On being present 

I’ve gone from being a complete sceptic to a firm believer in creating the change you want to see in your life, by affirming and living it every single day. It sounds very woowoo, I’m aware. But here’s the thing: it is.

I’ve learned that for the most part of my life, especially in times of flux and indecision, I’ve let fear take over so much and take me so far away from the goal, that I am my biggest obstacle. Nothing else gets in the way more than me and my very own thinking.

It’s taken a lot of effort, unlearning, softening, and believing to remind myself that it’s so important to keep that focus. On the goal. On where I want to be. To believe in it so damn hard that it’s like Im already there. Even when it feels like the timing is off or the situation isnt perfectly conducive or the ducks aren’t in a row.

This was once the only way I used to live. In freer, less fearful times. Call it naiveté or delusional optimism, but I was that eternal optimist. I knew no other way of living other than to dive in headlong, without waiting for perfection and correctness. It’s what helped make the most of the wildly messy spurts as much as enjoying the ride when the going is good.

And maybe I’m just going back to the way I used to be.

Same time, last year: Day 292: Love loss and what we ate

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Things change

You have to know by now that the change theme is likely to be a recurring one in the foreseeable future.

Speaking of change, it has to be recorded that I used to be a homebody. In the last few months before I left Goa, this peaked. I’d pared my life down so much that I really went nowhere. With the exception of the gym and the supermarket and sometimes the odd coffee or drink out, I spent most of my time cooped up at home. Because that was where I felt good. Sane. Safe. It meant also avoiding people. Losing some friends. Missing out on social outings and some work opportunities. But it was all very deliberate. A conscious choice. So I’m not complaining. Merely recollecting how it used to be not so long ago.

And then I moved to Bangalore. And while the homebody in me still exists, I’ve surprised myself with how I’ve turned 180 degrees. Now, I sometimes find myself willing to brave traffic, rain, crowds, people and everything I thought I could never tolerate again, to get to places I want to see, to meet people I want to hang out with and do things I didn’t think I cared much for.

Case in point: I went to Nasi & Me on a day when it rained cats and dogs. Most uncharacteristically, I agreed to drive thru peak hour traffic, all the way across town, because I was told if there’s one Asian food place I absolutely had to try this was it.

***

For a few weeks now I’ve had the feeling that I need to get out of home to get into work mode. Such a swift turnaround from life in Goa where for the most part, writing in my guest room was where things worked best. But never say never and all that, this week, I tested out alternstives. And to my surprise, it worked.

***
Just when I was making peace with the slower, stiller life. Possible new definitions of productivity and the like. Looking at accepting a life less “busy” than the one I knew and the one I thought I was made for, things have happened.

Today I had not one but two meetings. And both took me outside of home, which meant  encountering the worst morning and evening rush hour traffic getting to and back from them meant. I had more work telephone calls today than I have had in a long, long time.

I felt terribly busy all of a sudden.

On a long day like today, when I got home at 8.30 pm and still had to send out e-mails that can’t wait till tomorrow, I stop and ask myself — omg who are you?!

Things change all time. All things. Everything. Us included.

Same time, last year: Day 285: Shifting gears 

What coming home feels like: Revisiting old haunts II

Quite a bit of the comfort and solace I find in being back in Bangalore comes from seeking pockets of familiarity. Whether it’s the closeness of meeting people I want to be with, or or the intimacy of spaces that once held a special place in my earlier life in this city, or going through the rhythm of acts, actions and rituals that lent a sense of comfort then. This old haunt has already become so oft frequented, I feel like furniture again. Some days, it’s like I never left.

This comfort overwhelms me the most, every time I find that there are still many little things that haven’t changed, even in the face of the sea-change panning out all about me.

In some ways it has been super hard for me to deal with and digest the change I see, since I was away for exactly those years that saw the most exponential change. This Bangalore I have returned to, is not the Bangalore I grew up in for sure, but it isn’t even the Bangalore I left. But it has its ways of wooing me. Especially when I find those pockets of comfort that seem to exist just as they did years ago. It’s so endearing.

Visiting Scottish Pub (that I frequented when I was in college) after more than a decade, to find that aside from retro cool coloured chairs having replaced the plastic bucket ones, the addition of an awning (so the rain doesn’t interrupt your drinking) and some really (accidentally, methinks) cool mood lighting, literally nothing else has changed. It has the same eager waiters, the funky house made, dodgy wine that you can’t stop having, watered down draught beer, a super non-indulgent, fuss-free menu that’s ended before you can say w-i-n-e and that same amazing chicken pakoda.

I spent a few hours there last week while it rained batshit crazy outside, and for those few hours it felt like I had gone back in time. Slipped back into the comfort of that familiarity of a memorable haunt that once was. Cut away from the metamorphosis that seems to have swept through everything that lies just beyond.

Yet again I realised, the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same. And I find that oddly comforting.

Same time, last year: Day 284: Escape

A good life is a life of goodness

I’ve been talking in clear and indirect ways about wanting to get away. In June I declared to VC that the next thing I’d like to do for myself is to take a solo trip. The yearning has been bubbling within for a while now. But between my phase of not working, and VC getting his start-up off the ground, I have felt like this is not the best time for me to up and go.

So, I’ve dreamed about (and considered) holidays that I can’t take at the moment. I’ve worried about why I’m feeling the need to go away when I’ve done nothing to deserve the break. A break from what exactly? My busy schedule chockfull of introspection, navel gazing and self development? I’ve pondered about changing streams, looking at new avenues of work and stumbled at the very beginning, because I don’t know where to make a start. I’ve longed for openness, greener spaces and fresh air, every time I have wanted to get out of my home, even when I’m headed out for a coffee. I’ve articulated how much I long for a life that is mobile, agile, nomadic.

And suddenly, I’m sitting at the brink of two back-to-back opportunities for exactly all of the above. Opportunities that landed in my lap out of the blue, and that took minimal effort to bring to fruition. Opportunities that bring together exactly all the things that I’ve been dreaming about. To get away, be in green, wide open spaces, travel, do some new work, get some time by myself, take that solo holiday.

Opportunities that could be the start of something new.

***

Did you read this fabulous piece in the NYT? It hit so close home, I read it four times over the course of yesterday, and every time I had a different takeaway.

For far too long we’ve been peddled the incredibly restrictive definition of what success and achievement is. Especially in the context of the average middle-class Indian who is a product of the regular education system, the weight of making a living and/or finding a higher purpose in life is heavier than it needs to be. I have many thoughts about this, especially given how I have been a peddler of the there-has-to-be-more-to-your-life spiel at one time. Enough time, experience and age has shown me that this isn’t necessarily true, and not a tenet for everyone to uniformly aspire for. But I’ll save that for another day.

For now, read the piece. If you are a person, woman especially, stumbling through your days constantly looking for ways to downsize everything in the pursuit of simple things, it will definitely speak to you. I’ve written too many things about ambition, success and how I often feel like I am happy with less — whether it is less hard work, less people, silence, less consumption, minimalism, and even less money if it is the logical outcome of the above — too many times before. And this piece brought it all together, while also beautifully pitting it against a current generation of social media bullshitters who seem to be creating a new aspect of that same age-old theory that of aspiring for more — more money, more clothes, more travel, more work — automatically means more successful, thriving and full life.

Having idealistic aspirations is, of course, part of being young. But thanks to social media, purpose and meaning have become conflated with glamour: Extraordinary lives look like the norm on the internet. Yet the idea that a meaningful life must be or appear remarkable is not only elitist but also misguided.

I almost feel like some of the curated social media lives are a front that we need in order to justify so much of the evidence that we are all just pursuing the very simple, basic joys in life. The ones we all want and deserve. Simple joys that we’re trying so hard to give higher meaning to, because it might mean we’re not aspiring for a higher purpose. How on earth could we settle for less?!

Because how can our lives be just a collection of completely vain selfies one after another, or an selection of exorbitantly priced dress, a day of make up for no reason at all, a well-cooked meal, an utterly messy home, a badly behaved tantrummy child, a meal of maggi and grilled cheese, unless we somehow tie it in with a spiel that talks of something higher. Like, say, a superficial feminist message. A lecture on living an organic life. A whole lot of excessive consumption pretending to be a lifetime’s dedication to sustainability.

I ‘ve often looked at posts of the kind this piece describes and winced at the extreme elitism that they exude. Sometimes my mind boggles at the complete lack of awareness of their privilege too. 

Maybe part of growing up and creating this pause, stepping back and re-evaluating things is also about realising that a lot of my own idealistic aspirations from a younger time no longer hold true or serve a purpose. It is sobering and humbling to be able to recognise that and rework them. 

I’ve come to believe this inescapable need to be extraordinary at everything — whether it’s in your job, being a homemaker, a mother, a keeper of pets, or any bloody thing at all — is an outcome of growing up on a steady diet of the message of achievement and purpose being shoved down our throats. So much so that we’re now uncomfortable with the simplest things that are actually enough. And so we cannot admit it to ourselves, unless we package it in a shimmery wrapping of a “higher purpose”.

Heck even our selfies are now statements of a higher purpose.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rant against vanity or self-indulgence or even presenting every little detail of your life on social media. I love it when people can unselfconsciously post pictures of themselves and their lives, and I really admire an unbridled dose of that kind of vanity. I just wish more people would be 100% true to it, and admit it.

I say admire, because even given my very high frequency of posting pictures on Instagram, there are have been far too many times when I’ve stopped myself from posting some specific things. Part of it is because I always question if what I am about to post is something I really want to share. But it is also because I realise I don’t possess that perfect balance of vanity and more importantly, true self-assurance, to present a completely authentic side of myself. A side that is at times vulnerable and feels inadequate.

It’s work in progress. And no, the goal isn’t likely to be being able to post an unselfconscious selfie, but rather, to decrease how much I subject myself to the lies, instead surround myself with authenticity.

I’ve unfollowed a crapton of handles that are increasingly feel like forced, hyper-curated display that uphold wholly unrealistic standards of purpose and achievement under the garb of glamour. It wasn’t because I wasn’t able to see or digest it anymore, but because I am beginning to see right through it. And I feel terrible about the kind of unrealistic pressure it unconsciously contributes to audiences unable to see through it.

***

To come back to aforementioned dream opportunities that I am on the verge of embarking on: It’s taken a lot of unlearning, and rewiring to recognise that I am already privileged. And that I have enough. I am taken care of. I am blessed enough to probably never be in a state of despair where money will be hard to come by. That I do not have to work hard or be famous or necessarily find a higher purpose to make my life more meaningful. That it’s okay to want less, it’s okay to be looked after, it’s wonderful to revel and find joy in small simple things without attaching the pressure of finding a deeper and higher purpose to everything I do. That I am not letting myself down by changing what I want from life. That surrendering and accepting this truth does not make me small, lazy or useless.

That it is completely possible to live a meaningful life even without any of that. That the pursuit of goodness is enough.

You don’t have to change the world or find your one true purpose to lead a meaningful life. A good life is a life of goodness — and that’s something anyone can aspire to, no matter their dreams or circumstances.

How liberating it was to read the last line of the article.

For far too long I have bought the largely inaccurate theory that as a modern woman I can and must have it all. To aspire for anything less would be a let down.

I have only recently learned to tune myself to the abundance I already have, despite wanting, and doing, lesser to chase after is. It exists in intangible places and forms that I cannot always touch or describe. And it bubbles over as gratitude.

My life is and always has been full of this kind of abundance. I have failed to see it because I’ve constantly been looking for the very staid, predictable and downright cliched markers of achievement, success, purpose, call it what you will. Turns out most times it isn’t in the form of money in the bank, or a dream to change the world, or a life of overachieving.

Some times it is in the form of magical opportunities that crystallise almost as an answer to the meandering, disconnected thoughts I’ve had over a period of time.

I am getting closer to being completely okay with (and so extremely thankful for) that.

Same time, last year: Day 281: A picture

What colour is your sky?

I’m still coming back to life in Bangalore, seeking rhythm and grounding in the mundane habits of my routine. It’s been an effort trying to find my pace again, while my mind is still in Goa at least 50% of the time. And I find myself wondering about perfection. Not the pursuit of it in action and practice. But magical picture perfect sequence of events. Like sunsets are for me. A performance in perfection of time. Like vignettes suspended mid air, the world on pause, waiting for you to notice.

There is something magical about sunsets. Especially like this one. When it feels like moments of perfection playing out before you. And you can’t help but wonder about the massive movements in space that are responsible for it. How much synchronicity must it take, for every little molecule and particle to find its place, align itself and move in sync, cushioned by the entire universe guiding the show, gently nudging things on so this plays out.

What decides the moment? When does the sky know it is time to put in a show? What goes into that one little move that clicks this rapid, vibrant, staggering play of light into motion?

Just how much churning energy does it take to create moments of perfection? And when you’re standing there, witnessing this, what colour is your sky?

Same time, last year: Day 277: 109 kms done

Grow

I’ve been meaning to write about how I’m feeling, and what a positive difference being in a new place, surrounded by all the right elements I most needed, has done for me. It has sparked a lot of freshness,  a renewed way of looking at everything.

But.

I can’t find the right words.

I have felt like there aren’t enough words to stack the overwhelming goodness I’ve been gloating in, into rows of squiggly letters and words. It feels too limiting.

So I haven’t really even tried.

I must also admit there are times where I feel I don’t need the words.

I ask myself if I really want to dig deeper? Why do I feel the need to get the better of this feeling? Why this incessant urge to explain or decipher it?

I haven’t found a convincing answer as yet.

So I stop looking for words.

I did say before that this is quite easily the best I have felt in all my life. And I wasn’t exaggerating.

I’m content. Existing, absorbing this feeling, marinading in the goodness of it all. Or at least I was, until something happened last month that gave me the sign I needed.

And suddenly, I had the words. So I wrote about it.

***

One morning last month, I woke up troubled. I faced a situation that caught me unawares. And yet, it had that stale stench of familiarity that creeps in slowly: something tells me I’ve been through this before.

It made me go back to a similar episode from January this year. I dug through my chats and pulled out a series of voice notes I sent to S, my voice broken, the words coming out in between stifled tears. I almost couldn’t believe that was me and the words I spoke had been what I had felt. It was true, I had been through it before. Present situation was no different from the one that triggered the breakdown in January.

It was identical. But the only difference had been my reaction. Or rather the alarming lack of it.

Suddenly I realised that something had changed. I had let it go, almost as quickly and unexpectedly as the situation had occurred. After months and months of trying to let go, here was an instance of having actually done it. Turning those mere words into deeply internalised thought into action.

Almost serendipitously, I stumbled on an image with words that perfectly describe what I had been feeling all morning.

If you are willing to look at another person’s behaviour toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time, cease to react at all.

***

It got me thinking some more about these past few months. Not much has happened, on paper. I don’t have a lot to show for what I have been up to. And yet the shortest span of time, punctuated by a whole lot of silence and stillness that I only take a break from to either go to the gym, or meet happy people, has catapulted me into a different headspace, a different version of myself. I haven’t experienced this kind of internal transformation ever before.

Through all this, if there’s one thing I’m proud of having allowed myself to do, it is opening myself up to face the fear of letting so much go.

Everything from people. Expectations. Reactions. Situations. Interactions. Labels. Earlier versions of myself. Older versions of relationships. I’ve let so much go. And when it felt like I had nothing more to lose, I sat back and looked at everything that had remained. It was telling to see that not only was I left with people who matter, but I had made space for new people, and many lost connections from the past that surfaced almost magically. I found forgotten aspects of myself emerging from the dark corners I’d hidden them into. And I discovered new parts of my persona that I didn’t know I had.

keep letting go
PC: Buddha Doodles

To be light, to go with the flow, to be at peace with the way I feel, to be in happy harmony with my thoughts and feelings in sync most of the time — this has been a large part of the reason I chose to begin therapy last year. I did it at a time when, amongst other things, I was stuck in a loop of always finding myself at the receiving end of shitty behaviour. Whether from clients, friends, acquaintances, relatives. I didn’t know why they sometimes behaved the way they did, or why their actions had the kind of unravelling effect they had on me.

Therapy unlocked something. And there has been no looking back since.

Self awareness is a bit like an abyss. Once you’re on the path to discovering nuances about yourself, the way you feel and how you’re reacting to things around you, there’s no turning around. Every time you feel you’ve hit a milestone, the deceptive end point moves further away. The deeper you go, the more you figure out. The more you learn, the lighter you feel. The higher you go, the more there is left to discover.

When I began therapy, I was sick of being caught up in a web of issues, and the feelings that resulted from them. I longed to be able to look at them, objectively, and figure a way to move through them, rather than being stuck in them.

And so, to be able to react with an almost dispassionate calm, having noticed a recurring pattern, stepped back, taken stock and moved through it, was happy-making.

If the road to self discovery is speckled with potholes in the form of shitty people, shitty situations, shitty luck, testing your patience from time to time, that grim August morning, I believe I finally hit a milestone.

Same time, last year: Day 259: Morning moods

Go Goa Gone: End of My Sunshine Dream

I moved to Goa restlessly in search of a new turf. I’d always dreamt of a life full of travel. But after eight years, Bangalore is the home I have chosen to return to.

The rain has always reminded me of Goa. In all the years that I was there, I steadfastly maintained that it was best experienced in the monsoon. So sitting in my home in bone-dry Bangalore – where I have just returned after eight long years in the sunshine state – watching my Facebook and Instagram feed replete with images of liquid skies, has made the bittersweet nature of my decision suddenly very apparent.

The street outside my bedroom window is packed with people, quite like an inescapable matrix. The chaos is palpable, the diametric opposite of the silence in my study in Goa, where the large French windows were the perfect lookout for the rain. I spent the bulk of my time there, mostly alone, with just my words for company: a simple, still, and satisfying existence. In fact, it was finding a room of my own, complete with a sturdy writer’s desk right beside a day bed and a view that really made Goa my home. And yet, Bangalore is the home I have chosen to return to.

Home. The word has such a sense of finality attached to it. Finding home, coming home, returning home – they all seem like such swift movements in a single direction. It has always evoked a sense of having to choose something, one way or another. A city, a house, a place to forever swear allegiance to.

I came to Goa restlessly in search of a new turf. I’d always dreamt of a life full of travel. Drunk on the idea of independence, charting my own trajectory, being forever unbound… coming to Goa was a ticket to escaping a reality I didn’t want to make my own.

Moving there eight years ago was my massive “fuck you” to city life. I wanted out from the endless cacophony of big-city noises, a hectic life consumed by work and commuting to work, that left me with no mind space to do the things I really wanted to. I was earning well, but constantly fighting to create time and space to enjoy the rewards of the hustle. Twenty-four years was too soon to be plagued by questions that define a quarter-life crisis – shouldn’t there be more to this life? Is wanting a simpler, smaller, quieter life really such a bad thing?

Quitting seemed like the best answer at the time. As a city, Panjim was refreshingly different. Everything about it felt wonderfully welcoming and I found a balm for every single painful sore memory that had driven me away from Bangalore. And then there was the monsoon – four full months of it.

Never, not even in my wildest dreams, did I imagine I’d give it up to go back to the bustle of Bangalore.

Quitting city life at 25 to go live in a beach town wasn’t all idyllic and romantic. It meant being the trailing spouse. It meant stepping out of the corporate race entirely, a choice that had life-changing consequences for me. It meant opening myself up to the unexpected and unpredictable ways of a small town. And I was going to have to embrace a domestic life I had no experience with. The introvert in me was going to have to start finding new friends.

Having never lived outside of Bangalore, and knowing absolutely nobody in Goa, I tasted a kind of anonymity I’d never known. Free and far away from social, familial, and professional commitments gave me large doses of alone time. All that quiet meant that I had to learn to befriend solitude, embrace it, and pretty soon I learned to love it. I began to write for myself, testing waters in a new craft. I started reading entire books again. I even did what I thought was unthinkable and discovered a love for cooking.

I became a homebody, feeling like I’d finally found my feet, grown into myself. I’d found the safety of a home that allowed me to be me. And it sparked the start of many good things. A hermitic existence, ensconced in peace and quiet, close to nature, away from the disorderly rat race, Goa was home because it’s where I began to thrive.

I dug my heels in and bound myself tightly to the new-found belonging. In its fixed, firm foundations I found myself anchored. Over eight long years, the gentle ebb and flow of creating the life I wanted not only helped me find myself, but also redefine what home really is.

And yet, as soon as the transition was complete, I found myself wanting to pick up and go again.

I realise now that my sense of home is rooted in specific things, rather than a city or place. Home is any safe space in my head. Sometimes it is a process – like it was for me, a period of transformation.

Sometimes it is the satisfaction of tasting freedom, of leaping into the unknown. Sometimes it is the acknowledgement of my privilege, the security of knowing that I can to lead a life based on my own choices. Sometimes it’s in accepting that home is just a word. It isn’t a single place wrapped in the foreverness we attach to it. Home doesn’t have to be an end.

Home is – as I realised when I craved a change of pace again – very often just a means to an end. It needn’t be weighted down by the heaviness of roots. Sometimes, it has the lightness of agility.

Home is a state of mind. And it can be anywhere or any place you want it to be. Home needs space, to grow, to spread itself out and open its doors to newness. Homecoming then is not about going somewhere you necessarily want to be. It is going somewhere you need to be.

And so, I did the unthinkable. I left the near-perfect simple life of Goa, to dive straight into the chaos. I came back to the Bangalore. It’s overwhelming, it’s grotesque, it’s oppressive. And yet, I’ve once again made it my own. I am at ease.

(This essay first appeared on Arre)

Same time, last year: Day 258: This morning

Finding life again

So much of becoming the person you are, requires you to let go of all that you imagine you are, and all that you’re convinced you should be.

For a variety of reasons, ranging from plain comfort for my ego to accepting the path of least resistance, cleaving to convenient labels, titles, roles, and imagined ideas and notions, has always felt like the ideal way to work towards being a better version of myself.

Things look so neat, so permanent, and good on paper when I can declare “I’m independent!”

“I’m a feminist.”

“I’m self reliant”

“I’m a full-time freelancer”

“I’m an introvert”

and so on and so forth.

A label feels like a declaration. So cutting and final, it removes the need for me to ever revisit. It’s easy. It removes the need for inspection, introspection and self-reflection. And so, it’s also true that I’ve been fiercely (and sometimes, unnecessarily?) fixed to these words that slot me into a particular type of person. For years now, I’ve allowed them to be the labels that define who I am.

I’ve been so overly  attached to them that they’ve shaped (sometimes, wrongly?) my perception of myself. Until reality kicks in, as it so often does, and makes you see that evolution and growth are not points in a scale, and transformation is seldom a straight line moving in one direction.

So much of becoming the person you are involves going back. Re-examining the comfort of old labels that no longer hold good. It involves reclaiming once forgotten labels you shunned. Most often it involves letting go of all that you imagine you are, and all that you’re convinced you should be.

It’s difficult to stay stuck to these labels when so much of my very existence is in relation to, in context to, in close proximity to, people around me, the various roles I play, my work, my experiences and how each of those shape me. None of those contexts is fixed, permanent. They change all the time, throwing various situations my way, testing my ability to either flow through it, or be held back by a previously held perception of myself.

I’ve realised that these are all smaller aspects that form a larger me. They’re very prone to changing, depending on the situation.

My story, each of our stories in fact, is riddled with phases in which one label or another stands out. For the last two years of my life, for example, I was convinced I was an introvert. It felt right, it resonated, it rang so true, it was comfortable. It was what I needed to escape the cacophony of mindless noise I needed space from. Today, I don’t think I’m as much of an introvert anymore. My current life, context and the headspace I am in demands that I get out and be more outgoing. This is not introvert behaviour. So it struck me the other day that perhaps that phase is over. After some resistance, once I accepted that I must go with the flow, I found myself doing it with ease.

And it go me wondering if maybe many such phases have come and gone, but in being so caught up with hanging on to notions of myself, I’ve forgotten what it is to flow?

Maybe I have been far too attached to singular aspects of each of my stories. When actually each of my past selves wrap together neatly to from a wholesome me.

The effort these past months has been to try and recognise them all, peacefully accept with as little resistance as possible, to look at every phase and every self with a little less seriousness, and then try and integrate them.

I am at times a wife, a sister, a co-worked, a colleague, a writer, a freelancer, a daughter, a friend. I am at times lazy, sometimes over-zealous, sometimes shy and reserved, sometimes the life of a gathering. I am a feminist, I am a homemaker, I am unemployed, I am self employed. I am child-free, I love children, I am married, I am my own person. I am all of these things at different times. I play all these parts, and yet no single label defines me completely. I am a sum of all these parts.

Re-learning this fluidity, letting go of the rigidity has been all kinds of liberating. And in doing this, I have witnessed the death of a yet another phase in my life. I’d like to think the tumultuous period that was the last two years are over — their purpose served. I’ve felt myself be pushed into a new time and space. I’m undoing so much from the past, closing open loops, fixing broken things, revisiting abandoned ideas, letting go of baggage, rebuilding fresh ideas that work for me now. In this death, I see vibrant, fresh life blossoming. The ease and comfort this time round has been astounding. Slowly, but surely I find myself content in these pockets of realisation.

So much of becoming the person I am has required me to let go of the labels and stories I am anxiously attached to. To kill what is old and no longer holds true, and make room for the now. The new. It’s required me to re-imagine who I am, and look at everything with a little softness. Minus the shame, minus the guilt. Minus the hate and self-loathing. Minus the notion that to change is to somehow let myself (or an older self) down.

It’s been a constant effort to remind myself that nothing is permanent, nothing stays the same. Not even me.

And so, I must keep flowing.

Same time, last year: Day 256: Lines and dreams

Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ve got me. I’ve got your back.

I love you so very much.

***

Same time, last year: Day 252: Eight

Past anniversaries: sevensixfivefourthreetwoone.

What coming home feels like: finding new comfort in old places


Nothing prepared me for the kind of freshness this new beginning in an old home would bring.

I thought I was wiping the slate clean and starting over. I hadn’t the faintest clue that so much of this new beginning would involve picking up old threads I’d left behind, visiting feelings I thought I’d dealt with good and proper, and doing things I swore I would never do.

I’m the most change averse person I know. I usually find security in sameness, in old comfortable habits, in well set patterns. But Ive realised how sometimes that cuccoon keeps me from experiencing things I need to. It keeps out the possibilities that I most need. Not just events and experiences as end points, but the process of getting there too.

So much if this newness has been about relaxing a little, letting go of my staunchly held beliefs, questioning all the firm nos and opening myself up to the gentle maybes, and allowing some bits of the old back into my life, looking at it anew and opening myself up to that change completely.

What I once knew to be crippling fear that made me build my walls up high, has turned to a gentle acceptance – first and foremost, of myself – of this wave of fresh energy. Bright and green, new like the eager blade of grass pushing through damp soil, ready for life.

I seem to be dealing with a lot of this change and everything that has come with a lot more grace and gentleness. Towards myself, first. Rather than stiffen up with fear, I’m learning to relax and take a chance more often. It’s led me to stumble on new, interesting people, to some kindred spirit, and best of all uplifting friendship in unlikely, old connections I was so sure I was never revisiting.

The change then, has been within myself, than in my external surroundings.

I not sure I love Bangalore. I haven’t fully come to terms with where I am going. But for now I am utterly and completely at peace with why I am here.

I’m still learning.

Same time, last year: Day 224: Wayanad Things

What coming home feels like: kinship, quietude and becoming

With four months in Bangalore now behind me, I find myself taking stock. I’ll be honest, Bangalore is not a silver bullet to the complicated “where do we go from here” situation VC and I had been in for many months. So much about this city, the people, life here, my neighbourhood, that I have in fact returned (which has given me fresh eyes to look at many of the same things I grew up seeing), the people I used to know, the people I now know, often surprises me — both pleasantly and some times jarringly. Some times I’m irked or frustrated. There’s a lot about life in Bangalore, when compared to Goa, that really annoys me. And some times I have moments of utter clarity, when I know why I am here.

Everyday, though, slowly and calmly, I’m adjusting to it. I find myself still just coping, getting by from one day to the next. But, (and I suspect this is the newfound adult in me talking) I’m making peace with it. By focusing on what I came here for — familiarity, security and kinship — which thankfully, I don’t have to go very far out (or brave the maddening traffic) to find.

The key has been to find a rhythm and balance. To go it one step at a time. Gently stringing together days of hope, punctuated by pops of stillness, weeding away my fears one at a time.

I’ve found new meaning in making peace. I’ve realised it isn’t a shiny thing that you just find and hoard. It takes cultivation, active seeking and building bit by bit. And it takes practice. In doing things to create it for myself I’ve found a strange inner satiety (for the lack of a better term) I can’t name, a warm quietude in the pit of my heart, taking over me.

There, in the depths of the addictive, gummy, don’t-want-to-let-go-of-it peace is the reason why despite all the madness and recurring chaos this change has brought externally, I’m finally happy to be where I am.

Before I moved I had a long list of pros that I enumerated in convincing myself that coming back to the city wouldn’t be as scary as I imagined it would be. That list featured many things my life in Goa didn’t allow — friends and more work topped it. But today, irony is having the last laugh, as I slowly slip deeper and deeper into accepting the real place I want work to have in my life. That, and the fact that I haven’t met or hung out with my friends nearly as much as I imagined we would.

In a brief moment of introspection the other day, I realised that on a literal day-to-day level, my daily routine, the motions of every day life here, is not even a little bit different from what it was before. I still spend a bulk of my time alone, at home. Either working, or reading, cooking, catching up on things I want to. The only difference is, in Goa, I was alone for the most part. Here I have the constant company of my parents and my sister through the day, VC – post work hours, and his family when we go over to visit (which is shockingly more often than we imagined it would be). I cannot begin to describe how much I needed this.

All my life I’ve been running, escaping the present in search of something or the other. Even up until I upped and left Goa. For the first time, choosing to stay is coming easily. All that I am in search of is right here, within the walls of this place I call home.

And this has been the change I needed. The one I feared. It was never about this city or the next. Or where better work opportunities lay.

I’ve never been good with change, I’ve said this numerous times before. But perhaps it isn’t change I needed to fear. I’ve realised that it isn’t change itself, in it’s purest form, that is challenging. It is my own resistance to blend and bend, my uncontrollable need to control and own it, my urge to plan and fight the inevitable that creates rigid, inflexible periods of pain and flux.

For the longest time I shunned the sense of continuity, of eternity, the word home brings. And here’s the thing — home used to be the place that binds me. The space I fled some years ago. And yet, today, it is that same space that has set me free.

I’m completely absorbed in making the most of this opportunity I’ve been presented, when after a decade of being in different cities, my family is under one roof again. I’m greedily taking in the comfort of being surrounded by the silent company of people I love. People who get me. People. Just hanging out. Doing simple everyday things. Going about our daily lives, just together.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to meet my friends often, all the time. But this has been the most painful realisation of stepping back into the city life. Nobody has the time. And because even a simple catch up takes time and effort, nobody owes you that time or effort. It sounds naively idealistic when I hark back to the simpler life I had in Goa, when I say it was just truly so much easier to get out and get going. Whether with friends or alone. Granted, I didn’t have as many real people whom I could truly call my people, but it was very uncomplicated to meet. It’s bittersweet to realise I’m in the same city as all my people, and we’re still more in touch on whatsapp than in person. But it is the way it is. I have no complains.

It’s the nature of life here that involves navigating through the biggest hurdle of all, the traffic, which ridiculous as it sounds, dictates all schedules. Every outing involves planning, a predetermined plan of action, and some amount of praying that things go to said plan. I’m never really fully sure if a pre-committed engagement is going to actually materialise, until it does. I’m still not used to the significant coordination and pre-planning that goes into orchestrating even the simplest of outings. And that is when I sorely miss my life in Goa where getting out was as easy as that – getting. out.

Anyhow, before this sounds like a litany of painful comparisons and like I’m complaining, let me say, I’m merely acknowledging what I’ve come to realise and how it has made me feel – a bit disappointed. On the other hand, it has forced me into a very comfortable shell. And in retrospect, I realised this is the place I needed most to be. At home. Literally, if I think about my folks’ place where I spend most of my days, and figuratively, when I think of the sense of feeling at one, or at home, in my own mind.

There is an ever pervading feeling of gratitude I feel for where I am. A feeling I didn’t know I was missing all along. It comes in dense doses that swoop in and sit snugly in the base of my heart. Heavy, leaden but bright and luminous.

When I try and talk about what I feel, I cannot find the words to quantify or describe the quality of that peaceful gratitude. At first I was unable to find the words, and it crippled me in moments of excitement and wanting to share it.

Nowadays I find myself not wanting to necessarily talk about, describe or even share it.

That in itself has brought a sense of calm.

This, is honestly the best I have felt in all my life. Happy, healthy and balanced — right into the depths of my very soul.

I’m not too big on Nayyira Waheed’s works, but this poem really hit the spot.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this. It took leaving a seemingly quiet life, where I had a noisy fire raging within, to move to the madding urban existence. It took giving up the exclusivity and embracing being lost in the cacophony of crowds. It took leaving the home I thought I’d never leave, to come back to the place I never thought I’d return. To assuage that fire. And find the peace I never knew I was missing.

The key has been to find a rhythm and balance. To go it one step at a time. Gently stringing together days of hope, punctuated by pops of stillness, weeding away my fears one at a time.

Perhaps then this wasn’t a homecoming, but a becoming.

Same time, last year: Day 221: On the road

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

What coming home feels like: Sunday lunch edition

I firmly believe we have entered a time of being grotesquely overfed and unnaturally preoccupied with food. Nothing confirmed that for me as much as moving to Bangalore did. I realised very early on that meeting people had to involve a restaurant or pub. The number of events and happenings in the city revolving around food boggle me. A visit to some of the happening hubs in town make my head spin. Take 12th main road in Indiranagar, for example. I cannot get over how dazzlingly chock full of restaurants and night clubs and pubs it is. Each one seemingly bursting at the seams, and most of them running full house on weekends with business roaring.

I’ve been conflicted about this lately. As I think of alternate ways to engage with people — a walk in the park! a play? a concert? meeting over tarot cards? book club, anyone? I find that despite the largeness of a city like Bangalore, and the variety of opportunities to engage with the culture one might imagine it to present, to service the varied interests of this people-infested place, I’m struggling to find avenues that don’t revolve around food.

So in these times of overfed everything — from our instagram feeds (I’m so over the here’s what I ate for breakfast/lunch/dinner updates :-/) to the fetishization of meals we put in our bellies, it feels a bit self-indulgent and vacant to say food brings people together. And yet to not state it, in the manner I mean it today feels a bit fraudulent. Because it’s true what they say, food brings people together. At its most fundamental level, so many of my memories are bound by flavours, and nostalgia stirs when certain aromas or remnants of events surrounding food are evoked. It could be something as simple as the baby food I’d wait for my 6-month old sister to waste so I could wallop, or it could be the ginormous indulgent buffet i ate for five days straight over my honeymoon, or my grandfather’s very own mutton stew. Food memories have preserved my sanity on more than one occasion.

Flying out of the proverbial nest gave me wings in more ways than one, and one of the bittersweet joys of being away was creating my own set of traditions and rituals — many of which were around food. Festival sweets, Sunday breakfast eggs, nuts to start the day, supaari to end the day. And I’ve missed the grounding and centering effect of many of these simple habits and homely traditions, followed almost too tediously, week after week.

These are the same rituals I sometimes resisted participating in, many times when Iw as young. And stupid. But I was too naive to fully realise how much lingering over a shared meal, letting conversation unravel sometimes, or disappearing into comfortable pockets of silence, mindfully eating the complex outcome of someones thoughtful, deliberate labour, played a role in keeping me grounded, together.

Growing up, our Sunday lunch at home was one such event. It was where the stories of the week were shared. Where sneaky giggles, tired sighs and everything on between came together, in long belaboured detail, for everyone to chew on. The meal itself wasn’t necessarily large and sinful. Sometimes a simple khichdi, sometimes an egg curry with fluffy white rice and a naked salad. But sometimes, like today, it was a leap of faith into a previously untouched cuisine. It was larger than usual, felt fancier than the familiar fare we were usually fed. But no matter what it was, it has always been the heart of Sunday afternoons in my home.

Post lazy oil-bath mornings usually spent tidying up or hurriedly ticking thru homework, after a tiring dance class, there was nothing I looked forward to more than a meal with my folks and sister.

A meal is a magical thing. So much a labour of love, putting together a meal is an energy sapping activity. And yet, when it is done and finished, it is only the memories that linger as aromatic evidence. I realised this on Sunday, as I sat at the table we dragged out into the terrace garden at my parents home. I’m beginning to like that peaceful feeling of acceptance that washes over me, like like telling me I-told-you-so, every time I notice I’ve come full-circle. And it happened again the other day, back at the table on a Sunday afternoon. Even though our family is larger by almost-two and life has taken us all in such divergent paths. We’re louder about some things, clandestine about others. And yet, when we come together, the laugher, the noisy munching, the clinking of spoons against bowls and plates and the hearty fullness of a shared meal remains much the same.

Same time, last year: Day 194: Pedalling again

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: Seeking solitude

After ages, ages, ages we’ve had a slow Sunday with no plans whatsoever. Just like many of our Sundays in Goa. The thing with being back home is that there have been ample  welcome distractions. I’m dangerously close to my folks, where the promise of an open kitchen and warm home cooked meals and their company is ever present. We’re also not too far from VC’s folks, and there have been weekly visits over to theirs too. With friends around, I’ve been out at least 2-3 times a week – a welcome change from the way life was in Goa – and it’s been a tad tiring. More than tiring though, it has contributed to my not feeling fully settled and rooted.

In order to feel really at home in my home I realised last week that I needed to get into my own routine and do the homey things I’m used to. Potter about, change the sheets, laze around without bathing all day, work into the night if inspiration strikes, cook something spontaneously, stock up veggies and groceries – you know, the little things that go into creating a space to call your own.

Last night, I had a massive attack of Goa homesickness. Something about the weekends in Bangalore brings them closer than I am willing to deal with. Every weekend I feel the stark contrast between life in Goa and life here – and I suppose it’s natural and going to be a recurring event to keep comparing the two – and when I realise there is literally no peaceful, quiet place to go to, where I can slip away with a book to read or write in and sit by myself for a few hours. This is something I did almost every weekend in Goa. Either with or without company, the closest beach was a three minute ride away. I could always choose form at least three cafes that were perfectly silent to go and sit by yourself. A glass of wine or a beer, a plate of fries or a chorice-pao, it was really easy to just order something simple to pass the time when you really wanted to just sit and read.

Alternatively, finding a spot of green, a cliff with a view, a quiet beach, a lonely road winding through green fields was a matter of driving out of Panjim which no matter what part of town you lived was never more than a 10 minute drive. And many a weekend we’d venture out to get some fresh air and a slice of the outdoors. And lets not forget all the cycling. All the cycling.

Bangalore poses a serious dearth of that kind of peace. The kind that’s suited for solitude. And that too has contributed to me feeling a little out of my depth, unsettled and not quite at home as yet.

So finally, this weekend, we vegged out and stayed in. Meals were cooked together, conversations we’ve been dodging because of a lack of time together were had, long naps were taken, I even snuck in a long overdue salon visit to unwind a little, and managed to finish a book I began in May but hadn’t touched until Friday night.

I may be back in the big city, but I think a part of me will always be the silence-seeking, solitude-loving, small-town person Goa taught me to be. I guess I’m going to have to learn to recreate a pocket of peace right here at home for when the weekend blues strike.

Same time, last year: Day 176: Begin

Just breathe

Many times over the last three months, I’ve caught myself in a loop of guilt. It’s usually at the most inopportune time, just as I am about to allow myself a brief break. When I most feel like I need to catch a breather. Once the guilt has arrived at my door, taking stock of how much I’ve done and if I deserve the break, taking it becomes so much harder. And in that moment of guilt, I convince myself that I am not worthy of taking time out.

Because, you’re not working yet.

In the past few weeks, I’ve felt this way more often than I’ll care to admit. I know this is partly my nature. This compulsive need to justify and earn every little break. But this time, it also has to do with the limbo we have been in since taking the decision to move back to Bangalore.

On the surface, most of the basics are settled. Life has resumed in a new city, a new home that’s set up enough for us to occupy and live in but that could do with a few more frills and spoils, I even dragged my feet back to some kind of efforts at work after the unplanned and extended hiatus. But I’m constantly torn between focusing on all the extras that remain to be done, and just putting a full stop on it and moving on with real work.

Maybe that’s just it?

The nebulous nature of things, with my line of work and with the current state of my life — with no real “plan”, no pressing demands, no conventional schedule, no impending deadlines — that leaves me with little validation or justification for the effort, time and energy I am spending day after day. No deliverables, no neatly packaged articles, no money flowing into the bank. Yet so much energy and money flowing out. Energy, money, effort and time that we have expended in making this move. This, combined with the hardcoded, deeply-ingrained notions of “hard work” that still rule my world means I still don’t always take my own effort seriously, unless it fetches me external validation and affirmation, preferably by way of a handsome fee. At times like this where life happens and one just gets on with it, and there is little prodding or congratulations, I feel empty, depleted and exhausted.

This is not a complain about the external world not congratulating me for getting on with life. It’s just me acknowledging my ego and the way it works. I often beat myself up about not working the past three months. A one month break unexpectedly turned into a three months off. Not because I decided to take time off, but because we landed ourselves in the midst of a mildly life-changing shift that needed our time and focus. I’ve had my hands full for the most part of the last two months, at least, working at smoothing things out in this time of transition. And yet, I’ve had this low hum gnawing the back of my brain out slowly – you’re not working. You should be working.

When I usually feel the need for time out, it is following a period of hectic activity, when I need to refuel and recharge my batteries. And my way to do that is to indulge in the things that fill me with a good, happy energy.

Like sit back and enjoy the fruits of our effort the past few weeks.
Like write the many blog posts jammed tight in my brain.
Like leisurely writing out the story ideas I’ve accumulated in the last three months.
Like meet with people I’ve been meaning to ever since I got to Bangalore.
Like finish reading those books I began in May.
Like begin to enjoy Bangalore a little more.

So, when guilt arrives at my doorstep, taking stock to check if I need or truly deserve the break, it puts a spoke in things. Instead of rejuvenating myself, I feel guilty. And that  quickly spirals into a a loop of desperation when I realise how little I have in hand — again, little is measured purely in conventional terms.

It then makes me feel like I ought to get going, not relax. And since this is fundamentally at loggerheads with what I intuitively know I want to be doing, I get stuck. Not moving towards what my head tells me I should do, or what my heart tells me I should feel.

Temporary relief follows soon after because the good thing is I’m beginning to notice and pin point these patterns, and I am quick to correct myself. But it is only temporary. I let go briefly, only to quickly feel the panic and the lack of doing things again.

In my head the idea that to be productive, useful and busy is still tied in to churning out one assignment after another, bringing those cheques in one after another. I’m slowly but painfully realising that this is what I am trained to believe, and not what makes sense to my soul.

My life the last few years has been a series of gradual shifts towards being my own boss. I don’t mean that professionally alone. I mean it’s been a constant work in progress towards tuning in and listening to my own cues and working on feeling content most, if not all, of the time.

The inwards tussle this time around, is with knowing that yes, I do need to work and earn some of my bread (even though I have a perfectly capable, willing, giving partner who provides it for me), but no, I don’t have to make myself unhappy and exhausted doing it. I am privileged and lucky to have a situation that allows this.

***

A couple of nights ago, we had friends over for dinner. Even though we’ve been living in the new home for almost three weeks now, and had my folks and VC’s folks over for a meal, it wasn’t until this past weekend that I felt like we’d put the home in this home — complete with  a gas connection and water and internet. Right before our friends arrived, I looked up from where I was sitting, at my dining table.

And I realised — this is the validation I needed. This is what I’ve been working on. This is the sum total of the work that has kept me physically and mentally engaged since early May. Making a home from an opportunity I stumbled upon and grabbed with both my hands, even when my heart was aflutter in the anticipation and overwhelmed with change.

I often forget to that work cannot only be measured in the time spent strapped at a desk — whether in an office or at home. Heck, right now I don’t even have a desk. And yet, I’ve been working for the most part of these last few weeks. Moving cities was work, getting the house up and running took a lot of work, setting up a new home has hard and exhausting work.

This has taken a lot of work. And it has been tiring. Even more so because I haven’t allowed myself to acknowledge this simple fact, or allowed myself a real, refreshing break from it.

It’s true, work fuels life. Not just by giving us the currency to do the things we want to do that cost money, but it also fuels our sense of worth and pride. But I’m gradually realising that the nature of what qualifies as work ticks different boxes for different people, and it can change constantly from one phase to another.

The last few years in Goa, I immersed myself in a fulfilling kind of work through words. It was right for that time and place, and it made sense for where I was then. But it makes no sense to force fit that definition of productivity to the rest of my years. Somewhere, these past few weeks, I’ve lost sight of the reason why we moved out of the boonies and back to civilisation. A significant part of that reason was to be able to mingle a little, dip my toes into the spoils of the city a little, and surround myself in the the company of folks I’ve been longing to be around

I’m finally here, in the right space and environment that makes sense for me now, and here I am trying to be productive and busy doing things that don’t make sense right now. Here I am berating myself for being not as useful or independent as I can be. When the truth is, I’ve been busy. This transition has taken work. And I am not less productive, less useful, less anything for not putting in time at my desk chasing bylines.

Maybe I need to get out of my head for a bit, to explore and create a new definitions of work for myself. To allow the newness of this experience to break through the old moulds I’ve held it all within, to come out and soak it in. Maybe it’s time to loosen the grip and re-create new sense of what this time, place and phase asks of me.

Maybe it’s time to revel in the fact that this is me, now and there’s no way to expect an older version of me to thrive in a new set of situations. Maybe instead of brushing aside the guilt, as everyone tells me to, I should hold it up, look it squarely in the eye and understand that the guilt is just my ego in another form, luring me back into an older way of being, one that makes little sense now. And even as it writhes in my grip and wriggles it’s way back into my everyday life, I must look at it, accept it, maybe even wallow a little bit in it. But eventually, I must just remember to breathe. And live a little.

Same time, last year: Day 174: Hit by a crippling case of travel excitement

Changing seasons

I snapped this picture on my last day in Goa, right before we were hit by a tornado of cardboard cartons, bubble wrap and plastic, amidst entertaining movers and packers, handling puppy distractions, impossibly generous friends who brought us chai on tap, provided meals and also who opened their homes out to us for when we were bed-less without a roof over our heads. The thing about this kind of hurried relocation is there’s no escaping the general mayhem that is likely to ensue, no matter how organised or planned you think you are. While we had our tasks slotted across an entire week, between relentless following up (because nobody ever does anything on just one service request anymore!) saying goodbyes to the handful of people we wanted to and getting our lives wrapped up into 73 boxes, the week running up to our eventual departure from home was insane to say the least.

But I snapped this picture smack in the midst of one of the last day in Goa, the craziest one. It’s currently the home screen on my phone and makes a fitting symbol of the freshness of change that often feels like a lease of life, especially when caught in an oppressively difficult time. Its an apt reminder of the insane time that the months of April and May have been. Made worse by the impossibly high temperatures we faced in Goa this year. And the way in which we were forced to just surrender to the plan that seemed to fall into place without much doing. We decided to just go with it. And this right here, has been a humbling experience for me.

I’ve said before that I’m hopeless with change, but this time it’s been different. That there was anticipation, a certain desperation even, for change, is true. I suppose this is what has helped in making this a smooth process, even as it tested our energy and patience. This time, there has been more acceptance than digging my heels in or gritting my teeth in defiance. There has been easy relinquishing control, rather than inhuman efforts to retain it. For once, this unexpected change of scene has been the silver lining. Much like the blooms in this picture.

Same time, last year: Day 152: Skies that lie

Because wanting to leave is enough

A little over seven years after I wrote this very telegraphic post, I’m back in the exact same spot. I came to Bangalore early this month in search of a break, new beginnings, to get a feel of all things city-life again, and to house hunt. I’m aware of how ridiculous this sounds considering I am from Bangalore, but the truth is seven+ years away feels like an entire lifetime. And we’ve both completely forgotten what living here used to be like.

Very soon, I’ll be in this phase. The last time, I was leaving the security of home to fly off into the unknown, with mixed emotions. It was a happy-sad farewell. I was sad to go, but bracing myself with a hint of excitement about Goa and newfound freedom. This time around, I want so desperately to move, and after such a roundabout hunt, I’m coming back home. Yes, Bangalore is nothing like it used to be, but there’s nothing better than returning to familiar ground, home turf, right back into the safe space that is being around parents.

It’s strange how one tends to always end up right where one belongs. Even if it takes a long time getting there, and sometimes it’s the last place you imagine and believe you want to be.

That we wanted to move, was fact. It has been in the works for about two (painfully long) years now. What took this long was closing in on a destination. And that proved to be the hardest part, rife with unplanned twists and turns, and multiple choices, difficult conversations that weighed out the pros and cons a hundred times over, which made the decision-making process a bigger test than we ever imagined it would be.

I’m facing the “why are you moving?” and “why Bangalore?!!” question at least once a day and I find myself strangely at peace about it. Perhaps it’s because I’m not really feeling all that heavy-heart-y about leaving Goa. Yes, there’s a lot I’ll miss terribly about Goa, but for far too long now I have felt that I need to shake things up and move on. So I’m feeling more positive and ready about the present and what lies ahead, than wistful about the past. It has little to do with which destination makes a better home, and everything to do with where we are in life at this present moment, and what we want from it.

Also, we now have a home in Goa and I envisage some back-and-forth-ing is in the works. Every time the big city gets hectic, it’s nice to know we’ll have a space to camp out at in Goa. So it really doesn’t feel like a sad close to this amazing time, rather a much, much needed segue into a brave, new world.

And so that brings me to Bangalore, where finally, we have found a new home. I say new, because it feels like a new phase, but it’s an old home in an area I grew up in. Talk about full circle, eh? D pointed out to me this morning, how our bodies talk to us. It’s a connection I’d made, but hadn’t articulated quite the way she did. It’s very telling of the slow and steady, step by step movement towards acceptance of why I must go, how and when that eventually gave me a push. Closure, peaceful acceptance, the serenity of everything happening for a reason only really fell into place when I answered the why now? question with honesty. When I accepted the most fundamental reason that needed no further explanations or justification. To borrow the words of the inimitable Cheryl Strayed:

Go, because you want to. Because wanting to leave is enough.

Getting to this point of clarity has been a humbling exercise in learning to let go and trust the process. It took everything out of us, but without it there was no decision to be made. Once we got there, though, there was no stopping or turning back. Before we knew it, various elements had snowballed right before our eyes, pushing us into relocation mode faster than we could fully register what was happening.

I’ve always believed I don’t do well with change, but for the first time in a long time, I’m hungering for some.

For now, it’s goodbye Goa. And in true VC-style, there had to be a goodbye video. Featuring me and my very itchy feet that have been raring to go.

 

As ​7.5 brilliant years in Goa come to a close, I’m eager, thrilled and so at peace with being at the brink of change and beginning a new trip. Until next time, stay amazing, Goa. You’ve been everything.

Same time, last year: Day 118: This day, that year

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