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

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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

Day 85: Just go ahead, let your hair down

This is the story of my body

Last month, on a particularly sunny, lazy Sunday I took my FitBit off. And then, I never put it back on again.

I can’t believe I’m the kind of person who feels compelled to know how many footsteps I’ve walked, I thought.

It seemed like a small move, taking off my fitness band/watch/accessory without which my wrist had begun to feel a little incomplete. But, the penny had dropped.

This shift has been a long time coming. If you’ve been reading the blog since the start of the year, you probably already know I’ve acknowledged the damage getting on a food plan did to me, and more recently that I have been fairly troubled by my own unwillingness to hit the gym. I’ve watched myself slip off the bandwagon. Some days I’ve been tricked by my own devious mind into mistaking a sudden jolt of motivation to be the start of a swift slide back to the way things were, but no. This has not happened. My fitness habit, as I know it, has broken. And what I have watched with equal parts growing alarm, as well as a heart swelling with pride, my new found ability to let it go.

But the journey has not been smooth sailing, and not without its moments of doubt, shame, self-hate and deep sadness. It has taken me over two months to get down to writing about it.

You see, that in itself was my first clue – why is it suddenly so hard to write/talk about fitness? It’s one of my things. It’s what I do. I’m that person my friends call a human rubberband. I’m the one challenging members of my extended family to check out my flexed biceps. I once Instagrammed myself doing a handstand. I love lifting weights, watching my muscles grow and take shape. I love how powerful and strong that makes me feel. So why then, was I suddenly shy, ashamed and afraid to talk about what is going on with me?

I’ve realised only very recently that beyond the difficulty in trying to understand why I am no longer interested to bounce out of bed every morning and hit the gym, has been the difficulty in accepting that this very fundamental and crucial aspect of who I am is likely fading away.

I can’t believe I’m the kind of person who needs to see six green ticks per week on my FitBit workout calendar, to feel accomplished, I thought.

And yet, the struggle was real. Even as I denounced the obsession and promised to commit myself to a more relaxed, non-outcome oriented fitness practice, I have had moments of resisting my own good intentions.

This just can’t be. This is me, my body, and it jollywell do as I say. 

Of late though, I am find myself looking just a little bit deeper, at everything. Which is why a broken gym habit, couldn’t be just that. I had to look deeper to realise the roots of some body-shaming, some unhealthy obsession, and a whole lot of unrealistic expectations and standards that I was unconsciously holding myself to. One the one hand, it’s a crucial exercise in re-learning moderation habit formation and maintenance. But, within me, this has been yet another exercise of self-acceptance. Of acknowledging the shame and hate that I’ve inflicted on myself, under the garb of fitness and health.

The thing is, I’d come such a long way from the pursuit of slimness, to valuing strength, stamina and good health. But I realised, with a lot of disappointment and shame, that whatever it is I tried to do with the food plan I got on, had really undone all of it, and put me in a very vulnerable headspace. That’s really all it took to slip, to lose focus and go down a road that slowly ate away at a very crucial part of me — my sense of positivity and confidence with my body just the way it was.

Today, I look at my body as it slowly regains all that it has lost in the last six months, and I feel a rush of emotions — defeat and loathing amongst other unsavoury things. But when I stay with the discomfort, and I really force myself to look beyond my dimpled hips, the food baby in my lower belly, the slight floppiness that’s returned to my upper-arms, I see it for what it really is – an amazing machine of flesh, bones, cells and blood. I see a body that has done some really amazing things, from giving me a childhood filled with hyperactive play, the ability to enjoy fitness so early in life, discover and love kickboxing, attempt cartwheels once every year on my birthday, cycle like a monster, trek, hike, drive, deal with every stress I throw it’s way, quietly digest all the food I put into it, healed from countless illnesses, silently sewn back numerous wounds.

This is my body.

It contains who I am. And aside from being the amazing machine it is, it generates literally everything that I feel – whether it’s a gut feeling about a decision, the shivers when a song I love comes on, the crippling waves of nostalgia for an aching memory, the knot in my stomach when I’m scared, or the blooming overpowering love for my husband, reverence and admiration for my parents – you name it and there’s a feeling I can pin-point to a part of my body.

This is my body. The space that creates my energy, protects my soul and gently coaxes my spirit in the direction it needs to go.

This is that body. That holds my spirit so safely in its cocoon. And sometimes, when it’s time for spirit to grow, spread it’s arms out and reach out higher than it has ever been, it absolutely cannot be contained in 28” jeans. Or the idea that I must be a certain body-type: muscular and strong, and just the right amount of curvy. Or a mathematical calculation that dictates an optimum size.

Abundance needs space. Growth takes up space. And you know what else? It requires a helluva lot of energy and focus. So when I took the FitBit off, I was really just acknowledging that right now is not the time to focus on the numbers, to hold myself to a routine that has ceased to make sense, and to be fixed to an idea of myself that is clearly making way for something bigger.

More than anything, this has been a time of rest for my body. It was the break I needed, and never listened enough to provide. But, our bodies know and they have the beautiful ability to simultaneously keep up with our unrealistic motions and doings while also relentlessly pushing us to see the signs, over and over again.

Until we eventually do.

It’s been difficult coming to terms with this change, because like with any other transformation, it’s hard to fight the feeling that this is somehow just another way of letting myself down. Every morning, when I wake up on time and still choose to go back to sleep because the gym isn’t in the least bit inviting anymore, I do wonder if this is really who I am. It feels surreal, unfamiliar, unsettling. So distinctly uncharacteristic.

But that uncomfortable space is the blinding spot of change. It’s where little makes sense and no logic applies. It’s the frightening moment when pupa opens up and lets the light in. And the only thing to do is to be kinder and gentler, and just a little more welcoming of things to come.

At the start of the year, I thought had a body-image fight on my hands. But yesterday, I realised that this is about so much more than accepting the shape, size, colour and contours of my body. It’s about stepping out into the light, graciously accepting this invitation to a deeper understanding of who I am. It’s maddening, frightening, exciting and anxiety-giving all at once. But more and more, I find myself wondering what if I actually like it there?

What if?

***

This was a newsletter I sent last week. If you like what you see (and don’t already get enough of me on here – hah!) here’s where you can subscribe.

I realised that many of you have already subscribed, but don’t open newsletters — whats up with that, ya’ll? If for some reason the newsletter is landing in junk/spam, maybe just give it a check and direct it to your inbox — where you can open them?

Two years ago: Day 85: Piece of peace

Day 65: Let’s get one thing straight now

This week, I’m looking back on the last 7-10 days, and it’s all a bit fuzzy and disjointed. I can’t remember many bits of it. And I can’t put the pieces that I do remember, back together. I’m thankful for the quick catch-up I managed to squeeze in with Amma and Niyu at Koshys.

I’m grateful for the constant lessons. For the privilege that is a safe distance from institutions that hold no meaning to me. For the vision to see things clearly, the awareness to separate the grain from the chaff.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to travel. The time with VC in a week that was otherwise written off to a lot of community living.

I’m grateful for dinner we had with S and the kids.

I’m thankful for all the breakfasts we’ve been catching out, thanks to early morning shoot schedules and getting out of the house earlier than we usually do.

I’m thankful for this convenience that definitely makes being in Bangalore lovely, for all of those seven minutes until I’ve consumed what’s in my plate.

I’m thankful for having squeezed in some much-needed down time at the parlour. Im thankful for L who has always been so generous and gentle and so good at whatever service I’ve opted for. I’m sad she’s leaving.

I’m thankful for the haircut I got. And the fact that I’ve found a reliable hairdresser rather close to home that doesn’t require me to break the bank every time I need a cut.

I’m thankful for the electric heat pad, the wonder that is Swiggy and dinner with S, D and VC, that was a huge bonus this past weekend that I spent largely in bed, either in pain or catching up on sleep.

I’m thankful for the good-book streak I’ve hit upon and how much I’ve been able to enjoy the reading. I’m thankful for the peace.

One year ago: Whisky-shisky

Day 44: Make me somewhere I can call a home

There’s a wobble in my belly. Especially when I laugh out loud. I only notice it because of late, there’s been so much laughter in my life. That perpetual little food baby has made a reappearance. That gentle bulge in my lower abs? I can feel it again when I rub my hands over my belly, or pat it after a very satiating meal. And there’s been a lot many of those. Meals enjoyed fully, with a generous side of laughter. When I smile now, it shows. Because my cheeks are propped up, more rounded. More me. My abs ache. Not from exercise, because there’s been close to none of that, but from laughing hard, while sitting around and sharing a meal.

I’m rediscovering tastes and associated feelings, that I had momentarily forgotten. That pinch of sugar in the occasional cup of tea that I’ve missed so much. The Sunday night cake fudge, devoured in bed. The gluttony that strikes, as it invariably does when I PMS, which can only be abated with a thoughtlessly, guiltlessly scarfed-down helping of rice, slice of pizza or a giant serving of pasta. That perfectly fluffy white bread chicken sandwich at Koshy’s that I love so much. The first plain dosa I ate in six months. The hoppy grainy freshly brewed beer. I’ve tasted it all with such gusto, and it’s awakened my sense of taste with such fury. But it’s not just the taste. Food is such an essential part of my being, my wiring, my brain. Sometimes it’s a feeling — of comfort, of peace, of equilibrium, of excitement. Sometimes it’s a memory — of my grandmother, of Goa, of my childhood, of my mother, sister or father, of a friend with whom I shared a specific meal, of a time in my life, of boys I loved because we loved all the same kinds of food. I’m allowing myself to taste it all — the food, the feelings and everything in between. And when that happens, I am not cheating.

I’m finding new spaces for relationships around food again. Breakfasts with VC, entertaining at home again, cooking a whole lot of food for friends, weekly soup for my mother, creatively conceiving special meals with my sister, upping the ante and making a special meal for VC, cooking it together. Food is not mere sustenance, it is a big piece of the puzzle that is me. To deny its existence had begun to feel like I was altering the shape of me, changing the very essence of me.

I’m filling up my jeans again. For a wide-hipped Indian girl like me, the immediate shrinkage was most obvious when I suddenly noticed all the space that was suddenly available in my length of the legs of my jeans, and how much significantly less space I occupied in any chair I sat in. I felt small. Shrunk. Before long, my spirit shrunk to match my size too. There was nothing empowering about that.

I’m slowly inching back to feeling like my jeans fit right again. I’m filling up, with a deliberate sort of reclaiming of space. In every seat I take, in the clothes I wear, in the space I occupy wherever I go, I take up space. I am me, big, round-butt, wide-hipped, thick-thighed me.

Slowly, but surely, I’m reclaiming my mojo. I’m finding home, right here within this body. In all it’s imperfection. I’m reclaiming the space it needs and deserves, rather than shrink it back to fit the cubby holes I wanted to fit. I’m reclaiming my mojo. With what I put in my plate, at the dining table, and the fuel that I give myself, as much as I am with the energy I put into everything that I do.

What coming home feels like: making friends edition

When I was preparing to move to Bangalore, I wondered about feeling lonely and isolated in a city of nameless faces. I didn’t particularly fancy the thought of making friends all over again. Nor did I want to continue my streak of people-less-ness. Much of the urge to get out of Goa was bolstered by the promise of new people. I’d grown rather jaded of the company I kept and was seeking a fresh energy and some new faces. And yet, 33 isn’t the most appropriate age to venture out into the school yard, to scope cliques and meekly gauge which one to attempt to break into.

I felt at sea in matters of people-ing because it’s just been so long since I had to go out and make an effort in this regard. Specially since the last decade or so I’ve had things just happened — people have come and gone from my life, connections were effortlessly made and lost with equal ease — without any active pursuing on my part. Not to make friends, and not in keeping them either. I’ve let a lot of people just go. So making friends felt daunting.

Wh is friendship in adulthood such an intimidating proposition?

However, in yet another unexpected turn, things have been strangely easy on the people front. Ironically, while I still continue to struggle to come to terms with many other things about this city (including some aspects that I thought would be a good change) it’s the people who have been pleasantly warm and welcoming.

I’ve already said coming home gave me the opportunity to reconnect with old friends that I’d sworn I would never go back to, and how comforting it is to just be in the same city as the best of my friends. But that apart, there’s a third set of people-ings that I’m so happy to have stumbled on. It’s the new and unexpected friendships I’ve made. Through friends, through older connections, through people who know people. And happily, so many of these connections have brewed over home cooked meals. I’m more than grateful for these folks who just easily opened their homes up, invited me over and cooked some splendid, memorable meals.

There have been multiple such events. With D, I thulped Goan sausages and bread like it was my last meal ever. A cooked me this stunningly simple but high on flavour Andhra meal, from recipes of her very own cookbook complete with a spicy and heady bone broth that kicked my cold out of the way. With N and D I ate baingan bhartha, chapaties laced with carrots and some gluten free bread because I’ve been off carbs lately.

Each that I’ve shared a meal, hanging out over hearty hot food, huddled around a table, cross-legged on the floor crouched over a plate laden with goodies — something opened up for me.

This past weekend I ate what will go down as yet another incredibly tasty, beautifully put together meal, at yet another table in the home of someone I didn’t know just a few months ago.

It was a large, painstakingly out together array of Andhra food. And again, I felt grateful for the opportunity. For the warmth, the openness and the joy of sharing a meal.

There’s something about honest, homely food cooked straight from the heart, that reaches right inside and touches my soul.

Same time, last year: Day 257: Down and up again

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

What coming home feels like: Revisiting old haunts

I’ve been fighting the worst creative block for weeks now. Work is slow. Both because the energy I’ve directed towards the pursuit of it has been flagging, and also because I’m being a hopeless procrastinator over what little I have going.

I’ve tried everything — locking myself in my home away from distraction, taking myself to the comforts of my parents’ home where Amma plies me with filter coffee, working at night, working early in the morning, tempting myself with afternoon naps as a reward for a morning of writing, reading to get the words going, silence to get the words going. But nothing has really pushed me out of this stupor.

Until today. And this chance visit to an old haunt.

I had a meeting close to MG Road and a few hours to kill until dinner time (which is also happening this side of town, making it pointless for me to trudge home and back again in a few hours). So, I made the wise decision to carry my laptop along. It’s a fabulous day out and I enjoyed a lovely walk from one end of MG Road to here. When the weather stays this way, and it has been splendid, I’m rediscovering the joys of a walkable city again. Little pleasures that make being back in this monstrous grind, just a wee bit more bearable.

And for now, a glass of kadak milky super sweet tea and a plate of smileys seem to have done the trick.

Same time, last year: Day 181: Holiday vibes

Kitchen Soup for the Homesick Soul

So here’s a little known detail: Somewhere in 2014, I was suddenly inspired to write a book. It would be a food memoir, I’d decided. Threading memory, tradition, nostalgia, food, and how it had all shaped me into the accidental kitchen-lover that I’d turned into after moving to Goa. Fragments of ideas popped like mustard seeds in a hot wok of oil. The time was ripe, I thought. So I jumped into it all guns blazing. Took 2 weeks off, went away to Bangalore with the intention of doing nothing but writing. It was a glorious time away from all responsibility and I spent my days writing and reading furiously, adding bits and bobs in the cauldron that was brewing my book. I came back to Goa with what I thought was more than 50% of the writing done, and confident that all that was left to be done was finish it. The draft has been sitting in cold storage since then, a series of episodic events that I needed to somehow tie together with a more than just coherent narrative, to take it from reading a blog to make it a book. Farr too often, I’ve seen bloggers, especially food bloggers, make the mistake of thinking that a successful blog is a validation of one’s ability to write a book. There have been some truly atrocious food memoirs and books to come out of the Indian food blogger community and I suddenly became very conscious of adding to that list. It also has to be said that in the time between then to now, my interest as it was then, in food, also waned. As I found more avenues and stories to go after, I found myself looking beyond food in the myopic way that I was: through the lens of nostalgia and memory alone. In case you haven’t already noticed, I shut down my food blog somewhere along the line too, and until I find a compelling reason, I will probably not resurrect it. With time, it became alarmingly clear to me that I no longer wanted the book to be just a chronicle of disjointed food-related memories peppered with recipes. Eventually, it became clear that I didn’t want to finish the book at all, not in the form it was.

But at the end of last year, I decided the least I could do was pick out episodes from the book and turn them into essays that explore the gamut of emotions, experiences, thoughts and memories I made in the seven years that I have lived in Goa, where my love affair with food began. So, I went ahead with shaky hands, to pitch this. As luck would have it, my very first attempt landed me this opportunity with Arre, a website whose distinct style intimidated me. This was really gratifying to write for more reasons than one. Besides being able to finally find an outlet for the umpteen stories in cold storage, it was made made even better by a delightful edit experience that is becoming increasingly rare amongst Indian publications.

*****

Kitchen Soup for the Homesick Soul

cooking

I remember sitting cross-legged on my mother’s kitchen counter, eating beans palya out of a steel katori, while she put finishing touches on a meal. I remember watching my grandmother deftly work the large grinding stone in her kitchen, breaking down fresh spices with a mesmerisingly giddying turning of the stone. I remember the excitement stirring every time my grandfather stepped into the kitchen to make his six-hour slow cooked mutton stew.

I remember always being a mere observer, a taster. I had no interest in the cooking, a process that everyone in my family took such pride in. The one time I succumbed to being taught how to cook, I was coerced into it. I was 13, and holed up in stuffy classroom with girls. It was the home science laboratory, and we were in groups of four, poring over our single-burner stoves, atop which were pots of bubbling pongal. While every other girl in the room lovingly stirred her pongal to buttery, smooth goodness, I was looking at a solid mass, fast transforming into a something that resembled industrial strength adhesive.

I’d rather have been out in the field playing, to be honest. These were electives, extra-curriculars, as they’re called. And I wondered why the only choices for us girls were aerobics and home science. Why were athletics and sport not up for grabs? I stared down at the gloopy mess that lay before me. While every other girl in the room lovingly stirred her pongal to buttery, smooth goodness, I was looking at a solid mass, fast transforming into a something that resembled industrial strength adhesive.

Right then I had decided this domestic business (okay, home science) was not for me. Years of tender convincing on my mother’s part turned to goading and silent worry. How would I feed myself when I moved out? How would I provide meals for my future family? Given that I couldn’t boil a pot of water without a minor casualty, her concerns were valid. But all that gentle persuasion was only met with my staunch rebellion.

I was convinced cooking was a completely unnecessary skill and played no part in my womanhood.

Over a decade after that ill-fated pongal incident, on a blistering day in March, I found myself setting up a new home, miles away from my own. Nothing shatters a self-satisfied, smug existence like a reality check. Mine had arrived less than 24 hours after I had landed in sunny Goa, in the form of six large cartons of kitchen equipment that I didn’t know what to do with.

I realised very soon that two-minute noodles and quick-cooking oats simply weren’t going to cut it and that there are only so many ways to cook eggs. Before long, I was deeply regretful for not watching Amma make phulkas. For wishing I knew what to make from the three different kinds of dal in the supermarket. Was there some way to thinly slice onions, without gouging my eyes out?

Resisting slipping into the identity of a homemaker that this situation demanded of me, I chanted repeatedly: Cooking isn’t for me. But, I had to eat my words. Along with the badly made meals of dal, rice and sabzi.

I began to cook in my new house because I simply had to. I was overwhelmed by homesickness and hunger. I had been wrenched out of a job I loved, uprooted from the only city I have ever called home, and was starting life over in a dusty home that didn’t feel like mine. I had no choice but to make sense of the demands of this new space I was in. This kitchen, this home, and this life in general. I had to recreate an identity and purpose in these new circumstances.

I began first with taking solace in recreating the comfort of rasam and rice. When I needed a challenge, I attempted to deconstruct a biryani from the memory of taste. When I felt lost and weightless, I grounded myself in the mundanely tedious rhythm of peeling garlic, making a massive batch of tamarind extract, rearranging my kitchen, or cleaning the fridge out. When I simply needed to occupy my mind that would race toward unwanted and sometimes destructive thoughts, I went into the kitchen and cooked a meal. When the emptiness felt like it was consuming me inside out, cooking filled the void. All of it to bring some semblance of sanity back in my life.

Memory is a wonderful thing. Almost every single day, my mind would float back to the humble homely meals, festive celebratory meals, skimming over the traces of taste, texture, and aroma that lingered at the back of my mind, thoughts of customs and habits related to food. I recalled things I didn’t know I had stashed away at the back of my mind – the way my mother stored her coriander and curry leaves in the refrigerator, the exact dishes she made when she was strapped for time, the way her pressure cooker was the centre of all kinds of magic. All of this simmered together slowly, and gave me a sense of self again.

Before long, my days began with praying the dosa batter had risen, picking out the weekly vegetable and fruit supply, and haggling over best prices of grains and pulses. I don’t know when I embraced the kitchen, even less when I began to find contentment and joy in cooking.

In finding myself, I somehow found my way back home too. Through simple, hearty meals to satisfy hunger at first, and more complex challenging ones, to satisfy my mind and find my feet again. When every other aspect of my life, and strong facets of my identity felt like they were slipping away from me, cooking helped put it all back together again.

I was not only teaching myself to cook, but was also recreating my own sense of home. Donning the identity and roles I’d observed all the strong women in my life play so very well, being in the kitchen was no longer an aversion. It was my sanctuary, and cooking, my raison d’être.

In the process, I rekindled relationships of a new kind with my mother, grandmother, and aunts. They gifted me cookbooks, emailed me recipes, and sent me tips and tricks I could use. I forged new ties with friends when we gathered around my dining table. Eventually, though, and possibly the happiest consequence of all, I found a career in writing about food.  In an odd roundabout way, stepping into the kitchen, into the very role I believed was a trap, had liberated me.

Thirteen-year old me would most likely be disappointed to see how contempt has been replaced by a deep affection for the kitchen. But if only I knew back then, that it would eventually be food, that would teach me to love my life again, and that learning to cook had little to do with being a woman but everything to do with identity, I’d probably have tried to just keep calm and stir that pongal to perfection.

(A version of this essay first appeared on Arre)

Same time, last year: Day 63: Shine on

Day 322: One night in Bangkok

The last time I was in Thailand, I was so hyper-focused on the beach, that we planned to be there for a bulk of the trip, sandwiching it with a grace period of 1.5 days in Bangkok on either side. And that too, only because we had to fly in and out of there. I’m a fan of city holidays as much as I am of getting away into the wild or exploring nature. The last time around I got a good sense of the wonderful amalgamation of urban and ethnic culture that Bangkok is and I’d long decided I would come back for more. So this time, we planned to return from our beach days and spend two days in Bangkok.

We checked out of our resort at noon, and caught the 2.45 pm catamaran back to the pier at Chumphon. A similar stream of efficient hustling like on our onward journey, and before we knew it we were on the bus speeding down the near-perfect highway back to where we had come from. The last time I was in Thailand too we’d taken a bus journey, and like the one to Chumphon earlier last week, was a night journey. So it was nice to have a day view of the countryside. Rolling paddy fields, highway eateries, outlet stores, villagers ambling along on foot or badly driven two wheelers. I read for the most part back, and only perked up when we halted at the rest stop and this time I got off to experience the mind-boggling variety of food on offer. We picked rice, meat curry and stir fried veggies and tucked in hungrily. And thank god for that because it was well past midnight when we wound our way through Friday night traffic in Bangkok and pulled into Khao San Road again.

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The same street we’d left, which was bustling and chock a bloc on a Monday night, was packed tighter still with what looked easily like three times the number of people and twice the number of food stalls. Loud, stomping beats wafted out of the nightclubs, and groups of inebriated young folk staggered out looking high as kites. It was noisy, festive, a cacophony of music and a medley of smells of all kinds of food. It was time to eat again, of course. So we bought ourselves a massive Nutella crepe each while we watched the crowds much to our amusement, and figured out how to get to our hotel for the next two days. It turned to be a twenty minute drive and we decided to cab the distance. We didn’t even have to look very far for one because opened the door confidently, fully prepared to negotiate and start arguing about a reasonable fare, when the cheerful driver clicked his meter on. “By meter?” S asked. He nodded happily. In shock at our luck at finding a cab past 1 am, and not having to haggle over a far, my love for Bangkok was already through the roof. As a rule cities with really good public transport give me a massive high (“turn me on,” said S). I’d already experienced the amazing skytrain last time I visited, but to get into a cab well past midnight, not have to haggle and be taken straight to your destination – full marks, Bangkok!

We stayed at this really cool hotel with a neat concept and super minimal style. It was a basic business-traveller kind of hotel, perfect for just the two nights that we were there. Several notches higher in terms of fashionability, without as many digits being added to the price. So it was much nicer than a deal hotel we’d have settled for otherwise. Our room had a cool mural and twin beds that we hit almost immediately after we checked in and had hot showers. The next morning, we set off looking for breakfast and currency exchange. Several street food stalls had opened up, and everything smelt divine, especially this one cart wedges into a corner adjacent to a tiny gift store, where a woman in a long coat and a hat was making omelettes and fried eggs with a hit of chillies, green onions and soya sauce. It looked so good, we stood by trying to communicate with her in sign language and broken English. She didn’t even so much as look up. We’re not the target audience we told ourselves, dejectedly, and settled for Au Bon Pain very disinterestedly, because by then we’d walked a long way from the hotel and the hunger levels were rising. Thankfully the chai and croissant really hit the spot, and was just perfect for the late breakfast it turned out to be because we wanted to hit Din Tai Fung for lunch.

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It was a morning dedicated to gift shopping, as we roamed a mall picking up delightful little things that we thought were unusual, that folks back home with like. Colourful leather stuff, really cheap and comfy footwear, amazing soaps and lotion, wooden trinkets and the like. All very affordable, even for a mall. Shopping in Bangkok was the only place we encountered Desis doing what Desis do best, shopping. And bargaining. The latter of which neither S nor I could get ourselves to do, everything was so dirt cheap. And if it wasn’t the item was probably so nice we thought it warranted the price. Yeah, we may have serially paid a lot more than we needed to, but we cannot complain.

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By lunch time we sniffed out way to Din Tai Fung, with the single minded focus of a detective on the job. Referencing GPS and the map on my phone, speedily rushing through lunch time pedestrian crowds, winding out way up and down skywalks, we found ourselves in yet another massive mall, a much nicer, fancier one than the one we were in. Eyes popped at beautiful bakeries with their displays laden with gorgeous freshly baked goods, and a Marvel store that nearly made us stop and walk in. “After lunch!” became the common refrain, until we finally made it. And DTF did. not. disappoint. I’d first eaten at this Dumpling Mecca in Singapore last year and I’d move East in a heartbeat, just for a lifetime supply of DTF, I would. Garlicy sauteed greens, delicate, almost too good to eat, with soup-filled pork dumplings, spicy noodles and pork baos were inhaled. Completely satisfied with how committed we were to finding DTF, ignoring all the distraction en route and proceeding straight to the main deal, which totally hit the spot, we picked up dessert at Paul the authentic French bakery and boulangerie that had a cute little store in the mall. Back in the hotel, we stashed dessert away for later that night, and waited for S, who by some corporate sorcery managed to have a work trip to Bangkok coincide with my weekend there, and flew in from Singapore.

When we were planning the trip, S and I briefly flirted with the idea of flying back via Singapore. The charm of the city still fresh on our minds from our respective brief trips last year. Also, friends. I’m always game to plan a trip to meet friends I love. But for various reasons we decided not to stretch ourselves that far. I was slightly bummed at not being able to go and meet S and party it up with him for a bit, but when he managed to swing by Bangkok and meet us, it really more than made up for it. I have a special place in my heart for friends who will really go the distance, and who I can count on to keep the fun up even when my different worlds collide.

It was at 5:30 that evening, when he hopped into our hotel, out One Night In Bangkok truly began. We hit a beer cafe nearby, sitting outside watching traffic go by, drinking Asahis while yakking away. Well the yakking was mostly done by me, but we caught up. What is it about beer bars and retro? Does every beer bar everywhere play retro? The tunes took me right back to Purple Haze in Bangalore or Down The Road in Panjim, and if not for the superior quality of beer, if I shut my eyes, I could have been anywhere, really. When S had said “lets begin at the beer bar” I didn’t quite know what we were in for, for the rest of the evening. A couple of beers later, we left and headed to the second bar for the night, which S did a really shitty job of selling to us.

“It’s a cool place. It’s really dark.

“Erm, like the lighting? Or the vibe?”

“Both!”

“Okayyy, then why are we going there?”

But go we did. It was one night in Bangkok after all.

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And boy was I glad we did. It was easily the best bar I’ve been to in a long, long time. A bar with serious character – it’s designed to resemble an iron smith’s workshop. Crammed, packed tight with intimiate seating, wrought iron staircases that lead nowhere in particular, dingy staircases and alleys lit by candles, secret doors leading to surprise entries to private seating, and some seeeeeriously good live music. The Band was superlative, playing what sounded like very bluegrassy covers of everything from Fly Me To The Moon to Cheerleader. Yeah! How’s that for serious variety. More beer followed, despite my staunch attempts to pace myself, somewhere between my fourth and fifth beer I teetered over the line and decided to go with it. S had some really interesting cocktail with gin ginger ale and peaches (I think, I could be entirely off here) and a flambed sprig of thyme. It was amazyyhzing and I now think I should have had that too.

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In time to leave, we swung by the loo. And the only reason I mention it here is because if you stepped into the dark and dingy bar that is was, you’d expect a shitty loo. But. It was spotless. And smelled amazing. I almost didn’t want to leave The Iron Fairies, but S suggested a Japanese bar (I think) so we walked out. Only to bump into a friend of his, completely out of the blue. S kept saying “what are the odds!” like it was truly unbelievable, but his friend diligently kept responding “pretty fucking high!” while S and I just giggled non stop. Before we knew it we were being herded in the opposite direction from where we were headed, and we were joined by a bunch of other people, and suddenly we were in a crowded elevator that opened into a rooftop bar. Dark, with clubby music, suddenly the crowds parted and a table was set up for us. I looked around and I was at this table with about 7 other people I didn’t know. A large bottle of vodka with an unpronounceable name appeared out of nowhere, swiftly followed by 6-7 glasses stacked with ice. Someone had to ask for tonic. I gingerly pushed my glass away, and ordered cider, deciding to play it safe and stick with beer. It all happened so fast, and sent me off into another giggle fit. S joined in, because truly, it felt like a scene straight out of a movie. Surrounded by people who looked like they were up for a long night of partying hard, a DJ who had blonde dreadlocks tied up in a man-bun, and people unravelling in various stages of inebriation dancing away.

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Our clever plan to stick with cider didn’t work after all because when we were done, two glasses of unnamed alcoholic contents appeared. And S’s friend kindly informed us that he’d told the bartender to give him what he always does, “a double of whatever it is” Turned out it was a G&T, a very, very stiff one. So stiff it burned my oesophagus. But we drank up. And soon enough I got up and danced a little with some random Thai folks. Someone broke a glass, someone took pictures of everyone, it was all a blur. I just remember giggling a lot and saying cheeeeese at some point.

Pretty soon, I realised we hadn’t eaten. Possibly the longest we’d gone without a meal through out the whole trip! So we decided to duck out, and went to a 24 hour outdoor food court of sorts close to the hotel. More beer followed. With a papaya salad that was so spicy, i began to hiccup uncontrollably. Which made me giggle some more, and didn’t help any way. Pad Thai and something else I cant remember was consumed too. And we topped it all off with a long walk back to the hotel to eat dessert. You know what’s the worst? A cocktail of alcohol followed by something sinfully sweet. And that’s exactly what we went headlong into. We dived into the little boxes of dessert and nearly polished off the custard filled eclairs and the strawberry and cream mille-feuille. So good when we were tucking in, but ph so horrid about half an hour later when my high suddenly spiked. It coincided with my finally lying down in bed. The minute my head hit the pillow the room began to do gentle little circles around me. I was too high (and tired) to bother to fix it with water or pacing up and down and the usual tricks that help, so I did my best to ignore it, telling myself this is what I get for ageing prematurely living my sage life in Goa devoid of any sign of partying, and I don’t know when but I drifted off to sleep.

The moment of truth is always the day after a night like this. How many times will I hit snooze before I wake up? Will we make it to the Chatuchak weekend market? Will I be hung over? Funnily enough, it wasn’t as bad as I felt it could have been the previous night. Both S and I woke up mildly groggy, but now shitfaced. But S, being S, served up room-made tea with two Disprins each. We chugged it and in no time at all felt clear and ready to head out. I’m really, really glad we did because we got to the market earlier than planned and the crowds hadn’t hit full swing. And even though we probably only touched about a tenth of the space, we saw some lovely wares, walked through the stalls amazed, and even bought some really special stuff for gifts. We were on a deadline because we had to find our way back, a 40 minute train ride, in time to catch S for lunch too. So we stepped out, when suddenly S spotted the one item we’d been hunting for (albeit very passively) all week – Birkenstock knockoffs! And then the food, oh my god, the food! Everything looked so, so inviting and if we didn’t already have plans we’d have given up all attempts to resist. It was just as well we didn’t because S scouted out a really amazing little restaurant back near the hotel. Indoors, air conditioned, with very affordably priced authentic Thai food. It was likely the best meal of the week, next only to DTF, and a lovely way to wind down.

Quick bye-byes followed and S and I went back to pick our luggage up before we trudged all the way back to DMK airport an hour away. We managed to squeeze in a tuk-tuk ride from the hotel to the skytrain station, from where we went to the last stop on the line, and then took a bus to the airport. I LOVE efficient public transport and I got a special kick when I realised we’d officially taken every kind of transport we saw – those classic colourful cabs, the metro, the local train, city bus, long-distance bus, catamaran, and a tuktuk!

Reaching an airport and touching Duty Free also means encountering Indians again, and invariably it’s an experience in being schooled about why we get treated the way we do. I tried my best not to let a few uncouth Indians spoil the holiday high. Webought ourselves some goodies and booze for home and settled into a corner to sit and do our hisaab like a couple of baniyas. It’s when it hit me again, how every single thing went off without a hitch, with zero conflict of interest even between the two of us, and just a smooth, seamless progression from one event to the next. R and S were sorely missed again, as we did several times during the trip, adn we vowed to do this many, many times again.

To end the holiday on a high we went into the Thai restaurant at the airport for one last meal. Finally, I succumbed to green curry and rice, while S had pork meatballs in a noodle-y broth. Both divine, and even though we had no room for dessert we had to relent and get one last portion of mango and sticky rice. The flight back was quiet, uneventful and I read for the most part, feeling very, very happy to be going home. We landed in Bangalore at 10:30 pm, to ATMs with no money. Thankfully my folks came to pick me up. I came home wired, unable to get to bed till almost 3 am. So I lay in bed thinking about the week gone by – how quickly it came and went – and how near-perfect it had been. It’s the mark of a good holiday I think when you come home feeling satisfied, and like the experience you’ve had was enough. My cup, it runneth over.

Day 320: One day in Bangkok (or day one in Bangkok)

The idea to go to Thailand cropped up at the unlikeliest of times. But the alacrity with which we got around to booking tickets, figuring out where to go, how to get there and all the nitty gritty details really surprised me. It was originally meant to be the four of us, which slowly petered down to three, and eventually left just S and me. We’d booked non-refundable tickets and I’d planned my November around this holiday, so we weren’t about to cancel. I’m so glad we decided to go through with it because it really turned out to be just right, in every way. I said before that it isn’t often that you find travel buddies so perfectly aligned to your inclinations. Which isn’t to say that everything about us was same-same. A lot is, tbh, but it’s also that between the two of us we managed to balance our eccentricities, laziness and efficiency out — which made for a great mix! From our obsession for morning chai that was the perfect temperature, to keeping detailed hisaab through the trip, to our single minded focus on eating our way through every day, to being armed with everything from socks to sanitiser to scissors and Disprin between the two of us – we realised we were more than suited to travel on long trips together. It was a holiday with adequate laziness and quiet time (on the island), 80% of which was spent in utter silence, and the enthusiasm to get out and do stuff (in Bangkok).

I landed in Bangalore a day in advance. I spent a day and a half with the folks and on Sunday night we took a flight out of Bangalore. Months and weeks of excitement that had reached a point where I felt I couldn’t hold it in any longer finally exploded when we met outside the airport. It was all a bit surreal. We bought ourselves beer and Chinese food to set the tone for the Asian food fest that was about to be, and got yakking. S had decided to ration out all the things we had to catch up on. Literally every big update and conversation in the weeks before the trip abruptly ended with “But I’ll tell you when we meet”. So with all that saved up conversation, the list of things to catch up on was fairly long. And the conversation was loud, giggly and animated, of course.

We and reached Bangkok at 4 am, which we thought was genius. You know, reach your destination at the start of a day so you can set off exploring immediately and all that. Which was great but for the fact that including checking in three hours prior to departure, delayed departure, horrible low-cost carrier seating and having a lot to catch up on, it meant that I didn’t sleep much. S is one of those lucky people that can pass out quickly, almost anywhere. So when we landed in Bangkok four and a half hours later, we emerged from the Don Muang Airport (yep, it wasn’t Suvarnabhumi this time around) bleary eyed. Information very helpfully told us we were an hour away from the heart of Bangkok and that we could either take a bus or a train, both available right outside the airport, to get there.

We trudged across the walkway over the main road and entered the sweetest, small, quaint little station. Which was basically a covered shelter with a few Thai folks waiting in the last dark moments of dusk to catch a train into Bangkok. A mere 20 thb a head, and a shot 15 minute wait later, a noisy train pulled in. We got into a chair car and it was a while before we got ourselves place to sit. Shaky and noisy, with tea-coffee vendors making their way through the aisle, and locals in various states of slumber, I felt right at home, as I would have in a train in India. We drank a shot of coffee each, “o give us a kick,” S said. Except we promptly drank it and nodded off to sleep. S being herself and dozing off effortlessly, and me trying to make up for all the lost sleep.

An hour later we were at Bangkok Train Station, and came out to hoards of people dressed in black, snaking their way out to a counter where free food and drink was being offered to anyone mourning the death of the King of Thailand who passed away last month. Later I realised this was common sight through the rest of the trip – people everywhere, tourists included dressed largely in black. Whatever the crowds were being handed in styrofoam cups looked like hot noodle and meatball broth and smelt divine. It was nearly breakfast time and we were both starving.

Thankfully, we found a cab fairly quickly. Some sign language, showing the cabbie the address to our hotel and helpfully offering GPS was all it took to get to our cute B&B where we were booked just for the day. It was small and cosy. Very basic, but with crisp sheets, a clean loo (with a shady as fuck looking instant water heater connected right to the shower head) and a hot water kettle and instant coffee – it was more than enough. We freshened up and didn’t give ourselves time to settle, rushing out in search of breakfast instead. As it turned out, we’d accidentally picked a very nice part of town to be in.

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Khao San Road is quite the hipster place to be, with quirky coffee shops, charming restaurants and the last vestiges of Bangkok’s famous street food culture still to be seen. We ducked into this place called Chomp which looked promising. Breakfast was sumptuous, and free wifi and a stand full of all kinds of maps meant we settled in and figure out what we were going to do next, and over the week to come.

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The cafe guy didn’t seem inclined to throw us out even long after we’d finished eating and made the very large cups of tea last as long as we possibly could.

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Eventually we headed out to try and figure out where we had to catch our bus on the way out later that night. As it turned out the travel company we’d booked our bus+ferry ticket from was not too far form the hotel. Walking distance in fact, across one of the streets that turns into a food street by night! We couldn’t have accidentally planned this better, really. And this was the best part about having a travel partner equally interested in being efficient and prepared. We’d barely suggest something and the other person would promptly agree, because in all likelihood we’d have thought of the same thing.

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A short loaf at the closest mall and a minor attempt to try and find the closest Din Tai Fung ensued, but we glazed over very quickly at the chaos of the shopping and excessive sensory overload that is MBK Centre. Luckily we were distracted, and stopped in our tracks, by a mini hawker centre of sorts right outside the mall, lured mainly by our noses to the smells of sizzling meat on a hot griddle, and the sights of raw papaya salad. We very quickly ditched the idea to go hunting for DTF, promising ourselves one meal there on our return, and settled in for pad thai with shrimp, raw papaya salad and some extremely icy mango and passion fruit spritzers.

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Here’s the great thing about Thai food, right? It’s fresh and light, yet so filling. But not in the way that greasy, spicy, rich food tends to fill you up by settling in your belly for many hours. It was filling enough for our eyelids to droop, though. It was also hot outside and since we had figured out where to catch our bus later that evening, we decided to retire and catch a quick nap before heading out again. So we returned, drew the curtains in the room and passed the hell out, ignoring the alarms we had very efficiently set to wake us up.

Eventually, room made coffee tempted us to rise again. And we packed and left the room closer to sun down. We traipsed around the street watching the food carts and stalls being set up, as the whole atmosphere was slowly changing and coming to life around us. It was super hard to pick a place, with rows of food carts, all equally inviting and plenty of bars stacked back to back, adjacent to each other. Eventually we went to a place that had a happy hour offer on cocktails and we picked the closest thing we could find to G&Ts. Topped that up with pad thai and spring rolls and walked back to our hotel to tidy up a little and check out before returning to catch our bus.

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Catching the bus was super easy and very entertaining. We decided to walk the distance from the hotel, because it didn’t warrant a cab ride. It was nearby and 50% of it wound thru the food lane, which would have been impossible to take by cab. So walk we did. Eventually very sweaty, but so happy to reach the spot where we saw this sign and cracked up completely. However, that incredible piece of communication was no indication of what was to come. As soon as we checked in, we were handed a bunch of stickers to denote our seat number, destination and matching stickers for our luggage. One set went on our bags, the other on our chests. From that moment on we were just herded around and pointed in the right direction by non-English speaking Thai women who were the bosses of this efficient system. We walked up to the point where we’d board the bus, tucked in our luggage and got to the top deck of this basic, but decent double decker bus that took us to Chumphon.

The journey was fairly comfortable. The roads are excellent, not windy like in India, so even my fears of getting sick faded away very soon. The ACs underperformed so my tendency to freeze in travel also vanished. Yet, I couldn’t sleep. I must be getting old, because I used to be the kind of traveller who could curl up or stretch out in any awkward spot and manage to go to sleep. For some reason I just couldn’t. So I tracked the journey on my phone for a bit, read a bit and eventually only nodded off in the last 2 hours of the seven hour journey. The service was pain-free, the bus was decent, even though I’d read some horror stories of leaky roofs and such. The rest stop that we halted at around 2 am was excellent, with clean loos and a lot of food options too. However, I was dazed and wanted to just go back to sleep.

Seven hours later we woke up at the pier at Chumphon. It was still dark, but the cafe was open. We doubled up on chai and waited for our catamaran to arrive. Before it did, the sun came up and cast mad colours in the sky.

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Suddenly it felt like it was really worth missing two nights of good sleep.

Day 123: Turning 32 and the salt water theory

It was a weekend that almost didn’t materialise for various reasons. It even had a fair share of hiccups that had me telling myself that I’d only believe it were actually happening when I eventually saw monkeys S and S at the airport. The logistics of their arrivals were harebrained, but that was unavoidable given everybody’s work schedules, mine included. So when I finally wrapped up work for the week on Wednesday last week, and prepared to drive to the airport at midnight, with a sleeping husband in the passengers seat beside me, I could hardly wait.

Despite our daily, incessant chatter that actually shrinks the distances between us, the possibility of finally being in the same room chatting furiously in person, laughing out loud together and sharing our quirks has a different excitement. In December, when we met last, we’d bravely declared that we’d meet for my birthday and make a trip to Sri Lanka. Then life caught up, plans got forgotten and before we knew it April was upon us. Tickets to Goa were then hurriedly booked. Yes, it was meant to be a go-away-vacation, but a staycation (for me) would do just as fine, we thought. Too late for Sri Lanka, but Goa would do just as good, we thought.

In the run up to the weekend, I repeatedly forgot that the real reason we were congregating was my birthday. Maybe because I know each of us individually had different, very solid reasons for wanting a break. It’s been a hectic, tiring few weeks for me and the weight of the year zipping by too fast, too soon is catching up with me. Without going into details I will say S and S had their reasons too.

Let me just say it hit the spot for me.

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I essentially took a holiday from the routine myself. Blistering heat with humidity that was through the roof ensured I didn’t stay in and cooked as I might have originally planned. There was plenty of good Goan food, fresh urrak, mangoes, birthday cake, sangria, lots of beer, pinacoladas and I’m pretty sure I haven’t finished the list. We hit some really local dive bars, seated in plastic chairs behind curtains, eating the freshest seafood and winging it with the local urrack.

Confession: for all the times I visit the beach, I hadn’t been swimming in Goan waters in about two years. Going to the right beaches, three days in a row, the insane heat, lack of tourists and the perfectly warm water was too tempting and I broke my two year dry spell over the weekend too.

Through it all, conversation didn’t stop. And when it did, it felt okay. It’s the best kind of company to have when you can sit in perfect, comfortable peace with each other, guess what the other person is thinking and say so much without saying a word.

There was enough sweat, the sea and even a touch of (happy)tears to complete the triumvirate of things that can cure anything. We had planned so much and though no amount of time will ever be enough to do it all, we got a lot done. Ticked off a lot of the things from the must-do-this-when-we’re-in-Goa-next list.

The weekend had all the essentials – food for the heart

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body

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and soul

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The sun set on my birthday with goodbyes in the middle of the night. Thank god I was half asleep, or I might have cried.

Right then, 33. Bring it. I’m ready.