Love-filled

I feel soft and full of love today.

***

Today, I cooked the first proper meal all by myself in my home. I’ve had the extreme, extreme luxury of hopping over to my parents place for every single meal since I got back from holiday over ten days ago. Between feeling disoriented and resuming a killer workout schedule that has rendered my movement in the rest of the day a little compromised, and a whole week of hectic social activities, I have unabashedly leaned on amma and her unrelenting capacity to give and keep giving. Whether it’s hot meals, breakfast every single day, her car whenever I need it (which has been every day these days *eyeroll*) and just generally being that fall back I always have. It has meant I didn’t have to stock up my kitchen till yesterday, I didn’t have to worry about my nutrition as I stepped into the 6-week program, I didn’t have to do a thing other than show up and be fed with wholesome, nutritious food.

S is coming over for lunch today, so I decided to cook rather than order in or go out. While cooking this morning, I realised that to be able to slip into domesticity as and when I feel like, rather than bound by necessity is such a game-changer at this present time of my life. This is one of the big issues I fought in Goa, right before I left. I felt bound and tied down by some parts of domesticity, and constantly felt like doing them was keeping me from doing the things I really wanted to. I feel grateful for the proximity to my parents that allows this, for amma’s constant presence and support in ways I don’t even have to ask for, and for how life sometimes conspires to make possible the smallest, seemingly insignificant details of my life a reality, and for how hugely that impacts my life.

***

I woke up this morning feeling fresh as a new summer day. I’ve been having some incredibly good sleep since resuming working out harder. My digestion feels more settled, my skin feels better — these, and some other small niggling physical changes in my system that had begun to creep up last year seem to be on the wind-down. It’s amazing what a little extra movement, some essential burning of excess energy and regulation in food and hydration can do. I’m grateful for another opportunity to workout with S. For the new sneakers I got this past week. For access to a gym so close to home. For summer mornings that make waking up easier. For VC’s constant, unquestioning support in this area of my life.

One year ago: Somebody holds the key
Three years ago: Silence

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The food, the food

Be warned: this is a picture-heavy post.

This trip was all about the food, for me. I had a pre-planned list of things I wanted to taste, and I am happy to have knocked it all off except for the bhaang which although I was keen to try, just looked so dodge when I saw how it was made that I suddenly had cold feet and didn’t feel ready to experiment with.

Right off the bat I have to say we didn’t have a single non vegetarian meal through out this trip. Now, this is very easy for me to do. While I enjoy eating meat, it’s not a crucial component of a good meal for me. I can go days, and in fact I prefer this, with simple, hearty, vegetarian food. But VC is the kind of person who needs meat. So for him to admit he didn’t miss eating meat at all said a lot.

Our very first meal was breakfast on day 1. We dumped our luggage in the hotel and started weaving our way through the narrow lanes looking for a “breakfast place”, realising very soon that there are no “places”, just beautifully characteristic hole-in-the-wall type establishments with giant kadhais set over hot coals, right at the foot of the store, inviting you with an array of smells.

Kachori-aloo-jalebi is the staple Benarasi breakfast and I wanted to try nothing else. We ducked into the first joint we found because a) it smelt so good and b) a cow was blocking the road ahead.

Turns out they call them kachoris, but they’re actually puris mildly stuffed with something (I couldn’t figure out what, exactly.). For a mere Rs 25, we got a stack of kachoris, a dona of aloo curry — this place had a curry mix with aloo, black channas and kabuli channa faacckkkk — and a couple of hot jalebis. Uncleji handed it to us and watched us for a minute as we tried to juggle all the hot stuff in our hands,  side stepping piles of you-know-what, looking for a place to settle and eat. Kindly, he invited us in. Behind the stove that was right at the entrance to the store, he had two small tables squashed into a room blackened with years of soot from cooking over charcoals. Warm, smiling and just so hospitable, it was a sharp contrast to what people had psyched us about “watching out for” people before trusting them.

Rubbish, I tell you. Across the board, the people of Benaras were nothing short of lovely, warm and helpful. We didn’t have a single bad experience, and I was happy to have my faith in my innate tendency to trust first, until proven wrong, reaffirmed. Of late I’ve been told I’m too quick to trust, and I find that I had begun to sometimes second guess my instincts. I was happy to be proven wrong.

Breakfast was so sumptuous and filling, and was followed by adrak chai and a morning of roaming around the ghats white VC scouted for spots to shoot over the next few days. I just took in the sights, smells and sounds. Benaras had already begun to gob-smack me, taking me in fully from the get go with its bizarre mix of heavy character and just so much life, along with the inherent paradoxes that are so hard to miss. It’s a city that you sense heavily, feeling it under your skin.

We managed to sneak a boat ride in too, and returned to the hotel in time for check-in. We had landed into a 15 degree post-winter morning, but by noon the sun had come out full force, the heat was searing and dry and we realised it was going to be the kind of trip where we spend a bulk of the day indoors. So we lugged back a couple of beers each into our room, fully expecting to skip lunch thanks to the heavy breakfast and settled in to Netflix and chill.

But that was not to be. In a couple of hours we got hungry, but I suspect it was more a curiosity about what we could taste next. We scoped out the closest chaat bhandaar, one of the highest rated ones in Benaras was 400 mt away from us, so we walked there.

We sampled the gol gappas (good), the papdi chaat (excellent), palak chaat ( beyond excellent!), a samosa chaat (it didn’t do much for me — the masalas in the samosa and the gravy they pour over it was an overkill), aloo tikki chaat (much nicer because the tikki itself was mildly spiced, lending just that required starchy potato-goodness that allows the flavours of the chaat to shine through) and the local specialty: tamaatar chaat, which I thought was no big deal. It was essentially a cooked curry of tomatoes, tangy and spicy, covered in a medley of chaat-y toppings like imli ki chutney, green chutney, spice powders and dahi, showered in crunchy sev-like thing (which in Benaras is chunky and shaped like pellets).

Dinner on day 1 was late, and because we didn’t feel up to venturing out a third time in the day to look for food, we slipped into one of the many local “shuddh shakahaari bhojanalays” and packed rotis cooked over hot coals, with sabzi and dal. So satiating and hearty, consumed in bed while binge watching Made In Heaven.

The next morning we set off to catch the sunrise over the ghats, which was a good two hour affair, of which one hour was spent on another boat ride along the entire length of about 25 ghats. This had us occupied and quite frankly just so engrossed, I didn’t realise it was breakfast time. On our way out, we discovered a stall that served what is easily the best tapri chai I’ve ever had in my life. Non-boiled, but just so kadak and good. It was so good that VC, the desi-style chai lover of the two of us, admitted to it being the best tea he’d had and came home and tried to replicate what he’d seen of the chaiwalas method.

But the star of that stop was the bun-maska. OMG. 100 gms of Amul butter spread over 4 buns that were toasted over a smoky charcoal fire, that we dipped in hot tea and gobbled before it fell into soggy blobs into the glass. JUST SO EFFING GOOD.

We made two pitstops at this tapri over the next two days and the bun-maska-wallah had figured I was a fan. I don’t know, maybe the incessant picture taking gave it away?

That bun-maska was just a appetiser, and the real breakfast that followed was this kachori-puri-jalebi, which at another joint was a medley of vegetables — potatoes, carrots, peas and cauliflower. Equally delicious, but so heavy we’d started to share a single portion between the two of us.

I saved the best for last. This right here is the crowning glory of the food we ate in Benaras and since it is only made and enjoyed in the winter, Im so glad we managed to catch it.

This here, is malaiyo, a fluffy airy, cloud-like form of cream and full-fat milk. I’m told it is traditionally churned a day in advance and left out in the open over a cold winter’s night so the dew that settles on it, over the course of the night, helps hold up its airiness.

It looks like rabri, but has the texture and mouth feel of something that beats the best tiramisu pants down. It is quite literally like eating a cloud of rich, saffron and pista rich rabri. There’s no biting it, because it just disappears in a pool of air in your mouth. It is only available before 11-o clock because the heat causes it to collapse so even if you step out as early as 6 am, you’ll find street vendors with giant vats of malaiyo along the way to the ghats.

Our breakfast was fixed, 90% meals comprised entirely chaat, and the remaining 10% was a roti-sabzi affair. VC sampled the famed Benarasi paan on three occasions, but claims none of them really appealed. I am not a paan-eater. I have in fact never tasted the thing and I refuse to even try it, so I could not vet his opinion.

***

And here’s some pictures of the people who made the food, people who fascinated me as much as the food did.

Even though he doesn’t look it here, this was the extra warm, hospitable uncle who gave us space to sit and enjoy our hot breakfast on day 1
Fresh kachoris
Laung Latika (a crispy pastry pocket filled with mava and finished off with a single clove pressed through it) in the making
Mr Malaiyo, my favouritest food-person
Bestest chai tapri just outside Dashaswamedh Ghat
Piles of kachori-sabzi every morning
Benarasi paan-wala who failed to please

One year ago: We form our own boundaries

Of days that turn around

Allowed myself to bunk yoga and sleep in today.

Then I watched a shitty, shitty movie that I really shouldn’t have wasted my time with.

Made up for wasted time with an afternoon of work and a huge headstart on the month’s deliverables.

Followed it up with a good chat and an iced coffee.

And then this, wandering in the crotch of Bangalore, following our noses and the warm smells of fresh street food, was like the icing on the cake.

Some days really do turn around dramatically.

One year ago: The only baggage you can bring is all that you can’t leave behind

Food and friendship

When the kind ladies at The Lookout Journal wrote in to ask if I could write a feature on food and how it forms such an integral part of documenting vignettes of my life, I was flattered. But also mostly shocked. That a) my blog interested someone enough to ask me to write for them and b) the angle they’d taken in talking about food was quite a refreshing departure from most things I’ve seen food-documenting in a while.

I didn’t end up writing the essay. What with being smack in the middle of travel, moving cities, setting up home, and continuing to work through it all. So they were kind enough to turn the opportunity into a Q&A with me instead.

I was deeply touched by how insightful the questions were, moving away from the most obvious and usual extension of food — nostalgia. Particularly inspiring for me to get down to answering their questions was the fact that really to got the heart of the place food occupies in my life especially this year — facilitating friendship with others and with myself. 

So here it is if you’d like to give it a lookie and a read.

***

It’s true. Food is such a vehicle for normalcy and finding grounded-ness.

This is the first meal I cooked at the new home in Goa and immediately I felt at home in a way that only cooking a full meal can make me feel. Even though it was just khichdi and aloo-fry. 

VC had been eating take out for over a month since he moved in. I had to buy a pressure cooker to begin with. But I went a little extra and bought a set of idli plates, a hand-mixie too. And I stocked up on a lot of masalas, which I’d been avoiding thinking VC is not going to ever cook an elaborate meal that will require them. Soon enough I realised the stupidity of that thought process. This is my kitchen too. I’m going to be visiting often enough. As soon as I gave myself the space to settle in, spices, pressure cooker and all, I immediately felt at home.

We have since had idlis and chutney, dal rice and anda-masala, aglio olio with mushrooms and sausages. On New Years Ever we even managed a barbecue for two — VC outdoing himself with a malai chicken (which had no malai hahaha) and paneer skewers. I tossed together some buttered veggies to go with it. It was simpler than I imagined, and we had a quiet, satisfying evening of it by ourselves.

***

Somewhere in the midst of it all R came to visit, and it happened to be the eve of VC’s birthday. So we bought our favourite chocolate cake for old time’s sake to surprise him with. And then on the birthday we had dinner at a quaint little “pizza bar” in North Goa.

I’m really enjoying exploring the food here. I didn’t do enough of it when I lived in Panjim, especially in the years just before I left. So I’m glad for the opportunity to be closer north. And for friends who’ve arrived bearing enthusiasm to make me get out and about. 

One year ago: Day 2: Gratitude. That is all.
Three years ago: Day 2: Love

Day 360: I just want the realness

A day that begins like this can only go well. And today was that kind of day.

One year ago: Warm sound

Day 353: We got soul food in the house

Within mere hours of reaching Goa, I came down with a massive cold. A combination of the drastic spike in temperatures between Bangalore and here, and spending upwards of an hour stuck in a non air-conditioned bus and then plane, breathing a cocktail of germs while we got through the inordinate delay in taking off from Bangalore international airport.

The dust from the carpentry work at home hasn’t helped. It’s day 3, and today, finally it settled. After a chilled beer, beef fry and a bigass mackerel fry.

Day 340: Now I’m free falling

I’ve been feeling drawn to cooking again. And I’ve been feeling equal enthusiasm to make quick dinners of things as simple as eggs and toast as I am for the the slow, laborious, long-drawn out way that the food I grew up eating is made. I realise that primarily, it is the act of using my own hands and brain to create a meal that gives me that kick of dopamine. It happened last week when I made a large pot of pulao, some faux cholle and a mashed pumpkin sabji. And it happened again today when I cooked this meal for A who came over to spend the day.

What is it about this kind of food that takes one right back to ones roots, that spells home? Today it was the wispy fragrance of the just-boiled beans from a freshly released pressure cooker, or the crackling pungent hit of coriander seeds and crinkly red chillies sauteed in coconut oil, or the weedy robust and palpably green smell of freshly barely wilted dill spun in the mixie with fresh spices and coconut, that kindled a warm fullness in my Heart.

A full plate of this sort makes me indescribably happy. And to make and share this with friends — complete with granularity, texture and a transference of the tedium that this sort of meal requires — is extra special. 

There is something about labouring over the food that sustains me. An experience I take for granted on a daily basis when I casually waltz over to Amma’s and eat at her table, and of her giving. Perhaps it’s the slowness, or the act of proceeding in a sequence of actions, or just the sheer meeting point of all the senses, that taps right into that deep, primal dormant fire that is stoked every time a good meal is in the works, and immediately invokes a feeling of connection to The Source. Of belonging. Of roots. Of home. 

Two years ago: Day 340: Happy high

Day 295: They say you were always enough

I’m exhausted. After days of fighting that itchy throat, my body gave in today. It felt like there were rocks embedded in there every time I swallowed. And so for the first time this year, I have caved and decided to have antibiotics. I know what has brought this on — exhaustion. This is my body saying, enough, get some rest. It was also probably tipped over the edge by the three chilled beers I had at lunch yesterday. Oh well.

It’s been non-stop this entire month, and I felt my energy really flagging on the weekend. Unfortunately I can’t fully stop just yet. We’re int he midst of packing before we set off to Goa in a few days. Once there too, a whole lot of things need to be done to get our home where VC will stay, up and going in time before I return.

So today, I took comfort in a big fat pill, an afternoon nap, a cancelled evening appointment and some forced downtime, before I made a batch of Asian summer rolls and headed over to my aunts for dinner. There’s quite nothing like a hot meal someone cooks for you, to hit the spot on an ill day like today, when my body has wanted to just stay curled up and asleep. We had fried fish, a hearty chicken curry, and topped it with a small Jagermeister shot that fixed my throat good and proper.

Tomorrow will be a better day, I know. And that R in the image, it stands for REST.

One year ago: When one door shuts, open it again
Two years ago: Day 295: In with the new

Day 266: You’re still young, that’s your fault

Paris. Day 4.

There’s just so much to say, about this city, about how not having a plan when we travel worked out for us, about intersecting with friends in parts of the world and about just how incredibly overwhelming beautiful this has been.

We’ve been so lucky with the weather this week, even with the spots of rain, we had J fly down from Hamburg to surprise us and S who anyway lives here now, which dramatically changed the way these four days have been.

Mostly, I’m grateful for life’s little surprises and how things always work out. I came without a plan, just a vague idea of what I would do, and it didn’t involve a single museum. I had no idea it would turn out that I’d spend my time the way I did, but somehow it has been exactly what I wanted.

My brain has been shutting down from the sheer sensory party that this place is. I can’t seem to string one sentence straight even though they’re all there in my head. Try as I might to invoke them, all I get is a bunch of superlatives that still fall short.

I’ll have to try once again in a few days after I’ve had a chance to process it all.

Paris has my heart. Good and proper.

Day 239: Cake by the ocean

One whole year since the life-changing 6-week diet and 8 whole months after I gave it up completely, I am finally fully feeling like myself again. I know I point out my hips a lot, but this has been the real indication. My pants no longer hang on me. They’d all gone shapeless, several sizes too large, and needed belts and all kinds of other fasteners to keep them up. Now they’re staying on their own now, and they feel snug.

My hips don’t lie. I’m back in them the way I used to be. Thick thighs, wide hips and everything in between.

I’ve been steadily moving on to the side of regular unabashed eating over the months, but nothing pushed me over the edge like the frequent travel this year did. I find that as long as I am at home, eating home food I am balanced, measured and satisfied with what I eat. And I feel good eating the way do. But starting with the Thailand trip, when I really cut back and ate ALL THE THINGS, I’ve been on a non-stop no holds barred eating trip. This continued with every trip to Goa after, normalising only a little when I come back home, only to fall off the balance again with the weekly visit to VCs. So somewhere in between, I just completely stopped thinking about it — carbs, sugar, alcohol, bread — like I said, all the things.

Something about being on holiday mode (even if only in my brain) makes me want to eat, eat, eat all the things. And I realise I have been happiest when I have allowed myself to eat. It has taken so much rewiring to really admit, without berating myself and calling myself a pig or shaming my genuine love for indulgence, that I really, really love to eat. And that I eat a lot more than the average woman my age. Yes, my skin might sometimes suffer because of it — sugar sends my acne out of control. Carbs and alcohol make me bloat, and I have to find balance and exercise moderation. But I have realised, I love food far more than I love the idea of flawless skin or a flat belly. For now.

For many years, the last decade, I was in love with the idea of being fit. It was great, it made me feel invincible, I was in the best shape and health. Even when I was on the diet, and for months after, I continued to feel good. In my body, about my body. Perhaps it was the turn my life was taking, and the necessary twist in my self-development journey, but it wasn’t long before I began to feel a strong dissonance between what my mind demanded — ease, softness, openness — and what I was doing to my body — abstinence, curtailing, starving it.

Life has this way of beating me down into submission, to see the truth that needs to be seen. And if it weren’t for the therapy and the work I was forced to put in, I could probably have taken a lot longer to see the mind-body connection, and how much what I was doing to my body was slowing my mind down. On one hand, my soul was raring to go on this journey, but my body was stopping to exercise portion control and self-flagellation.

I couldn’t keep it up. This is not to say indulgence is the way to go. I know that my periods of indulgence and binging are short and are always punctuated by adequate windows where everything gets balanced. Home food is good food, and what we eat on a regular basis is good and wholesome, even without all the eliminations. And that really keeps my system ticking. But it was important to let the reins go. To feel fully, to be me fully. To allow my being to sprout.

In Goa last week, I realised this love I have, to treat my body with good food of late, has been such a vital part of that process of sprouting. About accepting myself just the way I am — hips, thighs, abs, arms, face as they are. In the months between stopping the intense diet and working-out and now, there were periods of struggle when I’d look at fitness icons every now and then and momentarily slip back to wishing my butt were a different size, my waist were smaller and the like. I’d stress about how I’m undoing what I worked so hard to achieve. I was so hard on myself, and it routinely made me so unhappy. First the lack of eating what I wanted to eat, and second the fact that I was even putting myself through it.

It is only as recently as the last 2 weeks that I am experiencing a new level of freeing self love. And I knew it was freeing when I stopped counting what I was eating.

I’ve realised it’s possible that for many years, I was more in love with an idea of being painfully fit, more than I actually loved what it takes to be that fit.

In reality, being just a little bit fit will do.

Second, that idea of what fit is was woefully inadequate for the person I was becoming. It was limiting, restrictive and at a very fundamental (and unconscious) level, ate away at my joy. My sprouting quite literally needed nourishment, and there I was not allowing it.

I’m trying every day to redefine my idea of fit — to tone down the emphasis on how my body looks, and focus more on how I feel. In my heart, in my mind. Deeper down, in my soul.

I realise now that the only want any of these life habits can be sustainable is if I feel good practicing them. And I will only feel good practicing them, if I listen to what it is I need, and move accordingly. So it has taken constant nourishing, through good food, healthy thoughts, and it has taken constant reworking of limiting beliefs and it has taken the hugely painful and taxing work of including everything that I was too afraid, ashamed, proud to see and accept as mine — my faulty beliefs, my inaccurate definitions, my terribly harsh goals.

Try as I did for a while, this process simply didn’t allow for exclusions of any kind. Not of food groups, not of happy moments shared in the company of people who would call bullshit gently when I faltered, not of the opportunities to look deep within with honesty, not of the ability to change

I simply could not keep going with the pursuit of “strong” the way I believed it to be true to me, when deep down my being craved and needed softness, less rigidity, more vulnerability. And acceptance.

In this too, there has been a big lessons in loosening up, and allowing a little give. As much as I struggled to embrace the fact that I did in fact have a warped sense of body image, I have found that joy in embracing my whole self again.

It is enough. I am enough.

The truth is, I love a hearty meal. How else can I explain the glee in planning even the simplest dal-rice meals? This joy comes to me on a daily basis, day after day after day. It’s true what they say, abs are made in the kitchen, but I love dal-rice-and-potato meals way more than I love the idea of flat abs.

Accepting myself, and my body has meant being realistic about its capacity, it’s limitations. It has been about understanding that joy happens when my body works with my mind, and vice-versa, not against. It has meant accepting that the softness I needed in my emotions, needed to find a home in my body.

It has been about choosing kindness and allowance, over the many disallowances Id made mine. It has been about growing soft, letting those muscles really soften, as a blueprint for giving up the obsession to be strong, literally and figuratively. It has been about spreading myself out, taking up space and not shrinking to fit in. It has been about allowing myself vulnerability in my very being — not something I can simply talk about if I don’t bring it into my life, in every aspect possible. And that has meant letting go of the labels, the notions, the sense of self I had cultivated so strongly attached to fitness.

I had to break it down and let a newness grow out of it, to see what else I could be.

Could I be a new kind of fit?
Can I find happiness in a different form and shape?
Could this be an essential part of the journey?

It has not been about seeking comfort in telling myself I’m perfect and flawless. It has meant accepting that my body, me, is just what it is. Not perfect, not horrific. It’s big in parts, smaller in others, it has skin that leaves so much to be desired, a shape that’s sometimes hard to clothe.

It is just what it is. Some days I feel great in it, some days not so much. But it has meant learning to be okay and comfortable in this body, this skin, despite it all. It has been about wearing it with love and acceptance even on those days when I’d rather not. It has been about finding clothes that fit me, rather than fitting myself into clothes I believe I should. It has been about letting go of labels of strength and muscle, and embracing the softness and vulnerability my life so needed.

They say what you eat, is what you are. And I can’t help but believe it is so darned true. These days I feel full and whole. I feel no parts of me left behind, or out. I feel lovely and loved.

I feel intensely. Every emotion I witness fills me up, every encounter and experience, a reminder to dig in and enjoy myself fully. Every time that I am faced with a desire an inkling these days, I find myself choosing action over abstinence — whether a mug of hot chocolate or the idea of a journey or an assignment or a tattoo or a new experience. This agility and impulsiveness is so new for the over-thinker and over-planner that I was. And this has made such a massive difference to the quality of my life. Suddenly everything is wide open, and so full.

The day I came home from Goa and got into my night shorts after 10 days in other night clothes, I felt the elastic bite into my waist, a wee muffin top on either side. Back to normal, like I was last year, I said to VC. Immediately, his reaction was to remind me to relax and not get obsessed about losing it. He’s used to this dance — I complain about my body and he swiftly does his job of making me feel better.

That was who I was. I’d only ever notice and acknowledge my body when I wanted to point out its flaws.

That night thought, it was different. I grabbed my waist, ran my hand around the little hump it created on either side of the elastic waistband, and realised just how joyful this process of filling-out has been. I have enjoyed watching what happens when I let go, give myself permission to eat freely. I have loved fattening myself up.

I have enjoyed watching my body up close and making it mine.

I want to take today to remind myself that this process, the progress, is slow. It takes time, and I might falter. But as long as I continue to allow myself everything — the transgressions as much as the permission to be — I’m moving towards the best life. Time will pass on, and I will continue to grow. In all the many, ever-changing ways possible.

Two years ago: Day 239: Friyay

Day 217: Hold on to this feeling, when dreaming of leaving

It’s a perfect, perfect morning.

It’s threatening to rain. But it’s also mildly sunshiney. It’s crisp today, the kind of crisp I can snap perfectly in two if I tried.

I’m listening to this, really loud. It seems to fit.

My heart feels like it’s overflowing river today. I can’t contain it. Everything is beautiful.

Also, I’m all alone. This is the first time since I’ve been back in Bangalore that I am utterly, completely home alone. VC is back in Goa for the weekend. Amma and anna are in Bombay since mid-last week. Niyu has been in Bombay for a while longer, and I haven’t actually met her in a month (and I miss her so).

I’ve had the most fantastic four days at the just concluded module of my course. It has been powerfully emotional, and I think there is something about needing time and space to process this that made this a good time to have this space alone.

I imagined I’d be holed up, cocooning myself at home because I’m usually pretty emotionally and mentally exhausted after doing this work. Previous workshops in this series have always left me completely drained, in need of quiet recuperation at home, eating wholesome food, drinking plenty of water and getting all the sleep I can. However, surprising especially given how powerful the therapy has been this time around and it’s impact that I am feeling reverberating inside me even now, I have been buzzing with an energy that is hard to explain. I don’t know where it has come from, but I have been flowing with it.

On Wednesday evening post class, I walked over to Koshys to have a cup of tea and wait for S who was going to join me for dinner. I had a good two hours to myself, and it warmed my heart that I feel so at home there, a single order of tea and a single cutlet are enough to drag out over two hours.

When S joined me, we chatted and chatted non stop and animatedly over beer, fish cutlets and beef fry, while it poured and poured outside.

On Thursday night we went over to VC’s folks’ for dinner. I was mostly mellow, my mind scattered even though I was physically present. Perhaps internally, I knew what was to come on Friday (which is when I did open out my work). And what a day that was. Deeply thought-provoking, emotionally draining, pushing all the touch-points I’ve been guarding away from being exposed to this work so far. But it really felt like things were building up to just push me to the level of openness and vulnerability that it needs, and that I am finally ready for.

So when it was time and my turn, I really did feel so ready for it. I came away feeling raw, yet liberated, so light and free that initially I beat myself up a bit for delaying this and keeping it waiting for so long. But sleeping over it, I know now that this was the perfect time for it. This was my time. It could not have been any other way. I had to lay out the path, do the preparatory work, peel back the older layers before I got to the crux of what’s been sitting inside of me for so long.

Funnily though, intense as the therapy was (and therapy usually has me cancelling the rest of the day in favour of sleeping), I came out very willing to go out and do something. Specifically wanting to engage, feel uplifted and just go with that flow.

I did the most unlikely thing. Unlikely given it was post therapy, and it was 7 pm on a Friday night in Bangalore. I drove across town to Indiranagar to meet S for dinner. It was meant to be an early and quick thing. I didn’t plan to drink. And I thought it might have been good to aim to come home and get some sleep. But all those plans were shot to bits once we began talking.

Remember how I mentioned I’m thoroughly enjoying watching the women around me come into their own? It was an evening that completely, thoroughly reaffirmed that for me. I ended up with a pink drink, and we were completely engrossed in conversation from the word go. There was deeply gratifying laughter, intensely personal sharing that brought some tears, and a very heartwarming connection over what’s going on inside of us. And I can tell you one thing for sure, at this point watching S as she flowers into this impeccably happy, solid on the inside, sure-of-herself person, even as she’s tearing up telling me about her anxieties, and sharing her deepest, current vulnerability is all kinds of joyful.

There was gyoza, dimsum and stirfried lamb to be eaten. And then the biggest slice of a gooey chocolate cake. I ate it all, and even so, the food wasn’t a patch on the way the company and conversation filled me up.

It’s amazing to sense this kind of transformation and feel such deep resonance over it. It’s transformation from the inside, that requires little explanation on the outside. She mentioned a quietly altered bio that reflected the big, bold shifts that are shaking her inner core, and I heaved a sigh of relief because it was everything (and then some) that I have been working through myself, at times feeling very alone. It’s everything I have refrained from talking about — in real life (save a couple of people I am very close to) or online even as I post here everyday. It was everything that I needed to hear from someone as articulate and sound in thinking, as she is.

There is immense liberation in women coming together over shared experiences. And I came away feeling extremely grateful for this connection I share with S. I have a theory that women sparkle on the outside, when they’re sparkling on the inside. I believe it even more today.

I’m only now seeing the difference between change at a cerebral level — when ideas sound aspirational or desirable and I can embrace them in the realm of the cognitive — and a deepened, shape-shifting sort of change that happens within, inside my gut, in the depths of my mind, at a cellular level. This is where it is most unsettling, when my insides feel like they’re in churn and everything is up in the air, and I’m counting down backwards slowly, waiting to see what shape and form the new settled will take.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday were long and very intense days at class. Plenty of learning, way too many aha moments for me to compute and that require me to allow myself to marinade in some quiet for a while longer. We did some amazing written and movement exercises that are going to be etched in my mind for weeks to come. Something has shifted for good inside of me, and I’m revelling in this energy it’s brought with it.

I came home on Saturday to finally enjoy the alone time I have had for days now, but have been too busy to really sink into. A hot salt bath was taken, momos and hakka noodles were ordered, two pieces of dark chocolate studded with orange peel were consumed, and I was in bed by 8 pm ostensibly reading. I didn’t last very long, before I complete passed out.

The next thing I knew, it was 8 am today. I had been asleep for nearly 11 hours. I feel rested, filled-up, content and so alive today, it’s not even funny.

One year ago: Book ends
Two years ago: Day 218: So green

Day 176: Take a minute, I’ve been sitting here and wondering

Sunday evening blues are a real bane on my weekends in Bangalore. This is something that was largely missing in Goa. I had only begun to feel a hint of it towards the end, during the last few months before I left Goa. But for the most part, even my years working full time, I was largely unaffected by Sunday evening blues.

Here though, I feel physically trapped. And with every passing weekend, the feeling seems to be growing. On the one hand there is the palpable discomfort with having myself at a loose end on a Sunday evening. And then there is the added discomfort of wondering why I’m suddenly hating Sunday evenings. I don’t know what to do with this feeling except let it pass, which it eventually does, but not without making me sulk a whole lot first.

I don’t know what to do with it because that’s how unfamiliar the feeling is. In Goa, I’d just drive out, or go for a run or take myself to a coffee shop with a book, or do something to up my spirits on a Sunday evening. Most often I didn’t need company. In fact it was my Sunday evening rituals that convinced me I was a 100% introvert. That has changed now, but more so on Sundays in Bangalore where I find keeping myself upbeat depends on so many variables. I really resent that high dependence — on navigating traffic if I choose to get out, on that slim sliver of time that is the sweet spot of getting out on a Sunday evening, on the handful of places that aren’t going to be infested with noisy crowds on a Sunday evening, on finding apt company (because most places aren’t conducive to sitting by myself for long hours). It’s just all too much decision-making, and the thought of putting in so much effort just to feel a little upbeat, makes me feel like it’s just too much of a song and dance for something so basic.

So I sat home yesterday, in protest. Of what, I’m not entirely sure. I think I was protesting the state of my weekends and how far I’ve fallen. Or some such.

Sundays are the day when the reality of how much life overall in Bangalore, does not sit right for me. On a day to day basis, I get by because all the little things I do feel okay, they’re deliberate and I make efforts to look on the bright side and make my peace. But on Sundays, everything falls apart. Sitting at home, counting down the many ways in which I feel trapped, incapable and just so stuck, it’s enough to make me want to really question my life here.

This past weekend was largely meh. I vegetated for the most part. On Saturday evening, my sister came over and we baked a banana cake and some pesto-garlic rolls, which significantly cheered me up. I slept rather late because I stayed up watched Dear Zindagi, which I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed a second time over.

On Sunday, I stayed in bed way longer than I am known to, maybe because of how late it was by the time I crashed. We went out to lunch with VC’s family, which while fun while it lasts, always leaves me feeling a bit…empty. By the time we were back home, it was too late to do anything to salvage the fast nose-diving evening. VC was glued to the race which lasted all evening. And I curled up in bed again, ostensibly to read, but my mind was just overcome with This-Cant-Be-My-Life thoughts. More specifically, I can’t get over why Sunday evenings have suddenly become such a deal-breaker for me. It’s taken up unnecessarily large proportions that I am not comfortable with.

Serendipitously, P texted me all the way from Finland. Most uncharacteristically, we had a long, long, long chat about friendship, loneliness and the difficulties of moving on. Uncharacteristic because we only ever text each other when we need recommendations for books, or we have a book to recommend, and because I have been religiously turning my Whatsapp off by 8 pm every evening but given how I was feeling, I let myself stay and chat. And it was all kinds of affirming to suddenly have a conversation about the guilt and grief of changing friendships that feel like they’re slowly loosening their grip and fading away, so out of the blue, with someone who knew exactly what that feels like.

I am really enjoying this strange space where I am simultaneously craving the company of likeminded women, also struggling to find it, and yet also somehow finding it in the most unlikely spaces. (As an aside, it’s a sign of just how much has changed in just one year, considering on this day exactly a year ago I wrote about seeking solitude.) Chatting with P was the sliver lining on my otherwise very lacklustre Sunday.

***

Weather-wise, Bangalore has been a dream. Feathery rain that feels like a caress more than a shower, perfect to stay in, actually. And yet, that feels like such a trap in Bangalore.

It’s been reminding me of my Goa monsoon playlist, non-stop. And it’s also where the title of this post is from.

Re-live it a little with me, won’t ya?

One year ago: What coming home feels like: Seeking solitude
Two years ago: Day 176: Begin

Day 173: Nobody really likes us, except us

I’m closing this week feeling a lot of gratitude for work. Specifically the assignment that came at me completely by surprise. The one I felt inclined to take on, totally surprising myself. And the one that has kept me strapped to my chair for the better part of this week.

It’s been a while since I had an assignment so large and demanding, and a deadline so tight. I was a bit wary about how that might feel given it’s been an age since I’ve had full days of work at my desk. But maybe this was just what I needed to shake off the dust, oil the rusty parts of my writing game and get it going again.

Better still, I just may have hit upon a sweet spot of the kind of work I could potentially find myself doing. Something for the long run. Considering all the reasons why I’ve slowed down with my feature writing, I’ve been wondering where to take my writing next. And the nature of this assignment gave me a few clues.

This week, I’m also deeply grateful for the friendship in my life. Even as I’m sitting with a sense of impending loss in this space, this week more than usual, I noticed that despite it all, kinship always reaches me. And it has started to reach me with a sincere, genuinely deep kind of quality that I was missing all along, and craving of late.

In these moments, I realise we’re no longer just simply hanging out or talking (that is great too. I’ve just been craving a little something more). We’re talking about things that matter. Things that someone cared to listen to when I mentioned, packed it away in a corner of their minds and thought about it and me again when the time was right. And cared enough to reconnect over it. We’ve connected.

I realise that I’m connecting with individuals in a manner very different from the one I have known this far. Not too many times before in my life have mere encounters like coffee or breakfast or living room conversations done this weird thing where they quite literally fills my heart up. I don’t know how else to explain it. But the quality of interactions has been physically satisfying, and this fullness is what I’ve been craving but didn’t have the words for. This is a lot for someone whose entire relationship with friendship has hitherto been very-very-connected-(if I were to consider social media etc.)-but-somehow-just-not-satisfied.

VC and I have been having so much more conversation of late. I don’t know what, specifically, has changed to be honest. The logistics of our life are the same — meaning we still have only as much face time as we used to before. But something has moved. We find ourselves choosing to spend time together, actually talking and connecting and sharing, more than before. It is most unlikely of VC, but we ended up going out for coffee twice this week. TWICE. I’m still letting that sink in because the last time he did this, for a lark and of his own volition was when he was pursuing me eleven whole years ago. It’s ridiculous to even admit this, but even as I consider VC my best friend, I’ve always put him in an entirely separate category to the rest of my friends. You know what they say about roaming the world seeking what’s already under your nose? This is a classic example of that. And now is a good time to make a change.

A has been sending me screenshots of inspiration from Instagram (since I’m not on it and can’t see it myself) — snapshots of artists’ creative process, an invitation to a writing retreat in Italy, snippets of food writing — persistently egging me on to get down to revisiting my abandoned food memoir. This is an ongoing conversation we seem to be having and it’s oddly heartwarming to think someone has more faith in my ability to finish this book, than I do.

S and I made it to breakfast at 8 am this week. We picked breakfast in the hope of finishing up quickly and make it back home with more than half the day to spare for regular programming. But we ended up chatting for three hours — deep, heartfelt conversations about everything from friendship and loss, to what it means to “uncouple.” All plans to have a productive day would have been dashed, if not for my very demanding assignment. But, I was happy for the few hours off because it really lifted my day and filled me up.

I’ve been mostly in over my head thinking a world of things. I am also in a space where I want to share some of it with people in a similar headspace. Often it just feels like a lot of effort to “talk” on text. Which makes my niche of people really small, I know. I guess it’s why I’ve been happy to have the opportunity to catch up with the few with whom I have the luxury, because then we can spread ourselves out and really connect, and talk. I’ve been dying to bounce some of these thoughts off in person. I should have reached out earlier, but I didn’t, for whatever reason. And N and I have both been in a similar quandary I suppose — to text (because every time we text it can go on for a while!)? or to contain it some more? But in spectacularly predictable fashion, she reached out to me today and brought up the. exact. same. things. that I’ve been thinking about. And we ended up having a long chat that funnily eased up a lot of wrinkles in my brain.

I really, really missed coming home from class and rehashing the days learning with K and D, like we do when they’re down for their learning. Almost as if someone was listening in on my feelings, D called me to catch up on what happened. Neither of us is the talk-on-the-phone sort. I know this for sure. In person we can yak on for hours on end, but on the phone? Never mind. And yet, there are moments where this happens. We chatted for upwards of 40 minutes last week and it was just the conversation I needed to decompress from all that I had experienced at class.

This is the quality of connection I am talking about. Connecting with someone at a level where we’re willing to push our own boundaries and make some space, it’s a rare and wonderful gift that I am so grateful for.

I told N today that there’s something magical about stopping the wait for something (anything!) to happen like it’s a destination that just refuses to arrive. Every time that I have done it, dropped the feeling of struggling to make something happen (whether work, or overtures of friendship, or the smallest and biggest desires), I realise how much of it is already happening in my life. This week, I realised it’s also happening with friendship.

I’m also grateful for this extended mango season. A gave me some stunning mangoes from her ancestral farm. And our local fruit delivery peeps are still stocking some amazing fruit. VC has been cheating on his attempts to go keto, so bad.

If you’ve been reading for a while, and know anything about me at all, you’ll know that where there’s gratitude there’s also food, no? Niyu cooked us a smashing ramen meal earlier this week. Spicy, packed with flavour and soul-satisfying for a rainy night.

And while we’re thinking about food, this throwback from Thailand. For no reason at all except that it was yummayy.

One year ago: Just breathe
Two years ago: Day 173: Soaked mornings

Day 123: Like happiness is the truth

This past week, I’ve been treated to a variety of excellent meals. The food and drink situation has been consistently hitting above optimum levels of satisfaction and has been the thread of happy spots in an up and down week. So, I’m so grateful.

My mother and I have our birthdays just one week apart from each other. So my sister and I orchestrated a very complicated surprise lunch. We cooked a rather elaborate spread at my home (hidden away from amma’s knowledge of course), or eggplant parmigiana, an avocado and mango salad with sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese with a mango salsa dressing, a mushroom and corn quiche and we ordered some cake, invited her friends over and — surprise!

I’m grateful for the opportunity to surprise amma. For being around to celebrate another birthday together. For the lunch we had. The rain that came down that afternoon. The outstanding banoffee cake.

I’m grateful for this late afternoon coffee, had at the end of a rather heavy meal at the club.

I’m SO thankful for this breakfast on a pretty dreary Saturday morning.

We had just checked out a house we really had our eyes set on, but probably cannot have at this point of time. VC and I had a weekend of some very heart to heart, confrontational, honest conversations that had left me feeling very, very edgy and just, raw. There’s nothing like a hearty carb-rich breakfast to soothe that feeling. Right after we thulped this, we watched Infinity War with R and belted a big bucket of popcorn at top speed.

I’m grateful for this palya puff, flaky fly-off-your-mouth pastry encasing a spicy vegetable South Indian style sabji that just hits the spot for those 5 o clock evening hunger pangs. I didn’t intend to eat the whole thing, but once I started there was no stopping and I wolfed the whole thing down.

There’s a whole other level of satisfaction that comes from crispy, unhealthy snacks that hit the spot, when consumed at that perfect moment when you’re not just hungry but craving something as specific as an Iyengar bakery palya puff.

I’m fast becoming a fan of meeting friends over breakfast. For one it’s bright and early, the traffic isn’t as much as yet, people aren’t batshit as yet, there’s more scope to find parking, and there will almost always be eggs.

I met S over a lazy, slow but chatter-filled breakfast the other day. I like when things happen spontaneously, without too much deliberation or high expectations.

It reaffirmed my faith in boundaries, in giving each other space, in allowing for time and room for everyone’s personal journeys, and for having the faith that if paths reconnect, we will only be better for it.

I’m grateful for what I have with S. I now see all our ups and downs, the rough patches, and the extent to which our relationship has changed, for the place they have had and the lessons they have brought to my life. And no matter how I have felt at various points of time, today I understand fully what I love and value in this relationship.

I went home thinking I want to make a weekly ritual of getting out for breakfast. With myself, with friends, over idlis, over eggs, long and lazy, unhurried. The scope is unlimited and when I’m back from Goa, I’m going to begin.

Two years ago: Day 123: Turning 32 and the salt water theory

Day 103: I got mad, mad love

This past week, I felt immensely grateful for all the work coming our way. We had multiple meetings, an unusually high number of leads land open up out of the blue, and a fun and satisfying shoot on hand.

I am so grateful for the luxury of being our own bosses, reporting to nobody but ourselves, planning our days the way we want, doing the work we love most days. And I’m so thankful for the clarity and for being on the same page about the value of time we both need off. And the ability and privilege to take it when required.

I’m grateful for the shift in my definition of being busy/productive and for new clarity, new boundaries and new realisations in this respect.

I’m very, very grateful for my family. Especially my mother who keeps the “normal” going when I hit these busy spurts. I’m thankful for the hot home-cooked meals, her concern for how we may be overworking ourselves, and for her comforting company when I am chilling at home. And my sister for her endless love, warmth, entertainment, and ability to make me laugh and cook a darn good meal.

I’m so thankful for VC for having taken the professional calls he has these past few months. It’s not always immediately apparent, but I love when things slowly work out for the best. Being in that spot watching it unfurl is lovely.

I’m thankful for coffee. It’s been such a booster every morning this week.

I’m thankful for the beer and dinner with S, despite threats of being unavailable to meet me before June. And the unbelievably fantabulous (non-alcoholic and veggie) dinner she and I managed to catch with the other S. Burma Burma, if you’re interested to know.

I’m grateful for the connections that were rekindled quite unexpectedly this past week.

I’m thankful for N and our sporadic intense conversations. I love the ease with which we can take to whatsapp with our bouts of verbal diarrhoea and unburden/unload, knowing fully well that we may not get immediate responses, but when we do they will be conscious, heartfelt and thought-through. In these days of limited engagement, and wanting to only really talktalktalk about a handful of things, I am grateful for this channel being always open.

I’m grateful for my kindle.

Two years ago: Day 103: Lucid