Day 97: Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow

I’m thankful for having been introduced to the idea of being in agreement with the diverse, imperfectly-perfect, non-uniform, never-in-our-control, queer ways in while life sometimes unfolds.

I’m thankful for how much room for acceptance, how much courage to change my mind it has allowed. And I’m thankful for how much unexpected warmth and camaraderie that has opened up for me.

I’m grateful for the opportunity for a do-over, to be able to see things in a new light, and to allow this considerable opening of my very own narrow mind.

Two years ago: Day 97: Maybe I’m finally making my peace with being mediocre

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Day 96: Where the cares of the day seem to slowly fade away

I started writing a post about the syndrome of busyness, and how pronounced and in-my-face I find it is, in Bangalore, but there’s way too many thoughts jostling for space in my head, so I decided to let it simmer for a bit.

I feel especially aware and a little sensitive to the busyness trap, because I find myself finally moving towards an actual balance in this area of my life. And I don’t mean “work-life balance” because in my current context the term is severely inadequate.

The more I simplify my life, not just in terms of resisting spreading myself too thin, but getting to the heart of what it is I really, really want and which of those things brings me joy, the more I slow down and let things happen, I see how this balance is possible, and I realise why it has eluded me all these years. And I understand why conversations around how busy we are are becoming increasingly tedious and downright boring.

Is it a big city thing? Or do people actually just love to talk about what’s keeping them busy?

I don’t know when “So busy!” became the appropriate response to the good old “How are you?” but I find myself glazing over and tuning out the minute that a conversation veers in this direction.

Maintaining this balance is an ongoing effort in my life but one that I am only now paying conscious attention to, only because I’ve tasted the joy that comes from making room for that play, when Im not consumed by “work.”

But even that isn’t a fully internalised habit. I struggle to remember it at all times. I often forget to be thankful for the quiet, and in turn don’t notice all the good things that come from it. Some weeks ago my aunt said something to me, when I ranted to her about feeling lazy and unworthy just because I wasn’t able to crack the gym jinx and get my ass going already. She said:

These are necessary autumns of our lives.

It’s an idea that immediately stuck in my head. Autumn: a time of pause, regeration, when timecycles close as we inch towards new beginnings. It’s a natural slowing of energy, in anticipation of fresh starts, new canvasses.

It’s exactly the shift that I have been slowly internalising, what I have been indulging in and making conscious efforts to allow it to slip into every area of my life. Taking time off from all that I think I should be doing and allowing myself that incredible privilege of doing what I want to do and bringing time, attention and energy to the things that I know will actually fuel joy. It’s not in the money I make, the meals I eat out, the clothes I buy, the holidays I take. Yes all of that is essential, desirable and awesome but it isn’t the goal. They’re mere milestones along the way.

This realisation, about making room for the autumn, sitting with the quiet, sometimes the discomfort, accepting the uncertainty, loops back to several disconnected threads that have been weaving an all new outlook to life.

There’s no running away from finally understanding that Ive had it all wrong all this while. So I’m slowly but surely trying to cultivate the patience to correct this. It has meant giving myself these moments (frequent, long, unplanned) of pause. So crucial to having those moments of clarity which somehow only come in the silences in between. And so I must make space for the autumns. To rest, to re-worked, re-observe, re-grow.

I noticed today, driving to my meeting, that just as quickly as spring had sprung last month, the seasons have turned. And like in nature, with the trees, the wind, the clouds and the birds and the bees, that have set periods of rest, when the action is done. Just like there is a time for waiting and watching, when we’ve acted, sowed the seeds, set the ball in motion. Just like there is time for recharging energy, when we’ve spent it all, there is a need for set periods of regeneration. To breathe in a fresh breath of air. To sit still. To wait. And let nature take it’s course and do it’s thing.

Two years ago: Day 96: Busy bee day

Day 95: A life of stranger things

Brain worms for a Tired.Thursday

There’s this one thing about living and working in Bangalore, that I’m still grappling with, unable to come to terms with. The prevalent sense of time-keeping. Actually, I mean the general accepted levels of tardiness. In the beginning, I thought I was encountering stray cases, when everyone from the plumber to my landlady wouldn’t show up at a time even remotely close to the one committed to. There’s also the ever-prevalent time-sucking blackhole — unpredictable traffic — that is a legitimate reason for delays. I know and understand that sometimes even when you take traffic into consideration and leave early, there can be unexpected delays. That’s just how unpredictable it is. And yet, having said that, in the many, many months that we’ve been here, I have come to realise that it’s not just about arriving late, but about a general sense of time expanding and stretching as per convenience. Appointments aren’t kept with a start time in mind, they’re scheduled within a window of time. Or at least that’s the unsaid understanding, I think. Because if I had a rupee for the number of times I’ve arrived for a meeting and had to wait upwards of fifteen minutes (which is my standard grace time), I could have probably avoided opting for EMIs when I bought a new phone last month. Yesterday, I waited for 45 minutes for the person I was scheduled to meet. And this is after they had given me the time. I’m really beginning to think this casual tardiness is a cultural shift, rather than an outcome of circumstance.

***

What’s you opinion on the kind of passive aggression subtweeting allows? Have you ever been the butt of someones subtweeted (is that the right way to put it)? I’m a bit confused, and don’t know what to make of it. I ask because a couple of days ago, it came to my notice that I was the subject of a subtweet. I’m always flummoxed and amused when this happens, but I’m downright baffled when I am become the subject of a subtweet made by someone I don’t even know. I wish I could go into details and dissect it the way I am in my head right now, but I don’t want to name names (primarily because I don’t even know this person personally, but also because it would just be pointlessly passive aggressive. Not to mention, rude.) and then I’d also just be subtweeting right? So, no.

***

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a strangely high number of instances of minor injuries to my hands. A paper cut one day, a smashed finger the next, a hangnail, a kitchen-peeler incident, a scraped knuckle, a pinched pinkie — I’d probably have not even noticed if it weren’t all so focused around my hands and fingers. Also, they’ve all been seemingly small injuries, with disproportionately large inconveniences. The paper cut, like all paper cuts are known to be made it super awkward to get through the day without wincing every time the finger was stretched or bent. The smashed finger had me seeing white spots for five seconds and profusely bawling like a baby.  The pinched pinkie made it really hard to hold pretty much anything for the next three days, let me not tell you what it did to my driving and other essential activities.

***

And then, there was this cat in my basement last night.

I returned after a long day and noticed it in the basement, wailing in loud and long complains as I approached it, fully expecting it to dart and shoot off into the dark as cats are known to do. But no, she approached me fearlessly, accosted my feet, stepping all over them, digging her paws in, outstretched limbs, curved back. And then she proceeded to trace infinity signs, winding and worming her way around and between my feet, rubbing the entire length of her body, chin and face all over my ankles and shins. I could have so easily just picked her up and taken her home, but resisted temptation. I also thought she was just there to get her evening fix of love and then run off to spend the rest of her evening. But no, she followed me into the lift and made loud protests about not being allowed in.

Two years ago: Day 95: March

Day 94: Because everything is never as it seems

I’m grateful for medicine, the hospital and how quickly Niyu was able to spring back from her illness. I’m grateful for reiki. For D and K, and my in laws who pitched in with the healing.

I’m thankful for my mother, who is easily the best kind of mother in any crisis. She just knows how to put everything on hold and channel her entire being towards where it is most needed. I’m grateful for what I see and admire in her.

I’m grateful for idlis. Bangalore’s best, just outside the hospital, no less.

I’m thankful for having made it to the gym three days in a row. No questions, no expectations. Just getting up, getting going and moving.

I’m thankful for my body. For its cooperation, kindness and agility.

I’m thankful for the music that keeps me going as I make yet another attempt, this time with my focus shifted, resolve renewed. I’m thankful for the 180 degree turn in my head, and for what feels like going back to things the way they used to be — as far as exercise goes. I’m thankful for having waited this out to get where I am today, rather than rushing to find a quick-fix.

I’m thankful for R who has the best playlists. And for how he always has a smashing recommendation. Or three. Like so:

I’m thankful for the work that’s coming our way. For the possibilities that are opening up. For the gumption and courage not to compromise on what we want to do and where we want to be. I’m super grateful for the timely and reliable partners. For the few good clients that are such an incredibly rare breed in a sea of mostly assholes.

I’m grateful for the current ease around friendship. I’m thankful for those who have come and gone, for the purpose they served, for the lessons they brought. I’m very aware of and thankful for those who have stayed. And some time I’m humbled to find reminders of genuine friendship in people who I am least expecting it.

I’m grateful for the patience an the stillness. I’m grateful for the awareness. I’m thankful for the slow absorption that continues to happen.

I’m grateful for the relief of summer showers. I’m thankful for the respite from the heat and the dryness. I’m grateful for coconut oil from our farm. I’m grateful for breakfast mangoes.

Day 93: Out here without a shield

The last couple of weeks have been such an emotional rollercoaster, reminding me time and again, that in life, there is a place for the entire gamut of emotions. That even the pursuit of happiness brings with it a range of events that spark a range of emotions. And within them, a range of lessons waiting to be unwrapped.

The only way to get in on those hidden lessons it seems, is to allow myself to feel everything as fully as I possibly can. And for some reason, every single day in the last two weeks has given me at least one event that drove this point home. It started with my course, where every single day reinforced an aspect of life seen through the lens of accepting, facing and owning it’s consequences and embracing the lessons within. From acceptance, to boundaries, to the twisted unpleasant nature our lives sometimes take, to fear, to guilt, denial and giving an receiving love and support. There is no turning away from some truths when they arrive, knocking at my doorstep, in all their glory.

Then there were three days of endless free-wheeling conversations with K and D that further bubbled up so many of the feelings triggered over the three days in class.

Then there was a week of watching Niyu as she fell ill, dipped to a scary low, got taken to hospital and then nursed back. Even as she convalesces at home right now, I find myself thinking back to how family rallies together, how these situations bring us together and how much joy and togetherness there is to be found even in difficulty.

I’ve got the message. Loud and clear. This — the process of self discovery, mindfulness, living in the preset moment, call it what you will — isn’t about uniform happiness, or seeking joy alone. The joy is in the process, perhaps. But the process itself is punctuated with all kinds of loss. In these last few weeks alone I have been forced to face some of these losses — the loss of familiarity, of security in well-worn habits, of friendship as I once knew it. But perhaps, for the first time in forever, I found myself not phased or rattled when that realisation hit. Instead, I’ve found a new and comforting understanding that I’m still fumbling my way around, feeling in the dark and trying to make sense of.

Sometimes there is loss of the intangible kind — loss of a sense of self, of confidence in a strong aspect of my identity, of comfort in holding some things true only to have them turned around, or of control when change comes in big gusts and storms. Sometimes, though, when it feels like I’ve hit an insurmountable loss, I wait it out and realise that it is actually just a minor iteration — an opportunity to move one level up, rework the old and find a new normal.

I’m getting comfortable in that space in between the old and the new.

Loss is a crucial, and essential, part of making that journey and travelling that space in between. Riding close on the heels of loss, is fear. Fear of uncertainty, of the new, of the unfamiliar, of losing control, of breaking new ground. And of actually being better.

My coping mechanism when dealing with fear has always been to try and control it, in an attempt to bring some order to the chaos that change brings. It’s my way of regaining certainty. But, ever since I’ve tasted the sweet joy of approaching the chaos by allowing myself to be surprised, loosening my grip and fully feeling the fear, the disappointment and sadness (or whatever else that may ensue) that surfaces, I find myself staring at what lies beyond.

The good news, I’m happy to share is that the fear abates. Almost immediately. The fear that something’s changed, that I’ll have to inevitably face loss, that I will have to start over, that I am somehow smaller/lesser than the person I was before — it all just fades away when I commit myself to feeling through it rather than building a wall around myself to protect myself from it. Fear is reduces to a mere list of outcomes.

The even better news is that this has been the key to turning the corner — the inflection point — of fear. Of crossing over from just pure, crippling emotion to the lesson that lies in the light, just beyond.

I’ve said this before, the process of letting of of that which no longer serves me is essential to the process of rediscovery. Loss is important. But I realise now that so is fear, disappointment, rage, grief, and sadness and everything else that rides on that loss. Because if recent experience is anything to go by, when  I make the effort to stay with those uncomfortable feelings, it invariably affects me in deep sort of way. That is when I know that the loss means something, and I have always come out a better person for it.

The best news of all has been learning that loss is not just crucial, it is inevitable once you commit yourself to turning inwards. Yes, it is scary. Yes it gets messy as fuck, sometimes. But it’s the only way that I have been able to get closer to a desired level of vulnerability, empathy and acceptance. It’s the only way to trust that my emotions will show me the way.

Day 92: March

Last month in everyday-is-a-winding-road:

If I had only two words to describe what March was all about, they’d be family and work. And not necessarily gracefully balancing the two as near well as I’d have liked. But such is life, eh? We get along, we get better, and we get by.

March really was dominated by all things work, and when we weren’t at work, it was with family. Sending an inordinately huge amount of time at VCs, me spending time with my mum with the house left to our devices, Niyu’s illness that brought us all together, and squeezing in work in between it all — I feel like it’s just been one thing after another.

We had an uber-productive month as far as the business goes. Satisfying, creatively as well as monetarily. We even travelled out of Bangalore on assignment. And I can’t help but notice how when the going gets good, it’s really effing good. And yet, it hasn’t been the most orderly month. But that in itself has been revelatory. Yet again, pushing me to let go of the rails and the impossible urge to tame, control, curb and bring order to an energy that at the moment just won’t have any of it. I have to pat myself on the back and say I’m getting better at this. And for that, March has been really, really good.

I’m really not prepared for the dry, punishing heat that the summer has brought. But, there is the promise of fruit. A visit to our home in Goa, and a holiday in Thailand (again!), so we’ll get along, we’ll get better, and we’ll get by.

Last month, in things I published:
In India, fighting menstruation taboos that silence women

Last month, in what happened:

  1. On the heels of VC’s granny passing on, we rushed off on a work trip
  2. The entire days and all that time spent with VC’s family during the 13-day time of grieving gave me a lot of fodder to mull on. Not just about VC’s family, but about the ways of the patriarchy and maybe, just maybe, I even made some sense, some peace of it
  3. VC is getting awfully good at reading Oracle cards. I can no longer call these chance coincidences. Here’s a card he picked for me, that reflected my current reality perfectly
  4. I indulged in a little bit of TV and of course I had opinions, of course I did
  5. There was some rumination and music-related nostalgia, thanks to an unexpected Apple music trip
  6. Some more TV and movie-watching
  7. And when I finally got sick of being off the bandwagon, I squeezed in some quick reading, and managed to finish up some fun books

Last month, in Therapy and Healing:

  1. On turning down my aversions and being open to change
  2. On patience
  3. On re-learning boundaries
  4. On how empowering self-acceptance can be
  5. The story of my body as things stand right now

Last month, in New Beginnings:

  1. I’m making baby steps and learning something new
  2. New-found gratitude for a peaceful agreement with where I am

Last month, in Gratitude:

  1. Let’s get one thing straight now
  2. The real, deep-down you is the whole universe.
  3. Love, let’s talk about love
  4. I get the strangest feeling you belong

Two months ago: Day 32: January
One month ago: Day 60: February
Two years ago: Day 92: Fullness

Day 90: Slow change may pull us apart

Remember how I said I almost didn’t want to talk about how much I was reading, for fear of jinxing the good streak? Well, I think I kind of manifested just that. Like I mentioned, March had a very scattered energy and our days got a bit packed, unexpectedly. Invariably, this balancing act means letting go of a few things. I gladly let go of the (half-assed)attempts to get back to the gym, and unfortunately had to also go easy on the reading too. TV and movies seemed like the easier thing to go to. But, the last week of the month saw a frenzied sort of reading again, aided by two days spent sitting in the hospital, which is probably all the peace and quiet I needed to resume.

Here’s what I read this month:

Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro
This book came to me at just the right time. As I’m making peace with the way in which writing seems to be a part of my life — blurring the lines between work and play — I needed the validation, and the reaffirmation of the inexplicable pleasures and the maddening perils of this life. In Dani Shapiro’s honest, no-nonsense, witty and downright touching memoir about the writing life, I found pieces of myself. Especially in the bits that run over the inevitable self-doubt, the small triumphs, the persistence that the work just demands of anyone who were to delve into it, I saw my own experiences navigating this field the last five years of my life.

This wasn’t just an enjoyable read. It was a read that gave me a deep, deep sense of peace and satisfaction. I don’t want to go into too many details, because this  book deserves to be read, rather than be talked about. But I will say this, if you are a writer, (heck, if you’re even indulging remotely in a creative pursuit that requires you to suspend control and give in to the creative force that sometimes surges through you and demands a way out) any kind of writer, Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing is a gift you should give yourself.

In a series of delightfully honest vignettes, she presents not a guide on how t navigate the writing life, but a series of situations and events in her life that will likely be very very similar to your own. Read it for the validation, to know you’re not alone, and to fully realise just how special it is to have the opportunity to step into this role — to choose a creative path and see where it takes you.

I devoured this book, dipping into it late into the night and reading it every chance I got. (Dani has very quickly become one of those authors whose every single work I now want to read.)

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
At first, I found Little Fires Everywhere kind of slow in an over-indulgent sort of way. But I ignored the urge to be easily-distracted and persisted. Glad I did, because half way in, I realised that is a very deliberate style Ng employs towards a gradual but definitely-catastrophic climax. It’s the sort of slow, painful build-up towards the an inevitable tragedy you see coming, and you feel torn between speeding up to the end and tossing it over because it’s too painful to read.

Celeste Ng’s skill lies in her nuanced character-building. Detailed back-stories, elaborate descriptions, layered situations and a story arc that stacks up like lego blocks that must tumble in the end, this was such a read that required me to complete sink into it. Which is probably why, given how scattered this month has been and how little time I had to allow that kind of absorbed reading, it took me a while to finish.

Set in the 90s in America, the story touches on the intricacies of tightly-knit families, exploring in delicious detail the role of motherhood — fraught with angst, jealousy, pride and honour. It deftly exposes the many kinds of motherhood there can be, plainly showing how it isn’t always as glorious a role as it is made out to be. That it is in fact one of the hardest, toughest things women will ever do. And yet, will never be perfect at it. Highly recommend it.

This was a timely, poignant read for this time in my life.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Roxane Gay
I have read and loved Roxane Gay’s powerful writing before (especially loved Bad Feminist), but with Hunger I have become an ardent and most dedicated fangirl. I will give anything to be able to witness her speaking, it’s become a life-goal now.

I feel like Roxane Gay should be essential reading for men and women everywhere, for her succinct, balanced and very hard-to-debate views on cultural mores and the way they stereotype and shape our evolution as a patriarchal society. If you’ve read any of her writing, even online, this is a given. But with Hunger, she blows the lid off the can and brings out a raw, gritty, no-holds-barred memoir of what she cals her unruly body. But in doing so, she touches on so many big and small issues around the subject of how we look at, judge and accept women’s bodies. And she gently traverses topics as diverse as reality television, food corporations, pop culture, her own Haitian heritage, sexual violence and so many little connections you wouldn’t otherwise make, while doing so.

Before I began, I read a review on Goodreads that claimed this book is Roxane Gay basically blaming all her issue son the world, and I thought to myself — that doesn’t sound at all like something she would do. This was happily confirmed in the plain no-vanilla, beautiful style that is Gay’s. This isn’t a book that asks you to feel sorry for her. It is simply a telling of things as they are, as they have been, of life as it has come to her.

Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.

It’s a deeply moving story though, and had me in tears in some parts, choked up with a knot in my stomach in others, wincing in pseudo-pain knees tightly clenched, in some others. So raw and real is her writing, and so relatable is so much of what she says, that I found myself in so so so many pages.

It’s a book that left me feeling gratitude and respect for my body. And deep shame and regret for the trauma we as a culture put that same body through.

This is a must, must read.

What I Know For Sure, Oprah Winfrey
I love Oprah. And I really wanted to love this book. But. I just. Couldn’t.

This is just a collection of many What-I-Know-For-Sure columns she’s penned for O Mag over the last many years. Which, upon reading, I realise is a very, very lazy way of creating a book out of content that seems like it has potential. The thing is reading a column is a very different kind of experience from reading a book. I can pass off and even agree with many of the feel-good, simple truths in a column because of the expectations I come with, and the format. But in a book? I want something more. Especially if it’s coming form Oprah. I want more. I don’t want to go away with just glib, superficial new-age babble that honestly just left me feeling very irritated. The way in which it is put together also does her words a disservice because it makes her come off sounding very privileged and out of touch with reality. I actually ended the book thinking she is actually very out of touch with reality, and it’s never nice having someone you admire fall in your eyes.

Avoid.

Two years ago: Day 90: Seeing the sun rise

Day 89: Please press pause, and try again

Still in the hospital, but things are slowly on the mend. On the bright side of it all is lots of peace and quiet, long hours of sitting in one place. We know what that means:

Two years ago: Day 89: Letting it go

Day 87: I get the strangest feeling you belong

The past week has just whizzed by me, completely blurred into one big space of time. It’s been busy in more ways than one, but it’s been a deeply enjoyable and satisfying kind of busy — long shoot days interspersed with meetings and four days spent with K and D who were visiting — that hasn’t been tiring or left me wishing for a break. In fact, I’ve felt more energetic and upbeat than I have in a while. Until I got the sniffles two days ago, that is.

I’m grateful for the deep, restful sleep I’ve been having. I’m thankful for air-conditioning, given how suddenly the heat has spiked.

I’m grateful for the amazing meal Niyu and I cooked early last week. I’m so thankful for the time we get together, and the special space that has emerged for VC, she and I to share. I’m thankful for the proximity that has allowed it. I’m grateful for a chance to witness a new kind of relationship with the same sibling I’ve had for all my life!

I’m thankful for Niyu’s hilarious, timely and poignant updates about my father, from Wayanad. It was all kinds of heartwarming to hear what he is up to, made more special through her eyes, and in her words.

I’m thankful for Amma’s lunches that are the saving grace of my life these days. I really, really love the quiet time it gives us together. There is a safety and security in that quiet togetherness that I am thankful for.

I’m grateful for the kind of work life that allows naps. This past week, more than I have in a long while, I have really indulged in deep, long afternoon naps.

I’m grateful for R sending that timely screenshot form Instagram, that led to a very unexpected sequence of events, conversations with VC, D and K. And therefore a much needed reality check. And consequent wisdom.

I’m grateful for alternative healing methods. And the access I have to it, through D and K. I’m so grateful for their visit. Even though they profusely thank us for opening out home up every time they visit, I don’t think they realise how enjoyable, and beneficial, their presence is for VC and I.

I’m thankful for the beautiful reading about the flow of Tao, and the immediate sense of liberation I felt.

I’m thankful for the doughnuts and the soan papdi we enjoyed last week.

I’m thankful for the long and winding conversations we had — the four of us — because I realise it is just the fuel I need at a time like now where I find myself unable to talk about much else (and it has left me with little to say, because very few people get what I’m on about)

I’m thankful for how happy VC has been with the sudden busy days of work.

I’m thankful for the exhaustion of a job well done. I’m thankful for the good work partnerships. I’m so thankful for the appreciation.

I’m so grateful for having finally sat my ass down to close the loop on some long pending assignments, invoice for them and have an influx of income.

I’m grateful for online shopping. I’m so glad for the solution to having fewer opportunities to be in a mall.

I’m grateful for my MIL who came over with a big bowl of her classic homemade chocolate mousse. I’m thankful for sugar. And all the dessert.

I’m grateful for the very primal kind of satisfaction that only a slice of hot garlic toast (freshly buttered, rubbed with raw garlic, hitting all the rights spots in one powerful punch) brings.

I’m thankful for the abundance. It always comes through, even when I’m expecting it monetarily, it’s flooding my life in other ways. All the damn time.

Day 86: Love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves

Today, I’m grateful for the trying-so-hard-to-be-wild party I got to witness from the sidelines this past weekend. Because just when my eyes were about to glaze over from utter and complete boredom, the DJ played this tune that I had somehow all but forgotten. And it hit me like a bolt out of the blue. In the nicest way possible.

I’m glad for the reminder. I’m glad for the chance to sing out loud. I’m glad for the absolutely smack-on lyrics that are simple, but really cut straight to the heart of things.

 

I’m grateful for the music.

And I’m grateful for the champagne. And the wine.

Day 85: Just go ahead, let your hair down

This is the story of my body

Last month, on a particularly sunny, lazy Sunday I took my FitBit off. And then, I never put it back on again.

I can’t believe I’m the kind of person who feels compelled to know how many footsteps I’ve walked, I thought.

It seemed like a small move, taking off my fitness band/watch/accessory without which my wrist had begun to feel a little incomplete. But, the penny had dropped.

This shift has been a long time coming. If you’ve been reading the blog since the start of the year, you probably already know I’ve acknowledged the damage getting on a food plan did to me, and more recently that I have been fairly troubled by my own unwillingness to hit the gym. I’ve watched myself slip off the bandwagon. Some days I’ve been tricked by my own devious mind into mistaking a sudden jolt of motivation to be the start of a swift slide back to the way things were, but no. This has not happened. My fitness habit, as I know it, has broken. And what I have watched with equal parts growing alarm, as well as a heart swelling with pride, my new found ability to let it go.

But the journey has not been smooth sailing, and not without its moments of doubt, shame, self-hate and deep sadness. It has taken me over two months to get down to writing about it.

You see, that in itself was my first clue – why is it suddenly so hard to write/talk about fitness? It’s one of my things. It’s what I do. I’m that person my friends call a human rubberband. I’m the one challenging members of my extended family to check out my flexed biceps. I once Instagrammed myself doing a handstand. I love lifting weights, watching my muscles grow and take shape. I love how powerful and strong that makes me feel. So why then, was I suddenly shy, ashamed and afraid to talk about what is going on with me?

I’ve realised only very recently that beyond the difficulty in trying to understand why I am no longer interested to bounce out of bed every morning and hit the gym, has been the difficulty in accepting that this very fundamental and crucial aspect of who I am is likely fading away.

I can’t believe I’m the kind of person who needs to see six green ticks per week on my FitBit workout calendar, to feel accomplished, I thought.

And yet, the struggle was real. Even as I denounced the obsession and promised to commit myself to a more relaxed, non-outcome oriented fitness practice, I have had moments of resisting my own good intentions.

This just can’t be. This is me, my body, and it jollywell do as I say. 

Of late though, I am find myself looking just a little bit deeper, at everything. Which is why a broken gym habit, couldn’t be just that. I had to look deeper to realise the roots of some body-shaming, some unhealthy obsession, and a whole lot of unrealistic expectations and standards that I was unconsciously holding myself to. One the one hand, it’s a crucial exercise in re-learning moderation habit formation and maintenance. But, within me, this has been yet another exercise of self-acceptance. Of acknowledging the shame and hate that I’ve inflicted on myself, under the garb of fitness and health.

The thing is, I’d come such a long way from the pursuit of slimness, to valuing strength, stamina and good health. But I realised, with a lot of disappointment and shame, that whatever it is I tried to do with the food plan I got on, had really undone all of it, and put me in a very vulnerable headspace. That’s really all it took to slip, to lose focus and go down a road that slowly ate away at a very crucial part of me — my sense of positivity and confidence with my body just the way it was.

Today, I look at my body as it slowly regains all that it has lost in the last six months, and I feel a rush of emotions — defeat and loathing amongst other unsavoury things. But when I stay with the discomfort, and I really force myself to look beyond my dimpled hips, the food baby in my lower belly, the slight floppiness that’s returned to my upper-arms, I see it for what it really is – an amazing machine of flesh, bones, cells and blood. I see a body that has done some really amazing things, from giving me a childhood filled with hyperactive play, the ability to enjoy fitness so early in life, discover and love kickboxing, attempt cartwheels once every year on my birthday, cycle like a monster, trek, hike, drive, deal with every stress I throw it’s way, quietly digest all the food I put into it, healed from countless illnesses, silently sewn back numerous wounds.

This is my body.

It contains who I am. And aside from being the amazing machine it is, it generates literally everything that I feel – whether it’s a gut feeling about a decision, the shivers when a song I love comes on, the crippling waves of nostalgia for an aching memory, the knot in my stomach when I’m scared, or the blooming overpowering love for my husband, reverence and admiration for my parents – you name it and there’s a feeling I can pin-point to a part of my body.

This is my body. The space that creates my energy, protects my soul and gently coaxes my spirit in the direction it needs to go.

This is that body. That holds my spirit so safely in its cocoon. And sometimes, when it’s time for spirit to grow, spread it’s arms out and reach out higher than it has ever been, it absolutely cannot be contained in 28” jeans. Or the idea that I must be a certain body-type: muscular and strong, and just the right amount of curvy. Or a mathematical calculation that dictates an optimum size.

Abundance needs space. Growth takes up space. And you know what else? It requires a helluva lot of energy and focus. So when I took the FitBit off, I was really just acknowledging that right now is not the time to focus on the numbers, to hold myself to a routine that has ceased to make sense, and to be fixed to an idea of myself that is clearly making way for something bigger.

More than anything, this has been a time of rest for my body. It was the break I needed, and never listened enough to provide. But, our bodies know and they have the beautiful ability to simultaneously keep up with our unrealistic motions and doings while also relentlessly pushing us to see the signs, over and over again.

Until we eventually do.

It’s been difficult coming to terms with this change, because like with any other transformation, it’s hard to fight the feeling that this is somehow just another way of letting myself down. Every morning, when I wake up on time and still choose to go back to sleep because the gym isn’t in the least bit inviting anymore, I do wonder if this is really who I am. It feels surreal, unfamiliar, unsettling. So distinctly uncharacteristic.

But that uncomfortable space is the blinding spot of change. It’s where little makes sense and no logic applies. It’s the frightening moment when pupa opens up and lets the light in. And the only thing to do is to be kinder and gentler, and just a little more welcoming of things to come.

At the start of the year, I thought had a body-image fight on my hands. But yesterday, I realised that this is about so much more than accepting the shape, size, colour and contours of my body. It’s about stepping out into the light, graciously accepting this invitation to a deeper understanding of who I am. It’s maddening, frightening, exciting and anxiety-giving all at once. But more and more, I find myself wondering what if I actually like it there?

What if?

***

This was a newsletter I sent last week. If you like what you see (and don’t already get enough of me on here – hah!) here’s where you can subscribe.

I realised that many of you have already subscribed, but don’t open newsletters — whats up with that, ya’ll? If for some reason the newsletter is landing in junk/spam, maybe just give it a check and direct it to your inbox — where you can open them?

Two years ago: Day 85: Piece of peace

Day 82: Everything is going to the beat

How liberating it is to finally acknowledge this new kind of self confidence. To accept, and own the fact that it is no longer limited to only loving the physical aspect of myself — shape, size, colour, etc — neither is it a blanket anything-goes licence to loving and embracing myself. But now, it also includes giving myself the permission, the very right to choose one aspect of my emerging self over another that may potentially be fading out. It means witnessing self-love that comes from the growing confidence and faith, that even in surrendering to the seemingly unfamiliar, there is growth. This new confidence means trusting the wisdom that is guiding me through all that is new, fast-changing, gently nudging me on to surrender fully to the choices I’m making. It comes from a wholehearted commitment to this a transition (rather than a random act of jumping ship). It’s a deep unshakeable faith in knowing that even as I allow for this give, this play, the slight easing up of taught lines that hold me up, I am developing a stronger, steady core, at the heart of it all.

Two years ago: Day 82: Silence

Day 81: Somebody holds the key

So, for a while now I’ve been sitting with a discomfort with the idea that a lot of channels of popular media and culture in India tend to use their wokeness as a convenient route to popularity or make big bucks. With influential people, social media stars, and everyone from sportspeople to movie-stars and Indian comics picking up issues of social relevance on which to create content, whether movies, webseries or even music, I’ve begun to wonder how much of their backing or feeling deeply about these issues peters beyond the purpose of creating popular content.

Does it ever translate into action beyond the obvious? Or are we settling for the easy access to hot-button topics to further our reach by creating content around issues that are highly shareable? Even as this content is being created, how much of it digs deeper by way of going a step further from the very convenient to reach superficial understanding that already exists.

Recently, this came to light in some form, with this video that called out AIB on how they “use” Feminism. It makes some really strong and hard-to-argue-with points about how the collective raises important feminist issues, but also does very little to truly represent women in a relevant and useful way, outside the boundaries of the very gendered stereotypes that already exist in popular media and culture.

And it’s not AIB alone. I have this issue with so many Indian movies. And I’m so aware of how accepting we are of it, and how that too perpetuates the cycle. Several times, I’ve debated whose responsibility it is to raise that bar, to create that one change that can take things to the next level. And if celebrities in positions of power don’t own their influence and use it even in some form, are we ever going to get beyond this?

I wrote about the #PadManChallenge that infuriated me in the weeks before the release of the movie. By then I was off social media entirely, and even then I couldn’t escape the mugshots of celebrities, wasting sanitary napkins for their photo-ops and endorsement of the movie. The entire exercise seemed tone-deaf, insensitive and irritated me enough to not want to watch the movie. I know I’m in a huge minority for having this reaction, but I had to have it out somewhere.

I was about to shoot off a rant about it on here, but decided to turn it into a story instead, and decided to shop around to place it. I’m happy to report, I cracked a publication that has been on my wish-list for nearly one year now, and it was such a pleasure working with the editor on this one. This is one fo those “big wins” for me as far as my writing is concerned, and it was reassuring and a huge validation for my new approach to work. Something is afoot, you guys. This is working, and I’m so excited to see where it will take me.

My essay is now live on A Beautiful Perspective, if you’d like to see. Or keep scrolling to read it here.

In India, fighting menstruation taboos that silence women

A Bollywood movie put periods on the big screen, but battling widespread myths and superstitions around menstruation is much harder.

Shrouded in myths and taboos, menstruation is a difficult subject in India. Studies suggest that 200 million women lack awareness of menstrual hygiene, and many don’t have access to toilets during their periods, let alone sanitary products like pads or tampons. In some areas, even discussing menstruation is anathema, silencing an entire gender into shame.

So, when I heard that Pad Man, a biopic celebrating the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who sparked a minor revolution in menstrual hygiene, was coming to mainstream cinema, it seemed like an enormous step. The movie would tell his story, I read. It would talk about what led him to invent a machine to mass-produce affordable sanitary pads in rural India, and in doing so, it would talk about menstruation openly, in a raw, unsophisticated manner, without resorting to shabby innuendo or weak euphemism.

But as the release date drew near, the #PadManChallenge began to crop up online. This trending hashtag saw celebrities holding up sanitary pads alongside glib captions denouncing the shame attached to menstruation, hygiene products and women’s periods in general. They would then go on to vouch for the movie and its commitment to talk about menstruation unabashedly.Full marks for good intentions, but none for sensitivity or nuance. On the one hand, celebrities (men and women alike) were using their positions of influence to push the dialogue around women’s issues into mainstream channels of communication. But as the hashtag grew to enormous numbers and spread to include movie stars, industrialists, professional athletes and socialites, the exercise also resulted ina colossal waste of sanitary napkins. In marketing the movie and promoting this message, they’d completely missed the point of the film itself.

For Arunachalam Muruganantham, India’s real Pad Man, his moment of awakening occurred with the simple act of buying his wife a packet of sanitary napkins in an effort to impress her. Shanthi was on her period, shamefully hiding a piece of menstrual cloth (that she would fold many times over and use to line her underwear) from her husband, when he questioned her about it.

“We’ll have to cut our milk budget, if I have to use sanitary napkins,” she said, revealing the bleak reality that she and other women in the family were forced to choose between buying food and sanitary products.

Fifty-seven percent of menstruating women in India, face similar choices and have to get by without access to sanitary pads. Some studies report that as many as 200 million Indian women lack awareness of menstrual hygiene, and 39 percent of girls don’t have access to soap for washing their menstrual cloth. In some areas, even cloth is hard to come by, and women resort to using hay, dry leaves or unhygienic plastic. Wateraid’s Menstrual Hygiene Matters report states that 20 percent of women lack access to a clean toilet during their periods.

If those numbers are staggering, the effects are even more so: Twenty-three percent of Indian girls between ages 12-18 drop out of school entirely when they begin menstruating, and some data shows gender disparities are exacerbated with the onset of puberty, as millions of women without access to comfortable and dignified menstrual hygiene management are forced to skip opportunities to work or pursue further education. Perhaps this has contributed to declining female participation in labor force in rural India, year over year.

These numbers point to a crucial need to build awareness around sanitation, menstrual hygiene and women’s reproductive health, and to elevate menstrual hygiene on the government’s priority list.

In 2017, India rolled out the Goods and Service Tax, lauded as a revolutionary shift in the country’s taxation structure that would benefit consumers by providing a singular transparent tax system. Where women are concerned, it exempts products like bindis, kajal and sindoor (used to indicate marriage), but continues to heavily tax essentials like sanitary napkins. Unsurprisingly, the 31-member Goods and Services Tax Council that decided the exemptions doesn’t have a single woman on it.

This is the reality in large parts of India where pioneers like Arunachalam Muruganantham and others operate, an India far removed from the one occupied by the privileged, elitist movie industry.

However, there are several organizations trying to take the spirit of Murguanantham’s work forward, provide workable solutions and empower women to take control of their menstrual health, including Aakar Innovations, Goonj (Not Just A Piece of Cloth), Azadi and the Desai Foundation.

The Desai Foundation calls itself a “public and programmatic organization” and works in the areas of health and livelihood as a means to empower women and children in India and the U.S. Asani,meaning Ease, is their sanitary pad program, currently run in 52 rural communities in the western state of Gujarat. The program is committed to destigmatizing menstruation, improving access to sanitary pads and enabling women to take charge of their own health and hygiene.

Megha Desai, president of the Desai Foundation, touches on the aspect of dignity a central to the work that they do. “Our channels are essentially health and employment, but the currency we work with is dignity. Elevating communities in terms of their dignity is key, and women are crucial to this effort because when they thrive, their communities do too.”

The foundation provides access to machinery to manufacture low-cost, almost fully-biodegradable sanitary napkins and creates rural social entrepreneurship that centers around women as employees and managers.

“We want women to really feel empowered through and through, and helping them build this as a part of their community, as a service being provided for and by them does that,” says Desai.

Taking on the traditional patriarchal family, where men have the power to bring about or withhold change, Asani employs women in their factories, not only providing avenues for income growth and independence for women, but allowing them to reclaim control over their bodies, their health and their choices. The program also conducts regular health camps and seminars where women talk about sex, reproductive management and menstrual protection, thereby fighting regressive beliefs and challenging deep-rooted cultural taboos and superstitions associated with menstruation. Bringing women and men together to openly talk about menstruation goes a long way in breaking the taboo around the topic, too.

Speaking about the Pad Man film and accompanying social media challenge, Desai is optimistic. “I am so thrilled that there is so much energy around this movie. I think any conversation around menstrual health helps to break the cloud of silence. So I was happy to see the campaign where celebrities were coming together and showing that they aren’t ashamed to talk about periods. It makes me hopeful that people are starting to see this as a basic human right. I hope that the energy and support for this issues continues long after the movie.”

That lasting change is also part of Desai’s goals for her foundation’s work. “Our long-term vision is to get the system to be sustainable, so it can run on its own. We want the women to take it on, so we can bow out. They’re capable of such greatness, but they don’t know it. It’s about showing them what they can do.”

(This essay first appeared on A Beautiful Perspective.)

Two years ago: Day 81: Giving thanks

Day 80: We’re up all night for good fun

For some inexplicable reason, March has brought with it a very scattered energy. Busy times, very few pockets of quiet, which when they came were so welcome, but didn’t allow a complete sinkage, so to speak. I’ve flitted from this thing to that, and haven’t felt very anchored to much at all for the larger part of this month.

Maybe it started with the death in the family, that had us stopping work, putting everything else on hold and spending entire days at VC’s home. Then we rushed straight into some work travel, which dovetailed right into a very hectic week of shooting (which invariably means very, very early mornings, long days, blurring one into the other) and going directly from there into my course last week, with no time to breathe or regroup in between.

It’s been busy and I’m thankful for that, but the energy has been somewhat unsettling. It’s always the chaotic times that makes me realise how quickly I am to push reading onto a lower priority. For one, being on the move and being busy means I literally don’t have the luxury of as much time to sit down with a book. But on the other hand, it also means that when the quiet few moments come, I find myself wanting to tune my brain out, rather than engage it in something that requires focus. And for me, books and reading require focus, even the books I choose to pass the time. So, reading has suffered this month with me choosing movies and TV more often than not.

***

I watched and cribbed about This Is Us, not too long ago. I was right in some part; I think the last few weeks have been a serious exercise in time-wasting just so we could get to the season finale. But I also must take back some of my harsh feelings about the nosedive, and attribute it to the inevitable need to drag plot-lines out, because OMG the finale hit the spot for me all over again. The best thing about the show is how it seamlessly dances across timelines, it’s got the movement down pat, making it so effortless, meaningful and just so apt for the stories lying within. The finale also raised the bar once again, bringing so much promise for what is to come in Season 3. But only in freaking September.

I dragged myself to Koramangala to catch what seemed like the only show of Thre Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. Why is it that the best movies are always reduced to a measly single show or two, in some far corner of the city? Why are more people not watching these films!

It was worth the trek though, because this tragicomedy lingered in my mind, far longer than I thought it would. Frances McDormand’s Oscar is so very well deserved, for her nuanced and raw portrayal of a mother pushed to the brink, because she has just had enough of the injustice and will no longer sit back and watch. On the surface, it feels like another movie with a strong woman character at it’s centre, with Mildred Hayes (Mc Dorman’s character) taking on the corrupt and racist police department, with a powerful demand for action, that almost puts her life in danger.

The entire movie is a succinct, direct look at the absurdities of our world — an unshakeable patriarchy, the injustice, the blatant double-standards and the atrocities it brings with it. But in it’s dark and dismal showing, also gives you moments of satire-like laughter. It carries the theme of absurdities right through to the end, with an inconclusive, and absurd ending that leaves you wondering which way it might go.

But, there was one detail that left me a bit uncomfortable. The movement towards (the inconclusive) resolution for Mildred Hayes, almost comes on the back of the redemption of one of the very white, very racist, very homophobic cops in the story. And I can’t help but feel like that little segue unnecessarily shifted the spotlight away from what should have been a film about the rage of a woman pushed to the brink, through and through. I felt just a tad cheated at not knowing what she eventually does to assuage that silent, festering rage that she nurtures all through the movie. This wasn’t a need to see the film have a happy ending with justice served, or all loose ends tied up, but at least some conclusive indication of how she finally deals. With far less focus on a white, racist man coming around, being used as a crutch for her own story arc.

All my confusion about the mild mixed messages of Three Billboards were assuaged a week later when I watched Black Panther, though, which just downright slayed, to use a term the young’uns do. I’m not even a comic-book, super-hero fan, but I marvelled at the beautiful way in which the super-hero theme was used as a vehicle to weave together a story about race, generations of atrocity and subjugation, the victory of good over evil, and how it did all of this deftly working across three different thematic eras — a super-futuristic one, a middle-zone in Zulu-like Africa, and the realm of the comic hero. Sheer poetry in some of the writing, gorgeous, gorgeous men, and the beautiful discomfort with the very apparent lack of white actors.

This is a film I see myself watching again and again and again.

Post three days of the module of the course I’ve started, which basically is three days of therapy, I have been mentally exhausted, as is known to happen after therapy. I have had difficulty focusing on anything for very long, so this week so far I’ve barely managed to get any work done, and haven’t really engaged in anything wholeheartedly, spending long hours in bed. So I decided to begin watching Good Girls Revolt, on Amazon. It’s been on my must-watch list for a while, ever since I read about it’s premise (and very quick discontinuation after just one season) and someone who called it “Mad Men from women’s perspective. I’m just three episodes in and it’s been hugely enjoyable.

Good Girls Revolt is a period drama, set in the 1960s, in the midst of a busy newsroom. With the backdrop of the cultural revolution brewing at the time, the series tracks four women who work as “researchers” with the newspaper, filing stories for the “actual writers” — all men — who then put the details together into full-fledged articles for publication. Over a series of events that happen in quick-succession, the women are suddenly suing the newspaper for gender discrimination, for being explicitly kept away from actual writing. It’s a poignant at times, at times insightful, and very eye-opening portrayal of what it was like in the 60s and 70s when women had to jump through all kinds of hoops just to known and own their worth, outside of the realm of marriage, home-making, and baby-rearing. It made me very, very grateful for how far we’ve come, and very conscious of some of the subtle kinds of gendered roles that still remain the same.

The very premise makes Amazon’s move to pull the show after a single, successful season, rather suspect. There was some news of the show being shopped around to other networks, and I hope it sees the light of day. Soon!

And now I’ll shut my laptop and go read because I want to finish this book I’ve unnecessarily dragged on for so long now (for no fault of its own!)

Two years ago: Day 80: On unlearning and re-learning order