, use it every way you can

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

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

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

Read the directions even if you don’t follow them

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

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

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

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

Understand that friends come and go

But a precious few, who should hold on

Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle

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

You knew when you were young

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

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

Travel, accept certain inalienable truths

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

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

Prices were reasonable, politicians were noble

And children respected their elders

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

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

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

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

It will look eighty-five

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

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

Wishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off

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

But trust me on the sunscreen.

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

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

And deal with it they did. So gracefully.

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

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

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

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

And thank god for that.

Day 362: Time

27 Dec

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

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

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


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

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

Day 361: Spinning the wheel

26 Dec

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

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

Today, I feel no different.

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

 

 

Go well, GM.

Day 358: Home is where the yellow roses are

23 Dec

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


Day 357: Cutting the fat

22 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

Day 356: Book post, of course

21 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 355: Too much nature ho gaya

20 Dec

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

Just look at this, will ya?

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Day 354: Old and mighty

19 Dec

There’s nothing larger and more powerful than slices of mighty nature to make you feel small, insignificant and futile. Whether it’s sitting at the very edge of a long beach that seems to go on for miles, watching the waves as they relentlessly come and go, or standing perched at tip of a cliff, surrounded by rows and rows of undulating hills. And wondering what might happen if your knees buckled, or you lose your footing. Something about the sheer age and might of the forces of nature make me feele xtra vulnerable, fragile and completely destructible.

Driving through this eucalyptus plantation really put it in perspective, as I felt myself shrink, feeling utterly minuscule and powerless. It reminded me instantly of one of my favourite quotes from The Untethered Soul.

You’re sitting on a planet spinning around in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Go ahead, take a look at reality. You’re floating in empty space in a universe that goes on forever. If you have to be here, at least be happy and enjoy the experience. You’re going to die anyway. Things are going to happen anyway. Why shouldn’t you be happy? You gain nothing by being bothered by life’s events. It doesn’t change the world; you just suffer. There’s always going to be something that can bother you, if you let it.

Yes, the allure is in the size. But it’s also in the sheer might of scale. It’s in the weight of ancient wisdom that bares down on your, the crisp mountain air that breathes life back into your lungs, and in the sparkle of life that shimmers through in places you never seem to look.

Day 351: Misty mountain hop

16 Dec

For as long as I can remember, the winter cold has been a source of many a fun time coming to a sorry, sniffly end. It’s not just the winter, though. In my years in Bangalore, the frequent slightly-more-than-minor dip in temperatures that followed the frequent spells of rain typical to Bangalore, saw me bundled up in sweaters and shawls, socks and slippers indoors too. I have distinct memories of wishing my uniform had trouser just to escape the draft that came in through the open doorway on my bus. In college, when I was free to wear whatever the hell I pleased, jeans became my unofficial uniform for the same reason. My college was  along way away from home, and the journey involved changing two buses in the early Bangalore morning weather. I had a wardrobe replete with full sleeved pullovers, woollen tops, plaid and knitwear, and the odd polo neck too. We had “winter wear” too. The button down granny sweater to be worn at home, a sporty jacket, a hoodie, and a sweatshirt that worked with everyday college clothes. I’d even stretched the arms extra long, all the better to dig and snuggle my fists into, and made tiny holes where my thumbs would stick out from. This, long before the thumb-hole became a thing.

Of course all of this was discarded and/or packed away when I moved to Goa, which has barely a smidgen of winter. Certainly nothing to warrant precious real estate in my cupboard being wasted on “winter wear”. Worse, my body has unlearnt what little it did to manage or deal with the cold, rendering me progressively immobile and useless as temperatures drop.

It’s why in our very own Goan winter where temperatures teeter delicately in the early-mid twenties, in November and December, I feel the need to pull out a pullover or a jacket. And it’s also why I always carry a jacket to the movie hall, regardless of the season or weather outside. It is also why, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve stayed away form visiting Leh or Ladakh. Im mortally afraid I will just buckle in the cold and be a vegetable, unable to do anything or enjoy very much.

I realised how much living in a hot place impacts not just the clothes you wear, but your entire wardrobe, accessories, footwear and the way you process weather too, when I began to pack for this trip a few days ago. Since the start of the week, I’d been furiously googling the weather, only to be frightened by the single digit night time temperatures being reported there. I then messaged S to say I was preparing to turn into a semi-icicle.

I realised I don’t own closed shoes anymore, aside from the two pairs of sneakers I can only wear to the gym. I distinctly remember saving two full sleeved tees, for a rainy cold day, somewhere so safe I couldn’t find them, of course. I’ve distributed, given away, donated what was once my rather large collection of stoles and scarves because I got tired of storing them and watching them lie in abject neglect. At least they’ll get used this way, I told myself. Thankfully I’ve been recently gifted a couple of rather pretty (and warm) scarves, so there’s that. But for the rest, I’m banking on snug jeans, and layering up in two jackets, with scarves for good measure. And socks, plenty of socks. Which would be worn inside slippers. Such a winter fail, but I was not about to rush out and but a new pair of shoes just for a 5 day trip.

I shuddered to think about the temperatures all the way here. And last night, I needed the whole shebang — jeans and tee, jacket, a shawl over it, socks and footwear — when outdoors.

But all my worry faded away when I woke up to this view.


And I followed it up with an hour of sitting in the sun, reading, until I felt blind from the crisp light reflecting off my page.

Unlearning the ways of the winter, a tropically trained body and fears of frostbite aside, I have in recent time, realised I miss the winter. I crave colder climes. I long to wear warm clothes and be bundled up in layers.

From niggling yearning for a change of climate, it’s turned into a raging need for the cold again. It had to happen at some point, I guess. The first of it hit me in August, in Wayanad. And today, as I stared out at the clouds slipping through the valley, kissing the mist that cleaved the tea bushes, that mighty feeling that I have held down with some difficulty, in recent time, reared its head once again.

Should I stay, or should I go?

I’m at that point where cooler weather is calling out to me. Misty mountain tops are making balmy seaside scenes feel overrated. The hills are competing with the sea.

And it’s getting very, very hard to remain loyal.

 

Day 350: Ohhaii again, Bangalore

15 Dec

I touched down in cold, cold Bangalore yesterday.

I cannot believe how lucky I’ve been this year, with umpteen trips back home to visit this city, my folks and some of my fondest friends. 

I love love love Banvalore in the winter. Post cyclone weather has been splendid. My nose and toes are perpetually cold and it’s hard to fight the snuggle up with tea and books kind of vibe. 

Bangalore has been the starting point of many trips out from here. And this time it is no different. I’m off on a roadtrip with S. Somewhere hilly. Somewhere amidst the clouds. Somewhere surrounded by tea. And somewhere a lot colder than Bangalore, methinks. Brrrrmmmm. 
 

Day 349: Indian Women Speak Out About Choosing Not To Have Children

14 Dec

I’m stoked to be finishing the year with a couple of pieces that have been amongst the funnest stories to write, most wonderful and enriching writing experiences, for outlets that have really been an absolute pleasure to work with. The first, is an essay about what it’s like for some childfree Indian women. It also touches heavily on one of the books on the topic that has deeply influenced me. I’m especially happy that I was able to interview my very own tribe of women who have embraced the choice, who I have befriended n the last 5-6 years of my life, who were willing to share their opinions and experiences with me. It’s likely the last of my rambles on the topic. Phew.

The version below is an initial, and longer, edit of the piece that was eventually published on The Establishment.

Selfish, Shallow, And Self-Absorbed? Five Indian Women On Remaining Childfree.

In many Indian homes, the intensely personal decision to have a child is not limited to the space between spouses, and certainly not women alone. I often joke that discussing procreation and being inquisitive about people’s desire to further their progeny is a national pastime.

I’ve had distant relatives  — people I don’t know too well — feel no hesitation to check about my plans to start a family. But it’s not limited to relatives making polite conversation at family gatherings alone. Friends report being grilled about their reproductive choices at staff meetings, conference calls, job interviews, and even first dates. There’s just no winning even with a baby in tow – one-time mothers are often chided about not having a second child, and ones with daughters pressured into having another in the hope that it will be a boy.

Despite my society’s obsession with it, I was initially ambivalent to the prospect of motherhood. Culturally, it’s deeply ingrained as a crucial milestone of adulthood, so I believed that sooner or later I would ‘lean in’ and accept it. Over time,this ambivalence turned to clarity that motherhood was not for me. For one, I never felt the pangs of maternal instincts so many women speak of. Thankfully, the myth that all women want children has been busted. Also, I couldn’t think of a single aspect of my life that I wanted to off-load (even temporarily) to make room for a child. But most of all, I intuitively knew that motherhood just didn’t call out to me.

As an Indian woman, my decision to not have children meant facing a barrage of intrusive questions, fielding off unsolicited advice, steeling myself from unwanted ‘treatments’ and ‘fixes’ – all offered to correct this ‘obvious flaw’. There is a common notion that motherhood “completes” a woman in a way nothing else can, and I felt lonely in my choice.

I was 31 when I stumbled on Megan Daum’s anthology Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision NOT to Have Kids — a book of essays about a range of experiences of writers, men and women of varied sexual orientation, living a childfree life. In this anthology, I found comfort, peace, and a sort of camaraderie that made me feel less isolated about eschewing motherhood.

It was only in my 30s, that I found company in a tribe of Indian women who echoed my sentiment. They listened, without belittling or rushing to offer a solution to alter my thinking.

Having faced their share of meddling questions and conjecture about their reproductive choices, I knew they’d appreciate the essays in Daum’s book as much as I did. I set out to talk candidly with four friends about the book … and gain insight into their own decisions to challenge motherhood – a concept so inextricably linked with my culture’s ideal of the perfect woman.

***

“I don’t hate children. The children of family and friends are much loved and pampered by me,” my friend Chandni starts off. “Just because I don’t want my own, do not assume that I won’t be interested in activities involving children.”

Contrary to the most common assumption about being child-free by choice, like Chandni, I do not hate children. Nor do I hate people who choose to have them. Our inability to acknowledge the possibility that some of us are simply not excited by a life caring for little ones, is dismissive of our agency to find purpose in places and activities outside of motherhood.

Roshni is 40 years old and an accomplished author. She tells me that motherhood didn’t particularly ever appeal to her. She finds the lives of whose with kids, stressful, burdened, and not enviable. But social conditioning runs deep, and she bore some guilt acknowledging a future without motherhood.

On finding solace within Daum’s book, she says: “The book provided some useful reference points to help me begin letting go without feeling unnecessary guilt or attachment to ideas I had been holding on to as a consequence of social conditioning.”

We both agreed that Pam Houston exemplifies this in her essay “The Trouble With Having It All”: “What if I’ve always liked the looks of my own life much better than those of the ones I saw around me?…What if I have become sure that personal, freedom is the thing I hold most dear?”

Accepting what is right for you, even if it means embracing an unpopular choice, requires conviction and courage in a society that has no trouble exerting its opinion on you at every turn.  Often it means going against the grain and shunning motherhood even if it looks like a weakness or selfishness.

***

I would love more well-meaning aunties to read Daum’s  introduction: “It’s about time we stop mistaking self-knowledge for self-absorption.”

The book does a fantastic job of plainly presenting the spectrum of reasons to choose a life without children. My friend Shilpa says it took her upwards of 30 years to really grow into herself as a person, become comfortable with her body and in her own skin. The idea of stepping into motherhood and inevitably unsettling that newfound comfort therefore never appealed to her. Her favourite essay, “Mommy Fearest” by Anna Holmes, states: “These days, as I enter my forties, I find that I am only now beginning to feel comfortable in my own skin, to find the wherewithal to respect my own needs as much as the others’, to know what my emotional and physical limits are, and to confidently, yet kindly, tell others no. Despite (or because of) my single status right now, becoming a mother would feel like a devolution as much as an evolution.”

Even the most self-assured women amongst us, cannot sidestep the painful possibility of waking up to realise that perhaps, we made the wrong choice. In “Beyond Beyond Motherhood” by Jeanne Safer, one of the most relatable pieces for me, she says, “There is no life without regrets. Every important choice has its benefits and its deficits, whether or not people admit it or even recognize the fact: no mother has the radical, lifelong freedom that is essential for my happiness. I will never know the intimacy with, or have the impact on, a child that a mother has. Losses, including the loss of future possibilities, are inevitable in life; nobody has it all.”

***

I sometimes wonder if being selfish about what I want of and for my life is really such a bad thing. More so when I consider the crucial fact that in most Indian families childcare is shouldered almost entirely by women. Even the most hands-on father will never experience pregnancy, childbirth, recovery or breastfeeding, leaving women to be primary caregivers.

In “Maternal Instincts” Laura Kipnis, debunks the idea that society favours parents. “Until there’s a better social deal for women—not just fathers doing more child care but vastly more social resources directed at the situation, including teams of well-paid professionals on standby (not low-wage-earning women with their own children at home)—birthrates will certainly continue to plummet.”

Nisha lives in Chicago, with immediate family across the world. The distance from this support system means she has to carefully consider everything that she will need to give up in order to transition to parenthood. “If it was easier to visualize a life with children I bet more women would choose it. But without help from family or financial resources to hire people to take care of cleaning, babysitting, shopping etc, it’s definitely not an easy choice.”

Increased dialogue around this means we’re also opening ourselves up to the idea that it’s okay to make this choice. We find common ground in circles of likeminded folks. We join Facebook groups for childfree people, we share essays, books, resources, and we engage with others, who like is, acknowledge that parenthood and living a wholesome, meaningful life are not mutually exclusive.

I’m a willing and happy auntie not just through blood ties but through bonds of friendship of my choosing, and I have, at various points, contributed to and been a part of some milestones in parenthood along with my closest friends.

Like Daum says, “These essays have so many people talking about the ways that they do have relationships with kids, nieces or nephews or kids that they mentor. You’ve heard the cliché ‘it takes a village.’ There are so many ways of being a responsible villager,” she says. I couldn’t agree more.

(A version of this story appeared on The Establishment.)

Day 348: The last of the books for 2016

13 Dec

Chuffed by the realisation that I have, by some strange twist of fate, read more books than I planned to, caved and committed to a reading challenge on Goodreads.

 

Very conveniently, I set it up at the end of the year based on the very encouraging (for me) progress I realised I’d made. And I set it up to reflect at a very safe, easy 2-books-a-month average, which is more or less the pace at which I’ve moved. I know, so much chitting. But anyway, I wrapped it up with these two books.

Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay
Essays that delve into the lives of women, marriage and feminism have strangely become a theme for the year. I’ve really dipped myself into non-fiction side of things and while there have been many loved books, this one is the best read of the year.  In Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay touches on aspects of feminism that I have grappled with a lot this past year. It is feminism at the core, but it is also so much more. With dexterity, she beautifully weaves in allied topics, such as race, privilege, cultural influences such as music, popular television, movies, news and media into the way it shapes and transforms current day feminism. As a woman of colour, she talks about how feminism has evolved and shaped her identity. She amplifies the need to raise feminist issues from the perspective of women of colour, and that is where I found the book so relatable. She’s spectacularly insightful, raising delicate issues with the sharp, incisive stand that they sometimes need.  She’s got the right blend of wit, seriousness, fact and opinion which makes most of her arguments hard to refute. Especially as a woman of colour. Most of all, this book really touched me because the central premise, as outlined in her introduction is about why she calls herself a Bad Feminist. This is something I grapple with a lot – as I find my opinions around feminism shifting, evolving, with every new nuance that I am made aware of, every experience that unfolds a new facet that I may not have previously acknowledged, and every time I am made aware of any of the many privileges that I have – I find my feminism might refusing to fit the sometimes watertight boundaries of “good” feminism. This book was comforting in its description of an ever changing, fluid kind of not-one-size-fits-all feminism, which is honestly what we need today.

This is a book every woman must read. You can find my favourite essay in this post.

Love Warrior: A Memoir, Glennon Doyle Melton
Simply put, this is the true story of Glennon Doyle Melton’s journey through self-discovery as she puts the pieces of her life back together after a long and supposedly stable marriage falls apart. However, it is as much a story about coming of age as it is about a woman reclaiming her identity and finding her feet again. This, I’m beginning to think is a never-ending journey in my own life, and therefore a theme that will appeal to me at all times. Told as a memoir, the book is a story about healing, forgiveness (of oneself, primarily!) and learning to accept with grace the situations where life forces us to unlearn some of our habits, attitudes, philosophies we hold true. Through the work Doyle does in getting herself back together after her marriage breaks, you can expect to learn a thing or two about reclaiming your identity and moving towards living a life of honesty and authenticity.

I’m happy with the selection of books I managed to cover this year. The themes that have emerged are clear and  so reflective of the phase I’m going through. I’m hoping for some enjoyable, light on the brain fiction in the coming year. However, this list is calling out to me already. So help me God.