On listening

So much has been said, and continues to be said, about mental health, exalting the dire importance to “reach out”. Though well-intentioned, the sheer number of posts that have just casually offered this as a silver-bullet — “please reach out” “you are not alone” “my DMs are open” — have left me a bit uncomfortable. First because what does it say about us that this has to be explicitly stated, after someone has passed away by suicide? And second because I’m wondering about what after the person reaches out? Assuming that they can just get over whatever it is that has stopped them from doing so, that we seem to think just reiterating that they should reach out will help — what next?

When we offer a listening ear, how do we listen? Can we really listen? And more importantly, are we in the habit and practice of doing so with presence and empathy?

Can we listen without immediately pathologizing the human tendency to feel feelings, sometimes more intensely than usual? Without offering solutions or judgement. Without wishing tough emotions away.

My guess is we are mostly not. Because we live in a country and a culture that isn’t used to looking at vulnerability of sharing in a healthy way. We are not in the habit of looking at mental health as a product of societal and cultural polarities (amongst many other things) that contribute a great deal to ill-health. We mostly don’t have it in us to cultivate a systemic view of life that accounts for all of this.

So how do we listen better? Just listening, for a start. I’ve been wondering about this. Not for my work, but for life, as a whole. Listening with the ability to put myself and any discomfort that may arise from it, aside for a brief moment, to give my presence to the other. To be patient, and bear witness, as I listen.

I don’t have any hot-takes or immediate answers. Just my own questions around this, most of which arise from my experiences of not feeling heard and seen. I know that the collective changing rests with every individual changing, slowly, one step at a time, over time. And so maybe we begin with ourselves, and our experiences with being heard, and looking at how that was for us. I know that it is only through living and experiencing this that answers will emerge.

PS: Not the first time I have pondered about listening, it seems.

One year ago: My own person
Two years ago: Home where my love lies waiting

Notice the rage, notice the silence

I listened to the frightfully articulate Resmaa Manakem on his On Being podcast yesterday. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Many threads of my personal journey are beginning to be woven into the landscape of the larger political canvas of our very existence. It’s becoming loud and clear to me that the person is deeply political, seeing as how it is a journey of clarifying my person values. I cannot shy away from this anymore. And that truth gets a little more cemented every day.

This past week, being up close helping with the movement of migrants — sourcing and delivering food and other essentials — realising in how many ways we have actually failed our society, I have really had to look at economic and caste Inequality and Inequity, the very fragmented shards of our broken, broken system right in the eyes.

What’s hit me the hardest is that these are lives (thousands and thousands of them everyday, just wanting to get home) and yet everything about the process, every step of the way forgets and negates that basic fact. The scenes at one of the many hubs around the city where migrants are being registered and organised to get on to the Shramik trains leaving the city, are nothing short of refugee camps. And seeing it all has made my heart heavy. Really heavy.

This is just Bangalore. I think of other cities, other hubs, other states, and the scale of our collective failure as a country is too much to digest. Everyday is excruciating, and the only thing giving me energy and hope in the mind-blowing coming together of communities in Bangalore that I have witnessed. This is something I am quick to forget. It’s easy, when all we see and consume is a steady diet of bad news, high on shock and horror.

I’ve had to come to terms with just how deeply systemic, cultural and utterly entwined divisiveness, subjugation and heartlessness is. Because of the work I do, cognitively I can pin this to trauma. My brain knows this, but my mind and my heart just won’t have it. I want and expect better of human beings. And yet, the reality is something else.

The podcast is a fantastic listen. For anyone interested in a shockingly accurate perspective of what’s going on in the world — and really this lies at the heart if every kind of inequality. Resmaa’s words speak right to this truth.

Trauma decontextualized in a person looks like personality.
Trauma decontextualized in a family looks like family traits.
Trauma in a people looks like culture.

When you begin to look at healing a “thousand-year-old” trauma of a people, you’ll see how it is mirrored right down to the traumas faced by individuals, at the level of the personality. And there’s hope when I see it that way.

He is fantastically clear, speaks powerful words without mincing them. He speaks of Race, but he could very well be speaking of Caste, our very own thousand-year-old collective trauma. And that’s what touched me the most. The universality of What Hurts, What’s Broken. And I hesitate to write this because there is so much talk about taking away space from Black Lives right now. I don’t mean to take away space at all. I know absolutely nothing about that fight, to even try. But I also see commonality, and in that way, what’s going on across the planet also hurts me.

It’s been an emotionally heavy couple of weeks and I see how it has reflected in my writing here. I used to feel a bit apologetic about that, and even express it here from time to time. But one thing that’s become very clear for me very, very recently is that healing involves leaning in more into what hurts. And this blog is a space where I will be doing that.

Like Resmaa says;

Notice the rage. Notice the silence.

The podcast too, reiterated that for me. There is no looking away form the discomfort and hurt of where we are as a race. We can begin to heal by looking at ourselves. The personal, is political. We are a traumatized lot, and because we don’t want to stop to heal, we continue to pass it on. And because we are a delicately balanced lot, existing in a precarious system of inequalities, we’re always retraumatizing the most disenfranchised amongst us, making them relive the worst atrocities, every single day.

Closer home, we really can’t talk about Development without talking about healing, without doing the work to own up to and re-contextualizing this trauma. And I realise how bloody far away we are from that. These are truly dark ages. This past week I certainly felt like we have regressed, slipped further below, dragged ourselves backwards as a nation.

Give the podcast a listen. It’s essential for every human being, I’d say.

One year ago: The written word 
Two years ago: Only happy when it rains

Meeting ground

My mind has been swimmingly full of thoughts about everything that’s going on in the world. The great divisions, the poles we exist in, the massive grief of all the events that are just snowballing one after another.

what else is life,
if not loneliness and silence?

I watched Nasir (it was available for a limited time only on the We Are One youtube film festival) on the weekend, and I’ve been trying to encapsulate what it made me feel, but I just don’t have the words. In fact after the film ended, I just went quiet. Shut my laptop and sat in silence for the longest time.

So I’m just going to say this: what the film left me with was a visceral experience of how normal and mundane, regular, everyday, fear and marginalisation is for someone who belongs to a minority group in this country. Life is ordinary, and that includes the fear. The uncertainty becomes so regular, something to live and accept and fight every single day, even while trying to live a normal life and do things like hold down a job and keep your family safe and afloat.

And then I got drawn into the community mobilisation activity. A week of planning, and three days of delivering car-fulls of food and supplies to hungry, gutted migrants who just want to go home, was and experience like tearing my heart open to the pain that this country is currently facing.

And then there is what’s happening in America. Which feels so so so familiar and eerily similar to our own fight from December through March. N asked for a reading and as always it turned into a freewheeling conversation that was as important for me, as it may have been for her. We had a long, powerful chat that stayed with me long after and I woke up with thoughts.

What is the meeting ground, in times of such violence and polarisation? Where can we hope to create space for union and connection?

Many found space and form in my word salad from yesterday. And the rest, in a bonus card that I pulled more as a memento of the conversation we had. To mark and remember it because it was an important one for me.

This is your reminder, that is possible to:

  1. Feel extremely heartbroken by injustice, AND hopeful at expressions of truth to power. Feel them both, keenly and deeply.
  2. Hold the very best intentions of allyship, but ALSO have a lot of scope for learning and improvement. Listen more to those you wish to support.
  3. Be keenly aware of all your flaws, AND still be kind to yourself. Both have a place.
  4. Know a lot about many, many things, STILL have absolutely no idea about some other things. Be open to learning from those who do.
  5. Desire peace and harmony, while ALSO (unconsciously)hold polarising politics. Examine and watch yourself closer.

One year ago: Spaces in-between
Four years ago: New tricks

Transition

At a macro level, I see everything that we’re going through as a race and as a planet, is a massive transition. A portal that popped open when we were least expecting it, ushering in some deeply uncomfortable events that are shaking the very foundations of our existence — across the board.

It’s impossible to transition through this sort of change quickly. It’s really forcing us to slow down, in more ways than one. Asking us to look for meaning beyond the obvious, cliche interpretations of those two words — slow down.

Even as things are opening up and we’re seeking normalcy (whatever that may be — I don’t even know anymore) I see how unsettled things still are. Something important has happened in this period, whether one is conscious of it or not, it has happened. It feels at times like we’ve woken up from a long nap. And sometimes it feels like we’ve been thrown off a plane and have had to land abruptly, hitting the ground running. And no matter which way you’re experiencing this — as extreme slow, discomfort or a series sudden, quick moving shifts — this is a transition.

The foundations have crumbled, the cracks of inequity are visible, the the dust is still in the air and won’t settle for a while. We have much to do. And this feels deeply like a call for change. For examination. For introspection. For walking the talk. For doing the work. For stretching ourselves. For getting off our collective asses.

And. It’s becoming impossible to ignore how connected what’s happening at the micro level — at the level of my personality and within me — feels connected to what’s around. Whether, and what, I choose to do anything about it or not has become secondary. Through the entire lockdown I found myself much more willing to face the anger and angst, grief and hopelessness that was coming in waves, because I felt very sure that it was the only way to know what to do next. That a process and a path will show up. And it has, for me. Just last week, in a spontaneous collection of some kindred spirits getting together to mobilise food, medicines and other essentials for the thousands and thousands of migrants leaving Bangalore everyday. Suddenly I am in the midst of the operation, and there is an energy and a channel for my emotions.

Hopelessness thaws and turns to hope. Stuckness finds movement and energy. And in all this, that connection — between what’s been happening within me, and around me — has strengthened, more than ever before. Beyond just the cognitive understanding that this connection exists.

I also carry within me this strange dichotomy of emotions every single day. A bittersweet space where hopelessness and hope somehow sit side by side, where anger and joy are holding hands, and where stillness and action have found a way to coexist. Within and without.

This year came out of nowhere, and it is being the best teacher, asking of me things that I have been building and working towards for the last couple of years. I am at a threshold of sorts, and this entire shitfest in all it’s glory — energetically, emotionally, environmentally, economically, politically — feels like an invitation. Every single day it calls me, gently asking for my presence in some way or another. And I feel that something has shifted yet again, in the way that I am now willing to show up.

In so many, many ways I feel like the last 3-4 years, the turn that my life has taken, the things and people I felt drawn to, the issues that have occupied my energy and impacted the choices I have made, the work I feel called to do and how it has influenced my place and sense of identity in the world — it was all a massive preparation for this moment in time.

While there is urgency, there is also a capacity to slow down and wait for the call. I want to bring my voice to all that is churning and being spoken about and I also want to take time to read, learn and listen.

This is the way I think I can participate in this transition. With eyes wide open.

This work of dismantling old orders and frameworks of being is a crucial part of growth. Much like dismantling old beliefs and processes. It is the first and most important step to establishing new ways of being. New orders. New intentions. New, egalitarian ways of coexisting. Within and without.

We cannot go there without first eliminating the rot that no longer serves us. Whether that is within us, or without us.

For the new to take birth, the old needs to quite literally die. And the forces that hold power and keep this imperative death from happening, will have to be challenged as they are today. It is no different in personal work. Looking within, seeing all that we hold on to, the fear that holds us back, the walls we build to hide behind — all of it needs to be challenged — so we can emerge into our full power.

This is not an easy or beautiful process. No healing is uniformly positive, in that way. And I see how there is this constant attempt to make the process of change look beautiful and charming. It isn’t. It’s messy, challenging, painful and very, very exhausting. Whether you’re healing a broken heart, or a broken political system.

This is true at the level of the individual as much as it is as a collective. As a society, country, race.

So much of popular spiritual talk — meditation, mindfulness, self-care — is centred around positive vibes only. Almost as if that’s a ticket to circumvent the difficulties that are bound to come up when you begin this process of healing. Whereas, now more than ever before, we have to be willing to really face up to the violence and destruction of this churn we are in the midst of.

Revolutions, personal or political, always, always shatter the status quo, the superficially held facades that cover up the gross fault lines we’re always working to hide and avert our gaze from.

That transition has started. The rot is being swept up. Look around you, start in your neighbourhood, pull out and look at the country, look at the divisions, look at the people who hold power, and pull back some more and look at the environment, the world at large, other countries, the planet as a whole.

This transition begins to feel staggering. And if you look close enough, you’ll see your place in it. But you have to look. And you have to be willing to face the discomfort of what you’ll see. Within and without.

There’s going to be a lot more trauma, injustice, pain and suffering (which will almost entirely be borne by minorities) being churned up. We brought this on. And now is not the time to turn away and avoid the mess that we created. Now is the time to bring ourselves to the centre of it in whatever way we can. To listen, to unlearn, participate and relearn, reconstruct, heal and hold space. To show up. In whatever way we can.

Either way it feels like there is no way to go around this mess. Only through it. This call to focus on inner-work, suddenly seems such an imperative and essential stepping stone to connection, harmony and peace in my outer world. And I see how the challenges in connection I face at the personal level, are so implicitly reflected in the way the planet is struggling to find peace today. How much we struggle to meet one another in a harmonious way.

Personally, last week, I had a very powerful experience of what not just fully owning up to the truth of my feelings, but showing myself as a vessel of those emotions, did for me. It was painful, but so freeing.

Denying reality, only pushes connection away, widens the gaps and creates silos. Showing up along with the full force of our power (and that includes the good, the bad, the ugly, what we’ve felt, what we’re capable of, and everything in between) is possibly the only way to begin to connect again.

And the first step to showing up is to meet this transition for what it is. A call to step in, step up.

Four years ago: Awash with monsoon memories

Wondering

Wondering about the balance of giving and taking and how it applies to the planet. If all we have done is take, and show no signs of remorse or slowing down, how much more can we expect the planet to keep giving, in return?

Wondering about how aggravating the destruction of public property is for governments in power. How fragile is our appetite for destruction that we deem that violent but think nothing of the violence that is hunger, tiredness, exploitation and generational persecution of minorities amongst us?

Wondering about the quality of democracy we so blindly believe in, and are so quick to uphold, when voices speaking up against the destruction of that very democracy are systematically and continually being snuffed out. How deep is our blindness? What do we make of freedom then?

One year ago: These days
Four years ago: Sairat

Babies

The only kind that interest me:

***

It’s been a quiet few days again. Meddling about the plants. Cleaning here and there. Cooking some. Sleeping lots. Reading a little again. And I may be getting eerielt comfortable with it all.

The silence. The aloneness. The containment. The sufficiency of it all.

One year ago: An opportunity and a gift
Two years ago: We keep this love in a photograph

Slow it down some more

The sky is different every day. The sunlight slants differently every day — harsh and bright sometimes, muted sometimes. The moon changes every day — fading out and filling itself up over and over.

Much of this change, these shifts and movements happen gently, almost unnoticeably. Taking their own sweet time. Entire days. Weeks and weeks. A whole season, sometimes.

Surely it’s okay for me to be nonuniform? It’s okay for me to be imperfect and different every day. It’s okay for every day to be different too. Maybe that’s when the colours will begin to show.

I feel like I’ve slowed down even more in the last week, if that is even possible. I feel even more contained, withdrawn, quiet. Within.

Every day is different. No day is perfect. It’s okay to take time.

Four years ago: Distressed but happy

Fed up

I’m really tired, fully fed up and hopelessly done with being Indian. I have no way to undo this part of my status and identity — this Indianness — and I realise that this past week with the real news just escalating silently and the atrocities now playing out in broad daylight for all of us to just watch silently, locked up in the safety of my home, I have never felt more disconnected and like an outsider in this country.

Even to understand this crisis as a wake up call from the deep slumber that we have been in, allowing all manners of inequality to fester and foster, is a privilege right now. And that feels so darned pathetic. Around me I see people, like you and me, just not getting it. Just not angry enough. Just not worried enough. Just not thinking enough. There are fewer and fewer people who I can share my true feelings in all honesty. There are a paltry few who would get it without telling me to stop complaining or surrender to the situation and be happy/grateful with what I have.

I’ve had enough of the powers that be that are so brazen now in their single-minded focused pursuit of image-making and public relations. They don’t even remotely care about inclusivity, duty or service. I have been asking myself, what use was all of this unnecessary effort to make us feel unified and patriotic (by banging pots and flashing torches) is we don’t have a sense of inclusivity in the ethos of that patriotism? Even I don’t feel included, what about the people out on the streets with no homes, no food, nowhere to go?

Clearly when those requests were made, the PM was only talking to people who have homes, preferably with balconies and yards and porches, where they could go out and perform these absurd tasks dutifully. Like the rats dancing to the Pied Piper’s tunes, only to go and land in the giant sewers of doom.

We make such a huge noise about development and smart cities and what not, and we don’t even care a dot about the blood, sweat, tears and hands and feet that make those monstrous dreams a reality. We throw them under the bus the first chance we get. We treat them like pestilence, like dirt that flew into our territories when we are questioned about the efficiency of our policy. We blame them for the gaps. And when it’s time for them to go home because we could not provide the basics in the time of a crisis, we want to keep them stranded, because we need their “labour”.

The hypocrisy has never been more blatant. The lies has never been more glaring. I’m a hundred percent sure now that the government is okay with all this collateral damage. The Centre has washed it’s hands off, the States are scrambling. Some states are luckier than others with able and relatively more honest and focused leadership who swung into action early. Others are clamouring and suffering. And it’s all sliding into a place of doom and no return, in slow motion. While we just watch, grateful for what we have.

What about dignity? What about respect? What about humanity? Washed away, with that stark white paint we love to smear all over anything even slightly difficult that begins to show up. Nothing must ruin that sparkling image we’re trying to create.

I drove out today beyond the two streets we have been restricted to for the past 50 days. Some of the little things I observed have left me gutted. We talk of “migrant labour” mostly imagining construction workers. Because that’s what we have a view into. But what about sanitation workers? Street side vendors? Homeless folks who get by from one day to the next doing odd jobs or simply begging? What about sex workers? What about domestic help? What about plumbers and wood polishers and carpenters and tailors? What about them?

I feel personally cheated and duped as a citizen, when I glance at the newspaper everyday. To have to honestly pay the taxes we do, feel constantly at loggerheads with age-old traditional governance, face sectarian politics, witness utterly bigoted communal violence, disagree with every form of development that is being sought, to do all of this in silence, and then have to also feel the fury and helplessness of more than 60% of this country at the time of a crisis like this, donate to the Prime Minister’s fraud fund, and wherever else possible, witnessing citizens eventually taking on the massive task of rescuing other citizens — it’s just too much beyond a point. I told S when I was sharing my shock and distress with him, that I’m so heartbroken and angry today.

And it was only when I said the words that I realised just what I have been feeling all day.

Heartbroken.

And with it this brokenness, every day, a part of the Indianness of my identity seems to be crumbling away. I find myself moving further and further away. I don’t relate to the majority, I don’t feel like anyone advocates for the interests or concerns of people like me, and when I see pockets of people do-gooders getting out and taking things in their own hands it only reinforces the aloneness. That we cannot depend on our systems. We have to take things on, alone.

I miss December. When I was at a protest every week. Because at least it gave me a sense of solidarity in others like me. And it gave me somewhere to channel my fury and hopelessness.

When will the government of India be good for ANYTHING?

One year ago: Engineering bigness
Two years ago: Another day, just breathe
Four years ago: Retrograde rant

Irrfan

Part of the reason I skipped posting on two days last week was just feeling overcome with emotion, my mind heavy and unable to unclog itself and be coherent. It’s not like I tried and couldn’t get it together. I honestly didn’t even attempt writing in here.

The news of Irrfan Khan passing hit me hard. It was a dull, rainy day in Bangalore — the kind that usually makes me feel very upbeat and good. But it didn’t last week. Waking up to rainy weather and the news that he was no more, just plain old punched me in the gut. The otherwise welcome gray day in the midst of summer just felt hazy that day. Like the lights turned off early.

Irrfan Khan’s work has of course entertained me. So many performances pockmark not just my movie-watching experience, but also phases of my life where I have obsessed over certain films and characters with people who geek out about it equally. I have laughed, been stunned, thrilled and cried over his movies alike. So many times over. But more than that I’ve been touched by his life and the stories he tells of where he has come from. His energy has been inspiring on more than one occasion. There is a relatable humanness in him that just made him so accessible and I’ve listened to and been moved by his views, his perspectives, his mind too.

I struggled to digest the fact that all of is is just…gone.

I don’t usually get like this. The last this a loss like this felt so personal was when Anthony Bourdain died. Like then, even now, I’m still having at least one moment a day where I suddenly stop and a tiny bubble in my head bursts with the reminder — He’s no more.

I had to remind myself: it’s okay to not feel okay. Bad news about death, difficulty, poverty, starvation during what is already an emotionally heavy time is bound to feel heavier than usual, and that it’s okay to let it. It’s okay to feel bad. Terrible, even.

It’s okay to not feel okay.

I went through three days of just too many emotions and I think it only really lifted on the evening of my birthday. Even now though, I’m still in a bit of disbelief. In the last few days I’ve watched Angrezi Medium which was a good one time watch. I caught Qissa that churned me up from the insides and haunted me for days after. And last night I re-watched Paan Singh Tomar and gotten hit in the face with the force that Irrfan is in the film. So understated, subtle, speaking through his eyes, and pulling off that character nearly flawlessly. Next up is Haider. The one other film I really want to watch is The Namesake, but I’ve searched high and low and it’s just nowhere. Which is just such a shame, because it’s right up there in the top three best Irrfan films of all time.

I can’t believe that’s now a finite truth — “of all time” in context to Irrfan’s life. Because it’s done, and we’ve seen the best and worst of all that he had to give. I still can’t believe there won’t be anymore.

One year ago: Flow
Two years ago: Stuck in the sunshine riptide
Four years ago: That urban poverty piece that’s got errrrybody’s panties in a bunch

Wild and free

My mind feels well. And by well I mean in tune with the rest of me. My body hasn’t felt this whole in years. Supple, and just this comfortable in my skin, this alive. My skin has really benefited from this lockdown. Between the clean air, home food, measured indulgences, regular sweaty exercise and a mind that feels well too, it’s really all cumulatively showing on my skin. Not just my face either.

The hair, though. That’s a whole other story. It’s just going out of control doing it’s wild thing as it would, two months over the usual stipulated time. It really hassled me for a while. But I am just going with it now. Also, let’s not talk about body hair right now.

Emotionally, I’ve had really good days, and really shit, shit days too. It’s been especially hard to not have anywhere to run off to, literally and figuratively. But somehow that is exactly also what’s needed? Sitting with the full gamut of all the feels. And I know that that has been extremely beneficial. Painful, but essential.

My dreams have been crazy. Frequent too. Not the unbelievable/imaginary kind of crazy, but the very real, featuring people in my life, revisiting places I have been, in a very surprising way kind of crazy. I’ve been journaling my dreams too. And I know this has been beneficial too.

There’s a wild and free feeling in my being these days. Ironic, no? Given our existence is anything but wild. And the farthest thing from free.

This is the mid-week look of having smashed out a workout I nearly didn’t do. I realised this morning that I may have literally never regretted a workout once it is done. Even when I’ve procrastinated or had starting trouble, once I have pushed through and finished it, I always feel good. It is always worth it.

I’m not happy all the time. I’m not productive everyday. I feel uncomfortable, uncertain and anxious a lot. I notice very keenly these days when I am not alright, in fact. When I’m not happy. When I’m restless. When I’m angsty. And I notice when I long for an escape, and when I am able to just observe it and let it pass. I notice how I’m turning to my usual rescue team a lot less. I see that it l eventually passes. I see a change there, in all of it.

Even through this very up and down time, something’s working, something’s shifted, something’s right.

One year ago: Vulnerability and validation
Four years ago: Birthday weekend in progress

On missing the offline life

Not so long ago when introversion was all the rage, I was so quick to identify the part of me that fit the label. I took solace in every single meme that celebrated grumpy solitude, people-hating, or scoffed at the idea of getting out, meeting the world out there, taking the trouble to connect. I took way too much (more than was true, actually) pleasure happy being an island, in almost elevating the idea of never stepping out of my home to a virtuous existence. It helped that my life in Goa has become conducive to that. I had pulled back from so many people over time, there was so little stuff to distract me, I could really enjoy being home for days on end. I had convinced myself I didn’t need people.

Even now, I am mostly a homebody. I do thoroughly enjoy spending time by myself, at home, mostly quietly, doing my thing. But in the last few years, I have realised that I like the option of venturing out. I don’t like the idea of cleaving to the introvert label so much that I cut out the possibility of interacting with human beings when I feel like it. Contrary to what I said and believed in 2015-16, I actually like people. Most people, in fact. I like going out. I like doing things in groups, albeit small ones than large gatherings.

I know this about myself now: I enjoy the outdoors, I enjoy the company of people, I enjoy spending my energy outwards, as much as I like the peace and quiet of my own space and company.

I really love both. Almost equally.

And so when this lockdown began, given that the physical reality of my life was largely unchanged, it didn’t take much getting used to. Physically. Emotionally and mentally, is a different matter and the stuff of another post. But 45 days on, I just want to say I miss people.

Desperately, on some days. And this isn’t not just the lockdown blues or cabin fever talking. It’s just an outcome of having gone this far without that extra, outward interaction.

I am longing for contact, touch, real words shared in real proximity, being in spaces outside my home. I miss the tensions of dynamics, the unique energy of every interaction, the effort that it all sometimes takes, the anticipation of a meeting, the lingering satisfaction when it is done. The sharing of space, of language, of energy, of a vibe. I miss saying hi with a hug. I miss giving taplis. I miss the breakfasts, the coffees, the desserts, the favourite meals. I miss sharing cocktails.

I miss the little things. Catching glimpses of emotion when they escape — shimmery eyes, a quiver in the chin, shifty gaze, that phone that always gets in the way. I miss picking up on the unsaid things. I miss sitting across people. I miss the intimacy of that.

I’ve done umpteen video calls with friends. Long ones too — eating, drinking, sharing a doob — doing all of the same things online, that we’d do face to face in an era before all this. In that sense, I feel closer to my friends in different cities and continents because somehow in the post-Corona world we’re interacting on video a lot more than before.

I’ve taken yoga lessons on Zoom. I’ve caught umpteen events and speakers on Instagram Live. And it’s all been so great. The access that this kind of meeting has brought is honestly, staggering.

Until I think about how when it’s over and I shut the light off on that screen, I’m alone again. And that interaction somehow loses some of its sheen just like the battery it simultaneously discharges.

I was supposed to finish my family constellation course this year. In fact I was in class when the directives on social distancing were announced, putting a spoke in my last session. That was my last outing in the world. So of course we’ve moved the rest of this online too. Yesterday, 10 of us checked into a Zoom meeting. It felt good to reconnect and I’m glad for options to keep the learning going. I was excited. I was happy. But I couldn’t help but also feel like this “new normal” isn’t quite cutting it for me.

Something is missing.

And of course it is that intimacy and that something that only a life, in the flesh meeting of bodies can bring. But I don’t know if it is just that. Is it ever just about the physical?

This isn’t me being a luddite and dissing new ways of on-boarding technology. I see how much easier it has made life, I see how it has the potential to make good change happen in the world — I’m dreaming of decongested roads and lots more work life balance in Bangalore, for example, because hopefully more people are convinced about how possible it is to just stay the fuck home and get the same shit done.

So, I’m not complaining. I’m just saying I miss people.  I’m just saying that I am not all that much of an introvert I made myself to be. I’m just saying I liked my life with all the options available.

I’m just saying that even with all the increased, new ways of interacting, I feel lonely quite a bit of the time.

Four years ago: Blend

Regeneration

It’s hard to miss the silver lining that’s beginning to creep out of all this silence and solitude. Yes, the economic genocide continues, the uncertainty is thick like a pre-monsoon humid atmosphere, the hunger issue is right up in my doorstep. Literally. This morning as I was entering my building gate, a man walked up to me and asked for some food in a language I didn’t understand. And he didn’t understand me when I said I was empty-handed, but if he waited, I could get him some food from upstairs. He was gone before I could finish my sentence. And it made me wonder if that’s because he’s been turned away from many doors already. And yet, yet, I feel a sense of something regenerating. I’ve been saying it in different ways in posts before, and I feel it slowly crystallising into something in my head, holding meaning for my personal life. And I can feel it in the way people around me are rethinking very basic aspects of their lives and what sort of problematic “normal” we have upheld till now. That, for me, is good news. It’s a subtle, but powerful shift that is otherwise very difficult to bring about.

But yes, I’m also feeling good seeing the news about rivers cleaning themselves up. Today I saw a video of the Dasashwamedha Ghat in Benaras, devoid of the throng it always sports and I couldn’t believe how clean the water looked from just one year ago when VC and I visited. I’m feeling the sense of regeneration. In the peacocks that showed up in my neighbourhood. The skies clearing up and entire mountain ranges coming to sight. Wildlife taking over city streets and junctions. In our kitchens where we’re all cooking nourishing meals, mindfully. In our self-reliance, minimal, stripped down existence. In our sudden attention to detail, which is now a necessity, not a luxury. Like soft gentle tinkling bells heralding change, bursting forth with the promise of new life.

I stuck these spider plant “babies” in water at the end of last week. Today, I saw they’ve sprouted shiny, tender new roots, ready to take life on, on their own.

Yesterday, I gave myself a sloth day from what has become an infinite loop of days filled with cleaning, cooking, working, sleeping in different order of sequence every day. I declared it a do-nothing day because I realised that rest is an important part of regeneration. I chose to take it easy, to give the cleaning a miss, to ditch cooking and get take out for a change. And even with the rest, I felt so full of energy. In mind and body.

I feel restoration within me too, somehow. I know there has been talk of the lockdown being extended, and while it bums me out a little (because I really want to get a run in the park, and a GOOD idli-vada and hot chocolate fudge and just a hangout somewhere that’s not my home, and I really don’t want to spend my birthday locked down)m I’m thinking of all the rest and regeneration that still needs to happen. And maybe it will get a chance to?

I know that our expectations of change are that it be quick, as painless as possible, and always positive. But really, aren’t we beginning to see how the deepest most potent transformation is anything but all of that?

One year ago: Goa vibes
Two years ago: To the gypsy that remains

Sweet relief

One of the things that helped put the brakes on the downward spiral of despair that I felt was inevitable, has been focusing my energy on reflecting how I can be actively engaged in my life, going forward. From composting garbage in my apartment complex to trying to shop more at the local store rather than Reliance Fresh. Thinking a little deeper about my impact on the planet and doing at least five small things differently in my day to day life. Front deeply the need to grow and deepen my capacity for compassion and generosity beyond my own people. To think with a a little deeper involvement about how I engage with not just people but the world starting right outside my doorstep. Wondering how I can move thru the polarities that have starkly emerged, without “othering” the many many many people who I see at the far end of the spectrum from me. To connect even as we are so clearly separate. To evolve along this curve in a way that is gentle but meaningful.

It is many times frustrating because these ideas bubble over in my head and I don’t know where to begin. And N gently reminded me the other day, this sort of change takes time. It’s okay to marinade in this space of discomfort, pain and anger too. Till the right steps emerge.

It feels imperative right now.

I’m experiencing the very confusing coexistence of despair and hope all at once.

Its raining good and proper, finally. And it feels like a cleanse, a wiping of the slate clean. I’m so relieved. I feel hopeful to the brim right now. I’m savouring it.

One year ago: Happy days
Two years ago: You’re beautiful it’s true

Despair

It was a reasonably good week — mentally, speaking. Until 9 am this morning. I didn’t even tune in to catch the speech, but the idiocy of it reached me anyway. And almost immediately the despair I’ve been keeping at bay descended on me again.

I busied myself with things that need to be done, and pretty soon half the day was done. The despair? Intact. Just moving along with me, like a dark cloud looming large and heavy, directly above me.

Tell me, are any of you feeling this too?

Turned to one of my favourite David Whyte writings. On despair. And he says, shockingly accurately;

Despair takes us in when we have nowhere else to go; when we feel the heart cannot break anymore, when our world or our loved ones disappear, when we feel we cannot be loved or do not deserve to be loved, when our God disappoints, or when our body is carrying profound pain in a way that does not seem to go away.

Despair is a haven with its own temporary form of beauty and of self compassion, it is the invitation we accept when we want to remove ourselves from hurt. Despair, is a last protection.

It does feel like the last attempts at protection. From fear and not knowing what lunacy will be unleashed on us next.

Like I said yesterday about anger, the despair seems necessary. The next logical stage in whatever it is that we’re collectively grieving. It feels essential to acknowledge it, but I have struggled to do this in real life. Today, especially I feel like I am zipped up close and have to keep my despair to myself.

For fear of being judged. For overreacting. For being pessimistic. For being “biased”. My mind knows this is balderdash, and yet I have carried this like a rock on my chest all day long.

Despair is a necessary and seasonal state of repair, a temporary healing absence, an internal physiological and psychological winter when our previous forms of participation in the world take a rest; it is a loss of horizon, it is the place we go when we do not want to be found in the same way anymore. We give up hope when certain particular wishes are no longer able to come true and despair is the time in which we both endure and heal, even when we have not yet found the new form of hope.

In order to move ahead from here, I know I have to fully know this despair. It feels deep, old and almost too big to understand. And so I cannot rush through it. Maybe I will despair everyday for the rest of this crazy time we are in. Maybe it will ebb and flow. Maybe it will linger around beneath the surface. Whatever it is, I have to allow for it. And right now, by keeping it all to myself, I know I am not. I can feel it in how much I want to, even as I am writing this, apologise for how sad and angsty my posts have been lately.

Somehow, I cannot perform at this. Not now. I assume that those who don’t want to read this will have already checked out of the blog. But my stats tell me otherwise. Day after day, my own judgement about how I am feeling is proven wrong.

This also makes me acutely aware that much of the judgement I am witnessing, is possibly a projection of my own internal critic.

The antidote to despair is not to be found in the brave attempt to cheer ourselves up with happy abstracts, but in paying a profound and courageous attention to the body and the breath, independent of our imprisoning thoughts and stories, even strangely, in paying attention to despair itself, and the way we hold it, and which we realise, was never ours to own and to hold in the first place. To see and experience despair fully in our body is to begin to see it as a necessary, seasonal visitation, and the first step in letting it have its own life, neither holding it nor moving it on before its time.

I feel like new definitions of compassion, service and kindness — which I see are being called up on every single minute of every single day — cannot be found without feeling despair first. It’s almost like the heaviness of this situation needs to break us, before we return to normal. So we can be different. So we can be better.

One year ago: Same lessons, new me   
Two years ago: Out here without a shield

Feel good? Or feel really fucking shitty first?

In today’s edition of excessive-but-necessary domesticity, we made a batch of homemade peanut-butter.

But on to less sweet, feel-good things to talk about:

I’ve avoided ranting about the shit-show that this lockdown has been for millions in our country all of last week. Because 1) there is so much of it online anyway and I have been trying to curb how much I consume of it, while also not ignoring the truth 2) what else is there to say that isn’t already being said by so many angry people like me?

I’m currently conflicted about this. In trying to find a mid point between staying hopeful that this will pass, while honouring the fear and shame and guilt that rises to the surface when I see news of farmers committing suicide, wholesalers dumping thousands of kilos of produce and migrant labour walking unimaginable distances to get home (and sometimes dying before they do), and being grateful for what I have; and staying firmly grounded in acknolwedging the truth about our government being absolutely filthy, greedy and inhuman. I’ve been wondering how to do both. Because neither pole negates the other.

To have a ray of hope doesn’t mean I am blind to the atrocities being unleashed upon our poor by the hour, and yet being angry about the injustice and inhumanity of it all doesn’t mean I’m being pessimistic. I’ve had trouble accepting the advice I get to find reasons to hope, to choose the positive stories over the shitty ones. Because I feel, now more than ever, when the truth is finally out, in plain sight for all to see, to look away in search of comforting positivity is a disgrace and a grave injustice. Now is not the time for being neutral either. Let’s please try and look at the atrocity we have brought upon our people by bringing this group of demons to power. Let’s sit with the discomfort it causes us. Let’s feel the rage and anger and guilt and shame bubble up. Let’s take responsibility. Let’s feel it all fully, because we, the privileged lot can afford to. Nothing in our lives will change when this peaks, and when it blows over. So let’s stick our necks out and feel whatever we’re feeling right now. Let’s not turn to faux positivity to avoid the discomfort of this shitshow. Let’s do it so we can be driven to act differently when the time to choose leaders comes around again. Let’s feel this fully so we never forget.

I’m all for positivity and hope. And I feel it in glimmers now and then. When I see updates from Kerala. Sometimes from Maharashtra these days (who knew!). I feel it when I hear what an aunt of mine has done for a camp of construction labour in her neighbourhood who were left stranded. I feel it when I read some impeccable writing online. I feel it, and I am happy to hold it. But I am watchful about floating off into a bubble that removes me from the reality that this is far form over. That this government will. just. not. stop. before they make this somehow worse every passing day.

I mean, right now they’ve managed to paint a global pandemic in communal hues. It really doesn’t get lower than that. And no, don’t point fingers at Trump and America. Because at least he takes a daily presser, he stupidly bumbles and faces the hard questions he is asked for which he has no answers. Unlike our own who only believes in televised monologues at prime time for max eyeballs and great janata value.

The whole thing just makes me so goddamned angry. As a young, tax-paying citizen, it infuriates me that on the day the PM started a highly sketchy, dubious fund to support his debacle from sinking all the way, he also signed an 880 crore defence deal with Israel, and sent 90 tonnes of medical equipment overseas, while our own doctors go to battle without the right (or any gear at all) gear.

So it’s really fucking hard to stay hopeful against all odds during this time. Try as I might, this government rains all over my hope parade by giving me ample reason to be mistrustful, hopeless and angry, literally every single day. Sometimes more than once a day. So no, I’m not just being aimlessly pessimistic.

I have also come to understand that anger and rage are crucial (and valid) reactions to be having right now. I don’t want to, I cannot, slip into a faux positivity just because the discomfort of the overwhelming truth about what we have done, all that we have enabled by our silence and by backing away into the dark, is too unpleasant. I cannot turn away anymore. I’m big into feeling anger when it comes up lately. Into feeling it fully before I “get over it” or “choose something positive” or “let go and move on”.

I don’t want to rush into doing anything about it just yet. I just want to feel it. And being stuck at home feels like the perfect invitation.

It has been a lonely and isolating sort of anger too. Because I don’t have very many places I can express this. And I’ve been looking for validation for this anger. Anyone else who gets it and feels this way. And understands this thought process. So I can feel firmly again that anger is a catalyst for renewed hope and action. And I found it in Women Who Run With The Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

She says;

Rage corrodes our trust that anything good can occur. Something has happened to hope. And behind the loss of hope is usually anger; behind anger, pain; behind pain, usually torture of one sort or another, sometimes recent, but more often from long time ago.

It’s not unnatural to feel filled with rage, when you’ve lost all hope, apparently. And if you’ve been feeling helpless, hopeless and rage-y too, know that it is probably something very old, maybe even an experience of injustice from several generations ago, that is being triggered. If we allow it, and are tuned into it, every single woman will carry this in some measure.

So if you’re amongst those who are feeling it, and can hold it without wanting to immediately douse the pain in feel good things, or feel overwhelmed by it, allow for it. Make room. Feel the rage. Don’t stew in it, but find ways to express it. Find channels to let it move through you. I’ve turned to writing, painting and free-form movement post my daily workout, this past week and have seen surprising effects.

I’m not ashamed of my anger around the current state of politics of this country anymore. I’m not in a rush to feel better. I’m open to saying yes to it all for now. The rage and the hope. The hopelessness and the joy. Because I know so deeply that positivity without processing the anger will not make it go away. It will certainly not make a better tomorrow.

One year ago: Going the distance
Two years ago: March