Raw

Last week when three days of class ended, I sat with a pure and simple thrill and joy at having completed a full piece of work by myself. By itself, it wasn’t a spectacular piece of work, but to have been able to intuitively and organically stay with it, and see it through to its logical conclusion was a big, big step up for me.

It was a huge win. And yet, underneath all the joy from the learning side of things, I was also carrying some grief about a certain dynamic that’s playing out for me. It’s bringing up a lot and is showing me in no uncertain terms how my journeys of personal development and learning this work will sometimes intertwine ever so subtly.

As I journey on with this learning, the more drawn in and absorbed I get, I have also been feeling a sense of an ending. Of this phase. A separation from things as they stand today. And I’ve been feeling the ripe and bubbling feeling of an impending new beginning — perhaps the next phase.

Endings, especially of good things, have never been easy for me. Letting go of things as they are, opening myself to change isn’t much easier.

So last week, even as I was overjoyed, waves of grief and impending loss came in recurring motions. I watched myself ride each wave, find my balance again and dig my feet deep and open my heart wide to the happiness that I was also experiencing. I’m beginning to see this duality as such a central axis of my life: joy is the antidote to grief and grief sometimes arrives to make that point loud and clear.

Like I said some days ago, what is a new dawn without a full knowing of the darkness that always precedes it? Would I value the true beauty of the light just the same if it weren’t for the daunting walk through the dark?

Is it ever really possible to know one without the other?

Joy is rarely ever conditional to the absence of pain. Same for the love and rage, war and peace, light and dark. The more I find myself accepting this inherent duality, the more I find peace and settlement. I feel more whole, integrated and complete.

I feel in love with my life and my place in the world. I feel eager to understand my reality and the world around me, with the unfettered keenness and curiosity of a child.

Is this what it is to say yes to life in all its glory?

Is this what true surrender feels like?

Is this what it is like to feel raw, and somewhat more tender?

Is this what remains to be gained when I understand the importance of laying down all that isn’t mine to carry?

Is this what I was making space for all this time?

One year ago: I wanna see you be brave
Two years ago: Brain noodles

Three years ago: Finding my people

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Move

I’ll say this much today.

I’m not done.

I want to go farther.

And I will get there.

One year ago: Whatever you believe, could be real
Three years ago: Internet things

Unhappy Independence Day

I woke up and realised it’s Independence Day because the gym was empty and I had an easy-breezy drive to the airport. I wondered why, and realised, long weekend, Independence Day, etc. And then I was inexplicably sad.

It’s day 11 of an entire state under lockdown, with all lines of communication cut off. Several of their elected politicians are still detained. It’s what the global media is now calling a form of colonisation. Closer home, we don’t have it in us to call it what it is — undemocratic. Few official updates to explain what is going on. Plenty of hysteria making it all look “normal” and “under control” on TV. But read the real news and it’s horrific.

All this, while we’re staring one of the biggest economic slowdowns of our time, straight in the face, with no signs of recovery.

All this while the prime minister who never makes himself available to the press, solidly avoiding answering solid questions about real issues, appears on a PR driven episode of Man vs Wild, as some wildly twisted way to show he is a champion of environmental causes.

Maybe if he actually did better we wouldn’t be the fourth worst country of 180 countries on the Environmental Performance Index. Maybe he could show us he cares by stopping the unlawful, brazen sanctioning of licenses to clear forests and ecologically sensitive areas for questionable infrastructural projects, and not exempting powerful industrialists and godmen from getting necessary licenses before putting up their next coal mines or industries or whatever else.

Maybe speak up against the gross spread of violence and hate being spewed by emboldened communally-charged elements? Maybe support the powers that be in giving justice to victims and survivors of this violence? Maybe stop the constant stream of aquittal of murderers responsible for some of the worst hate crimes. Maybe do something and lend his goddamned voice across any of the multiple channels of communication he has, to actually speak about the horrific atrocities being committed by self-styled cow-vigilantes in the name of religion and patriotism?

Maybe do something to show that the fast dismantling of minority rights that’s underway is not what we stand for as a country? Maybe show us that we needn’t be afraid. Because I am. The more I read the news, the more afraid I am. The sadder I get. The more hopeless and silenced I feel.

I’m not sure this is the country our ancestors fought tooth and nail, long and hard for, in the name of freedom and independence.

One year ago: New way, new life
Three years ago: Sunday

Up and about

Last week, starting with the weekend, was so great. Much happened, and yet much of my time was spent at home, all by myself, and in silence. Many epiphanies, a slow churn, and some big shifts. And yet, I just didn’t feel like talking about any of it.

I am wondering if maybe it’s just time to talk less, because I do feel another round of going inward has ensued. I’m trying to go with it. And maybe that’s why I’ve been quiet around here. But I also realised that in some measure I felt shut down from all the news around me. It’s just been a lot to process and make sense of.

I don’t usually stay very clued in on what’s going on in this godawful world and country of ours. I am informed, but I don’t really go into anything at length, or in depth. But with the news about Kashmir flaring up like it did, with the lies in mainstream media, and the possibility of staring more violence in the face, I got drawn in.

The trouble with getting drawn in and having literally nowhere no talk about how I feel — real and present fear at the pseudo-democracy we’re becoming — I have totally withdrawn. I am surrounded by chest-thumping ardent supporters of the current fascist regime, and it is getting increasingly hard to see this happen, as well as air even the slightest word of dissent in my surroundings. In addition to the facts about the horrific turn of events in the news everyday, I am also experiencing mild trauma and feeling let down and abandoned by people around me that I thought have better brains, people I thought to be thinking, rational, humane human beings.

It is a lonely place to be. And this kind of fear and hopelessness makes me shut down, which is what happened to some degree last week, and maybe explains my excessive silence.

***

On Sunday last week, D and I went for walk again. We beat our time from just one week ago, for no apparent reason except I feel like it was just such a good morning. The air was crisp, the clouds grey, with just a hint of the sun shining through. It was followed by a breakfast of idli-vada and a strong hit of coffee, as usual, with the requisite giggles — at ourselves and people around us. I realise these are little habits and rituals that have made some parts of living in Bangalore really come alive and mean something more to me.

I managed to catch the live taping of Kanan Gill’s upcoming Netflix Special called Teetar, that happened in Bangalore last weekend. I am thrilled to be finally witnessing so much live stand up comedy — it’s something I wanted to do for years now, but simply couldn’t access the good stuff in Goa.

The show was funny in parts, but didn’t really come together for me as a whole. I eft feeling only mildly entertained, and also a little old. The average age in the audience being much lower, and seeing as how they were hugely entertained with constant rollicking laughter, I think maybe I’m just too old for some of this shit?

I’ll give credit where it’s due though — Kanan Gill was funny in parts and I think it takes some skill to put an hour long special together and make it to Netflix. It also happened that the entire bro-gang of comedians from Kenny to Abish and Biswa showed up and were seated in the row right behind me, making me thoroughly star-struck for a bit.

***

I’ve been feeling an overwhelming love for this city again. I find it hard to explain. Even as things are visibly falling apart, I find myself enjoying being here, I am so much more at ease and something seems to have just clicked into place.

Maybe it is the idea that this life here will somewhat be complete with VC’s return. And maybe the anticipation of it has helped me settle in just a bit. The living between worlds, great as it was, had left me feeling a bit suspended and ungrounded. I feel roots again, tender baby roots that may go any way they please, but for now are happy to be flirting with the idea of being here. Fully. I simply cannot wait for October.

***

I’m still feeling pretty tentative — there’s a lot going on within me that seems to be taking it’s own sweet time to settle. I am in no rush, and I am also aware of how much I am not trying to figure it out this time. Instead, just letting it be and do its thing.

I just have a hunch that big things are in store, changes are afoot. I feel the stir of that subtle movement that is slowly gathering pace. Like a small gentle lapping patch of water that travels miles before it turns into a gigantic wave.

One year ago: I request another dream
Two years ago: What coming home feels like: finding new comfort in old places

Three years ago: Ele day

Breaking the silence

Today is better, only marginally so, but entirely because I stepped out of the house and came over to spend the day with D. And that always puts me in a good mood. I don’t mean just the laughs and the good times, but just the space and comfort it affords, even outside of the acts of friendship. I’m seeing this as a blessing, the universe looking out for me today, a day that began with me responding to a long-pending call for honesty, a breaking of silence, with a relationship in my life that I have been struggling to make sense of.

There is an imminent sense of relief, the kind of relief I didn’t know I was missing, that I only fully realise when the burden is suddenly lifted, but there has been an undercurrent of deep grief too, all through today. Strangely, not just grief for yet another friendship irrevocably altered (perhaps ended?) but for myself, and the way in which I have unconsciously allowed myself to be taken for granted, in this and other relationships, for how misunderstood I have been by people I have counted as my closest friends, for how some of these friends I held close to thought it was better to read my blog and make wild assumptions about me and what I needed than straight up ask me if there was a way they could be available for me, for how imbalanced the nature of giving and receiving has been between us, for how used I have felt and still sometimes feel when I think about specific instances, for how angry it all makes me, for how my vulnerability was so often met by a complete unavailability.

There is grief, and a sense of feeling sorry for the person that I was, that I have been so many times in friendships past, who felt the need to connect in a certain way, that so obviously came at a cost to the person I am underneath it all. There is grief, for how simply innocent I was in the way that I so quickly went all in, blindly trusting of words of loyalty accompanied by the sweetest smiles. There is grief for how much I have allowed myself to be hurt. There is grief for how mistaken I was in thinking I was understood by people who clearly did not, and did not even care to try.

So on a day like today, when I am feeling forced to revisit all this hurt in my head, it’s a true boon to have the safe haven of a friendship like this one with D, where I can exercise and put into practice the very things — the silence, the honesty, the empathy — I know friendships past lacked. On a day like today, S has been an absolute rock listening to my unending rambles, re-hashing and revisiting it all with her. Careful to reaffirm what I know to be true, but also gently, kindly flagging off potential for more hurt, where I may be unconsciously slipping into my old ways. Despite her own current crisis, S been there for me in ways that I find hard to put words to, but that make me choke up because it shows me how we’ve grown and how far we’ve come from the fearful, insecure nature in which we once were friends, to being the open, heartfelt, unafraid women we are towards each other today.

The heartening part about today for me, is that I was able to dig deep and find the courage (that frankly, I didn’t know I had) to be as honest as I was; that I resisted the urge to get into a circular you-said-i-said conversation and stuck to just me, what I have done, and what I can do to be better in future; that I resisted the even bigger urge to place some part of the blame where it perhaps belong, and instead accepted blame for my side of things leaving the consequences of the rest to the other; that I truly suspended hope and expectations of any kind of response, appropriate or not; and that I was able to choose integrity, truth and my own vulnerability, over the moral high ground and silence, time and time again today.

This, is especially heartening because I have been disturbed by the palpable silence that I was met with this past week. Silence that is perhaps a place of moral high ground, a coping mechanism to deal with the hurt, for some. But a silence that only screams cowardice to me. It is that very same silence, that I chose to break with my truth today.

One year ago: Follow me down, to the valley below

Decompress

A spot of alone time and unwinding before I head out to dinner. I really needed this to decompress all that has been held within me for the last 24 hours.

There was a death in VCs family and being around the family in these circumstances always triggers something very deep within me, bringing up differences and making me realise the full impact of the way in which I feel like a misfit.

I carried all the stirrings of this to therapy last evening. A mad dash after a day that was spent in a tizzy on the run. And what emerged attherapt crushed me like a ton of bricks and took me to a very deep, dark place.

I’m tempted to say I was not ready for it. That it came out of the blue. But if I were to be really honest, the signs have been there, the writings been on the wall, this has been coming a while. I had only to see it and have the right trigger unleash it all.

I realised yesterday what a sense of safety and guidance I feel with N. Something just clicks into place for me when we begin a session, giving me the unexpected confidence to bring out the things I do — the things that stay deep in dark places in my real life. But I’d be untrue to myself if I didn’t give myself credit where it’s due. If I didn’t acknowledge the work and focus it has taken in getting myself to where I am with my personal journey. The process of integrating, becoming hole, including all that has been separated, looking at the ways in which I am bound by my consciences — all of this has contributed to making me just that little bit more solid and whole from within. And it is only because of this newfound solidity that I am even able to tap into the depths of my shadow self, brave enough to go there and wrench out the more deeply held fears and anxieties like I did yesterday.

I have never felt so simultaneously fearful and brave. Afraid, yet ready. Empowered, and up for a challenge.

The difference now is just how much I feel like I am on my own side. How much I have my own back. And how much I feel committed to not abandoning myself.

So I sit here today, finally decompressing, and I realise since therapy yesterday I have subconsciously waited and anticipated a mild falling apart that I thought would follow.

The flux, it’s there. The distress and unsettlement, it’s there. The angst and butterflies in my stomach about what will be, it’s there. And yet I feel together.

The “breakdown” — it hasn’t come. And I’m wondering if it may have left the building entirely.

One year ago: Did we fly to the moon too soon?
Three years ago: Back to base. Almost.

Engineering bigness

Mulling over yesterday’s post still, which came from a game I played on Sunday with a group of complete strangers, and I’m sitting with a lot of stillness and a very real, almost tangible understanding of the absurd duality that comes from seeking vulnerability of and from myself.

It’s taken me on a path that’s unearthed my deepest fears and insecurities, things I’ve hidden from myself and the world for so long, things that when they surface would otherwise make me shrink and hide, but now come with a sudden comfort and power, of wanting to show up as I am (fear, insecurities and all), seeking connection, seeking the warmth of people, desperately wanting conversation and camaraderie.

It’s a path that has hurled me into the depths of a kind of loneliness I have not experienced until now, but also brought the strangest, most unexpected and delightful connections my way. Connections that have redefined my understanding of friendship, of relationship and of empathy.

It is a path that has made abundantly clear how important, joy, love and intimacy actually are to me, and how little of it I have been settling for so far. It’s a path that has also made me see that the path to joy, love and intimacy does not side step fear, insecurity, self-loathing and judgement.

I recently watched and enjoyed Brene Brown’s Netflix special The Call to Courage which was all about embracing the most human desire — belonging — and how it is impossible to experience that without facing how much we are held back by shame, fear (of criticism) amongst other things. What she said particularly about how fear and shame makes us compromise our authentic selves so much, making us believe we need to change who we truly are in order to belong, really hit me. She gave it a lovely phrase — engineering smallness — that really hit me like a ton of bricks.

As the idea of taking up (more) space has been the centre of much of my explorations through therapy and in life, I’ve had a series of realisations about how much I have been used to playing small. Whether under the garb of adjusting to something or someone, making my emotions and myself more palatable to the other, in believing this will allow more of everything in my life — there has been a thread of be small, be quiet, be less that has held my life together so far.

Part of working through this and re-engineering bigness, allowing myself to step into the power of my authentic adult self, has been in accepting and understanding that the work doesn’t lie so much in fixing anything about myself, but merely accepting all the duality that I hold within. The loneliness alongside the desire for companionship. The old, old fears alongside the newfound confidence. The loud joy alongside the sombre stillness. The new, voracious appetite for a new tribe and community alongside the familiar comfort of solitude.

I have spent so much of my life forcing myself to choose one or the other, shrinking myself down, limiting myself to horribly polarised labels, and ultimately dimming my light. Owning my power, realising my potency, has been an enriching and revelatory process of realising that I am so much more than I have hitherto believed I am or can be. And when I embrace, own and hold it all in a good way, in a deliberate and true way, I feel big. I feel like an adult. And absurd as it sounds to be admitting this on the back of my 35th birthday, this is the first time in my adult life that I have witnessed what being an adult is like. And the more I find myself operating from this space, the more satisfying my engagements, relationships and intimacy with people I love are becoming.

One year ago: Another day, just breathe
Three years ago: Retrograde rant

Flow

Yeah, what does it say to me about my community? And where do I go from here?

Yesterday, I was overwhelmed how this message spoke directly to something I spend so much time thinking about — community, connection, friendship, belonging — especially in the context of freshness and newness that I now desire in my life.

It seems like a fitting question to ask myself, and as I see it, it is an invitation to look at things in a new light and possible push myself out of a comfort zone in this regard. Great fodder for thought at a time when I feel I am moving from one phase, one way of being, into another.

One year ago: Stuck in the sunshine riptide
Three years ago: That urban poverty piece that has everybody’s panties in a bunch

The last of the despatches from Benaras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benaras: Orange

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

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

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

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

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

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

<3

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

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

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

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

Baffling Benaras

So, Benaras had been on my wish-list for so long, oh so many, many years, that I actually forgot/lost track of it somewhere along the way. I remember having a conversation with VC about 5-6 years ago after my parents and sister had visited, saying we should go too, and I remember him being most disinterested — “What’s to do there?”

We’ve always had very different motivations to travel. I’m more about the sights and sounds and different kinds of experiences, I find forests as exciting as cities, and I enjoy history and heritage as much as I do the nothingness of a beach. VC is and always has been all about the photography and for a bit in between, the videography (as his Instagram will reveal).

A place was worthy of visiting only if there was something to do there, ie: photo-worthy locations to scout. Even in this, cityscapes, historic/heritage places have never been his thing. As a result, our inclinations to travel and the destinations we’d pick often do not converge. This has meant that I’ve done a fair share of travel by myself, or with my family, my friends, without him. Lately though, I’ve noticed a change in him, in this respect. Where there was once absolutely no curiosity about places that didn’t fall into his very narrow category of an inviting destination, there is now a willingness to at least experience it, and a readiness to go even if no great pictures come out of it.

I was aghast when he announced to me in January that we were going to Benaras. He had decided it singlehanded, on my behalf. He was right to assume I’d want to go. I had absolutely no complains, no inputs even. I just go on board from the word go, and only gave him the nudge by doing my share of research about which area to Benaras to base ourselves in and where to stay.

As it turns out no amount of research can actually ever really, fully prepare you for what a place is really like. We chose to base ourselves about a 400 mt walk away from Dashashwamedh Ghat, which VC picked because he’d figured it’s one of the most widely frequented places in Benaras by photographers of the world. But we didn’t realise the interiors of the older parts of the city along the ghats and banks of the river are mostly not motorable. Old Benaras is mostly a labyrinth-like maze of narrow alleyways, haphazardly cobbled, with homes packed close and high on either side and doors opening almost by surprise right on to the door. Everything happens in these alleys — shops open, little eateries with their coal-fueled stoves right on the road, old women gather around for a chat, school kids run amok, cows and buffaloes amble about very, very slowly, and sometimes two wheelers zip through recklessly.

It can be dizzying and quite confusing to navigate, even with Google maps on hand. It’s also mindbogglingly filthy with open drains, sewerage flowing through in parts, plenty of trash just thrown all around, and lots and lots and lots of shit. Real and proper shit. Open defecation is real in this country. And then there’s cow dung, to top it all. So yeah, it was fascinating to navigate this every time we had to get from the hotel to a spot to shoot, or catch lunch or even just venture out for a meal in the evening.

On the up-side the location was perfect for what we were there to do — explore these parts on foot and get pictures. We didn’t take a single cab or rickshaw the entire time that we were there, until we had to head back to the airport.

The thing that hit me the hardest all through the trip was the extreme levels of filth. I was forewarned but nothing, nothing, could have prepared me for the levels of filth I witnessed. More than the actual filth itself I was severely disturbed by how easily life seemed to go on around it. Sidestepping piles of shit, people stepping out of their homes to casually take a leak or a dump right in the street outside their homes — I couldn’t get over the numbness towards it. It also made me feel very aware of my privilege as well as how out of touch I am with these realities in the far reaches of this country that seem to exist our of sheer lack of choice. I can’t imagine anyone being okay with these living conditions out of choice.

All of this was doubly baffling and disturbing to witness in the landscape of one of the most religious and “pure” places of interest in the country. And this is exactly the sort of paradox that Varanasi is full of.

I haven’t digested so much of what I saw and observed and all that I felt — a rousing sense of rage, confusion, disbelief and helplessness at how terrible things really are in our country. And how much we are falling prey to an excellent PR campaign. The conversations I had with some of the locals really brought to the fore a deep dissonance between what they believe and what the reality right before their eyes is. How did things get this bad?

And yet, I believe this was a good trip. Eye-opening in more ways than one. We experienced a kind of raw and unpolished kind of holiday very very unlike anything we’d usually pick for ourselves. The pictures and the food — essentially what we went for — didn’t disappoint. I put that down to the advantages of getting down and dirty instead of slick and fancy.

One year ago: Everyday is blue Monday

Home away from home kind of feeling

It’s been the strangest, nicest stay in Goa this time around. Unlike every one of my visits over last year, where I had an agenda and work to get done — whether we were on shoot, or I came down to help get the house in order and done up — this time around I had no plans. Nothing to occupy me except my own whim. I also got a lot of my own work done ahead of game this month, so I had plenty of time on my hands.

I imagined this would free me up to be out and about a lot, but on the contrary, I’ve spent a most of my time on my own. At home, and outside. But on my own. I’m once again in a very inward state of mind, and being free of external encumbrance has meant that I have been still a little more, staying more.

Consequently, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone even when I did step out. I went to the beach alone, I haven’t done that in years. I caught up with C over breakfast and then a couple of hours sitting in the sunshine in the municipal garden. I spent entire days with A, something I have probably unconsciously shied away from these past few visits, I wandered around my neighbourhood, I drove to the airport and back to pick VC up, I spent a weekend with VCs college buddy and family mostly entertaining and being entertained by a 2-year old who was 100% more interesting than any of the adults.

At home, I’ve caught up on reading, I’ve watched way too many terrible Hindi movies (I’m embarrassed to say how many — some days I watched more than one a day) , I’ve cooked most meals at home (we’ve only eaten out twice since I got here!), I’ve managed to get more exercise than I usually do when I come here (though the last week was disappointing in this regard), and still I haven’t felt that restlessness I usually do when I come here. That restlessness to get shit done — to tick things off my wishlist, to go places, to meet people, to garden, to paint chairs, to fix shit or whatever else — has found some stillness.

I’ve just stayed put for a change. I didn’t plan this. It didn’t take deliberation. It has happened mostly because, for a change, I’ve listened to the cues and followed them, I think.

***

Staying always has incredible advantages. When the rumble of life comes to a slow whir, and my breathing normalises, when there is an almost-uncomfortable silence about me, is when some unshakeable realisations happen. These are moments when I least expect them to happen. I’m learning to welcome them, without having my world temporarily fall apart because of them.

There’s been a fair number of those.

Thoughts about Goa. About home.

Thoughts about friendship. Of letting go.

Thoughts about where to next?

Thoughts about change. And growth.

***

Gratitude, today, for the opportunity of this time. For the solitary state of mind Goa inspires in me. For all the forces that have worked at unearthing things within me that have brought me this far, to this milestone.

One year ago: I still remember, when we did not have the answers

As Goa as it gets

I have an internal map of Goa in my mind. And it is riddled with pins dropped in every nook and cranny of the state — places that dot the landscape of the entire memory I have of the place. Not just physical spaces, locations, but places that evoke feelings, feelings that bring back memories, memories that draw out faces of people I knew and know. And because I am sentimental, that map is alive and thriving, getting updates in real time. Even when a memory is sometimes somewhat hazy, it takes very little for it to jog itself back to the fore, brightening up like a bulb turned on suddenly. A mere mention of that fish thali, a faint passing recollection of that one monsoon 100 km cycle ride, an aching memory of the countless Sunday evening G&Ts at my favourite sunset spot, the joy of that urrak smuggled from the neighbourhood restaurant — and just so many other things — all come rushing back to life.

For the entire duration of the two years that I have been away, I haven’t been able to conclusively decide where I belong. If Goa was a home that I have left, or if Bangalore was always the home that I have returned to.

My life in Goa (and every single thing about my experience here) is so key to my sense of self and who I am, even after all that has happened and after two years of living away, that I sometimes feel I’m split in half. Rendered perpetually torn.

The real-time map in my head makes me feel like I know Goa like the back of my hand. And I do. It’s here where the streets are wide open, the coconut trees stretching over to meet, the salty breeze and muggy air that is so quintessentially special to here, that I’ve roamed around so much all by myself. Driving to faraway beaches, scoping out eateries in distant nooks, seeking out stories and interviews with people doing interesting things, visiting friends in places all the way down south, staying alone on assignment in strange and fascinating hotels, and so much more. I took most, almost all, of these trips alone. They’ve contributed to who I am. And the map is a reminder of all that I’ve been and felt in the years gone through.

There are the parts that signal the newness. A decade old bittersweet semi-excited, semi-shitting-bricks euphoria. My first home, the store right outside that refused to deliver milk to my door, the pao-bhatti that I frequented ever so often. There is the drive down Miramar to office to work. My first workplace in Goa that would be the longest I’ve ever been employed. The days of trying to walk back home in an attempt to get some exercise again. Stopping at our favourite bars on the way home and making last minute plans so everybody would congregate. Endless meals of greasy Chinese and too much consumption of alcohol and other narcotics.

There is the spot that marks fond memories of barbecues past. Of jumping into pools with my jeans on. Of gathering 65 bottles of beer when we were done.

There’s remnants of memories from that daily beach running that eventually wrecked my knees. Of finding a gym that made me fall in love with weights. Of discovering kick boxing and finding true love in my trainers there.

There’s the years spent writing and writing and writing. Blogging. Professionally. Reviewing restaurants. Food blogging. Home baking. Cake selling. Full-time freelancing. The whole nine yards.

There were three home changes. Each home giving me a set of special things to love. Th smallness of the first one matched perfectly with our cluelessness. The open green field view in the second. And priceless neighbours and a promise of the hidden recluse in me in the third.

There was the brush with learning to salsa, jive and bachata. There were innumerable different groups of acquaintances and some friends. Plenty more people I met and knew through work. And the inevitable clashing of all circles and the world closing in.

There was angst about the ex workplace. There was angst about knowing too many people. There was angst about running out of work. There was angst about inadequate internet speeds. There was angst about having to work too hard as a writer reporting in Goa. There was angst about being the lonely isolated writer in my den.

There were the silent noise parties in Palolem, the projector parties every monsoon, the rooftop movie marathons, the holidays bhaang parties and the office Diwali parties. There were the Friday morning visits to Mapusa market, the Sunday morning fish market jaunts, chasing the sunrise at Divar, cycling to save my life all over Goa.

There was so much. Each phase, each year, each stage a page in my Goan chronicles. And in so many ways I feel I’ve lived in so many different Goas. The map in my mind, is very real. It’s as Goa as it gets for me.

***

Today, I had a quintessentially Goa day. A thali for lunch with A, some aimless wandering in our old haunts, window-shopping for export rejects and fighting a nap because we had too much to talk about. An unexpectedly extended evening there also meant another round at the market. I always feel crippled by nostalgia there, seeing the fisherwomen with their baskets laden with fish lined along the streets. So wistfully I stepped towards one of them and pulled out my phone to snap a picture fully expecting her to smile. Except she rolled up the newspaper she was reading and swatted me on my shin, startling me completely. I nearly dropped my phone in shock and had to make a run for it.

Serves me right for making like an annoying tourist.

Even as I was startled, it was such an endearingly hostile move. It made me grin wide. That’s just such a Goa thing to happen! I thought. And it might have been the highlight of my very Goa day, if I hadn’t wound up at the carnival square where the red and white dance for the year was about to begin. It’s carnival week here in Goa and I didn’t anticipate I’d head to the thick of the action, eat beef croquettes, fish cutlets and drink Urak out of a Thailand-style bucket, all while listening to Maria Pitache.

Two urraks down, laced with slit green chillies, lots of lime and a good dash of salt, and a grilled beef wrap in me, I think this entire day, today, is as Goa as it gets.

That map just stretched itself a little bit more today, and wrapped itself around me.

One year ago: Hit the road, Jack 
Two years ago: Kitchen soup for the homesick soul
Three years ago: Why Facebook just feels like a lot of noise

Reboot

So it’s happened for the first time in over a year of writing everyday, I, err, totally forgot to post today. And now I feel a little stupid because at the end of this day, I actually have a lot to say. Just no focus to do it right now.

Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.

One year ago: February
Three years ago: Just go with it

Waking thoughts

At yoga this morning, my teacher said something really simple, but that rang true with the resounding sound of ten bells in my head.

To bring awareness to a part of your body, is to breathe into it. To bring prana into it. To bring life itself to it.

And suddenly I realised, that’s exactly what the journey of awareness has been for me. Like in yoga, bringing awareness has brought life to my life. Without it would be to merely exist.

***

I’ve caught myself saying “I feel so used!” to myself so, so, so many times these past few weeks. So far it’s mostly been in response to things friends have said or done, which has had me sit up and look at the equation between us. But it peaked when my neighbour, who I barely know, just asked me if she could use my home to serve lunch to a bunch of wedding guests they cannot accommodate in their home. It’s been a testing time for my boundaries and the idea of my personal space and how I allow it to be encroached has been coming up a lot, lately. If this is not a sign to wake up and address it, I don’t know what is.

Three years ago: Orange is the new black