In which I end up without a phone

In an unexpected but rather welcome twist in the tale, I’ve been rendered phone-less for the last week. It began a good month or so ago with my battery acting up and surprising me with a dead phone at many an inopportune moment, despite being fully charged. This turned my phone into a landline, having to have it constantly plugged into the wall or a portable battery, which in turn meant I couldn’t have it on my person at all times. Which in turn meant less meddling. Less browsing. Less Instagram. Less whatsapp.

Less distractions, basically.

And then finally last Friday the phone died on me. I rushed to give it in for repair and have the battery replaced immediately, but just didn’t feel compelled to use a replacement phone that’s lying around at home. The repair fellows have been behaving like my phone is a convalescing patient, administering a battery of tests and procedures, keeping it under an endless period of observation, and telling me its “getting better, but not fully okay” *eyeroll* while I keep waiting.

It’s been an oddly satisfying week. And some things have been a sharp contrast to life in general. I’ve had to remember to keep cash on me at all times because no PayTM, shopped at the local vegetable vendor because no OTPs, taken autos (because no cab apps), made dates the old way (by connecting via phone and email and then having no room for flaking off or making last minute changes), and basically felt like a college student again — which was the last time I was totally phoneless.

I don’t know if I can attribute this to being phoneless, but I’ve been immensely productive, finishing up my work on time and meeting all my deadlines without last-minute-panic, this week. I’ve also slept better. I didn’t realise how many pockets of time empty out when you don’t have a phone to fill it — whether it’s mindlessly fidgeting with it, endlessly browsing through instagram on any commute, pulling it out to turn on and off the screen a gazillion times while waiting, or even just randomly browsing through it every chance I get.

You know how sometimes you only realise how deeply dependent you are on something when it’s gone?

I met A for lunch earlier this week, only to realise she’s in the same predicament. So with one dying phone between the two of us, and a lunch that we chattered right through, we left the restaurant and promptly got caught in a downpour with not a tree in sight to duck under. Finally, after getting sufficiently drenched, we slipped into the basement of an apartment building down the road where I waited for the rain to slow down before I hailed an auto rickshaw. I trundled home, my palazzos bundled up in my lap, as I perched at the edge of the seat, smack in the middle of the auto, guarding myself from puddles and splashing rainwater on either side.

It was really like a massive throwback in time to when I was in college and used to sometimes take a rickshaw for some par of the commute, especially when a typical Bangalore downpour would strike. On a normal day I’d probably have been staring into my phone, but I was instead forced to I watched the traffic whirl around me, the cacophony filling my ears, the smells and dank dampness settling on my skin, and the cool breeze that made my hair stand on end as I observed people, places and sights around. I was wet, cold, stuck in traffic and closing in on almost forty five minutes of being in that damned auto, and somehow it all felt very quaint and special.

Through the week (and longer), my kindle has been a loyal companion. And with all the emptied pockets of time, thanks to less distractions and actually finishing my work on time (without having to juggle spillovers) I’ve finished some more books.

Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist
I really, really wanted to like this book because the title pretty much sums up the largest preoccupation of my life the last few years. N had recommended it to me a long time ago, at a time when I was struggling to overcome the perfection syndrome. 

But it wasn’t until I saw this on Sprouted Kitchen’s Instagram stories, that I decided to buy the book.

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Because this right here, is exactly my state of mind for the last many years now. But the similarities ended there, going only so far as the title and the premise. In Shauna’s attempt to choose to be preset over perfect, I felt like she tends to shame every other choice that lies in the vast space in between both ends of the spectrum. My own journey on this path has been about getting closer to understanding what I want, why I want it, and accepting and loving where I’m coming for in every single situation. Sometimes that means choosing perfection in some areas – and I am okay with it if I am clear about the intention and the motivation for it. It’s only in the last six months that I feel like I am making some progress with really living what I think is a life that can be truly free of the mindless obsession to achieve, succeed, be rich, be perfect, be tidy, be womanly etc etc etc. Pretty early on, this difference began to grate at my nerves. That aside, there’s a lot of talk of spiritual guidance and mentorship, alluding to Shauna’s own practice as a Catholic, and how rediscovering God has helped her along this journey. Being a non believer, this was completely lost on me.

There are some nuggets of powerful wisdom in here, but it gets completely camouflaged in the Jesus talk, the seeming shaming of a variety of choices aside from perfection, and in just loading what I found to be very, very basic truths in unnecessary verbiage. I know there is a place for self-help, but maybe it’s not the right source for me. I felt this when I read Brene Brown too — that I could appreciate some parts, some excerpts, but not the package as a whole.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
OMG, this was such a fun, fun book. I am tempted to call it the Ove of my reading list this year. First, it’s almost-chick-lit written by a man, which I always find makes for interesting reading. Second, it’s put together very intelligently and the book absorbed me hook, line and sinker, with it’s blend of mystery, gently building unexpected romance and of course twists and turns. It’s clever, funny, delightfully touching in part, and I thoroughly enjoyed the feel-good flow of this very unexpected love story. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I began, but I was pleasantly surprised by the end of it. I’m late to the Rosie Project party, but if like me you have had it on your to-read list for a long, long time, go read it soon.

Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott
It’s an unlikely title for a book about writing, no? At least that’s what I thought, but there’s a bit in the book where she talks about where the name came to be, and it all made sense. As a guide to writing, this book comes highly recommended for aspiring writers. It’s part memoir, but mostly a literal guide to how to write — which Lamott beautifully describes as the pursuit of making sense of what’s going on. It has some really lovely parts that I could really relate to, it’s peppered with advice, some parts are straight-up technical and act as a rather precise guide on how to go about everything from developing plot to building characters to practicing writing. Some of the anecdotes, some of the emotions she shares, some of the events in her writing life were all too familiar and relatable. Some even moved me, some inspired me, some straight up made me chuckle out loud. A significant chunk of the book is directed at aspiring novelists, so I may have glossed over it, but most of the book is a funny, precise and helpful guide to what it takes to be a writer.

Same time, last year: Day 203: Rainy day feels

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Perfect love

So much of all the recent flux I’ve found myself floating through has been about coming closer to accepting myself wholly and completely. All sides of myself. The side that routinely questions how much I truly want, and how much is really, actually enough — how much work? much money? how much shopping? how much food? The side that is re-shaping all the judgements about myself and the world around me, judgements that I didn’t even know I held within me. Judgements of other women, judgements of the industry I operate in, of family I may have perhaps misunderstood. The procrastinate-y, often downright lazy, very frequently uninterested, low-achievement loving sides too. The yes-I-like-being-fit-but-I’m-okay-with-my-wide-hips-and-permanent-food-belly self.

The side that is slowly but surely caring lesser and lesser about the way I look, even as I am completely enjoying suddenly discovering sides of my wardrobe I’d forgotten in Goa. The side that more willingly indulges in a little, unabashed self-love now and then, and is quick to recognise how much more I have yet to go.

So much of all the recent flux I’ve found myself floating through has been brought about real, apparent changes, not just in my thoughts, but my attitude and actions too.

And yet, last Sunday, as I looked at my face in the mirror before I stepped out to lunch with VC’s family, I suddenly noticed my unkempt eyebrows that I’ve stopped threading about three years ago now. From there, my eyes traced a line down to the suddenly very apparent growth of hair on my upper lip — an area I have started to ignore for the most part. It was downhill from there, with my pockmarked-from-acne cheeks and forehead suddenly staring me back in the face, and my obvious disinterest in makeup suddenly feeling like a disadvantage.

It took a moment and an uncharacteristic instance of double-checking with VC, which he was quick to dismiss, before I shook myself out of it. I looked okay. I looked felt great. Even with stray hairs on my upper lip, between and around my eyebrows that refuse to be tamed and grow within well-defined boundaries.

I’ll admit it had everything to do with who I was going to meet, and where I was suddenly going to be — unarmed and steadfastly myself — a fish out of water in a sea of preened and primped women. But even so, it’s baffling how disarmingly simple and quick it is to slip from the cushy comforts of a carefully cultivated self-assuredness, to the depths of self-loathing. How ridiculously heavy a burden this need for acceptance and validation, packed away in a watertight box labeled beauty, is. How deep this notion of self-worth attached to what I look on the outside, runs. How utterly nonsensical that I have to waste precious waking moments thinking about it, side stepping my intuition, second guessing my confidence and tripping up on it so often.

So much of all the recent flux I’ve found myself floating through has been about discovering a deeper, inner confidence. I realised on Sunday that a by-product of that is being hyper vigilant of every stray thought, and being hyper sensitive to fixing them. I don’t always get it right, but I am now more aware of the work in progress and how far I’ve come, than I have ever been before. It has meant focusing on finer, intangible, unquantifiable things like peace and happiness, and allowing the low-hanging fruit, the distracting outward displays that are frankly easier to work with — like a spotless home, a ticked off to-do list and trimmed eyebrows — blur into the distance.

Same time, last year: Day 200: Barely moving

I need to sit with the quiet. I know that much.

I’ve been having a lot many thoughts about examining what work means to me and redefining it for myself. I know, nothing new. You’ve heard me ramble on about it here and here. Oh, and here too. And I’m pretty sure there’s a few more related posts that I’m just feeling too lazy to fish out now. Yes, so redefining what work means to me — not the stuff of it, and what comprises work, but the word itself and the implication and ramification I allow it to have in my personal space.

In creating this new meaning I’m trying (and often stumbling in the process) to unlearn and relearn, shed and rediscover sides of myself I have not acknowledged before. It has meant making space for days that I would once deem useless. It has meant wondering about how what was once useless is the very precious space that is nurturing a new idea. A new thought. A new version of me.

It has meant accepting that the useless days have a place too. That they add up in the long run and stack up like milestones in this potholed path I’m on.

It has meant accepting the little details like how rested I actually feel after a power nap that would once leave me feeling just guilty, not rested. It has meant allowing myself to be looked after by people who want to and can  do it, rather than fretting or feeling like it means I am somehow in capable of looking after myself. Or that it makes me somehow a lesser or smaller human being. It has meant learning to accept help, with as much grace as I am willing to lend it — and this has not been easy. It has meant identifying little bits of my ego that are actually working against me and crushing them to tiny little bits.

It has meant feeling love for things and people I was convinced I never could. It has meant letting go of a rigid, absolute idea of myself and slowly embracing the fact that it is no longer what I am. That I am constantly evolving and it is futile to stubbornly hold on to an old sense of self only because it makes me feel vaguely powerful and in control. It has meant pushing through the doubt and fear that comes oh so often, when I’m feeling vulnerable. It has meant allowing myself to be wholly vulnerable. And waiting and watching with a little patience, even when one part of me wants to rush to find a quick fix.

For the most part though, it has meant welcoming the fleeting, quiet moments that drop in between endless days of chaotic cacophonic thought, when they come bearing the invigorating taste of clarity, and enjoying them like shots of coffee gulped down with urgency.

Last evening, chuckling to myself at the bittersweet angst+joy of yet another one of those once-useless-but-hopefuly-leading-me-somewhere-days and a line from Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior suddenly came back to me. And it is what I used to title this post.

PS: Are you completely done seeing pictures of filter coffee and assorted beverages yet?

Same time, last year: Day 183: The rain, the rain

What coming home feels like: Love and abundance

For many years while I was away, I believed I missed absolutely no part of my life back home. It sounds extreme, but for a brief while, this was entirely true. Call it the honeymoon period, or whatever else, but I was snug as a bug in the newness of the anonymity and the pleasures of discovering everything a new life in a new city has to offer. It helped that the Goa I moved to was the diametric opposite of everything I left behind in Bangalore. And I mean this in more ways than one — it was a shift to an entirely different space and time. And that joy lasted a long, long time. The fresh excitement at the newness remained for more years than I imagined possible, for far long after the newness was no longer even new.

But as I’ve discovered near-eight years is a long enough time to go full circle. And I had definitely entered a headspace where I began to slowly miss some very specific things about being home. Big and small, they included everything from being a short drive away from my friends to easy access to fresh filter coffee.

There were days when I longed to wake up to a hot cooked breakfast, amma-style. Or the smell of fresh filter coffee. Or weeks when I’d walk out of the gym on Friday night and desperately long for the luxury of being in the same city as my friends, friends who get me, so we could all gang up at home over wine or beer and do nothing but talk.

I’ve missed experiencing a wide range of food and drink. I’ve missed having options, and I’ve missed having people to obsess over the variety with. I’ve missed the comforts of being on familiar ground, of old haunts an of new discoveries. In the months I’ve been here we’ve already sampled a fair amount of microbrewery beer and I may have found a temporary favourite too.

I’ve missed my family, just being around them even when there is nothing particularly important to say. Breakfast time, evening chai time, and dinner time — which is usually when we gather together. Weekday chai time with amma, weekend drinks with anna, for example. Coming back to this ready set up, where I don’t have to work to provide it or create a space for it has been the change I wanted. When all else fails, I have my parents to go back to.

When enough years of basking in the newfound hermitism grew old, I yearned for some of the bustle that people bring in your life. The right kind of people. Without the frills, without the special occasions, without the stilted conversations and pretence that comes with manufactured togetherness. With equal amounts of silence and the mania that only kindred spirits can appreciate alike. Converging and agreeing on the silliest of things, going into raptures about the most mundane and inane things, and knowing that it is with only just these few that you can and will always be at your unbridled best.

In the last two years of being away, as I rediscovered sides of myself I didn’t know existed — some that I thought I’d left behind had actually resurfaced, and some that I never imagined possible had made a loud appearance — I realised how much the transformation had affected my relationships. Both near and far.

Distance and time are difficult variables to work with. Very unconsciously, I had started to filter people in my immediate circles out. Days and weeks would go by without me getting out of the house. No plans, no get-togethers, no outings seemed to tempt me into engaging with the family I’d built in Goa (save for a few people). And yet, the bonds that grew thicker, stronger and richer were with folks in Bangalore and away.

Here I am now, and even as I carve out a niche for myself again, a large part of the everyday joy of coming back is in reminding myself how I’m so close to all the things I love. Especially the things I was craving in the last two years of my life away.

Anyhow, this ramble just to say that coming back has been difficult in many ways. I’m often taken aback by situations I’ve forgotten how to deal with, overcome with emotion when the stark contrast between Goa and Bangalore makes me question my decision, and there have even been the odd instances where I feel defeated and overpowered by the city whose way is to ensnare everything within its reach.

Yes, this city is overwhelmingly large (literally and figuratively) compared to where I used to be. But within and outside of my home, I have pockets of peace. Sanctuaries of love and abundance that I can slip into. A mere glance through my picture roll on my phone showed me enough evidence of ample instances of this abundance. Unsurprisingly it is about the people, punctuated by food and drink. In each of these images is a reminder of the things I desperately missed until three months ago.

Yes, I’ve left behind a lot and sometimes I’m not entirely sure the trade off makes sense. Especially when I feel the lack — of open spaces, of greenery, of silence amongst many other things. But there is an abundance of exactly that which I was seeking. And it counts for a lot.

Same time, last year: Day 182: Watercolour eyes

I get by with a lot of help from my friends

Honestly speaking, I’m all into this mindful seizing of day, living in the present business. I really am. For the most part. But for the longest time now, I have literally felt like I am existing in-between. Like I’m passing through a conduit of endless waiting. In limbo. And it has meant enjoying the present is a tough ask. It has tested the absolute life out of my capacity to stay still, to remain present without racing ahead of myself with dreams of the future or being stuck in a loop of lamenting about the past.

It’s been painfully slow to move, this time of transition between one phase and the next. And the pain started as a smidgen of dissatisfaction with what had become of my life. Feeling limited in the littlest ways, and that longing to go beyond — at work, in my city, with people around me — constantly clawing away at me, in tiny nibble-sized chunks. A little minuscule molecule of dissatisfaction in a period of almost 24 months morphed into a burgeoning restlessness that rumbled on endlessly, just beneath the surface. And when I was unable to decipher and deal with it adequately, it festered. Gently at first, a very covert sort of twist and churn, making itself seen and known in small, but shocking ways. Eventually, the churn got bigger, noisier, and the made its presence felt in painful, alarming ways, more often than I cared to be reminded of it.

But that was just it. As I busied myself with convenient distractions in the form of the pursuit of over achieving, outrageous professional goals and what not, the rumble continued to make itself known, nudging me to stop filling my everyday life with distractions, and instead look at the bubbling cauldron of pain I was in. I saw the signs, and I took every one of those events as an affirmation that the pain I was feeling was real. But I just didn’t know where to go to begin to fix it. To find my way out, I had to stop and acknowledge the situation I was in, and accept that I couldn’t and didn’t need to do it alone.

But everything has a tipping point. Over time, the fuzzy restlessness turned into a distinct surety that my time here was done. And that was really hard to wrap my head around. I mean this is where my life is. It’s where adulthood really began. In Goa, in this phase of my life.

It was in Goa that I landed quite by surprise, and then cobbled together a home with the man I love, built little every day experiences and got through eight years together, ploughing through an assortment of situations — good, bad and ugly. t’s here that I trudged through expanses of most no work prospects and yet carved out a flourishing career in a manner that made sense to me.

This is where I’ve made, nurtured and lost friendships, relationships, associations of all kinds. This is where I found other sides of my identity, and it’s also where I shed them. This is where I learned to appreciate solitude, the bliss of silence, where I stumbled and fell multiple times, picked myself up and gathered myself time and time again, where I truly embraced the slow life.

This is where I hit my stride and became the adult I was waiting to be. This is where I discovered sides to myself, found my feet, explored hobbies and chased experiences I wouldn’t have had in my other life if I had continued the way I was going in 2010,

This is where the naive decision to pick up our lives, wrap them in 13 little boxes, and a car and get going came to fruition. My life since has been full of experiences. Enriching, enlightening, eye-opening, humbling, and so much more. This blog, more than anything else, is testimony to the changes we went through, the various milestones and setbacks we hit along the way. There has never been a more transformational time. This is where I had the best years of my life.

To go from near-eight years of that to a sudden, but very rapidly consuming limbo was all sorts of painfully incapacitating. For a while now I’ve felt this building up of everything to a very pregnant point, this growing ennui has gone on so long. It has only kept pointing me closer and closer to all the little, seemingly insignificant aspects of my life that I was ignoring (some by choice, some by sheer ignorance itself) because it would mean facing difficult questions, difficult choices and difficult conversations.

For the first time, I realised what having a empty life was like. While I was consciously and unconsciously filling my days with all that I thought needed my time and attention, life was doing it’s best to pare itself down, so I would just focus for a moment, on that which needed it the most.

In the bargain I stripped my life down to the bare minimum. The friends I have left will affirm this. Only a handful know what’s really been going on with me. I found it impossible to expend even an ounce of energy in explaining any of it to an audience just because they were curious or concerned. It’s not like I chose to alienate people, but it is what happened as I sought the company and conversations of folks who cared to check on me, understood when I explained, and kept conversations from going back to talking about themselves. With work already taking up a fair bit of my mind space, I had very little left to spread between therapy and those few who did get my pain. Fewer still were the number of people who realised that my needing some time and space to myself was not a reflection on them, and therefore no reason to take offence.

In many ways the experience of the last 2 years has been a large filter, holding a mirror up to the quality of interactions I’ve accumulated over the years. It’s been a slow withering away of those that existed at the fringes, held by weak ties, and pulling those I hold close, even closer still. Without much effort or doing, it became exceedingly clear the friends I was clinging on to, many of whom, ironically, weren’t close to me in proximity. Spread between Bangalore, Bombay and even as far as Singapore and America, they’re the ones who stayed. Pitched in when they had advice to give, insights to share or answers to those 12 am questions. And sometimes even when they didn’t. They’re the ones who had the constant reminders to not be hard on myself, to take my time.

For the absolute first time in my life, I realised what it was to be lonely. I fully fathomed the pain of longing for the company of folks you love, because they get you, and are so far away.

Despite the distances, though, pain has a strange way of bringing those you need the most closest to you. In a late night call with N one day in March, she reminded me of this really pertinent snipped from Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior.

…we think our job as humans is to avoid pain, our job as parents is to protect our children from pain, and our job as friends is to fix each other’s pain. Maybe that’s why we all feel like failures so often — because we all have the wrong job description of love. What my friends didn’t know about me…Is that people who are hurting don’t need Avoiders, Protectors, or Fixers. What we need are patient, loving witnesses. People to sit quietly and hold space for us. People to stand in helpless vigil to our pain.

It was the kind of conversation that clicked something into place in my head, and set off a ripple effect of things that were just waiting to happen. It set the wheels in motion, in a way that wouldn’t have happened without the push. And just like that I felt like the vacuum that was the two-year limbo suddenly released, making way for movement again.

I’m grateful for the timely reminders.

I’m grateful for the kindred spirits and the uncanny commonalities we discover in our lives.

I’m grateful for the company that blurs distances and erases time zones.

I’m grateful for the gentle nudges and the wholehearted pushes.

I’m grateful for my tribe who has consistently sat quietly, holding space, sometimes in helpless vigil, to my pain.

I wouldn’t have realised my pain, and made the effort to move through this two-year limbo, without them.

It finally feels like I’m at the start of something new, rather than wasting away in the dregs of something old, done and dusted. And I’m so very ready to get going.

Same time, last year: Day 116: Bits and bobs

More books (and a mini Bangalore update)

There’s a lot of stuff I had planned for this break. Yeah, roll your eyes. I’m that person who makes a plan even when I’m on a break. The last few weeks before I came to Bangalore have been a blur and in order to focus on some important things on hand, I had completely ignored work, and to a large extent, home too. So I wanted to spend my time here, working in earnest again, get some writing (that’s not work) done, fleshing out some long pending ideas that have been sitting in cold storage and make some short term goals and plans for the months to come. The decision to spend an indefinite amount of time in Bangalore was also spurred by the fact that the emotionally tumultuous phase I’ve been through had me wanting the comfort of home, family, friends and familiarity. Bangalore was the last place on my mind when I thought about taking a short sabbatical from my life in Goa, and somehow after roaming halfway across the globe searching for options that ticked all the boxes for this kind of a break, I found myself booking a one-way ticket to Bangalore, of all places.

This was not part of the plan. The plan was to go away, not return to where I used to be. This was meant to be a month of meandering. A relaxed, routine-free and spontaneous few weeks with no immediate end in sight. At least that was the plan.

It’s how I fool myself into believing I’m in control of things — I make systematic plans and work out intricate routes and systems for the way I want things to move.  But yet again, life has shown me it has it’s own plan, and that in fact so little of it is my doing, or even in my control.

When it comes to plans, I’ve got nothing on life. So, a twist in the tale the moment I landed in Bangalore brought on a completely unexpected turn of events. And I spent the first ten days of my trip (starting from the very next day after I landed) house hunting. More on that later, but all this to say I haven’t had any time to do the things I planned to, and have instead been playing to the tunes of this other plan that’s playing out all on it’s own.

What I have been doing instead, while I wait for brokers, on cab rides between destinations, at the dining table, in between conversations and right before bedtime, is reading a lot more than usual. That has been a welcome change.

(I also realised just now that of late my Instagram has been pictures of books I’m reading and my feet/legs. And sometimes both.)

The High Priestess Never Marries, Sharanya Manivannan
Quite easily the most intense and visceral book I’ve read this year. The High Priestess Never Marries is a collection of 26 short stories about love, longing, lust, desire, relationships — each told from the perspective of women at the heart of the story. Featuring women from diverging backgrounds, social make-up and geographies too, Sharanya Mannivanan presents women hopelessly in love, some deeply committed, some spurned and looking for requital, some flirting with infidelity or polyamory (depending on how you look at it) — and every single story made me stop and question my notion of commitment, fidelity, marriage. Densely packed, beautifully crafted, it was a slow read and I literally had to use the dictionary on every single page. And yet, I gobbled it hungrily. I haven’t had a book grab me and break me slowly, beautifully, enveloping and taking me in more and more with every page, like this book did, in so so so long.

Karachi, You’re Killing Me!, Saba Imtiaz

I picked this because I wanted a quick, light read and I suddenly heard this had been made into a movie (out now!) featuring Sonakshi Sinha, but of more interest to me, Kanan Gill and Purab Kohli. So of course I’m going to be watching it. This is a very light read and delivered on the quick bit too, perfect for the weeks before my visit to Bangalore, when I was busy as hell. This is a little bit like a Pakistani Bridget Jones meets your most typical, cliche chicklit book ever. It has all the right ingredients — a 20-something journalist (who lives in Karachi), lots of angst about where she is in her life, adequate mention of alcohol, partying hard, fashion, high-society, and of course a sweet and very predictable love story woven in. I went in with no expectations, and rather than coming out happy, let’s say I wasn’t disappointed.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer
I was very late to get to this book that has come so highly recommended many, many times over. But I’m so glad I finally got to it, because it was another book I just devoured in record time. Largely because it is written in epistolary form — which is easily my most favourite style. But also because it is such a heartwarming book about books, writing, a writers pursuit for a subject, and the depths to which book lovers and writers go to unravel the secrets within stories we’ve only read in words before.

It’s 1946, in London and through a series of letters exchanged between Juliet Ashton (a writer seeking a subject for her new book) and a man (who becomes her primary source for said subject that completely consumes her) that draws Juliet and readers into a mysteriously wonderful and dream-like world amidst the members of the curiously names Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society. The author, the main character, is . strong, critical woman very aware of her independence and choice, and navigates post-war society with thought, but without losing warmth and grace. The writing is charming and flows easily. The story, even more so.

All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg
I picked this book from this list (yes, it’s yet another list of several compelling titles to now knock off) because the short description was so compelling:

Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up follows a 39-year-old woman who lives her unconventional life — unmarried and without children — by choice and on her own terms. But when her niece is born with severe birth defects, she is forced to re-examine herself and what being an adult really means. A raw, honest, and often hilarious ride of a novel.

And it did not disappoint. I absolutely, thoroughly loved this book because it was so damn relatable. The writing is tight, super honest and chock full of brutally honest vignettes that any millennial will identify with — from the angst of choosing to earn a living versus following a calling, to carefully cultivating a deluded sense of poverty, to having misguided priorities, to our difficult relationships with our parents, eventually finding our way to and out of therapy, dealing with love, loss and emotional upheaval. Another book that really drew me in and I finished reading in under two days.

I think I read this book at an apt time in my life. After a rather intense burst of therapy, returning to spend a longish period of time at home with my family, reworking notions of my existence and independence vis a vis the part I play in the various relationships I am a part of.

It was also oddly surreal to breeze through this book much the same way I used to breeze through books lying in my bed, spending sunny afternoons peeling back the pages from cover to cover, without a care in the world. This felt like the kind of book that reaffirms your current reality.

It really, really feels great to be home.

Same time, last year: Day 115: Mean things I want to say out loud, but cant

Serendipity

I’m a hopeless believer of serendipity. I find myself irresistibly drawn to making connections when seemingly unconnected events line up in a row to articulately spell a message, or provide direction, or sometimes simply to reiterate what is already in my mind, even when I’m being too daft to see it.

Last night, it came in the form of an essay “on (and against) ambition”, that D shared with me. It was the last thing in a day of continuously running into affirmations about a decision that looms large, and it was just the thing I needed to read to reaffirm what I already know but am often too afraid to admit. And to commit to wholeheartedly. So while I swing along with it as the courage comes and goes in waves, this essay was yet another pause, followed by a swift blow to nail, right on its head.

I’ve written about ambition before, and my tussle with accepting what it means to me versus what it means to the world at large. A world that’s constantly sending me messages of what it means to be ambitious, productive, useful, good. To fight the labels, the boxes, the messages and to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were, to find that which makes most sense to me and cling to it while all about me the world continues to make something else entirely of me, has been a constant work in progress.

The fight has always been mostly internal. And it has been a fight we all have seen ourselves go through in some aspect of our lives or the other. It is a fight to stick by a choice, no matter how atypical it may seem on the outside, because it is what makes most sense to us on the inside. So if you find yourself struggling to fully embrace alternative choices even when it’s what is best for you, if you tire of constantly going against the grain, if you’re wondering if women have it harder (we do) this is a great essay, and maybe it will be a much required blow to the gut for you, like it was for me.

Read?

The Snarling Girl, by Elisa Albert. Notes on—and against—ambition.

A few things that stuck out and sealed the deal for me.

Ambition: an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment. Note: we are not speaking here about trying to pay our bills, have a decent place to live, buy decent food, access decent health care, get a decent education. For the purposes of this particular discussion, those fundamentals are assumed. And there’s nothing in there about spiritual betterment, social service, love, or happiness. The entire concept can therefore be seen as anti-feminist. An ideal matriarchy would concern itself exclusively with the quality of our days. Whither the collective desire to make life better for everyone? Ambition is inherently egotistical; it is by definition about being in service of the self. Which has never, not once in the history of humanity (can you tell I’ve not bothered to read Ayn Rand?) made anyone anywhere “happy.”

(I have tried, and failed to get through Ayn Rand a couple of times before. Recently I made the discovery that two of my closest friends have had the same experience, for the same reasons.)

When I was little I wanted to be the president, a fire woman, a teacher, a cheerleader, and a writer. Now all I want is to be happy. And left alone. And I want to know who I am in the context of a world full of hate and domination.

Word.

What I would like to say is: Lean In my hairy Jewish ass.

Double word.

But mostly it was THIS, that got to me because it rings so. damned. true.

Taking care of myself and my loved ones feels like meaningful work to me, see? I care about care. And I don’t care if I’m socialized to feel this way, because in point of fact I do feel this way. So! I am unavailable for striving today. I’m suuuuuper busy.

And this.

Keep your head down. Do your work. Focus on the work at hand, not the work that’s done. Do the work you’re called upon to do. Engage with what moves you. Eventually you’ll get recognition. And if you don’t get recognition? Well then, all the more badass to continue working your butt off. Recognition has nothing to do with the work, get it? The work is the endeavor. The work is the process. Recognition comes, if/when it does, for work that is already done, work that is over.

As of yesterday, I am in Bangalore. It was meant to be a longish trip to test waters, but it’s just been 24 hours and already my reasons for doing this have become clear. In my mind, I’ve had well laid plans, but outside of me, things are in churn, full tilt. While I’m gathering my thoughts and trying to proceed through this time one step at a time, around me things are hurtling towards an unclear space in the future at breakneck speed. Reading this though, gave me some much needed clarity. Peace. And, like icing on the humble(and truth) pie, I got two great sounding book reccos out of this essay, and a renewed faith in serendipity too.

Same time, last year: Day 102: Mondays like this

Pointless post

Today feels like a I.can.not.able.to.do kind of day.

In under an hour I’ve gone from feeling what I think are flashes of maternal feelings for the puppies we just got sterilised and released back in their home ground, to raging over tech difficulties updating my LinkedIn.

Is there a more unintuitive, non-user-friendly, lets-get-people-to-hate-us-completely platform that LinedIn? I think not.

Yesterday I was all wise and zen in talking A out of a panic attack where she thought she was the shittiest writer and really stupid for thinking she can do this freelancer gig thing. Today, I am in A’s place.

Can.not.able.to.do.

I had a massive breakthrough yesterday. A result of a nap I allowed myself to take, despite crazy amounts of work that were keeping me from succumbing to it for a full two hours before I actually gave in, and a conversation with R. I live for aha-moments of clarity like these.

I started writing out what I felt, in my notebook, as opposed to here. Half way through I stopped and wondered why. I don’t have an answer.

I’m headed to Bombay this weekend. It’s going to be a hectic trip, I just know it. I’m feeling travel inertia like nothing I’ve felt before. The thought of packing and taking a flight and everything else is making me want to just call the whole thing off. But I cant. And the only thought keeping me going is that I get to meet Niyuuuuuuu. And my folks.

Okay. Time to go fight the worst case of Imposter Syndrome I have had in a long, long time, before it paralyses me completely. Because this week is not the week for me to buckle under the pressure. I do not have the luxury of taking it easy or taking a break.

If you’re still reading, your morning is probably currently as pointless as mine.

Thank you for listening. Go work now, k? Bye.

Same time, last year: Day 46: Morning views

Work. But also life.

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

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

Why won’t people respond soon?

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

How long should I wait before I move on?

Maybe I should try something else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same time, last year: Day 19: Hope

Inconsequential posts you really don’t need to read

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

So much for prep.

*****

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

*****

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

So we’re working on that.

Hah.

*****

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

Red ink <3 yellow light. Handwritten.

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

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

Same time, last year: Day 12: R & R 

Day 366: December

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 363: Rewind


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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your body, use it every way you can

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

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

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

Read the directions even if you don’t follow them

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

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

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

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

Understand that friends come and go

But a precious few, who should hold on

Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle

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

You knew when you were young

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

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

Travel, accept certain inalienable truths

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

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

Prices were reasonable, politicians were noble

And children respected their elders

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

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

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

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

It will look eighty-five

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

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

Wishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off

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

But trust me on the sunscreen.

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

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

And deal with it they did. So gracefully.

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

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

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

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

And thank god for that.

Day 362: Time

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 343: Essential reading

Today, I’m found myself at that painful point again. With three different browser windows open, way too many tabs to keep track of, and nothing read to completion. Every time things get “crowded” on a particular window, I open a fresh one, to ease the claustrophobia. And then the tabs pile up, inevitably. On and on.

So I sorted through them of course, and here are some things I wanted to share.

I have an essay about Indian women and their choice to remain child-free coming out soon next week, so it’s been on my radar for a while. Probably why I bookmarked these three essays. Entirely different matter that I only read them in a rushed manner yesterday! This is probably going to be my last essay on the topic, for a while (phew!) because between the last one and this, I’m wiped dry.

Disproving the myth that all women must want children has been an ongoing century-long effort. A whole goddamned century. When are we going to get over this?

An essay, and a whole new book called Why Have Kids? about the need to normalise the choice not to have kids.

I’m now the person who received links to a story from multiple sources because they read something on the topic and instantly think of me. Heh. This BBC story, with a mildly sensationalised title, Changing the world is more important than changing nappies, was sent to me by four different people.

Every year I come across at least three pieces that make a pretty compelling case to quit social media. I’m too far in now, and will probably take a lot to get out, but it always makes for good reading. Especially stories like this about improving your career by getting off social media, that come at a time when I’m making over 95% of my income through social media.

This brilliant Rolling Stone interview with President Obama the day after the election. I’d love to see someone do something similar in India, with as much candour and a sense of humour even in grim times.

Soeaking of things I’d like to see happen on Indian news/media, how about our version of this?

Research for an interesting story I’m working on led me here, to this story about a delightful book about bookstores.

And I’m saving the absolute best for last. Currently reading Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. And it is slowly creeping into top spot in the list of best books I read this year. It’s a collection of essays about a great variety of themes and topics related to feminism, but this essay really hit home. Gay, on safety, fear, the illusion of safety, and trigger warnings, is an essay every woman needs to read. Some quotes from the essay;

I used to think that I didn’t have triggers because I told myself I was tough. I was steel. I was broken beneath the surface but my skin was forged, impenetrable. Then I realised I had all kinds of triggers. I simply had buried them deep until there was no more room inside me. When the dam burst, I had to learn how to stare those triggers down. I had a lot of help, years and years of help. I have writing.

It’s an impossible debate. There is too much history lurking beneath the skin of too many people. Few are willing to consider the possibility that trigger warning might be ineffective, impractical, and necessary for creating safe spaces all at once.

…there is value in learning, where possible, how to deal with and respond to the triggers that cut you open, the triggers that put you back in terrible places, that remind you of painful history.

Find it here on The Rumpus. For more such compelling, relevant, important writing that raises important questions, questions the status quo even in an established space, takes the difficult route to arrive at a whole new stance and constantly questions our privilege while doing so, read the book.

 

 

Day 337: November

It’s December.

That escalated really quickly. And even within this year that seems to be in such a rush to slip through my fingers, while I’m still trying to get a grip, November was the fastest month of them all. It really, well and truly went by in a flash. And like I just said the other day, that only ever happens when you’re either having way too much fun, or you just have way too much happening in general. And the past month was a bit of both for me. Practically half the month went by in a holiday blur, and the other half went by in recovery, a little skulking around trying hard to normalise again, and a week with my sister. And poof, the month was done.

I have to pinch myself to check if this is really happening. How are we already in November? Wasn’t I just here, dealing with way too much at once, and feeling completely at sea?

But November was a month of contrasts. If the first half was spent zipping around, wheels on my heels, the second was spent being a homebody. Where the first half had be getting out and about, the second half had me avoiding everyone. For the first two weeks of the month I felt so upbeat and confident and with it, and the second half saw me nosediving a bit, trying to get it together again.

It all started with Diwali, which was actually the most non-Diwali-like Diwali of all time. It was a combination of many things — pre-holiday excitement mixed with a complete lack of enthusiasm for anything even remotely social — that led to having a meh festival. But I don’t mean to complain. It was a good day, and what was telling was the completely effortless way in which not doing anything after all these years felt normal.

I was wrapping up a lot of loose ends at work and barely had any time to really post in the first week of November. So there was the recap of October, some reading I shared, and before I knew it I was off on my long-winding trip across multiple cities, continents and modes of transport.

VC and I had planned separate holidays over the same period. This was a first for us, and I realised this is the first year we haven’t taken a single holiday together, but on the other hand we’ve traveled so much, separately. While I landed in Bangkok and was able to post from a quaint little cafe with wifi, VC was in the boonies of Goa where he had cycled to. I’ll admit, despite being en route to my very own exotic location, I was a tad envious.

But it was silly being envious, because I can (and we’re already planning this) always repeat the cycling trip in Goa. Thailand on the other hand was special. I can’t say epic or fantastic in the way that one might imagine girlie-trips in Thailand could be. This was special, most of all for the sunsets, quiet company, the epiphanies, the books, and the chance to go home again.

That’s the short version. For the longer version with excruciating detail, read this post about day one in Bangkok, the almost-week on an island, and the slightly bizarre and insanely fun return to Bangkok.

After that, and the bonus of spending time at home with the parentals, something strange happened. For the very first time ever, I had a serious case of blues to be back in Goa. Again, this was very telling. With every passing day I feel the curtains closing on my time here. And in small and big ways, in moments that take me by surprise, I realise I must accept this sooner rather than later. My usual unpacked-and-back-to-normal routine was shot to bits this time. I was lethargic, sluggish and sad for a whole week during which I got very little constructive work done, aside from tending to emails, doing the bare minimum amount of work, and reading. And then my sister arrived! Which called for interruptions in programming again.

Aside from the restful holiday, the other bright part of November was coming back to an abundance of published work that had either been sitting on the bench or waiting for a publishing date. What followed was a sudden tidal wave of payments, of course. But in a surprising turn of events, this month I also had a shockingly high number of inquiries for work. Thank you, universe.

Somewhere in between, I also watched and ranted about Dear Zindagi. And about a new Instagram disease called fashionblogging.

I’m in a strange headspace. On the one hand things are moving swimmingly. On paper, I have a fantastic life. But inside, it constantly feels like a gentle storm is brewing. I have bouts of lethargy alternating with restlessness. I realise a lot of this is a by product of on-going therapy, which is also a reason why I’m acutely aware of every damned little thing I feel. Nothing passes me by as just a mood anymore, and sometimes that gets tiring.

2016 has been a lot of things. But most of all it has been tumultuous. We (I speak for VC too hear because everything that happens to me, affects him too) have struggled through some parts, over a lot of different things, questioned our motives and looked for answers and alternatives. And it’s beginning to feel like this time of guessing is shutting shop. In my gut, I feel like the end of the year is going to be the end of the transition. November certainly felt like a fitting culmination of everything that is going on. A build up to crescendo, as we reach the pinnacle of the year, before we turn the lights out on the year with a bang. The hope is that the storm settles, the mind finds a uniform swing in the step, and life mellows out a little.

Everything looks better in retrospect of course. When the heat of the moment has passed, the burning angst has settled momentarily, and the day ends with a gorgeous sunset, is when you’re able to sit back and inspect the trail you’ve left behind. Oddly, everything makes sense.

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But enough of this. To the forces dishing out juju for net year, listen up. I’d like 2017 to be well done.

Day 335: I watched Dear Zindagi

And I really, really wanted to like it.

But I didn’t.

It was too long, far too stretched out. And just way too preachy.

(Music was also so shitty. WHAT ARE THOSE LYRICS?! How could every song be so terrible?)

Maybe, I’m not the audience, but I’m really bloody tired of Bollywood’s constant need to turn every damn premise with promise into mushy balls of baby food and force-feeding it down our throats by way of preachy, contrived writing.

I’m just, very, very over it.

So yeah, it was long and tedious.

But, there are a few things I appreciated.

First, it delved into an unconventional topic, for Bollywood. Mental health, the need to be tuned into one’s emotional hygiene (for the lack of a better word), and the dire need to fearlessly, shamelessly seek help when either are amiss.

Second, third, fourth and fifth, Alia Bhatt. I thought she was genuine, effortless and the only thing that saved the film. I have a newfound admiration for Bhatt this year. She seems determined and focused, and it shows in the trajectory her work has taken, and the skill she brings to the table today, than she did when she first broke into Bollywood. I think the word I’m looking for is growth. And I don’t mean growth in that serious, dowdy sort of way that the term has come to mean, in mainstream cinema. It’s almost like to grow and get better means to move away from entertaining to cerebral, thinking cinema. It’s not, and enough actors and films have proven how it is possible to entertain, to make silly, funny, lovely movies, and still be damned good at acting and deliver a message sometimes. It is the kind of Bollywood I’ve come to love and wait for. This year has been a disappointment on that front.

Earlier last week, I watched a smug SRK in an interview, dismiss her as “too good too soon” and I wondered what he possibly meant. It annoyed me that he made it sound like a bad thing. My infuriation deepened when he went on to tell her to try and be bad sometimes.

Waitaminute, I thought. Is he seriously peddling mediocrity as something to aspire for?

SRK wouldn’t stop. He went on to clarify what he meant by bad. Dancing around trees in sarees in unnaturally cold countries it seems.

Okay, I’m not the audience, I told myself again.

But you know what? I’m tired of not being the audience. Rather I’m tired of being in the group of people that is not considered an audience worthy of making films for. I’m tired of going into every hindi movie knowing it’s going to be too long/too preachy/too filmi/too OTT. I’m really damned tired of coming out of every film thinking oh it was watchable, but…

That’s the thing with mediocrity. It becomes the norm. And with hoards of people eating mediocre out of these filmmakers palms, nobody wants to or needs to aim higher. Nobody wants to be better.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Until someone young and capable like Alia Bhatt comes along, and suddenly we’re sitting up to take notice. Because despite privileged beginnings and becoming famous for being a ditz on a talk show, she’s doing so well for herself. In such a short span of time. This year, I was seriously amazed by her work in Kapoor & Sons, Udta Punjab and now Dear Zindagi. Of these, I didn’t even love Kapoor & Sons and Dear Zindagi as films, but I think she was stellar in both. In the past, she was fabulous in Highway, She’s versatile and she is solid.

This morning, I started typing this out as a ramble of the thoughts that kept me awake after the last show of DZ last night, and I belatedly stumbled in this essay just now that makes a similar rant and praises Bhatt’s skill, drive and most of all her ability to choose well. It’s right in saying the ability to choose films that stand up for issues, push the envelope in terms of progressive themes and topics that need a voice i popular cinema, without compromising on entertainment, is a special skill. And thank god Bhatt has learned it early. One can only hope she goes from strength to strength.

And I hope she never takes SRK’s “advice” seriously.

Oh, the other thing I appreciated deeply was the choice of men cast opposite Bhatt. Everyone except SRK has my heart. Sigh.

Day 334: Everything looks better in retrospect

Today, I was told that I used the word “struggle” 25 times in a little over an hour. It’s true, struggled I have, through various things this year, with challenges big and small. Minuscule, even. But like I told the bearer of this news this morning, it’s only in the last two odd years that the things that I always thought were routine challenges, bumps in the road, minor transgressions, problems, issues or whatever else you want to call it, have begun to feel like a struggle. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve become so deeply cognisant of what that feels like. Uphill climb. Expending energy disproportionate to the anticipated result. Feeling mentally exhausted. Wondering why me! Questioning the underlying reasons and looking for hidden meaning in every little uphill climb. So there’s been a lot of lessons. A lot of unexpected events, twists in the story, developments. And I’ve discovered things about me, my friends, VC, and my area of work as a result.

Struggle takes several different forms. I have different words for it. Hustling, slogging, pimping, getting bajaoed.  In fact it has become such an integral part of my vocabulary, that being told didn’t surprise me. It just solidified the squishy semi-solid hunch I’ve had for a while, that perhaps vocalising it so much has made me internalise it. And internalising it has caused an unconscious acceptance of it too. Chatting with VC about it, we wondered if maybe this is also a part and parcel of being a creative person? Because I look around me, and I see so many folks in a similar state of mind. Many of them are deeply creatively inclined, if not already engaged in a creative field. I’m hypothesising, but maybe there is something to it.

Today, I was asked to find a better synonym for it. And I think I’m going to settle for “lesson.” There have been lessons. Many, many lessons. Lessons in altering my perspective, in letting go of the old, in cutting ties when the time is up, in learning to learn better, in feeling whole and enough, in trying to be at peace, even when it feels like everything about me is coming apart.

Peace. For all the restlessness, uncertainty and angst I’ve churned inside my being this year, I’ve also learned peace. I came home strangely at peace at having realised this today. Perhaps this is what I am meant to learn from all this stru, scratch that, these lessons?

There is a lot to be said about discovering this kind of peace, from within yourself, by yourself. It’s like going a step up form enjoying your own company. And that in itself has been such a massive learning this year. To be able to escape into a space of quiet, to surrender when I’m feeling vulnerable, and to just breathe and leave things be, even when it feels impossible.

I’ve had innumerable such moments. At home, or when I’ve dashed off for a walk on the beach, or when I’m focused on a piece of work, or engrossed in a conversation with VC or a friend. For all the restlessness and angst that I’ve felt, for every struggle, I’m thankful for the light that shines through, the passage of time, and the blessing that is retrospect.

 

Day 330: One number mini rant about Instagram

Duuudes, have you noticed a sudden spike in the number of pictures on instagram that are to do with clothes and fashion? I’m not talking about fashion blogging and the world of sponsored fashion for social influencers. I’m talking about regular people like you and me, who are evidently not as regular as I presume, because they go to some serious lengths to curate what they wear on a daily basis. And then they document it. Day upon day upon day after day after day. And I say curate because clothes are no longer just worn. They’re put together, paired, thrown together. Jewellery isn’t just worn, it’s taken out for a spin it seems. Shoes aren’t just made for walking, they’re made for matching, and for purposes of photogenic documentation. And all this is done with a deliberate, casual air that I might have believed if not for the awful lot of effort that goes into what is evidently just daily wear. Okay, that’s just boring old, uninterested-in-fashion-me talking . The first question that always springs to mind when I see these pictures: wow, where is he/she going all dressed up? Because to my untrained, extremely unrefined sartorial sensibility, everyone in these posts always looked overdressed. Or like they’re dressed to go someplace important. But it seems people are dressing up like this all the time, everyday, even if it is only to go to the front of the mirror and drag an unsuspecting piece of furniture into the frame, on which to drape themselves in order to take an adequately descriptive picture.

Has wearing clothes you love and enjoy, and taking pictures of yourself because you look good and you’re cool and confident enough to admit it, passe? What is this new fangled effort to couch good old vanity in fashion blogging a la instagram? Everybody is a fashion blogger these days. Even those who don’t call themselves that, and don’t use the right hashtags and don’t even bother to tag the right brands. Because what’s in a label or a hashtag? Except many don’t even have fashion blogs. Just a lot of vanity, time on their hands and an instagram account. Also, there needs to be a hashtag in there somewhere. I’m not sure where exactly.

Taking pictures of your clothes, the accessories and footwear you’re going to pair it with is the new wedding photography. Or foodblogging. Everybody wants in, and everybody is mediocre. Brand names and elaborate backstories are essential. Without that said fashion (non)blogging (or shall we say instablogging?) is totally worthless. Also critical is an elaborate backstory that has enough nuance and detail about how well-versed person is with the origins of the garment, the exact nature of the warp and weft, every little groove on the block that printed it, and how far it travelled to reach him/her. Stories of friendship, camaraderie, love, family, joy, sadness, hunger, poverty, insanity, that may somehow be force-fit and worked into it are a bonus. How much or how little he/she gives a fuck about the environment can be ascertained by how much or how little they managed to up-cycle or recycle elements of the ensemble. Captions, hashtags, so much coolth dripping from these elaborate descriptions of why the chosen attire made it into an instagram picture is evidently essential.

It’s simply not okay to just say “I think I look lovely today” or “I love this dress” or “I was gifted this saree” or “New shoes, baby!” Instead we are subjected to the misery that is reading these painfully tedious posts that really just come across as unnecessarily roundabout means to enjoy a moment of vanity, or show off their wardrobe. Actually, I lie. I’m not subjected to any such misery. I have the option to unfollow folks I follow who have suddenly taken to serially posting endless pictures of themselves and their clothes, and I’ve taken to using it liberally. But hey, I love instagram and Im not about to let this ruin it for me. So, since I’m also a champ at pruning my social media feeds to suit my ever changing whims and fancies, I’ve also figured instagram out! If you’re tired of the constant stream of this incredibly futile effort at contrived humblebragging, click the three little dots on the top right of every post and select “show fewer posts like this.” You’re welcome.

</rant>