Nine

Nine. NINE! VC, it’s been nine years. I remember writing this post, overwhelmed that we’d hit the half-decade mark, like it was just yesterday. And this morning, I pointed out that today we’ve officially entered the double-digits. Next year it will be a decade since we got married.

The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same. It’s a old and overused cliche, but I can’t think of a better way to describe what it’s like being married to you. The change bit holds only too true for the past year. 2016-17 will go down as the year everything changed. Our professional paths, the painful changes in the run up to accepting that we’d have to leave Goa, moving back to Bangalore, figuring stuff out in the city once again, all the teething issues – physically and emotionally, setting up your new business — never before have we experienced such a huge quantum of change in such a short span of time.

You know what else changed this year? Our communication. I’ve always taken solace and quiet comfort in the knowing that we’ve always had a healthy level of honesty and good communication, but with everything that happened last year, I feel like we were thrust into a whole new level of brutal honesty that we didn’t know existed. I’ll admit it gets very tiring sometimes being the one to initiate us on this path, and constantly be the one digging deeper to find out what lies beneath the surface — our feelings, our opinions, our desires, our dreams — but I’ve realised there is no other way I’d rather have it.

I’ve seen far too many examples of marriages falling apart of late, where the fundamental reason boiled down to the inability to either face and voice the truth, or to accept and embrace it. So I’m extremely grateful for the space we share between us, where pretty much nothing is taboo. I can’t think of too many other relationships that give me this sense of safety. This space for extreme honesty is so, so, very cherished, and you have to know how much you (unconsciously, perhaps) have done to encourage me to speak nothing but the truth. Even when it was to finally realise and admit to myself, and you, that given the way my life has traversed this past year, I do feel that maybe we married too soon.

I broke down momentarily in therapy when I came to this realisation, because I expected to feel the predictable sense of regret. But to my surprise tears made way for relief. I felt so oddly free to be able to see what I had just articulated for what it is, and immediately I knew I was absolutely going to be able to share it with you. I know and believe and feel so thankful to have the kind of relationship with you that enables me to speak this, right to your face, no words minced. And to have us look at the fact with enough distance that is needed to learn the lessons in here, but enough keenness to know what to do with this awareness, and where to go with it. And that’s just what we did, it’s how we embarked on this most unexpected turn of events that has landed us in Bangalore. I do believe this is just the beginning, though, and that a change in cities has so little to do with the city itself, but that we have been presented an opportunity t dig even deeper.

This year, I feel stronger, more whole and at peace than I have ever before in my entire life. Therapy (with all the upheaval it brings in its aftermath), through which you have stood by me like an absolute rock, turned me into an absolute blithering mess at times. I talked nine to a dozen, rambling, losing the plot many a time, voicing and airing a lot of rubbish on the way to finding my clarity. Even as I was going through many of those sessions of verbal diarrhoea, I remember wondering if it might be painful to be at the receiving end of this all the time. It didn’t stop me, though. And it didn’t make you stop me either.

I’m where I am largely because you supported me entirely in getting here. I said last year that much of this exploration began because I was able to give myself the permission to do so. I allowed myself to let go of so much, because you constantly reminded me how important it was to put a premium on myself and do whatever I needed to, to feel whole again.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

I hope you never muddle your sense of responsibility towards me and this marriage, to lose sight of your personal goals and dreams. Which is why I want you to know that my wish for us this year, and going forward, is that you remember all those things you keep telling me. And I wish and hope that I can be there for you, like you have for me.

This year, I see you at the start of your journey of self-exploration, similar to the spot I was in a couple of years ago. I hope you’ll remember that I’ve always got your back. I may not bring home the bacon, but I’ve really, really, got your back. You can lean on me. I’m here for the talk as much as I am for when you need the silence of comfortable companionship. I’m here for the ride as much as I am for when we need to stay still. I’m here for the plateaus as much as I am change.

I want to go back to one little thing I said on our anniversary last year. It was a liberating, life-changing realisation then. And it holds true even today.

I feel like today, more than ever, is a good day for a reminder.

This year, more than every before, I realised that being together has little to do with being together. Not to take for granted how wonderful it is to have a roomie to come back to, someone to hold at night when the fear of the dark envelops me, someone to lean on when I’m scared or lonely, someone to share a laugh with in a way that only we can understand. But I realised that growing old together involves taking routes that aren’t always going to run in parallel, or end up in the same place. It is possible to be together and yet give each other the space to be apart – in what we do, in where we go, and in how we blossom. And for the first time in all our years together, and my vehement stand on long-distance relationships, I have opened myself up to the idea of living apart. It will mean spreading our wings in different directions, and I don’t mean that just literally. I hope we explore it someday, because I think it will only take us a step up from here.

Happy anniversary my superstar. I haven’t done a very good job of being around the last few weeks and months since we moved to Bangalore. But I want you to know you’re a champ, my absolute trooper and I can’t wait to see what the months ahead hold for you.

As for the ride taking you there, I’m all in.

You’ve got me. I’ve got your back.

I love you so very much.

***

Same time, last year: Day 252: Eight

Past anniversaries: sevensixfivefourthreetwoone.

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Day 252: Eight

VC, it’s that time of year again. This day wouldn’t be complete without me saying it feels like we only just got together yesterday. Like I’ve done so many times before. But we know the truth. It’s been a decade of knowing you, and in fact the enormity of that truth only sank in only a few days ago. Suddenly I realised we’ve been doing this for an absolute age. A whole damned decade, eight years of which have been spent trying to perfect this marriage thingamajig.

But you know what?

perfection
PC: StarvingArtistFilms

It’s been a far from perfect year, since our last anniversary when I waxed eloquent about how comfortably predictable things had become. This year there was many an oddball. It was anything but predictable. There have been so many heavy discussions about where to next, which came with a huge set of pros cons and our respective opinions, desires and dreams to juggle. There was a home loan in the mix this year, which has put a fair deal of pressure on us both. Not that you ever showed it, but I always know when you’ve been worried about it. There was a lot of angst about what to do next — for you and for me, as individuals and as a unit — and which way to go from here. It seems like this semi-charmed life has maxed out on it’s levels of near-perfection (when you discount the shitty roads and spotty internet, I mean) and that has time and again pushed us into a corner, begging us to ask ourselves some hard questions and consider some difficult options.

And so we did. It’s been a year of tremendous opinion-sharing between us. I can’t help but feel that the more rounded and formed our personalities get, the more we dig our heels in and stand up for what we believe in. Many times, we don’t believe in the same things. This year, more than ever before, we’ve sparred over things, small and big. From your smoking habit that I truly wish you’d kick, to a potential move beyond Goa, we’ve battled it out with loud exchanges of words, lots of confusion, plenty of tentative guessing and jumping to conclusions, a fair amount tears and the two instances when I left home and drove off into the night. Old me from about two years ago would say I’m not proud for what I did, or what pushed me to it. But I’ve learned this year, more than ever before, that it’s not important to agree and always see eye to eye. In fact it’s important not to agree, and it’s important to always have the room for that. I’m so glad that even when we’re in the throes of a belligerent rage, one of us has the sense to calm the other down and remind ourselves to make space for one another’s opinions.

I love that we have this healthy battle ground. Where we can spar, constantly remind ourselves to keep it civil, but not polite; honest but not rude; real, but not sharp. This year more than ever before, I have enjoyed fighting with you. Until last year, I always wondered if there was something the matter with us – our fights and disagreements were few and so far between. This year, I proved myself wrong and we’ve more than made up for the lack of disagreements in our lives so far.

I believe everything happens for a reason, and that this transformation came with a reason too. Because, I no longer fear fighting with you (and anyone else I hold close, for that matter). I’ve learned that every healthy relationship must have space for healthy disagreement. It’s become a marker for the authentic relationships in my life, across the board. It’s taught me that learned that sometimes one has to squash one’s ego, agree to disagree, and just hug it out. I’ve also learned that no matter what the outcome, it’s always a good idea to say sorry.

This year, you’ve taught me the value of saying sorry, even when it is the hardest thing to do and my mountain-sized ego will not allow it. In the number of instances that you plainly and easily said sorry, at the end of an argument, or when you thought you’d disappointed me, or when the truth about the numerous patterns of oppression women face in a typical Indian family suddenly dawned on you in its immensity, and you suddenly woke up to it’s existence in your own family, you apologised for it. You took responsibility, even though you’ve never behaved in a way that was oppressive or discriminatory. You apologised on the behalf of everyone else who never will. You have no idea how immensely liberating that has been.

This year, I’ve learned empathy from you. I’ve learned to tone down my judgement. To live and let live, in the truest sense of the term. Together we’ve turned many of our perceptions about a lot many things and people around. It;s reminded me that there is always have scope to grow, and I feel glad every time that we are able to acknowledge where we were wrong, and we try and correct our thoughts. I like to think we’ve turned into more self-assured individuals with firmness where it counts. I find you perfectly straddle being strong-willed, but soft-hearted where it matters. You’ve displayed conviction, with a rare kind of softness that I find immensely attractive. It’s a balance I still have to learn.

But most of all, this year will always be remembered as the year you helped me rediscover myself yet again. I don’t know if you realise the influence you have had on me. As the only person privy to all my thoughts, feelings, ups and downs of every aspect of my life, you share in my angsts and joys equally. And this year your only steady advice has always been to put a premium on myself. To always raise the bar, demand more, settle for nothing less than the best. Whether it has been at work — when demanding a higher fee, not settling for shoddy work relationships, or in my relationships with people — cutting off toxic friendships, prioritising my time, being uncompromising with the quality of friendships and focusing on myself and my self development.

You’ve been the sound voice, constantly dinning into my head the need to put myself first. It’s how I’ve bettered my work style and engagements. I wouldn’t have re-learned discipline if it weren’t for our many discussions about how to get better at this game. I wouldn’t have cracked so many pitches if we hadn’t worked on my emails together. I wouldn’t have come to believe in myself if you hadn’t backed me up every step of the way.

This year, we’ve completely soaked in the spirit of being quiet. You were always the quiet one, but this year I realised I have some quiet in me too. In learning to be still, I’ve understood myself better, sharpened my focus, fine-tuned my ability to be by with myself. As individually-focused as that sounds, it has changed my relationship with you. For the better. I understand you better. I respect you more. I honour you for the individual that you are, completely, with fewer expectations than before. As much as there’s been hectic chatter and loud disagreements, we’ve had our fair share of silence too. It’s one of the things I love the most about us. The way in which we can exist in a companionable silence, for hours on end, without having to engage. This year, I’ve learned there’s more than one kind of quiet, and I cannot wait to discover the rest. With you. Even though this was also the year we took off on our own respective tangents.

It’s the first time I saw in us, the patterns I see with my parents. In being starkly individualistic people, with completely different goals, diverging in entirely opposite directions, yet somehow making ends meet, and finding a way to let go, live and love, all at once.

I travelled by myself this year, more than I have ever before. And it was because conversations I had with you rekindled the hidden desire that I have let remain forgotten for all the years we have been together. You bought me the bestest gift of all times – a bike – that has triggered something deeper than a quest to cycle, in me. You’ve reminded and taught me how important it is to chase those things that are fundamental to our happiness, outside of amassing money in the bank and buying things. And you’ve done this by example. By taking off on your own path of self-discovery, traversing cycling, film and new areas of work – areas I am completely removed from. That has been your journey to take, and I’ve watched from a distance, with such pride.

This year, more than every before, I realised that being together has little to do with being together. Not to take for granted how wonderful it is to have a roomie to come back to, someone to hold at night when the fear of the dark envelops me, someone to lean on when I’m scared or lonely, someone to share a laugh with in a way that only we can understand. But I realised that growing old together involves taking routes that aren’t always going to run in parallel, or end up in the same place. It is possible to be together and yet give each other the space to be apart – in what we do, in where we go, and in how we blossom. And for the first time in all our years together, and my vehement stand on long-distance relationships, I have opened myself up to the idea of living apart. It will mean spreading our wings in different directions, and I don’t mean that just literally. I hope we explore it someday, because I think it will only take us a step up from here.

I look back at this year and it looks so pock-marked, dented and imperfect, riddled with the weight of learning. It’s been a heavy year in that respect. But we’ve towed the line rather well, picking up when the other left off, holding each other up, and being the stoic, steady person when the other needed to waver for a bit. In you I’ve had the best friend and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner on this ride.

We’re still often met with this picture perfect notion of marriage, complete with the kids and the car and the giant home. We’re still asked when we plan to have children, and shocked reactions that prod deeper and wants to know why that’s not on our agenda. I understand now, where it’s coming from. It’s because that’s what it works for many people. But there is room for us. And for us, it has always been about doing it our way. Keeping our eyes and minds open, bucking the rules, bending with time and circumstances, flowing the way we choose to, changing as per the need of the hour and playing by our own rules. And you know what? That’s never going to be a pretty, picture perfect journey.

I’m ready for more.

Just to change this up, here’s a picture that represents us pretty perfectly.

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Happy 8th.
I love you.

*****

Past anniversaries
Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

Day 67: Flying solo

I’ve emerged fresh, sunshiny and very rejuvenated after a weekend of beautiful, wonderful sloth. The kind of sloth that comes from cutting back from my routine and having absolutely no demands on my time. I got to actually catch up on all the things I have put off for The Weekend. Yes, not any weekend, but this weekend because VC was away on a 3-day biking trip, and it’s only when he travels that I let myself off the hook. It sounds terrible when I say it like that, because it implies that  he cracks the whip around here, making me work to a routine, when the truth is he couldn’t care less. In fact he’d love it if I relaxed a little and let go of the tyranny of a tedious routine. Honestly, the ties of a routine that bind me down are completely self-made. The doing of my Type A personality that sometimes worries when I have too much free time on hand. So I have a routine, and I chalk out my time, so I can function in some kind of sanity that makes sense to me. But, off and on an opportunity like this presents itself, and I’m always surprised at how much I enjoy it.

Lying in bed lats night, having turned in extra early, thinking about the weekend reminded me of how much I love flying solo. Considering I have never lived completely alone (a phenomenon very common amongst women in India, apparently), and I quite like the regimented life otherwise, it made me ponder about why I turn to routine, and who decides what this unattainable ideal of a perfectly flowing, full and bustling life is the way to go. So I wrote half a post about it. I pondered some more about how blissful a simple three-day weekend of no extraordinary activity had been, and wondered if maybe I unnecessarily chase after “something more.” I  am increasingly realising once again (or rather I’m being made to remember what I seem to have forgotten) that I am just an ordinary 99%-er perfectly happy with a mediocre but fulfilling life. And so I wrote half a post about that too.

Several changes at VC’s work have ensured that he no longer travels as frequently as he used to 1-2 years ago. Back then I often joked that the outward displays of love were short-lived. That once I was done whining about hating being alone, whispering sweet nothings about missing him, and kissing him good bye as I sent him out the door, I would walk back in to whoop with joy. Because the time apart guaranteed a chance to just be, unfettered by the machinations of my self-made trap — the routine I claim I love so much. So when he goes away for more than a day at a stretch, I really get to cut those ties and just do my thing. Which usually involves cooking a large pot of dal and eating it four meals in a row, so I don’t have to interrupt my reading or movie-marathoning to get up and fix myself a meal. In that sense, I do nothing else. No chores, no work, no cooking, no cleaning. No alarms, no gym, no hectic socialising.

And that’s precisely what happened, a whole lot of nothing and everything of a different kind. It seems like it is just what I needed. Because after weeks of wandering around feeling not quite fully rested, not quite completely fulfilled, not quite really at peace, not, today I woke up feeling just. so. pumped.

A complete break from the usual, meant that I got to do things I keep putting off for when I am free. Read a decent bit, catch up on about four weeks of episodes of my TV show guilty-fix. I also watched Spotlight The Big Short, and finished watching Cooked too.

Friday was spent at home. I had some work to finish up, post which I read myself to sleep, a good long nap, and spent the rest of the day at home just chilling. On the weekend, I caught up on solo time with friends, which is something I haven’t done in a very long time. P and I had actually planned to spend Saturday on a beach in the South, but I had a touch of UTI and as excited as I was to be outdoors and by the sea, I didn’t fancy having to use a public loo, getting sand in places sand shouldn’t be (when you have a UTI) and risking being away form home in case my symptoms worsened. So I called it off, and we decided to catch up for a light lunch instead. But even before that happened, I was woken up by messages from the gang at kickboxing, because they’d planned to go get breakfast together. The thought of crispy, warm Goan buns really wakes me up, so I drgged myself out of bed and to breakfast quickly. I spent the rest of the day back in bed, reading and watching something or the other, until about 7 pm, when I realised I’d actually made dinner plans with D a few days ago. Since we were catching up at her home, I decided not to go empty-handed. I bought us some rasmalai for dessert and trudged over. We finished an entire bottle of Sula Seco between the two of us, and talked so much about so many different things, while her dogs enviously eyed our plate of fried prawns and prawn biryani, that I lost track of time. I drove myself back home at almost 1 am, and was too buzzed to sleep. So, I watched some more TV.

On Sunday morning, my gardner didn’t show up. It wasn’t planned that way, but I was glad because it meant I didn’t have to get out of bed. At all. I woke up only at 11, and after much contemplation and willing myself to rise, I fixed myself an fully-loaded omelette for brunch. I had it with two toasts slathered with Amul garlic and herb butter. It does the trick of making a meal of breakfast. Topped it up with a large mug of sweet chai and I was set. For another day of lying in bed, that is. More sloth continued. Reading, watching TV, I even doodled a little and napped too.

VC came home in the evening after his three-day bike ride trip. He was so exhausted that he got into bed too. Perfect. I didn’t plan to cook dinner and we could have ordered in, but I’d brought home leftover biryani from Saturday night, so all I had to do was microwave it in time to eat. Which meant that I had no reason to leave bed right until dinner time. Which happened earlier than usual and we found ourselves back in bed by 9.30. I realised I’d clocked just a little over 1000 steps. Ordinarily, I’d have balked. But yesterday, I. Just. Didn’t. Care.

I opened my book and began to read.

Day 33: January

I blinked, and January has passed. In a flash seems about right, when I think about how to describe it. Odd, because it was a stagnant month, and not much happened on the outside. I was mostly disinterested, but restless. I was eager, but felt crippled. I slowed down on work, choosing not to actively didn’t seek new assignments, because I was just about managing to keep my head up enough to see the commitments on hand to the end. Even the projects that were otherwise fun and engaging were beginning to get to me. A head full of questions and no answers in sight can only be pushed aside so much. And this was a long time coming, so by the end of the month, when everything related to work really began to weigh me down, I realised I could push it no more.

In another classic me move, I swung from one extreme of working madly to the other – giving it all up to start from scratch. So that’s where I am at now. Making measured baby steps.

But what else did I do in January? (Apart from feeling restless, hating the waiting and feeling like I have having a shit, shit month.)

Watched: Netflix came to India and opened up a whole new world for us, given that we live without cable TV for the most part. I watched Aziz Ansari’s Master Of None which came highly recommended by S. I loved it for its simplicity, warm fuzzies-inducing take on everyday stuff like work struggles, food, dating, co-habiting and many things that people in their 30s can relate to. It’s straight-forward, funny, relatable and just the kind of consumption I like – 10-episode season, 30 minutes each, and nicely made too.

What’s Love Got To Do With It is a Netflix documentary about the Indian culture of arranged marriage. Again, it came recommended by N, so I got around to watching it. I was equal parts amused and angry by the end of it. Amused because it’s always enlightening to get a peek into the minds and lives of your fellow Indians, with whom you feel like you share so much in common, but you also realise how you couldn’t be more different. Angry because the film left me furious not so much at the meaninglessness of the system and the marriage “market” (which I will admit, I can try and see the advantages of) but the reactions and thought processes of some of the men. And consequently, the women they marry. Obvious debates about arranged marriage aside, the movie left me questioning the institution of marriage itself. In recent times, I’ve seen relationships crumble for a variety of reasons and increasingly I’m beginning to question the importance we attach to finding a lifelong mate and binding ourselves to it. Instead my take has been more aligned to the the belief that it is not for everybody. That it works excellently well for some, is no sign that it must be the universal aspiration for us as a race.

Begin Again  is a rom-com with Keira Knightly and HUBBAHUBBA Mark Ruffalo and I was interested in watching it  because of the setting and plot – budding singer, song writer in search of herself, meets failed producer and they Begin Again. It was a lovely light hearted film, and I enjoyed it even more because it didn’t go the conventional rom-com route, had an open ending, and they’re both such lovely, real actors. At the end, I realised it was co-written (I think) by Judd Apatow, and that explained a lot of things. And why I liked it too. Also, lots of Mark Ruffalo being an angst-written passionate musician to see. And he’s topless in the very first scene. So. Yeah. Mark Ruffalo.

Read: After last year’s abysmal reading habit, I’m slowly getting myself back on track by making sure to read a little everyday, even if it is for 10 minutes before bedtime. On the upside, I found I chose reading over work, TV and going out more often than not. But it was slowly unfolding effort, and most attempts ended very quickly with sleep taking over.

I chose a simple, but by no means light, read and managed to finish it very quickly. This restlessness I’ve been going on and on about started to really rise to the surface around November last year, and when none of the small external changes I was making seemed to make a difference, I began to look inward quite spontaneously. This is something I haven’t actively done in a very long time so I was a) a little taken aback at myself b) pleased that maybe this was a natural sign of what I need to focus on more. When things come spontaneously, I tend to take them a lot more seriously than when enforced by an external force. Some events occurred around that time too, for VC and I, which made me sit up and accept that perhaps the answers I am seeking aren’t really obvious and won’t be found in places I was looking for them. I re-started a meditation practice I had near abandoned about 7 years and have been consciously looking inwards and trying to get to the root of everything I am feeling, my reactions to situations and relationships and my attitude to every day things that happen to me.

As I usually do, I shared all these experiences with N, who recommended reading this book she’s mentioned to me before. But something about the way she said I think this is the perfect time for you to read this made me want to pick it up immediately. It helps that it is a short, simple read, so great for someone restlessly seeking answers, and/or getting back to the reading habit.

Then she wrote a lovely post here that only reaffirmed my feelings. So I started and finished The Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer, and it couldn’t have come to me at a better time. I’ve always found modern spirituality book titles so fluffy and hard to relate to. Nebulous concepts, wrapped up in ambiguous, loaded words that actually mean very little when it comes to our daily lives. But I was pleasantly surprised with this book. A lot of it was good timing, because I’m increasingly learning the immense power of how everything has a time and a place. That I have been dealing with a lot of the questions the book deals with, in my own mind, is probably why N recommended it to me.

The book talks about spiritual growth, understanding things that we all deal with: fear, insecurity, disappointment, rejection, anger, frustration, inexplicable highs, satisfaction, joy and so much more. It has helped me understand a lot of what I have felt in recent time. It’s provided solace at a time when I was questioning every decision, second guessing my relationships, feeling fearful and unable to let things go and move forward.

It ultimately is a book about trying to slow down, listen carefully to what your mind is actually trying to tell you. It emphasises the power of every little thought and feeling we experience and the capacity of our heart and brain (the spirit) to give us some of the most important clues about who we are as individuals. The book has guided me to watch my emotions, my reactions to situations, understand my innermost feelings in dead simple, almost too simplistic at times, language, devoid of the usual mumbo-jumbo I was expecting. The process is continuous, of course, but I couldn’t have arrived at it on my own, unless I read something or spoke to someone who spelt it out like this book does.

If you’re seeking spiritual growth, trying to understand what’s going on in your mind, want a little peace and clarity and have come to believe that it can only be achieved by realigning your mind, this is a good book to read.

Did: I resumed exercise with a renewed commitment in January. It came back with a bang when I realised I was feeling unhealthy despite everything I was doing. I realised I hadn’t consumed a single fruit in about 4 months, simply because I have been too busy to notice. I immediately fixed those little things this month – easily done. Started stocking fruit again, getting my help to chop them up so I have absolutely no excuses to keep myself form eating them! And I have started pushing myself to be regular with exercise again.

Another big improvement is I started enjoying cooking my everyday meals again. An activity I loved and sought like solace, had been relegated to a 20-minute chore that was done with the intention to just get it done quickly rather than with a focus on the outcome. I’ve ignored this for a whole year now, and I know it has shown on the quality of the meals we’ve been eating at home. When my mind is restless it invariably shows in my actions and it’s reflected in my kitchen too. Haphazard shopping trips, badly planned menus, distasteful meals and close to no socialising that involved having people over and cooking for them. I’m starting with cooking well for ourselves again, before I try and get folks to come home again!

I’ve doodled a mad, crazy amount in January and enjoyed it a lot more than I expected it to. An activity that was meant to just empty my mind out has become something more, and that’s the stuff of an entirely different post that I will get to soon.

Apart from that I managed to write a little something everyday and go to the beach a lot more this month, and since they’re things I want to do more this year, that’s two more big ticks for me.

January was pretty shit, but I’m in a better headspace, and a better place overall than at the start of the month. So I’m going to count on that. Leaving you with a song I’ve had on loop a lot this month. Something about the monkeys in the video makes me really, really happy.

Seven

Dear VC,

I could get really repetitive (and predictable), say that it seriously feels like we only just started dating yesterday. But I’d be lying. Because the truth is, I feel like I’ve known you for every single day of the 10 years that I have indeed known you for a lifetime. For the most part, it feels like we have this figured. There is a natural rhythm to the way we function and the various separate moving parts of our lives dance around pretty seamlessly to make this work for us.

There is comfort in that predictability. In how I can predict your every move. And this is the part that sometimes makes me sit up and wonder if I have indeed known you for a lifetime. I can predict the way your trousers will always lie in that exact same pile on the sideboard. I can tell by the happy noises you make while eating a meal, just how much you’ve enjoyed it. I can gauge your level of worry in the way you always tell me to watch out, be careful when I go out dancing, like it’s the very first time. The way you plan every clandestine purchase, and yet pass it off with the most nonchalant shrug, like I hadn’t just seen you research the bejeezus out of it for only like the last 9256 days, Yeah, you’d rather believe you surprised me. Worse, you believe you had me. Every time.

I like the way your eyes light up when I decode the expression on your face and tell you you’ve had a shitty day even before you begin to slowly tell me about it on your own time. I love how you try so hard to do little things to surprise me, but I’m usually two steps ahead and know about it anyway. It’s also funny how I can almost predict the way events will pan out, circumstances transpire and things will happen, and I advise you on what your actions should be. You’re sometimes defiant, sometimes completely understanding, sometimes thoughtful. But you’re always sure of yourself and go on to do what you believe is best, with or without incorporating what I have suggested. But you’re also gracious in admitting that I am right 9 out of 10 times. I love the irony and the exasperation in your voice when you exclaim “You’re not allowed to know me that well!”

I rarely feel like I wish there was room for surprises. Because I take comfort in this predictability. I like that we have this down pat, for the most part. It’s endearing to know that being with you takes little effort. Because that’s what 10 years of being with someone so easy does, I guess. You flow, there is rhythm and it becomes just…easy. Comfortable. And if predictable is a byproduct of it, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You’ve always told me your motto in life has been to cut the fat. I’ve imbibed it at various points in my life, when I’ve dealt with painful issues, hiccups and situations that caught me off guard. But I think I have only realised the full depth of it, the true way in which you live by it, in the last year. Whether it is work, your relationships, dealing with people, assessing potential difficulties or even dealing with emotions, your ability to give everything just that appropriate amount of attention and nothing more is alarming. I realise it is just that ability that makes being with you such a joy.

There is rarely a problem so huge it needs working on. Or a talk that’s been put off so long it becomes a confrontation. If there’s a problem, fix it comes so naturally to you, we rarely get to the stage where we have to sit down and have a talk or decide to take steps together to make this right again. You make it flow, like life. And this is why knowing you and being with you feels like wearing that one utterly comfortable night shirt we all have. We prefer to call it well-worn rather than old, even though that’s the truth – so many years down, its the one that’s old, riddled with holes, stretched out of shape, but that fits like nothing else does, feels perfect against your skin and nothing and nobody can ever convince you to get rid of it. Knowing you and being with you is comfortable. And comforting. Despite the years gone by, the holes that may have appeared, the shapeless way in which the age shows, the predictable and unpredictable ways in which we amble along, this feels like that best possible way to do this. Because you make it effortless. You make is just so damn easy.

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You’ve spoiled relationships for me, for good. Because now I expect that all of them must be as effortless, as easy, as simple, uncomplicated. You’ve set the benchmark so damn high. Effortless (not to be mistaken for the flipside of lazy or shirking hard work) has become quite the norm, in my life. Because there are enough things that demand hard work — work, for example. Getting better at what we do. Learning new skills, figuring adult stuff out. Or exercise. Or managing funds. Or sometimes just being an adult.  There are enough things that make us work hard, sometimes going against the grain. And sure we sometimes emerge a better versions of ourselves at the end of it. But you’ve taught me that marriage shouldn’t be about hard work. It should really be the most effortless thing in the world. Because if you can’t have that ease with your spouse, what’s the point?

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So yes, while most days I have a hard time realising we’ve known each other ten years now, and been married for seven, I slip back into the comfort of feeling like I’ve known you forever. Because you make it that comfortable. With your kindness, your sense of humour, the freshness of your spirit, your willingness to try everything once, your encouragement and unfailing support. Your ever-ready hugs.

And your Sunday breakfast eggs.

I don’t think I could have so seamlessly fallen into marriage, being a wife and growing up, as effortlessly with anyone else, as I did with you.

You make it wonderful. For the both of us.

<3

Six, five, four, three, two, one.

On traditions old and new

The Diwali spirit kicked-in at the very last minute. As usual. Almost like an after-thought, after getting a mild attack of FOMO. As usual. I go through the same cycle of emotions and actions, year on year. Supposed indifference, a lot of nostalgia, a little homesickness, wildly swings into full blown meh-ness, and then suddenly I pick myself out of the inertia and go into overdrive. Lights get put up haphazardly. The house is tidied up. Something sweet gets made. We eat some good food. And every year as we take down the lights and I put away the diyas, I tell myself I should do better the following year.

I would like to think I have it in me to plan ahead, check my lights beforehand and not put them and realise two out of four strings are not working. I’d like to have the house stocked with the typical savoury and sweet stuff, and not resort to a last minute quick-fix dessert that somehow always comes to the rescue of slackers like me. I’d love to have the house done up the way my own home used to be when we were growing up — LOTS of diyas, soaked in water overnight, filled with oil, graced with a wick and lit for three days, strings of orange marigold decking corners of the house — and doing everything we’ve associated with the traditions of Diwali like waking up really early to have an oil massage and a hot bath, wearing freshly bought clothes and getting together to celebrate with neighbours, friends and family — which was mostly an experiment in organised and legitimate indulgence.

Every year around this time, I become acutely aware of how my life is so devoid of these little traditions. Yes, I invariably do string up the fairy lights, light the customary diyas and make something sweet, but it is never with the sort of organised pomp and panache that my parents would manage to bring into our homes at Diwali. Weeks in advance we’d begin talking about Diwali. My mother would make laddoos, tukde (namak paare), and we’d buy boxes of Kaju Katli along with a few boxes of fireworks (while I was still young enough to still want to light them). Diwali clothes were a treat we looked forward to. Trudging off to Commercial Street, which would get its Diwali on days before the actual festival. The big stores of then would turn up the festivities, bring on the sales and we’d buy a new set each, to be worn on day 1 post that traditional massage and hot water bath!

I have distinct memories of wearing those new clothes and invariably getting oil on them, from the enthusiasm and excitement to participate in lighting the many diyas. Eventually by the end of the night I’d also have a few holes on them from misguided sparks flying around. Most years I also had a blistered finger or two, as a painful reminder of firework excitement gone wrong. There would invariably be a family Diwali get-together somewhere, and we’d go over with sweets and savoury stuff and do the exchange. Something about giving from your plate and taking back goodies from another home is so Diwali!

And then there was a whole bunch of new traditions when I got married. VC’s family has a Diwali lunch the weekend before, where extended family gets together, we potluck and a few rounds of cards and other games got played. Of course there would be much drinking and stuffing of face and a merry time to be had by all.

When we moved to Goa, I didn’t give any of this much thought. Something about doing things your own way makes certain traditions pale in comparison to others. I took the house, the kitchen and the daily rituals like chai time far more seriously than I did putting in an altar or saying a prayer every day. Festivals came and went, and brought with them a twinge of nostalgia and remorse for not “keeping up” the traditions my folks and family have worked so hard to bring to life, so enthusiastically, year after year.

This year too, I was largely uninterested. I also have lost track of the days whizzing by and didn’t realise till last weekend that Diwali was literally right around the corner. Two days ago, I pulled the lights out and considered doing the house up but gave up before I had even started. The hugsband and I went out to dinner last night, our first meal out together in a long time. Heck we don’t even eat together at home so much anymore — with his crazy schedules and my extreme dedication to not missing an episode of That Show Which Must Not Be Named, I tend to come back form the gym ravenous, eat dinner, and watch TV in peace while he ambles home closer to 9.30-10 pm. This has been the story of our lives the past few weeks.

It’s hard to make and keep traditions in a house of two, with one person being an absentee house-body for the most part. Actually scratch that, its easy to make a mindless tradition. But to keep to it, in a meaningful way is hard. And I realise that’s probably what made it fun for my folks. Having a larger family to do things with, setting benchmarks for us, and having an extended social circle to share the festivities with. The truth is, VC and I are isolated form family to begin with. The family we’ve built here is dwindling. I can count on one hand, the number of people I’d choose to celebrate Diwali with, and even they have their own families and things to tend to.

I realised last night that traditions need to mean something to you, in order to keep them going. Maybe I don’t have an affinity to the rituals and maybe I wont be lighting a lamp in an altar any time soon, but I do have fond memories of the togetherness that Diwali brought. The hobnobbing of a larger circle of people we belonged to. And in ever-changing times, I’d like to retain some memory of it at least. Nothing’s quite the same back home to, I don’t imagine my parents still celebrate with as much gusto as they did when we we’re around, but we try and keep up with the time don’t we?

We don’t have traditional traditions, and maybe that’s what puts me in a funk around this time of year. But I realised that maybe this reluctance that makes way for last-minute excitement is my tradition. After all, it has unfolded the exact same way every year for the last five Diwalis.

So maybe I should stop fighting it. Maybe I should stop feeling a little bad like I usually do. And maybe I should focus on doing it our way.

We turn the lights on, we spark the diyas, we get a good meal together — either home cooked, or some place nice like we did last night. And if we’re experiencing particularly busy times like VC currently is, we make time for it, mark it on our calendars and we call it a date.

After all Goa does it’s own style of Diwali with such aplomb. It has introduced me to some of its traditions, like the building of the Narkasuras that sprout every few metres. With frightning scale, accuracy and creativity, painstakingly built over weeks only to be burned to a crisp on the night of Narakachaturdasi.

Naraka

It’s hard to stay sad when there is cheer around you. So yesterday I went out and bought me some flowers.

Flowers

I came home and made a batch of super addictive, super yummy, and most importantly — super quick, laddoos from N’s blog.

Laddoos

And then I strung up the lights and we went out to dinner.

Light

On our way back home, the Narakasura parties were in full swing. People were parading the streets, loud music and dance everywhere. We inched through the rare sight that is a traffic jam in this part of town, and I watched the effigies in all their splendour.

I realise we might not always succeed in keep up old traditions. Some times just a flickering memory that throbs to life once every year is nicer. It makes me cherish the times gone by, savour the lingering memories and think of what lies ahead. And most of all, it eventually makes us make our own traditions. Even if I get my act together just 24 hours beforehand.

Nothing makes me realise how far away from home I am, like Diwali does. And yet it is Diwali that also draws me closer to home. The one I left behind, and the one I piece together day after day.

Weekends around here

I’ve started to cling to weekends like children who get all sprightly some Friday, and begin to sulk as Sunday evening draws near. Its not that I don’t like school days, I mean weekdays, for they hold a different kind of pleasure. But the weekends have become the only time VC and I get to spend some time together. And by spend, I mean really spend some time together. Because what do you know, just eating dinner together doesn’t really cut it, in the long run. And that is how life has been for him. And therefore us. He has been woefully overworked in the last few months (and I feel like I’ve been saying this for the larger part of this year!) and even conversation is taxing at the end of the day, and I sense the increasing need for “quiet time” around here. But when the weekend comes around, he turns into this enthusiastic person quite nothing like the person I am used to seeing Monday thru Friday. Funnily, the weekend is when I wind down. I choose not to get online too much, stay away form the computer and don’t cook anything too elaborate. I sleep in, nap sometimes, but mostly spend the weekend relaxing. But he? He always has a plan. Even if it is organised relaxation, which is to say we do nothing, but veg out. Him doing his research on the latest fetish at hand (it used to be cycles, now its film-making) and me reading or pottering about. Weekends are when I usually revel in doing nothing.

We didn’t have cable connected for months on end, but had that fixed recently since a certain annual guilty pleasure, trash fix kind of reality show involving 12 strangers being locked up to cohabit in a house for over 100 days, came on yesterday. So, these days we have the additional option of watching some TV too.

We used to be pretty outdoorsy on the weekends. At a time when we had like-minded friends in town. It was not uncommon to go on long evening drives ending with dinner far far away, or go in search of a secluded beach, watch the sunset/sunrise from one of the islands close by, just take off for the weekend. It was easy and never required too much intensive planning. Just the company of a couple of people was enough, we never waited for a large brood to gather, and we’d be off. But that has diminished for many reasons. The right company has mostly moved out of Goa, and those that remain no longer hold my interest. We’re not as enthusiastic ourselves, because with VC tiring weekday schedules he prefers to unwind indoors. So most often we end up cooking, shooting a foodeo, or he goes cycling, at the most. Making a plan to go far out seems to take more energy than we are willing to expend, just by ourselves.

However, last weekend A and A with their 5 year old N asked us to join them and we took off without thinking about it too much. Quite spontaneously we found ourselves at an old and forgotten spot we once frequented. “The church on top of the hill” as we have gotten used to calling it, used to be the place we’d take visiting friends when they’d ask about Old Goa. Because its the place not too many people know of, its where you wont find thronging tourists, and offers splendid views of the river below and Panjim in the far distance.

Views

I took along this yellow cake (on which I slapped on some makeshift chocolate sauce) I had incidentally baked just that afternoon, and turned out A had baked this yummy gulkand (would you believe?! I’m not even a fan of anything-rose but this was seriously good!) cake too. An unplanned picnic of sorts happened, followed by playing catch-n-cook with an 5-year-old who puts the fun back in running around for no apparent reason.

Picnic

Some tumbling down green slopes ensued, while I watched in amazement. A couple of lovey-dovey couples were intruded upon, in our wild running, and I realised what I thought was a not-so-popular spot was suddenly more filled with people than I had ever seen it.

Tumble

This is what happens when you hang around an inquisitive and mildly fearless child. You go into nooks and crannies your adult self couldn’t be bothered about snooping around, and you’re forced to see things you otherwise wouldn’t really see. Like bugs, termites and grasshoppers, unless you’re into that kind of thing.

Bugs

A and I chatted, while the other A enlightened me about geocaching. You gaiizz!! Its a real-life treasure freaking hunt! I am totally enamoured by it, especially after I saw the cache he checked in on. Those in the know exchange notes and little tidbits and the whole thing is too fascinating for me to explain in words. All my childhood fantasies of having Famous Five styled treasure hunts, or randomly stumbling on someone else’s treasure came to life. I’m now plotting a few good spots to go drop a cache of my own.

Sufficiently sweaty from running around, we waited on VC whose sole mission of the trip was to test a new found time-lapse technique. His latest keeda project at hand is to teach himself the ins and outs of as much film-making as he can. So there he sat patiently shooting frame after frame, at 3 minute intervals, while we had tarted getting bitten by mosquitoes.

Stop

After an hour of hitting click, click, clicking later, when the sun had gone down we decided to call it a day. Dropped by at the closest drinking hole where we stuffed our faces on beer and pizza. Good way to end the week, I thought.

When we came home, VC sat and stitched this together. Turns out, while I was busy running around chasing grasshoppers, stuffing my face and yakking away about geocaching, the sky had put up quite a show. Goa can be achingly beautiful, sometimes and it felt so good to be outdoors again.

Immediately, this song came to mind.

Week-end.

Six

Dear VC

Today marks 6 whole years since that deliriously exciting day (well, for me at least!) in 2008 when we finally got married. Do you remember the madness of the wedding? I bet you don’t. I do, it’s fresh in my mind, like it was only just the other day. There were way too many people for my liking, I was upset I didn’t get to taste all the food, I didn’t like changing my clothes so many times, and I really just wanted to fast forward to the bit where we partied. Discounting small glitches like extended family threatening to call the cops on us, and imperfections like the godawful off-season storm that raged outside, I’d say it was pretty darn perfect. I want to say its beginning to feel like the age is creeping up on us slowly, but it’d be a lie. The truth is I have to some times remind myself that it’s been six years. I’ve said it before, but at times it feels a little unreal, and I wonder if we’re not doing something right, and why we don’t feel it when we really ought to. It’s only when I count back the years and think about everything that’s gone by that I realise the enormity of 365 x 6 days. I still feel like quite the baby who only just got married.

If I were to compare the last few years with the one just gone by, I realise its been the most peaceful, and in that sense, uneventful one. A placid year that zipped by without too much upheaval. Work has gathered enough momentum to just go on without us rushing after it, life has settled into a happy routine. We didn’t travel together at all, did no really big life-changing things and mostly just stayed put bumbling along with our heads down. It’s given us the time and repose to think talk about the next 5-6 years and what we want from it. The floundering of the first few years of getting to know each other, ironing out the unreal expectations has made way for a pleasant calm and comfort in our relationship. We’ve found our feet in some sense. We have never had as many conversations as we did about the way want to steer our lives, about how much we’re willing to let go of, to continue to choose the life we do. And we have never been so clear about our openness to want to change things around every time they get too comfortable.

This year, we’ve each grown remarkably as individuals, more than we have as a couple. And I see it in the amount of time we have comfortably spent apart, whether it was in the many trips we made separately or the amount you worked, or in the lives we have made for ourselves outside of each other. We’ve inculcated personal hobbies, nurtured friendships separately and we’ve been happy to let go, give each other that much needed space, miss each other just enough and even spend time together, in silence.

A quiet year has unintentionally helped in steadying us in so many ways. And I know this because, as we fine-tune our individual personalities, this has been the year with the most confrontation, questions and disagreements — and yet somehow it has been the year with the fewest fights. I can only think of one occasion this (and it happened only just last week) when I wanted to walk out in a storm and get a breather by myself because we were driving each other stark raving mad. Sure, we don’t get it right all of the time, but this past year, you have reminded me time and again why I chose you, and why this works.

It works because it’s effortless. And it works because we’re constantly keeping it real. I realise that all we ever want as people is to be understood, to be understood by that one person with whom things are effortless, and things make sense. Even in all their maddening glory. You remind me, without mincing words — to cut it out. That I don’t have to try so hard. That I don’t have to fight, prove a point, or pretend to be someone I am not. You take me, as I am. And I know you wouldn’t have it any other way. And somehow I think I have learned a thing or two from it all. To live and let live. To choose well. To communicate freely. To apologise when I must. To laugh when the moment asks for it. To cry if I must. To just be me, effortlessly, because things are really only as complicated as we want to make them.

We don’t get it right all of the time. And this life we have, it isn’t perfect. But what is it, is real. I’ve learned that we can be so hopelessly, irrevocably in love with each other, and yet have the ability to be unimaginably pissed off at each other. That’s a very real possibility. And when that happens, like it did last week, you are most likely to drive me insanely angry with your asinine logic, your steadfast stubbornness and your incredibly stupid argument — and I am most likely to push you away when you’re trying to ease the heat of the moment, with an ill-timed hug. I can tell you off and know you will take it. I love that you’re the only person who really tells me when something I did was wrong, without sugarcoating it. I can always count on you to remind me never to settle for something that’s not worth it, and that it is never too late to be the person I want to be.

In conversation last week, I got wondering about what keeps the happy couples I know, the ones that have been married for aeons, make it look so young and fresh. And I have to be honest, I can’t pin point it. I don’t know how they make it work. But I know how we make it work. We’re still poles apart. We don’t always agree, and we don’t always want the same things — but we’ve been horribly honest about it and I know I speak for us both when I say this happened because, it is this year, more than ever before, that we have been incredibly comfortable in our own skins.

It’s been a year of consistently, quietly choosing life over stuff. Of constantly choosing well and fighting the Tyranny of Trend. Of being the best partners we could have, for each other. Of unabashed, young love. Of finding this inexplicable comfort that I feel with you now. Of filling-out and growing as individuals, and seeing how it translates quietly into our lives as a couple. Your confidence compensates when I feel a lack of it. Your stability adds weight when I feel like I’m going to float away. Your brevity gives me the peace I need, when I am done chattering away as I always do. Your quiet contemplation has taught me too, to slow down and be still. Some more.

Happy Anniversary, VC.
I love you so, so very much.

Why I’ve been MIA

Goa was gloriously hot when I came back from Bangalore. Dull skies with these tantalisingly grey heavy clouds looming large, but no rain to speak of. Several sessions of catching up with friends over chai and cake managed to rub it in some more, just how wonderfully rainy it was for exactly those same days I was away. I had missed all the monsoon action and was experiencing severe FOMO. 06

Its always lovely to be back in the safe, snuggly arms of my home after a trip away. Even if the trip is back to the original home — the mothership — the feeling of walking back into my own home is kind of special. I came back from Bangalore determined to slow down and pick up life where I had left off. Yes life, because it was only when I came home and looked around did I notice just how far back I had let everything “normal” slip. Eating out at an alarming frequency, my kitchen was so badly stocked. A look around the house would have given you a clue that neither I nor the hugsband had had the energy to worry about dusty corners and cobwebs. My desk was scattered with remnants of “important things” but that I had no memory of and no recollection of why they might even be important. My balcony plants were, err how do I put it, dead. The yard was (still is. I haven’t managed to get it cleaned out) overgrown, two bulbs in the staircase had fused eons ago but we just hadn’t bothered getting them fixed. So every time I entered the house post sunset, I had to scramble up in the dark. And somehow we preferred that to getting them fixed. So you get the idea.

It didn’t help that I cam back from holiday with the most violent flu and throat infection I’ve had in a long long time. Its been so long since I fell sick, I forgot what my basic anti-histamine used to be. As soon as I landed in Goa, I was home bound, with a raging fever, exhaustion, blocked nose, severe cough and the works with everything in between. I gave it a few days of plain old Crocin,  self-medication and home remedies, before I decided this was a mean bug and needed antibiotics. So overall it took a good long while to go away, and I wanted to be up and about before my folks landed.

07

But I quickly learned, that the slow-down time I was fantasising about, was not to be. It was a busy month, I felt like I was on overdrive for the most part, even when I was home doing perfectly mundane things. So much happened, I tried several times to come and post here, because I had so much to say. But most of it just ended up in half written posts that fizzled out the minute it was time to get up and go shopping for groceries. Or rush to the gym. Or go away for the weekend with my folks. Or drive my sister to Siolim. Or some such.

We had a fun week planned, of mostly chilling at home. Cooking out bums off, gallivanting around Panjim because they’re not into the touristy things, and mostly come here to decompress from their regular routine and spend time with us. Hot meals, shared at the dining table, with extra stools dragged in to seat us all, lingering around with laughter and chatter, long after the meal is done and our fingers had gone dry is usually the hallmark of a good holiday with the parents.

We have a few stock places to go to, and I indulge my parents by letting them do the little things around my house that they like to. My mother always wants to stock up my kitchen with essentials she thinks I must have. My father wants to potter about, haul me some new plants, or get my car cleaned, or put up some more painting. My sister, stuck in the middle just goes with the flow and hangs out. It’s a different kind of family time when you host your parents, instead of the other way round. And I really love it.

09

This time though, we took off and went away to Divar Island to spend the Independence day long weekend at a beautiful homestay, with the most wonderful family hosting us. It deserves a separate post, but it always makes my heart skip a few beats to know that I can drive out just 20 minutes, take a boat across the river and be transported to an island that is stuck in time. So close to home, and yet so far out.

The boys (the hugsband and the father) rode their bikes to the island and back. It was awfully hot to be out cycling, but one can never really get between boys and their plans that involve their toys. So while my mother, sister and I reached the island refreshed and relaxed, the hugsband and my father reached there sweaty, pink and exhausted.

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We spent the weekend swimming in the pool, drinking cocktails, eating home cooked food, chatting with the hosts and amongst ourselves, finding out own quiet corners to escape into, hired bikes in the evening cycled around in the evening and crashed early.

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It was just what I needed. Home food, conversation, some reading, a pool, lots of homemade cocktails, a khau-suey meal and best of all, no cell phone coverage. Is this what a staycation is like? I could do it more often.

A little rain might have made the weekend even more perfect, but I’m not complaining. The first half of August had come and gone without so much as a moment to stop and catch my breath. Every day had a plan, a new activity and I’m not sorry I was busy. I loved having my family over. The folks stayed with us for a week, and the sister was here for an extended trip until the end of the month — and as always, it makes me realise how different normal life is, as opposed to how it is when you have people staying with you.

The feeling of an extended holiday showed no signs of ending. Mentally, I was in limbo. In between all of this, there was a sudden spike in H&E orders. I cracked an idea and perfected what might be the next addition on the menu — an orange and almond cake. And I baked 15 cakes in 15 days.

10

That seems to be the way with the orders. I only every have spikes, with dull lulls in between. But the spikes always remind me how much I like to bake, just how exciting the process still feels even thought I’ve baked over a hundred cakes by now. I love figuring out new things, doing a little something differently each time, packing up the cake and sending off a happy client.

My hands were full with baking, juggling a couple of skype sessions to line up some work for the next few months, and also wrapping up some IFBM commitments. So I had little time to entertain the sister as much as I usually would. She spent most of her time working on a mural in my balcony. It features, you guessed it, a haathi. But the hugsband only let it pass if it had some element of him in it too. So the haathi? He’s riding a unicycle, if you please. It fits the space in my balcony perfectly and I’m rather pleased with how it turned out.

01

We ate out a fair bit, sampling the new Thai place, catching cocktails at a new joint in town, where I was also invited for a wine tasting the previous night. Its been a very full month as far as eating and drinking goes. I took a bit of a break form the fitness because it was just too much to keep it all going, and by the end of it, I was raring to get back and lift some weights.

13

It was just as well that most of our day time was spent indoors (and accompanied by cool beverages :)) because the heat spiked some time last week and I was convinced the monsoon is over. It felt like summer all over again. Blue skies, patchy fluffy clouds, bright hot sun, not a rain cloud in sight.

05

We were back to sweating our backsides off, and it might as well have been May all over again. If the skies hadn’t been so pretty, I might have been way pissed, but some part of me believed the rain wasn’t done.

02

One look at the sky and you wouldn’t think its possible to expect more rain. October-skies were in full bloom. In August! Shiny streaks of white clouds floating by. I even sent out an exasperated prayer, asking for a light drizzle, just to feel some relief. I have this theory that when the heat spikes unnaturally high, and it reaches the unbelievable and impossible to bear point, the only way ahead is a cloudburst.

And just as I had predicted, against everybody’s hopes, burst it did.

00

And of course, it hasn’t stopped since. It went on and on for 7 days straight, I kid you not. No rest. The last 3 days of it were relentless, without even slowing down to a drizzle. Pounding rain, so bad you would have laughed if I told you it was bright, hot and sunhiney just a week ago.

11

This isn’t normal for this time of year. The monsoon has been so scant, its worrisome. We’re not used to the late start followed by the patchy heavy spells with bright summery weather in between. This is not the Goan monsoon I know. But there’s good news, finally. Our water-table has been replenished, we’ve hit the healthy, safe mark. The paddy fields look lush and I think things are not going to be as bad as I imagined at the end of summer when the monsoon showed almost no signs of coming at all. But this pattern is scary, and I don’t know how we can begin as a community, but we need to fix this. I wonder where we can begin to make a u-turn.

I had my eyes on a relaxed, slow August at the end of the crazy run-up and the event that was IFBM, but it has been anything but that. I am relaxed and at peace, but its been a full month in so many other ways. I’m looking at picking up some work, a few exciting prospects brewing, I have my eyes on finishing up a personal project before the end of the year, and I want to ramp up the H&E menu too. Almost as if by magic, this busy-ness, it suddenly feels so good.

Sunday swing

Sunday

The news has depressed the daylights out of me this past week. Wherever I look, there’s a new atrocity. This week we’ve seen it all from violence against women, crimes against children, a plane crash, war, idiotic Indian politicians who never seem to take a break from doing asinine things, a natural calamity and its all over facebook and twitter. I try to get online, finish my work and get offline, but inevitably I let myself get into a discussion, evesdrop over a raging debate, or just keep reading — before I know it the day is done and I’m to my gills in bad news.

I shut the laptop, grumbling about another day gone by without working as much as I planned to. I take myself to the gym, the only place that has become a non-negotiable in my daily routine. I work my buns off, sweat out the sadness. It’s usually past 8.30 pm, and I tread slowly, dragging my feet back to my car and that familiar feeling returns — the fear that I cradle inside of me, the fear that is always bubbling beneath the surface, but I push away time and again. I’m out, alone, in the dark — what if something happens? The irony is I have just walked out of a kick boxing class — I come out feeling stronger physically, but wonder if something were to happen, would I be able to handle it mentally?

It doesn’t help that I have been homealone for the most of the week gone by. The husbands work trips are getting longer every time. Indoors too, I’m alone. But I brush the fears aside, just as long as I rush home and find myself indoors again. Safe. From everything outside of it. The rain, the dark, the people.

It seems like no place is safe anymore. Not this country, not the places we frequent, not even the schools we send our children to. Where is one to go if the only place I really feel safe is my own home?

*****

It’s a good kind of Sunday when the husband is home from a business trip. Its like temporarily putting a blanket over the fears that linger around. I have some music playing loud, as we rustle up idlies, sambar, chutney and mini vadas for brunch. Outside, it’s coming down in buckets, and it feels just so wet you want to stay indoors. Its safer indoors.

There’s nothing like a coastal monsoon to experience what wetness sounds like. Squelchy, pouring rain has a sound. And that sound, it feels wet. The grey skies hold back as long as they can — dark, looming large and heavy. And then when you’re least expecting it, tears apart, making way for a downpour. You’re indoors, and yet you feel just how wet it is outside.

Suddenly I feel glad to be indoors. In a neighbourhood that rarely has a crime reported. In a city that has so far been very, very kind to me. Where I can walk around after dark, in my gym clothes and not be leered at. Where wearing shorts doesn’t mean putting myself on display. Where I have never been groped. As yet. Where I can mostly be myself without having to cover up, think twice or need a chaperone. I’m glad I’m in a country that’s not at war. Yes, there are a lot of stupid people in influential positions making a lot of questionable decisions, but really, I feel safer here right now. And my heart goes out to those that have been in the news for all the wrong reasons this week.

Yes, it’s a good kind of Sunday. And I feel grateful. I feel glad. Even if just for a bit.

Incidentally, I just realised the playlist is a woman-strong one. So I’m sharing some favourites.

An old favourite, I suddenly caught it on the radio the other day. Amy’s voice is like mulled wine. Warm, spicy, dark and comforting. And this is one of my most loved Amy tracks. Perfect for a rainy day.

What is it about this woman! She’s so unusually appealing. I cannot quite put a finger on it. The music is pleasantly different, her hair, clothes, make up — just so unusual. The words, the unravel slowly and you realise what shes really talking about. I jumped on this train a little late, but I’m in love with Lorde.

Nina Simone is something I associate with the movies. Not the music I grew up listening to. The occasional track I remember is usually because it played in a movie, is all I know. But this track came to me in an 800 mb collection that was we-transferred to me across cities (yeah some of us do that for music). It’s grown on me. And how.

So listen, just stay happy, yeah? Stay safe and have a good Sunday, folks.

#thingsIneverimaginedIwoulddo

I have this hashtag going on Instagram, and I realised today that it has a fair number of pictures stacked up. Small packages of surprising things things I really never even imagined would come my way. Or that I’d jump in and do them willingly. And better still, enjoy myself. Little doses, small reminders that almost everything changes at some point or the other and sooner or later you end up doing many things you never imagined you’d do.

Good timing, because this morning it suddenly dawned on me that itsJulyalreadyfuckwhendidthishappen? and of course round 1 of OMGhowcanitbeJulyalready and has happened a couple of times over. Nothing like a hashtag to level things out and delude you into feeling better again, no? I mean, it was just the thing I needed.

So while the eternal cynic in me started counting down all the things I thought I’d do, things I wanted to do but obviously not bad enough because, well I haven’t. (You know that thing about life, and plans and lists — yeah, that) Little usually goes to plan and I realise I’ve done a fair bit of unplanned, unexpected things. Things I never imagined I would do. Yet somehow made me incredibly happy this year.

1) I’m an endorphin junkie to the core, the worst kind of cardio addict around. I used to pooh-pooh the idea of weights and strength training as boring, monotonous and only for those who wanted to bulk up.

1Strong

I knew I wanted to be fit, and for some reason that didn’t include lifting weights. But this year I embraced weights and have just not been able to look back. I never imagined a day would come when I’d value being strong, more than sweating it out after an hour of jumping around. This is an addiction I’m going to have a very hard time ridding myself of.

2) The process of getting leaner and fitter has really opened up my eyes to what my body can do. I didn’t think I was the dance-till-I-drop kinds. I had been to a Zumba class a few years ago and walked out rolling my eyes, telling myself I could never be seen jigging to J-lo and Sheela ki Jawaani. All such besharam type of dancing was saved for the dark corners of discos or a room with the curtains drawn.

 

2Dance

Now I crave my morning music fix and Zumba sessions. Heck I even voluntarily attended a couple of theme dance parties at the Studio, complete with costumes and custom-playlists and a couple of hours of non stop frenzied dancing. At the end of the most recent one — a Back-To-School party that was a complete blast btw — I drove home telling myself over and over “I never imagined I’d do this. EVER!”

3) I spent way more time with myself than I planned to. VC has had an uber-busy year, many professional changes that have kept him hard at work a lot more than we anticipated. A couple of my good friends moved away and I’ve drifted away from a couple of others.

4Myself

Just as well, because I got to spend a lot more time with myself. Doing things in the peace and quiet of my home. Cooking, reading, writing, thinking, planning. Even a bulk of the outings I’ve had, restaurants, drives, trips I’ve made, have been by myself. I never imagined I’d turn into a creature of solitude so soon. And I really didn’t think it would be my chosen mode of existence on any given day.

4) Speaking of friends, I’ve always been the kind to stick to my comfort zone. A handful of people I know and who know me, and pretty soon its a clique. This year that was shattered. Partly by circumstance, and partly by choice. Even though I have cribbed and complained about how those I once called friends are no longer around, I realise I have more friends than I ever imagined. They’re many in number and they’re varied like I never imagined — from blog friends who turn real-life friends, gym buddies, to older friends with children, to people in professions from dentistry to scuba diving. I’ve befriended new people more willingly this year and it has been fabulous.

3Happy

The days of only having one set of friends and doing the same things in and out are done. I’ve hung out with people over the weirdest things this year — making the Happy video, meeting a blog friend with spouse and dog in tow and having a fabulous time, having cook outs and barbecues, going cycling — and I’m sure I’m forgetting many other things. This year has been just so full. I never imagined that I would be in a place where I am never without more than a couple of options of people to hang out with or things to do, if I so wish. This is very new to me, especially for my life in Goa. Its been a year of doing many different things with many different people. I wish I had a picture for every different little group of people but just words will have to do for this one.

5) Thanks to the new-found and suddenly expanded circle of friends, I’ve found myself in situations I wouldn’t otherwise have willingly put myself. First of all, most of my friends are ladies. This is entirely new ground for me. I was too used to being the only girl surrounded by a gang of boisterous boys for too long. I never imagined that would change, but now I’m doing more girls nights out than I am willing to admit. Movie dates, dinners for two, potlucks when the boys are away, drinks with many noisy giggly women — yes, guilty of them all.And where there’s women, and when you’re hitting 30, there’s babies. So I sometimes find myself in situations like this.

6Ladies

A beach party for toddlers, which was entertaining, to say the least. I was the official photographer, and pitched in with a few games. It also helped that the party had a start and end time, after which I went home and decompressed with a glass of wine, hah.It is now pretty normal to hang out with friends and a baby or two, and I have to admit, it doesn’t feel so strange anymore. Even though I am still the odd one out in this respect. My reservations about being around babies seems to have faded a wee bit. Either that, or I’m just lucky to have friends with adorable and entertaining babies.

The test of my patience in this respect was the four days of volunteering my time with a children’s theatre production, which came out of the blue. And it was oddly satisfying.

10Play

The things you do for friends! Some times its stuff you don’t imagine will actually be fun, but you go ahead in the spirit of friendship. And then it turns out to be not half as bad! My responsibilities began with helping set up the set and scenes in this little amphitheatre, ushering the 20-pdd kids in on cue and making sure everything was in order behind-the-scenes. By the time it was show-time, I was filling in for a 12 yr old who didn’t make it to the play. And so I read a couplet, with much gusto, from Vikram Seth’s Beastly Tales from Here and There.

And I never act.

11Theatre

6) I’ve started doing outdoorsy stuff like I once used to. Whether its joining the hugsband on the odd ride when he goes cycling, or playing a sport.

5Friends Play

But Lagori with the neighbours? I totally never saw that coming.

Its mutated from a daily game of lagori into kho-kho, badminton and all sorts of obscure village games we fished out from the deep recesses of our humble colony upbringing.

7) I spent a fair bit of time writing letters this year. I was a bit obsessed at one point. Frantically writing them out every single day. Extremely satisfying to lick the stamps and post them off.

12Letters

But receiving letters in response, beats it all.

8) And then at some point, this happened!

8Love

For just 10 days this year, we turned into accidental parents of these fur babies. And briefly, I warmed up to the idea of keeping pets. Much as I like the idea of keeping dogs, the commitment to care for them for life, and turn my whole life upside down to accommodate their needs has kept me from doing it. I’m a commitment-phobe in this respect. I love my life way too much to have to make a change and put myself in the position where I will not be able to take off for an extended outing because I have to rush home to feed a dog, or to not be able to go on a weekend drive out of town because I have nowhere to leave the dogs, or to have to walk them three times a day in the rain (of which we have plentyyyyy here).

9-9Critters

But we woke up one morning in February and found these critters at our doorstep. They were barely 20 days old and some mean woman had picked the girls out of the fresh littler, put them in a box, driven all the way to my lane and dumped them in a gutter. Yeah we don’t like girl-doggies in this country, is it a wonder what happens to girls of the human kind?

It was heartbreaking, but I held my ground and fed them in a little bowl outside the gate, hoping their mother could come find them. No such luck. VC fell headlong in love, took them inside our yard and we named the black one Hash and the brown one Brownie (hash-brownie, get it?).

9VC Love

Life changed dramatically. We’d begin and end our days outside, at the doorstep. Feeding, petting, cuddling and generally being entertained by these fur balls. They had made themselves very much at home in a carton I had lined and put out for them. I wasn’t ready to take them into the house yet.But I was hopelessly in love, in no time at all. I was their primary caregiver, peeking my head out the balcony on the hour to ensure they weren’t wandering on the streets, or being too adventurous in my yard. I’d feed them three times a day and they’d recognise me when I came, run up to my feet and beg for food. I got no work done that week because I was downstairs playing with them, or just watching them, more than I was upstairs at my desk.

7Pets Love

I wrote a post about how we had decided to keep them. But I never ended up posting it because in 10 days, Hash developed Parvo — a fatal gastro infection that attacks dogs that haven’t had enough mother’s milk to build a strong immune system. There is little that can be done to fight the disease, even lesser if the puppies are not with their mother. We took them to the local animal rescue where they would be better cared for than in our home and our inexperienced hands.

Leaving them behind was the most gut wrenching thing I’ve done in a while. I bawled like a baby as I walked back to my car and couldn’t drive because I couldn’t see through the tears. I went back every day for a week to check on them, but Hash got progressively worse and pretty soon Brownie caught the infection too. The plan was to hope against hope that they recover and adopt them when they were healthy and fit to be taken home again. Unfortunately neither made it. Now I think I can handle pets, sometime in the future. I’m willing to try, and I never imagined the day would come.

9) I’ve jumped into a lot of fun projects this year, on account of having more free time and less serious commitments. There was the Happy video that was creatively, super satisfying. And then there was the Dare video which we made right before the World Cup began. I am by no means a great dancer. Not even a good one. I used to be shy and inhibited about doing things like this in public — I never participated in college fests and the like. But somehow I care less these days (some might say I ought to care just a little bit ;)) and when Princy asked if I’d be in her Zumba video, I jumped right in.

The husgand and I have been taking our foodeos rather seriously, and it has given birth to many a video-keeda in our brains. I have fallen in love with the medium and plans to make several food and non food related videos over what’s left of this year, are afoot.

Over the course of a week in June, I helped my neighbour paint, distress and re-paint her dining set. I have never thought I had the patience or the creativity with fine hand work, and yet when she asked, I committed to it.

13Projects

Afternoons in the sun were spent scraping paint and polish off 6 chairs and a table, until we had blisters, distempering and patiently waiting for them to dry and then scraping it all off again with that decidedly distressed look. In the bargain, I learned that distressing furniture (something that I have lusted over at Chor Bazaar and several expensive boutique stores) is deadly simple. It’s basically the organised way of taking something brand new, painting it, and scraping it all downto look old. It’s tiring and time consuming because it’s all physical work, but now I know that if the itch ever strikes again, I can do it myself, without having to spend a fortune on buying fakely distressed furniture!

10) And speaking of projects, I think I’ve turned into a pretty decent Project Manager. In February, when Arundati visited Goa, Aparna, she and I met and casually talked about having a Food Bloggers Meet. We began by imagining it to be a small event that wouldn’t attract more than 15-20 people, we’d get some bloggers to come talk about topics of interest and generally take the party offline. Since we know so much about each other only through the world of the web and our blogs, we thought it would be nice to meet for real.

IFBMeet_Logo

We began working on the idea slowly, and rather organically when we were all busy doing our little bit to make it happen, the event has morphed into this massive project in our little hands. The Indian Food Bloggers Meet is now slated to be an annual event. The agenda is super exciting and we have received almost 40 registrations and the total participation has crossed 50 members. We started by making cold calls to sponsors who would help make the event happen, and now have some food brands knocking on our doors asking if they can partner with us. We aimed at reaching out to bloggers to speak to us, but the agenda has widened to include experts in food writing, food photography, publishing etc.

We are now in the final run-up and I am stoked by the response we have received. It is the first of its kind national meet for food bloggers in India, and to think it all started in a casual conversation over lunch, in a beach shack in Morjim, just blows my mind. To think that this is happening alongside people who were mere online presences to me a few years ago, who I only knew through the interface of the blogs I have read and loved, and who have now turned friends and fellow organisers (Aparna, Arundati and Nandita) makes it all seem like a bigger feat. I loathed the idea of managing projects, and the little view I had into it at work in the agency life turned me off. But it seems my personality is quite akin to managing projects efficiently, in an organised way, and if the area of work interests me — or as in this case, is close to my heart — I have it in me to pull out all the stops and go at it with all guns blazing. It has been an exciting, humbling, exhilarating an very satisfying experience to be a part of the team that is coordinating this across 4 homes, 3 cities and several different levels of busy-ness in our lives outside of the meet.

I’m looking forward to this being an annual food blogger event that isn’t just about the eating but more about the meeting, one that isn’t driven by commercials or a PR-agenda, where networking is a by product of the main focus which is to share some words, thoughts and a lot of laughs with those that we have read and respected for so long.

11) Incidentally, a few months ago, for the very first time in my life I have gone to the point of having zero income. I was in between projects and I quit my Burro gig — which was the only constant month-on-month fixed assignment I had. I did it for a variety of reasons, and it was a tough call to take, because coupled with the decision to cut back on other assignments and focus on a couple of personal projects has made me 100% dependent on the hugsband. Something I never imagined I would do.

The results have been mixed. I definitely miss the flexibility of having my own income, but I like that it has curtailed a lot of unnecessary expenses. I am now forced to think about every little thing I want to do and question if it is worth my time, and what it will mean for me, and also evaluate every big purchase I make. This is of course a temporary phase, and I will ramp up the assignments when I am done with current projects on hand, but the situation it has put me in has been an eye opener. It has also made me prioritize my time more carefully, pick people and projects wisely and therefore savour the highs even more.

Remember my thoughts on ambition, in this post? More and more I realise that yes, I could continue to work my ass off and there will always be lots of money to be made, but I am okay earning less (even nothing at all, as long as I have enough to survive) if it means it affords me the time to do some of the other things like cook 365 new things a year, or write a book, or learn to dance professionally, train for a marathon — whatever it may be.

For a year with less “work” and more things to do, it hasn’t turned out too shabby, eh?

Rain food

Where there is rain love, there will soon be rain food. And if you come back in a few days, I promise you rain music too. Trust me on this. If I have learned one thing from the atrocious summer gone by it is this, that I function like a seasonal creature. When the weather is grey, I am grey. When its sunshiney, I am sunshiney. When its horrendously hot, I am horrendously hot. Except not in the ooh-thats-hawwt sort of way, but more like sticky oily skin, sweaty nether regions, mood swings and ill temper. And there’s nothing hot about that. But now that the monsoon is officially here and I’m waking up to rain-swept mornings and misty windowpanes I’m doing what Other season creatures do. I’m coming back to life, much like the parched world around me is bursting forth again. I’m also mentally preparing myself for un-dried laundry, mildew-y pillows and trying to see the silver lining. Which is a month of light, essential rain, before the slightly inconvenient relentless rains begin. And it’s filling me up with joy. The kind that most of these firang bloggers seem to be expressing over their delayed summer. The kind of joy that comes out in exaggerated sighs, excessive smiling and repeated declarations like “It’s here, it’s so here, it’s finally herrrre!”

And like a true seasonal creature the weather invokes the desire to eat these very specific things. Season-appropriate stuff that doesn’t make an appearance in my kitchen all year round. I’m talking about rain food. Like, you know, pakodas?

Except I was making them in the house of a beer lover. So they’re beer battered kanda bhajias, if you will.

What's a rainy day without some pakodas?

Aided by the fact that I’ve been pottering about my kitchen again, rather than just rushing in and out as fast as I can. I’ve been spending time in there, not rejecting it like a lover who no longer holds my interest. I’m flirting with the idea of going back to life the way it was pre-summer. I’ve been cooking more than just eggs and toast. I am willing to stand by a hot stove and make it happen without feeling like the life is being gradually sucked out of me. Full meals are back again, complete with accessories like salad and raita, sabjis that are not run of the mill and slipshod, and occasionally a crunchy-munchy makes for an interesting embellishment too.

And that’s how these Beer Battered Onion Rings came to be. Because it was a rainy day that just called for it.

While I am really fully enjoying the outdoors in this time of monsoon — my most favourite part of this season — I’m also snuggling indoors taking full advantage of the rare opportunity to use blankets, drink lots of hot chai and sit around without a fan on. Changing seasons also change the light around my home. Where summer had me shutting all the curtains away from the blinding light, June has me turning on the lights on in the daytime, on some days. The harsh, direct, bright white light of summer makes way for a mellow, yellow-grey hue all day long. When a thick carpet of clouds floats over us, it gets gloomy and grey. I am blessed to have a large window right in front of my cooking range, so I can cook facing the window which is exactly the direction the rain lashes down on us. Cooking in the monsoon is usually cooking with a view of rain trickling down, turning the large windowpanes into pools of melding watercolour greys and greens.

It was that kind of morning, last weekend when the rain was coming down in fluid streaks, and I stood by the stove pouring my morning chai into my blue mug, and something told me I needed to cook rain food. A warm, crunchy, and fit-for-the-rain snack. It had to be a fried something of course. And while heating up a load of oil in a wok is the last thing I voluntarily do, the rain calls for some ground rules to be broken. VC was only too happy. Getting Reva to cook fried stuff = achievement unlocked!

I had bookmarked these Beer Battered Onion Rings I saw on Joy’s blog, because I knew it would be a welcome treat for VC who loves onion rings. The only other time they were made in this home was when he made them himself in a fit of anger; convinced that I would never, ever deep-fry anything for him. He had decided that day that if he wanted something crispy with the goodness of transfats and triglycerides, he’d have to do the deed himself. His burst of anger and the prominent streak of rebellion had made him improvise and add a South Indian twist to his onion rings — blending in come hot red chillies, curry leaves and a dash of mint into the batter. So good, that between mouthfuls of those spicy pakodas-with-a-twist, I admitted to him that they needed to be made again. Gasp!

Joy’s recipe seemed like a great thing to combine with VC’s flavor combo, and I already know what the use of flour, corn flour and beer can do to anything deep-fried. It gives the word crunchy an all new meaning, adding that required lightness to the batter, creating ruffles of golden crispiness, that cling to sweet rings of onion.

Of course getting VC to shoot this took absolutely zero convincing on my part. Rain, onion rings and beer – need I say more? So that’s how we made another foodeo. It seems we can’t escape the beer sneaking in, even if we try. This one may sound a little weird, but take it from me — once you try it, you’re going to want to make it again. Something about South Indian spices meeting beer battered onion rings makes it perfect for the rain. If that’s hard to digest, think of it as onion pakodas fortified with beer. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a winner. And its perfect for the monsoon. And it will perk up a boring meal. And it will make the perfect snack-for-no-reason. Don’t wait for a reason, or the right season. Make and thulp, I say.

I’m cross-posting versions of the video-posts from Hungry & Excited on to this blog, so those of you who’re seeing repeats, please look away :)

Slow Sundays

Sunday. It’s the only day that begins without the alarm ringing frantically. His on his side of the bed, mine on my side. Strategically uncoordinated, just so we can hit snooze and create a medley of cacophony for approximately twenty five minutes before we kick ourselves out of bed and begin the dash to get into the proceedings of the day. Sundays are the one day that I let myself sleep in. I’m a complete morning person, and even though sleeping in in my books means that I am up and pottering about the house at 8 instead of 6.30, I savour those extra 80-90 minutes, sans the ringing alarm and repeated snooze routine to the max. I wake up feeling extra rested and even if there’s a slow, lazy Sunday ahead, I feel ready to face the day.

Summer Sundays have been extra slow, with me waking up hot-headed and just not wanting to face the day. So when the otherwise totally beat-from-the-week-VC woke up super early, brought me chai in bed just as I was surfacing and gently suggested we make our next food-video, all the slowness of Sunday flew out of the window. Truth be told, I wasn’t feeling too enthusiastic. That’s been the general theme of summer. Zero enthusiasm. The hottest of hot days (that I thought was last Monday) happened to be this past Sunday, and in my mind, I had planned to order-in some greasy Chinese, chug back a few beers and binge-watch my latest re-addiction at least six hours of the day. I was all set to have that kind of weekend, of just vegging out and doing absolutely nothing. I was also slightly beat from a saturday of baking (four orders!) and hungover from the shenanigans of a friends 30th birthday party the previous night. But. The rare opportunity when VC volunteers to pitch in to help me make a video for my blog is not one to be passed up so easily. So without giving it too much thought, for fear of changing my mind (or his), I agreed. We picked a simple recipe — a basic chicken curry gravy I recently learned from my grandmother on a trip back to Bangalore. She told me this is my grandfather’s recipe and filled me in on an anecdote or two about how she came from a vegetarian home, but my grand father taught her how to cook meat. I was fascinated by the story as much as the recipe and had filed it away as a must-make, on my phone. I am a sucker for this kind of homely, simple curry which uses a handful of spices, ground down to make the base. In this case, it is with coconut. There are almost no additional masala powders that go in after that! We swapped the chicken for eggs because I didn’t want to rush off to the supermarket to buy anything. And that’s how we ensured that there was no slip between thought and action, and we got right to it.

I made lunch, while VC filmed it, teaching himself some video techniques and iMovie on the go. Lens whacking he tells me is the new in thing. I nod along, disinterestedly. My interest in anything apart from the things I really care about is always cursory. I go wide-eyed for a couple of minutes, peek into the youtube video he is looking at totally intently and wonder what sort of DNA makes him go headlong into everything like his life depends on it. If I were making the film by myself, I’d probably just film it and be done with it. Or not film anything at all — which explains why these videos are so few and far between. But when he gets involved, there’s always a plan. And he will go to any lengths to make that plan work as best as possible. At one point, he climbed out the kitchen window and perched himself on the parapet outside, to get the most comfortable angle.

perch

Working with iMovie isn’t the easiest thing around and we had a lot of roadblocks, but we’re figuring it out. Hopefully this enthusiasm won’t fade away before we figure at least some of it out! Learning something new and venturing into brand new territory is always an exciting thing. But its also a lot of work in progress and we’ve got lots of learning to do. I’m attributing the slightly dodgy video quality to his self-taught skills. But when there’s a fabulous meal at the end of it and a Sunday well spent — yet another one in the Sunday series that has taken a very, very, very long break in recent times — I really can’t complain.

Satiated, rubbing my belly and looking over VC’s shoulder as he painstakingly edited the film, I realised this is what a good Sunday is to me. It’s been a very long time since VC has been home. Not just physically, but his presence, all here, in the present, has been hard to come by. His busy stint has been prolonged and most weekends he’s either at the office, and even if he isn’t he’s working at home, or mentally checked out from anything remotely domestic, or apart from his work. What little free time he has he dedicates to cycling his heart out and I’m glad he has a new found love to bust his pent up energy with, de-clutter his mind and just ride out whenever he wishes. If video-making can be another such hobby, I’ll be even happier.

Everybody needs a break, and God knows VC has needed a day off like this for a long time now. I’ve been noticing it in his preoccupied eyes and his constantly mumbling in his sleep state of mind. All signs of a mind with too much going on, so it was good to just give in and soak it up, for who know how short-lived this bliss might be?

edit

Coincidentally, the weather turned post lunch and we had rain in the evening. A series of dinners eaten out (yes I’ve undone all the goodness of going months without eating out at the hands of the last few weeks of summer) were trumped by a Sunday indoors — the first in a long time. A Sunday evening in the company of beer, VC clickety-clacking away at the video, the clamour of the downpour outside and one of my favourite Bonobo tracks (also used in the video) playing on loop.

walk

plant

Curtains swished in the breeze that has suddenly become so strong and seems to be flowing right through my house, and I watched it all feeling peaceful in a way that I haven’t in a long time. It’s a different kind of peace to realise you’re completely in the present and just happy with everything the way it is, even in its imperfect simplicity. I felt ever so grateful. For that kind of peace. For the turn in weather, the summer receding and the monsoons heading our way. For the return of some energy to cook us dinner again. For neighbours who cheer me up with gifts of money-plants to put in my home. For technology and for being able to learn things on the internet. For friends who incessantly chatter on whatsapp and make me chuckle all to myself. For a husband who pulls me out of every lull that I have might have found myself in. For his company that always makes staying home the better option. For slow Sundays that surprise me.

Ooh, almost forgot! Here’s the video:

The morning after

It happens every year. Exactly the same progression of events, just in higher degrees of suffering and desperation. Every year, the summer slowly gets to me. The air gets thicker and stickier still as the weeks inch along painfully. The insides of my home get progressively stiller, stuffier and by the end of May I’m at that point (usually a weekend) where I absolutely cannot take it anymore. The tipping point, when the mind boggles just wondering how much hotter it can possibly get, and a whole 24 hours is spent indoors within an artificially cooled room, eventually comes when the heat builds up to this impossible crescendo of sweat and tears. This year has been no different. Just a little extended and the agony a little prolonged. It’s June and the much awaited monsoon is yet to make an appearance.

Sultry days, even the farmers are wrapping up.
Sultry days, even the farmers are wrapping up.

I’ve been a wreck this summer, but you know that already. And what that means is I’m constantly battling a condition where my energy is fading faster than I can double up on the Enerzal; a perennially wilted, sticky and oily face; all new rock bottom lows in enthusiasm to do anything goes. Things are off, something is wrong, to put it slightly ambiguously. And as is always the case, when my head and heart are not at peace, it begins to reflect around me. The house is a bit of a mess — nothing major, small niggling signs that prick me when I notice them. Piles of dry clothes lie unfolded and the mountain is only growing. My fridge needs cleaning, but I couldn’t be bothered. I’ve slacked off big time on supplies too. Anymore and we will wake up one day to no toothpaste. In fact there’s many things that need to be replenished but the list that usually comes to with a little thought at the start of the month, attacks me at odd times in fits and snatches, and I’m feeling a bit inadequate because I don’t have a handle on it all. Basic chores that I am usually very prompt about are lying undone for days on end. Meals are half-assed excuses to get some food down our gullets. Cooking has been stripped down to the bare minimum. Repurposing leftovers is the name of the game. Because what little enthusiasm I muster at the start of every day is reduced to a tiny smidgen that is quickly squished to nothingness by noon. After that I struggle to eat lunch — or worse, make a meal of falooda or buttermilk — and then lie on the floor under the fan for the next 3-4 hours doing absolutely nothing.

One day, I decided to get out and get fresh. The relief was short-lived.
One day, I decided to get out and get fresh. The relief was short-lived.

Even picking up a book to read seems to be a chore. I seriously can’t remember the last time I baked anything. I have let the food blog die a silent death once again, and getting any writing done is proving to be a draining activity. Getting some real brain work done is close to unthinkable, because even the most basic stuff is a herculean task. I have been moping around for the last few weeks, this unexplained listlessness wrapped over me like a shroud I cannot shed. The sheer inertia is impossible to shrug off and movement is unimaginable. Thank god my work load is a lot lesser, but somehow its still piling on like never before — how?! It’s totally not like me to leave emails unanswered, and the list is now spilling out of my inbox because I can’t get myself to sit at my laptop long enough and focus on something productive. The only thing that has managed to channel some amount of productivity and focused energy is the planning and organising of this event (a post on that is in order) and a binge-fest of all eight seasons of That 70s Show (a post on that is coming up too). Apart from these things and working out like a maniac (seriously the only boost of energy in any given day), all I seem to be doing is perfecting the art of lying around and waiting for something to change.

Summer temptation. Successfully curbed.
Summer temptation. Successfully curbed.

That was the state of affairs until Monday — which I officially call the worst day of the season, thus far. That impossibly, blindingly bright white-hot summer that hits you in slanting rays you can shield yourself from, no matter how hard you try. Indoors its a furnace, outside its a sauna. The good thing is when you reach that day when even just breathing becomes difficult, forget moving around and getting much done, you know the next day will most certainly be a rainy one. And sure enough, it came down on us at midnight. In bright flashes of lightning that lit the deep blue square of darkness that is my window, punctuated by the crack and bang of roaring thunder. Of course I woke up and was delirious for excitement, peeked outside and watched it wash down for a good fifteen minutes, before I decided I could sleep in peace again.

Wild things make a spot of joy in an otherwise tired day
Wild things make a spot of joy in an otherwise tired day

One good pre-monsoon wash is all it takes for temperatures to dash down to the 20s. The dust has settled and I feel like the clouds have lifted. I can breathe again. I can live again. Almost instantly, the morning after was a relief. The metaphoric spring in my step was back. I woke up and went about things with renewed alacrity, like the person I was for the past few weeks had been shed like a discarded sock, flung off my foot at the end of a long and tiring day. And an energetic me surfaced from beneath, pumped with energy from reserves I didn’t know existed.

When the last shred of desperation snapped. I shopped my hair off.
When the last shred of desperation snapped. I chopped my hair off.

As summer inches along, I wait for this kind of a morning. The morning after. The morning after a night of  beautiful rain. The morning after a night of beautiful rain, following a wickedly hot day. It’s like pouring a bucketful of water and putting out a hungry fire, in a single, sweeping, all-consuming move that shows who’s boss. It’s like watching with a sigh of relief, as the last embers die out hissing silently, and knowing you ended it in the nick of time. Anymore and it might have burnt too far. And then you stamp the ground with pounding steps, stifling the last embers gasping for breath, killing what was left of the wretched, destructive heat and speckles of sordid summery that they carry. You go to bed, rest assured that the morning after will see a new day.

30.

It’s about time I manned up and gave making baguettes a shot.
Maybe its about time I quit this time-sucking assignment and focus on work I really want to devote my time to.
I must learn to fix niggling web issues myself. It’s about time!
Got to look up my savings, about time I assessed where I stand, for myself.

“It’s about time” has unconsciously become a refrain in my life of late. I wonder if it is my subconscious reminding me to grow up a little bit. I am 30 today, after all. Some would say its about time.

*****

When I visited Bangalore early in April, I got a big kick out of watching movies with my folks, lying in bed between them. Until one day I had a giggle fit, and exclaimed to my parents, “Jeez, I’m going to be 30 next month. Isn’t it about time I stopped sleeping in your bed?!”

My father grinned, but my mother nonchalantly informed me that no matter how old I get, they will always be 20+ years older.

*****

10 years ago, I had a head full of plans and I honestly thought I had it all figured out. Whatever happened, I was going to face it with a lot of hard work and determination. Naively, thought there was nothing that I couldn’t fight with that combination on my side. And I applied the same approach to everything in life — college exams, job applications, my love life, constant clashes with my parents. Yep, that pretty much summed up my life 10 years ago.

I was a restless, edgy, antsy 20-something and just wanted to break out of home, go out into the world, where I assumed things would be easier. Where they would be free-er. All I wanted was a high-flying job for a year. The plan was to then go back to study, to business school. Get an MBA, get into the Talent Seeking/Management business an climb the corporate ladder, while piles of money flowed in. Yeah I didn’t stop to ask anyone how feasible this plan was. I had it all sorted. It was a straight line and there was nothing I couldn’t fight without that hard work and determination backing me. I had few friends, but a full and pretty active social life. I didn’t spend too much time at home, stretching work and socialising way beyond accepted limits. I had tasted sweet freedom of financial independence, without realising I still had the safety net of going back to a home where my parents watched over me. It was a partial kind of convenient independence, but I lived under the notion of being free.

I thought I had found the one big, unshakeable love, but I didn’t want to settle. In a distant future in my mind, I had named my babies, the ones I assumed I’d have with the boy I thought I was going to end up with. And yet, I didn’t want to be married or worse, that disgusting word – domesticated. I think my hypothetical future involved living-in and procreating without waiting for anyone’s permission to do so. Ten years ago I had it all sorted. Ten years I had plans. My plans.

But plans are overrated. And life does that thing it always does. Messes with all plans, shows you who’s boss. And like a predictable movie gone wrong, the itch to study faded away slowly. The heady high of earning money had me fairly intoxicated and I wanted more. The big love shattered, the babies turned into a distant dream. Nothing was as I had hoped it would be, and yet I was alive and kicking through it all. Five years down, I was married and been through a string of jobs in advertising. I had realised in time that an MBA would have been disastrous for me and working HR even more so. I had tasted the joy of writing and I wasn’t prepared to let it go. And so began a steady stream of jobs that were wrong for me, along the way to find that elusive job that would hopefully be good for me.

Once a cut-throat Bangalorean, a city girl — someone who couldn’t do without the perks, I found myself in small town Goa, etching a life out for myself. Little did I know then that the quiet that once frightened me would become my best friend in no time at all.I discovered the kitchen and amidst the clatter of pots and pans and crackling tadka, I fell head-long in love with food. Only to go right ahead and get completely obsessed with it.

When I think back in time, it is the last decade that throbs back to life without much effort. It’s almost like the two that passed before it, never happened. The last decade probably did more to shape my personality than I imagined. It chiseled the poky corners, smoothed the edges of my restless, antsy being. It’s taken much of the unpleasant edge off, and made way for a quiet confidence that doesn’t need permission. A confidence that creeps up on me silently, that doesn’t wait to be told when to act. That doesn’t need an excuse to burst to life.

A decade ago, I was so far from knowing who I am as a person, and what truly makes me happy. I was busy looking for it in relationships that tied me down and twisted me into being a person I was not. Professionally, I was hoping to find joy in places it didn’t exist. And in my head, I had a dream that could not have been more inappropriate and wrongly suited to who I am.

10 years ago, while I was actively rejecting and rebelling against most things my parents taught me, against everything that probably came organically to me, in fits and starts but I was too cool to give a chance, I didn’t foresee things would change so drastically one day. The last decade has shown me that.

Because that antsy, unsure, restless 20 something girl that I was, eventually went ahead to do all the things I never planned to do. I got married. I gave into a love that was liberating. I discovered a life of domesticity that ironically, freed me from myself. Emotionally, as well as from the tightly bound goals I imagined for my life. It’s shown me that the things I most loathed, looked down upon and scorned would eventually come back to be the biggest and best sources of joy.

The outgoing, filling-life-with-people-and-stuff person that I was turned calm and quiet, embraced the forced solitude of small-town life with grace and created a life she never imagined possible, in it. I didn’t know it then, but the solitude that I feared soon became my biggest strength and security.

Calm Life

That the carefully cultivated fear of most things new, of the unknown and unfamiliar, of opinions and judgement would be the very same thing that would push me to try things I’d never imagine myself to do. Heck I found a life in the kitchen and turned it into my raison d’etre. It doesn’t get more turn-around-y than that.

Make Things

In the quest for an undomesticated, unsettled, rebel’s life I realised there were far too many cakes to bake before I let life really make me settle the way I imagined it would.

It has been a decade of living, loving and learning and I can’t wait for what the new year holds. So I quietly trudge along, while all the time keeping a close look on myself, and the happiness and satisfaction of those I love. It has been a decade of growing into a daughter, parent, friend, wife, confidante, support system and client all rolled into one — and playing each of those roles better than before. A time of living every emotion — loving like I never have, tasting freedom, owning joy, facing dissatisfaction — completely, feeling it like I never have.

Happy

*****

Sometime last week MM emailed me this piece by Elizabeth Gilbert and it really hit home. Because everything she describes her parents to be, is true for my parents too. And everything she describes in the piece, is everything I have rejected, tagged uncool and unacceptable at 20, and is everything that I have come to now regard, love and respect. Not just that, it is everything I have slowly imbibed and accepted as my own, in the life I have carved for myself today.

As I read the words, my heart grew heavy and ached to hug my mother and my father. Because it described with unbelievable accuracy, everything that my parents have brought us up to believe in. In essence, I could have written that about my parents. It is  is all i grew up listening to, watching, breathing and imbibing.

Theirs was no hippie way of life, but definitely one in which they played by their own rules, evaluated decisions based on worked best for them, what made them happy and gave them satisfaction. And even to this day, they continue to live this way. While I may have unconsciously taken the same path, it is only in recent time that I have become aware of what it means to consciously  live this way. It means forcing yourself to evaluate everything you do and sometimes take decisions that aren’t popular, acceptable, convenient or easy. It can leave you lonely physically and emotionally, but builds a deep-rooted courage and sense of being self-assured. But most of all it sets the strong foundation of living free of fear — of societal acceptance, of new ground, of unfamiliar territory.  Ultimately it has taught me to live my life the way I deem fit.

Perhaps this is why I feel like it is about time, all the time. For the last few years I have been blurring the lines of the boundaries I want to draw. I have been treading the line, stepping in and out, toggling between the roles I want to play, and those that are expected of me. But eventually, I realise that it is time to stop trying. And to start doing. To stop asking for permission. Waiting for validation. Seeking approval. Playing by the rules. Staying within the lines and doing things to plan.

There’s something about distance, physical as well as the distance of time, of ten long years, that can put a mellow spin on things. Because over the last few years, I have slowly realised that it takes a long time, but things eventually come full circle, and before you know it, you realise you may very well be turning into the kind of person your parents always wanted you to be. The kind of person you swore you would never be.

Is that what growing up is like?

Calm Down

*****

It seems I’ve only ever written birthday posts in retrospect. Until today. Read some older birthday ruminations, if you feel like, from one, two, three, four years ago.

Back home and back home again

It’s been close to two years since our last big holiday — once an annual thing in our lives — and apart from the recent getaway (VC missed it btw), I can’t seem to recollect the last time the hugsband and I went on a holiday with no agenda but to unwind. VC is mostly immune to this need, feeling the pangs of wanderlust maybe once a year, or less. I was the one with the constant ants-in-pants, wheels-on-heels condition. So it is somewhat odd yet comforting, in retrospect, to note that that familiar get-up-and-go itch has not reared its head in a while.

Part of it is that life has become so all-consuming, it leaves no room to want to get out and do something else. But while the desire to travel seems to be temporarily hibernating, earlier this month I acknowledged the very real issue of having to get out of this gharelu cocoon I have built around me. It’s really easy to get comfortable in here and puts me in the headspace where things amble on endlessly, with me plodding away with my routine every single day, going through the same motions on repeat. Until, bam! Suddenly one I realised it would soon be April and I hadn’t even set one foot forward with some of the things I wanted to finish by mid-2014. There’s nothing wrong with being gharelu, per se. God knows, I love it like I haven’t loved anything in a long time. But it is one of the downsides of being self-employed and owning your time. You have so much of it that sometimes you lose track of where and how you’re spending it. While I was busy baking, cooking, gymming, and just being a home-bred chicken, time was zipping by and I realised that I needed get away in order to get some work done. The kind of work that will not be interrupted by the impossible-to-quell desire to bake a cake or set my cutlery in order, or finish reading a book, or cook an unnecessary elaborate meal for no apparent reason, or fit in an extra run in a day that has already had its fill of endorphins. Who knew every day life could be so distracting?

So I decided to take myself out of this physical space that lures me into a tangle of impossibly high levels of activity. Some distance was necessary. I considered checking into a nice home-stay/resort in Goa but quickly decided it wasn’t worth the indulgence. I was slacking off on my self-made deadlines. The last thing I needed was a reward. I contemplated checking out of life as I know it, cutting back on things like chores, gym, and my monthly writing gigs, to lock myself in and write. But I don’t trust myself around my home. It’s like locking a child up, in a candy store. I can find distraction where distraction doesn’t know it exists.

Scratch that. Hanging out at home was a bad idea. But it needed to be a homely place where I wouldn’t have to think about the basics like food, shelter, peace and quiet. So, I did the next best thing I could think of. I went home. To Bangalore.

So ironic. I escaped the cocoon of my own home, in Goa. To go to the urban crawl that is Bangalore. To write. But, it was a trip like no other I’ve made at home. First of all because I did very little outside home, because for a change, it wasn’t a holiday for leisure. I had a plan and I wanted to make sure it worked out. So I met practically nobody, stayed in at home, got a fair bit of my writing done, while ignoring the world outside.

It was also the first time I went back home alone, since I left in 2008. Every other trip before this has been either with VC or for a specific purpose like meeting the sister, my grandmother or to attend a function. Either way, it always ends up being a big reunion of sorts, splitting my days in a tight schedule of ticking off things to do, and visiting as many people as I can. So it was good to have no prior agenda, because for a change I got to live the life the way I used to before I got married. Sleeping in my bed, in my bedroom. Waking up to home made breakfasts and filter coffee. Lounging around, catching up on reading, writing and watching TV and movies with my folks (I carried the whole Oscar list of movies for them and we watched many of them together). Eating meals together in the kitchen I have grown up eating in. Cackling away with my mother as my father watched on with a smirk on his face, happy to have the noise back in his home, I think.

Tea. Book. Bangalore weather. Peace.
Tea. Book. Bangalore weather. Peace.

Like I said the last time I visited, Bangalore has become all about home, rather than the other way around. It’s comforting that no matter what changes around you, within you or in your life, there will always be home to go back to. A home that is still as vibrant with energy, colourful, cheerful and happy just the way it has been for as long as you remember. That dinette that I have dined at for almost two decades, gulping down dosas and chapaties as they got made and amma just kept them coming. The frothy filter coffee she makes fresh every morning by passing it through two tumblers, painstakingly, every single time. My father’s garden, garden furniture and unused dark room that has and probably always will remain a shoe closet! The den that holds all the books I’ve gathered thru life, the same collection my mother begs me to sort through but I just can’t get myself to do. The treadmill that doubles up as a towel drying stand. The bathrooms with the perfume of freshener. The super high bed in my parents bedroom that we pile ourselves on to and watch TV. The stool in the bathroom that’s always placed just so. While everything else might undergo sea change, home will always be homely. It was good to go back and immerse myself in that a little, no strings attached.

Breakfast rituals.
Breakfast rituals.

This time around I even minimised visits to VCs home, in order to cut all distractions and focus on my work. It worked wonders. I was much more relaxed without the stress of having to be in both homes at once. It’s amazing but it’s taken me five years of constantly playing see-saw to finally take a stand, choose the home I am comfortable in and stay put without looking for a reasonbeyond because I want to do. For once I didn’t hide behind excuses, told it as it was, and best of all, didn’t feel the twinge of guilt that inevitably follows. It helped that VC cornered me into taking this stand, forcing me to man up and not succumb to the unrealistic expectations of daughters in laws.

The only person I did catch up with was N after, what I was convinced was, a whole decade. It’s wonderful how so many years can pass with little to no interaction, but when you meet an old friend, the conversation flows, life updates speak volumes about how far we have come, and we end up having more in common than we probably imagined. I’m glad I made time for this one. N, I wish we had taken a picture to remember it!

Aside from that, Amma and I made our mandatory trip to the neighbourhood steel patram store. My idea of retail therapy, where many shiny, happy new kitchen goodies were acquired.

Retail therapy.
Retail therapy.

The parents and I ate out at a brand new Thai restaurant, so good that we went back for seconds at the end of the trip. The city didn’t disappoint me as much as it usually does but this probably has to do with the fact that I didn’t venture out.

Engrossed in family goss, of course.
Engrossed in family goss, of course.

Insane drink! Orange, mint, Thai chilli and kaffir lime - hot and cool all at once.
Insane drink! Orange, mint, Thai chilli and kaffir lime – hot and cool all at once.
The rents <3
The rents <3

I’m grateful for the break. Even though it was just from one home to another home. It was just the distance I needed. Perhaps there is some truth to that Seth Godin quote about setting up a life you shouldn’t have to escape, because I’m beginning to find some solace and make some sense of why I want to mostly stay cooped up at home. Soaking up the homeliness, not indulging in people, wanting to write and read like my life depends on it, taking a side and sticking up with it without diplomatically pissing off my in-laws — it was such a refreshingly different trip. It took going back home to remind me where I will always be welcome. At home, where things will always remain the same.

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