This is now

The weather is doing weird things. It’s overcast/cloudy sometimes, but mostly warm during the day. The rain is playing hooky again. It’s been raining in pockets, but mostly not in these parts. So many days I have smelt the air, thick with rain, but it seems to have just passed us by. But the evening skies have been sooooo dramatic and downright show-offy. Like all dressed up with nowhere to go. I took this on Thursday evening as I walked back home from Third Wave. Something about the shimmery lake, golden tinged everything and sparkly greens made me feel like I was in a Bangalore of some long forgotten past.

***

The past three days have been near perfect. Balanced, quiet, in sync and in flow.

Friday and Saturday were spent entirely at home. I felt like staying in, which was strange given that I had an unusually high number of options and invitations to get out and do something, all of which I declined.

I stayed in and did some reading ahead of my course that begins next week, wrote that letter, I watched some Netflix. I absolutely crushed it at the gym, got a long, very good head massage with amma, and ate all our meals together.

Balance.

***

I might have easily done another day of that, closing the weekend un utter sloth and relaxation, but I agreed to catch up with S, R and the kids for a morning of drawing in the park on Sunday, which turned into some painting, some playing catch and lots of lounging. This was followed by a long and lazy lunch. I wound up coming back home closer to 4, just in time to catch a short snooze. D showed up at about 6, and somewhere between sipping chai and stuffing my face with a palya-bun, we he made an insane spontaneous spur of the moment decision to drive to the Muji store. In freaking Whitefield. On a Sunday evening. If it weren’t for the very compelling pitch that was bolstered by the fact that all of Bangalore was indoors watching the India-Pakistan match, creating a near perfect reason to get out and drive that far, I’d have politely declined and gone back to bed with Netflix. But I agreed, and it was the most efficient, productive trip to Whitefield I have ever made. Especially because I have been wanting to go to the Muji store ever since I moved here two years ago, and will probably never make the yatra all on my own ever again.

Win. Win.

***

Every so often, I have days like this that feel like perfection. When everything flows, there is ease (as in lightness and freedom) and just so much space for everything to find its place and stay. Days that surprise me, as much as they feel right and like they were planned all along. Days that show me time and again what balance without effort looks like. Days when I feel just so tuned-in.

It’s on days like this that I manage to grab at emptiness, and find meaning. It’s like enjoying the warmth of a sunny day, without feeling the discomfort of heat. When I can catch in my hands the meaning of what it is to be. Not do. To just be, now. When I can parse away the heady castles in the air about what should be, and I shed the weight of what once was, and all I am left with is this moment, in the present. The now. And I’m realising this is all there is to be done, really. To be present, and go with it. Everything else is imagined.

One year ago: Love on a weekend
Three years ago: Work things that make me chuckle

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These days

It’s been about 10 really good (and bustling) days — some reflections, writing, anticipation, exercise, good food, friends, great conversation — and as this week comes to a close, and I’m looking forward to staying in this weekend.

This happens to me every time I touch down in Bangalore. My calendar gets so full so quickly with catching up with people. This time, interestingly, I have been careful to filter out what I am not so keen to do (things I’d do out of politeness), sticking only to meeting people, going places and doing things that I am really interested in. And yet, after a burst of activity like this, I feel the need to just hit mute for a while and sit at home. Which is my plan for the coming weekend. Starting tomorrow, actually.

One year ago: Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to
Three years ago: About yesterday

On boundaries: how they’ve changed my experience of friendship

Lately, I’ve been seeing some interesting shifts with the way in which I am experiencing friendship. For years I understood boundaries purely cerebrally, and struggled to find a way to really let the ideas sink deeper and peter into my life. The idea of a boundaries always drew up images of a solitary existence. While I embraced this as a kind of solitude at one time in my life, there came another time when I began to really crave connection, and I began to understand the importance and need for healthy, dependable relationships. Forging those has been a whole adventure of it’s own with so many hiccups and milestones alike.

I didn’t realise this before, but for the longest time I saw a boundaried existence and loneliness as by-products of each other. For the longest time, I didn’t see the middle ground that exists between setting healthy boundaries and simultaneously forging deep and wonderful connections.

I am slowly getting this now that I am experiencing a physical healthy distancing from people, even those I love and hold close. And I am doing my best not to mistake this for the old loneliness. This manifests more as a healthy space between me and the other, and it’s so fascinating to note that it’s the same space that acts as a protective boundary in some relationships, yet deepens my capacity to relate and to connect in others.

In just the last week alone, I experienced both in two separate instances. And both times, I experienced it as a safe, welcome distance between me and the other person. Being someone who usually knows no other way but to go all in, sometimes to the point of being completely enmeshed or losing myself totally to the relationship, and therefore experiencing constant lack from an imbalance in giving and taking, this has been a welcome change.

And what a relief it is. To be better with space between us, minus the throes of fear and peak abandonment that it once resulted in. To enjoy the poise and grace that comes with the space. To watch what happens in the many moments of pause that increase and grow, when there is this space in a relationship. To let go of the need to be seen as good, or well-meaning and kind at all times. To no longer mistake the desperate need and expectation of the other to change or deliver in ways differently from the way they can, as kindness and concern. To just let it go, entirely, as fulcrum on which the future of the relationship hinges. To be okay with people as they are (within healthy limits, of course). To be okay with the uncertainty that comes from not always being on the same page as the people I choose to surround myself with.

This has 100% happened because I am seeing the minutest ways in which I am getting better with a very conscious understanding of:

  • boundaries, how they won’t lead me to impossible loneliness and why they’re actually good for relationships
  • kindness and compassion and when I tend to allow them come into play
  • my tendencies to judge and how they have an impact on the quality of relationships
  • and of course, the overarching process that is meeting myself in a good way, feeling whole and at home with myself

There’s a lot of nuance involved in each of these, and I’m only recording this in brief to remember this feeling of ease and relief that I’ve experienced this past week. The sense of space, again, is really hitting the spot for me.

One year ago: Stop chasing shadows, just enjoy the ride
Three years ago: How blue

All heart and all soul

Today, I stumbled on an email S sent me in January 2016. An email urging me to do many things that I didn’t know then would shake my very core, crumble the foundations of who I am an ask of me to rebuild from there. To drop all assumptions, compulsions, expectations of myself — to let it all go and see what remains. I didn’t know what any of this meant then, and I had no idea what to even do about it.

Some part unconsciously, some part by deliberate design, I set off on a path back then. One thing led to another and here I am. And it is only now, I would think as recently as early this year that I have just about found a somewhat deepened experience of what S had urged me to do in that email. What a long and fascinating trip it has been.

Of course I can only connect the dots backwards and so reading the email today, filled my heart with so much love and joy. For friendship that can shape my life. For friendship that has my back. For friendship that endures. For friendship that’s real and all heart.

It’s a good day for this simple reminder, which is also the crux of the email.

One year ago: With your hand in my hand and a pocket full of soul
Three years ago: What I watched

I’m ready

Today is my last day in Goa. This has been like a proper summer vacation of yore — when regular programming was interrupted, annually, to make space for a total and complete state of relaxation. That’s what the last two months have been like. Waking up easy, getting my workout in, pottering about the terrace garden, settling in to stress my eyeballs out with excessive screen time, napping whenever necessary, chilling all day basically, rising only to cook dinner, eating early and turning in by 8.30 pm on most nights and getting back to TV — most days in a nutshell.

Ever since I fired this client, I’ve been out of steady retainer-based work. Being here in Goa already in a holiday state of mind I decided not to begin hustling for other/new work immediately. I have instead watched copious, and I mean some seriously colossal, amounts of all kinds of TV. Netflix and the works, TV shows, movies, and a shit ton of YouTube — binging on entire channels and playlists mostly in the food, fitness and gardening departments. It’s been so excessive, I haven’t ever abused my eyes this bad, so bad that I’m going to go get my eyes tested as soon as I’m back because, let’s just say I’m beginning to feel the effects of it. Some days I may have done some writing, very little reading, but mostly I’ve done nothing of real consequence aside from the bare minimum. Spending a majority of this time all alone has also meant something to me. Once VC gets home in the evening, we chill, chat, eat and retire.

Serendipitously discovered these pictures undoubtedly taken during summer vacations, just as I was packing today.

It’s been just right in the most simplistic sort of way. We managed to eat at all my favourite places that I had shortlisted to a pithy bunch. But I’m actually happy about how much we ate at home, how willing and enthu I’ve felt about cooking, and how often VC managed to take leftovers to work the next day.

Those were home days, which was a bulk of the trip. I also spent many days with D, and we did a bunch of things that really brightened up my stay here. The pups of course, they bring so much joy. And I feel hanging out with them always does me so much good. So there was that. I hung out with A several times, eating meals with her and the family, and we had D and UT home for dinner one night and VC’s work folks home or a barbecue night, but aside from that there has been little socialising.

What there has been is solid days — and entire weekends — at the beach, but the highlight of my stay is all the time we got to spend at home, with each other. The quiet, deliberately mundane life that isn’t numbing or distracting from anything with a hectic busyness. We’ve had a lot of conversation and discussions this time around, a development for VC haha!

This is life, externally, though. Mosrly a time of stillness and near-nothingness. Internally though, a lot has happened and this trip has given me so much to be grateful for, so much to ponder, so much to hold close. If you’ve been reading this blog for the last two months, you might have an idea.

Sometime last week though the bliss of all this relaxation turned to sloth and really got to me. I haven’t had this sort of an extended time of doing absolutely nothing, probably ever. There is only that much not doing anything a girl can take, and since I am not so interested in random wandering around to places to eat and drink at the moment I haven’t really entertained myself around here like I might otherwise have. So I was bored and I began counting the days down to returning to Bangalore — a first for me!

Perfectly timed like a summer vacation, I’m headed back tomorrow like I used to in the days of yore. Pre-June days in a coastal place, when the heat is wilting and the promise of rain lingers in the air. There’s a slight dullness about fun-times ending, but a gentle excitement bubbling under about new beginnings. Like a new term at school, a pair of fresh shoes waiting to be polished, crisp new notebooks waiting to be cracked open.

It’s been a good time to reboot, hit refresh. It might seem odd to say I’ve gained a lot from this seemingly mundane routine of nothing really, and I’m leaving feeling fuller and richer from it, somehow. I can’t put it in words really, to explain how emptiness can feel fulfilling, but that’s just what this summer has been like.

Yesterday I realised I was in Thailand at this time last year, and felt mildly soppy that we didn’t get a summer holiday this year, until I realised very quickly that a summer holiday is exactly what I got. Right here at home.

June in Bangalore has some schoolish new beginnings for me — level 2 of the course I did last year commences. I am delighted to be going back to my other home and I’m looking forward to so many things including an extended wardrobe that is more than shorts and tees, full meals a la amma, South Indian food, running and my gym, hanging out with S and A, Sunday walking ritual with D, hanging out with my family. Okay I could just go on and on and on. I didn’t think a day when I’d be excited to return from Goa to Bangalore would ever happen, but here we are and the odds stack up nice and high, it seems.

I’m ready!

One year ago: How fragile we are
Three years ago: Monday this week

On compassion, connection and belonging

I’m at a point in this journey where the path to self awareness and the search for belonging have merged. They are no longer seemingly divergent pursuits, but a journey to the the same destination, asking the very same things of me. That is, the courage to accept that this journey is not all peaches and glory, or one that miraculously turns unpleasant events into happy ones, or even one that is steadily ascending or gets increasingly positive. It is in fact up and down all the time, one step forward and three back sometimes.

There’s been a spate of news of broken/breaking relationships reaching me of late, and as I think of my own journey — as an individual and a partner — and how much my relationship with VC has evolved along the way I find strength and solace in knowing that things are where they are today, only because we chose to deepen our connections with ourselves as individuals first. We may have woken up to this much later in our lives together, VC and I, and we have our different ways of coming at this. But time and time again, as we move through live together, I realise that if things feel solid between us today, it is because they are solid within each of us as individuals. I am now beginning to see this percolate into other relationships — with family and friends too.

To belong to one another, to have deeper connections, kinder and more compassionate relationships is only, only, only possible when I begin to belong to myself wholly first. And to do that I must accept everything that I am. That is the ongoing, life-long journey, not one that I can arrive at or achieve or master. It means to confront and meet everything I am, as I am. With all the inherent contradictions, complications, duality. The beautiful bits with the messy ones. The happiness and the fear. The love and the joy, alongside the hurt and grief. The light that shines through and the shadows that I keep hidden, the lightness of being and the heaviness alike. All the differences, evolving sides and ever-changing bits. It’s all there, and with every step that I take towards discovering and owning it all, just as it is, the better I am at accepting this about other people. And the better my relationships seem to be becoming.

This has be my spirituality. The stuff that nourishes my spirit — this habitual holding up a mirror to see what remains to be seen, to integrate it all, to sit with the contradictions and the discomfort and myriad feelings they may bring. To just be with it for a while, without rushing to numb it, ignore it, iron it or fix it. To just stay with it first.

Last week in a conversation with Niyu, I realised that this is probably also the keen difference I see between mainstream religion as I have witnessed growing up and  around me today, in an increasingly polarised and bigoted world. The brand of religion that comes replete with rituals and acts of put-on solemnity that we believe is a path to a higher plane has always seemed a very disconnected practice to me. Very little of it, in the way that I see it practiced around me brings us back to reality and the heart of what we struggle with on an everyday basis.

What good is meditation as an antidote to anger, for example, if it doesn’t bring you closer to the root of your anger to face it, and instead takes you floating above it, escaping it altogether, to an illusion of peace. Until the next blow-out.

What good are words like acceptance, forgiveness and peace if we don’t begin doing all of those things with ourselves first? And how to be begin to accept and forgive ourselves and find peace unless we own ourselves fully?

What use is religion if it fosters exclusion and hatred? I see so many adults around me who are sleep walking through their days, being very religious while also holding the most bigoted, regressive, sexist beliefs and living by them. How can one begin to integrate, be whole, when outwardly one holds so much exclusion, divisiveness and hate?

If there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear it is that we were born for connection and belonging. In my own experience, I have seen my desire for this burst out from within, ever since I  have been working on myself. And the first step towards building connection and true belonging is with compassion that begins right at home, with myself. If I can be compassionate to myself and all the uncomfortable things about me, I can maybe begin to do that with people around me. My story and all the narratives I spin about it is probably never going away, but I can change the hold it has on me with a little kindness. I can own it and integrate it, instead of allowing it to own me, and forever holding it at a distance.

I have experienced in brief, fleeting instances, that when I extend this kindness towards myself, I am able to do it with others too. I can only belong with others, if I belong with myself wholly first. And what an impact it has on the quality of my connections, my relationships, and my experience of a fuller, wholesome life.

This willingness towards this path has brought about a degree of softness in me that I didn’t know possible. That I didn’t know I needed. That I didn’t know would take up so much space in my life and satisfy me in such a deep way.

Which brings me back to where I started, I’m at a point in this journey where the path to self awareness and the search for belonging have become one. They are no longer separate agenda points, or issues that I want to address. Instead, they’re beginning to feel like a practice in spirituality, where a little work everyday adds up. And every day that I am given this chance to know myself a little more makes me feel just that little bit more whole.

One year ago: Ground control to Major Tom

Growing friendship

Yesterday, I clipped off the tops of the Thai basil growing in a little pot in my balcony to add to a Thai curry that was simmering away on the stove. For something that came from a wee little seedling, smaller than my thumb when it arrived, it’s grown at an astonishing pace and is now flourishing, green and bright. It’s taller than the length of my palm, and threatening to grow even taller, which is why D advised me to snip the tops off to encourage it to grow laterally.

I’ve grown herbs and greens in my balcony before, but I’d forgotten the thrill that this ease and access brings. I’ve forgotten the satisfaction of chopping and using something that I watched grow, inch by little green inch, right here in my home.

I cannot overstate the joy plants have brought me over this visit. I think it is particularly the act of using my hands and spending time at something as satisfyingly slow as growing plants that has done the trick. I came here to mostly dying plants, but over the last six weeks we’ve revived some, grown some from scratch, potted and repotted some, and added so many more plants. So many that the terrace now looks a bit full and inviting. So many that a few pots have extended over into a second balcony that gets some dappled morning light that’s great for them.

Every day begins with me inspecting every pot closely, touching new leaves, excitedly examining the microscopic growth (that I swear I can see!) growth and all the possibilities that lie in every nook and node.

Last week, I spent three days with D when VC went off on a work trip. We spent a significant time over two mornings, planting things. Fresh seeds little paper cups that we labeled, saplings in pots, and I learned a thing or two about how to prune some plants, and possibly grow some from cuttings. Olive watched over us, occasionally stretching out right in the path before us to sun herself.

This trip, D and I have spent a fair bit of time doing things with our hands — painting wooden stools (more her than I, but the one day I spent doing this was immensely satisfying), gardening and obsessing over growing plants, cooking and mixing salad (we did a lot of this hahaha!) and card readings of course. I realised I really enjoy having friends to do things with. And this is something I have missed in recent times. Of course the chats and laughter, the eating and drinking, the gabbing, the going out is great, but I think for me personally, to have a shared interest, or the opportunity to learn something new is a huge draw. To really participate and collaborate at doing something together is such an added bonus.

Something grows between people, when we do this.

One year ago: I’ve been keeping all the letters that I wrote to you

Flow

Yeah, what does it say to me about my community? And where do I go from here?

Yesterday, I was overwhelmed how this message spoke directly to something I spend so much time thinking about — community, connection, friendship, belonging — especially in the context of freshness and newness that I now desire in my life.

It seems like a fitting question to ask myself, and as I see it, it is an invitation to look at things in a new light and possible push myself out of a comfort zone in this regard. Great fodder for thought at a time when I feel I am moving from one phase, one way of being, into another.

One year ago: Stuck in the sunshine riptide
Three years ago: That urban poverty piece that has everybody’s panties in a bunch

Making space

Some recent developments in a couple of relationships in my life have had me react in a way that is very new for me. Where there was once a need to immediately let go (read: discard) when things were on rocky turf, I have observed that I am now able to let things go (read: let them be). And wait and watch a bit, patiently.

There’s been a lot of talk about reclaiming space for myself. And I have been feeling this palpably in everything I do. Today I realised that this too, is a manifestation of claiming space, making my space, drawing a boundary and having a very clear idea of what I am and am not willing to do any more.

Something has changed, yet again. I have changed, yet again. And I feel it in the difference between the way in which some old relationships were severed with every effort made to discard them, versus just letting things be now, without assigning a definite label, without making unnecessary meaning of every action or mission action, and without forcing a conclusion as to where these relationships now stand.

I feel a little bit more graceful in the way I am with people. It isn’t so much about putting my own needs first as it is about just acknowledging that sometimes more often than not I have a need too. And that sometimes, it is quite the opposite to what I end up feeling compelled to say/do.

I have been sensing the end is nigh with a few relationships in my life. But the refreshing difference this time around is how this impending loss, while heartbreaking, doesn’t grip me with fear. I see it in how I am no longer rushing, throwing myself into a dramatic tizzy of exchange of words to have a definite conclusion. I feel a patience and grace about letting things be.

Today, I realised this is what normal people call holding space. I’m merely holding my space, for a change. It is essential space to let people do the work they want or don’t want to do, depending on whether the feel the need to do it or not.

I’m also seeing how this holding of space is playing out differently in different relationships in my life. It’s so telling to note the relationships where I take the liberty to push and pull the boundaries of space, where it comes naturally and comfortably, and where I feel absolutely no inclination to. So many clues all the time about where I stand with some people vis a vis others.

I had a sobering, settling session of therapy today where I was quiet a lot, for a change. This, and many more new developments came to light. It’s been a while since I felt like I am at a milestone, where I had a clear sense of progress or movement into a more authentic, whole sense of self. This is a largely lonely, self-motivated journey. There are no markers of progress, no cheerleaders, no incentives to keep going even. No paycheck at the end of the month. No encouraging pats on the back. There is no right or wrong way, everything goes. Most of all it is a deeply solitary journey that will not let me forget that I have nothing to prove to anybody. Not even myself.

So to have a glimmer, just a tiny hint, of something small beginning to change is like holding a world of promise carefully in my hands. It stirred the same excitement and satisfaction that gardening did the other day. Much like with waiting for the seedlings to sprout to new life, breaking ground and reaching out for the wide open, now begins ultimate test of patience, compassion and kindness with letting myself unfurl and see which way I want to go next.

One year ago: Forever in-between
Two years ago: Serendipity
Three years ago: Mondays like this

Chance encounters

One of my big fears about coming back to Goa used to be facing some of the people I left behind when I moved. I say left behind because it’s what I did. My moving cities coincided with a gradual moving away from certain people. It was an inevitable, gradual shift in my mind, but I can see now how and why it must have seemed to them like an abrupt kind of abandoning. And so every time that I am here, I wonder about what it might be like to meet them again. Goa is a small place, and thanks to my workplace, my freelance work, the gym I went to my circles were all very mixed and I was in a social space where everybody knew everybody (that in itself was too much for me, and a big reason why I just wanted out). On past trips here, I’ve been unusually stressed about possible encounters, getting riled up at hearing about things they’ve said about me post my leaving, and such. But I underestimate myself, and the capacity of enough time having passed and the wonders it can do for growth.

It is my tendency to protect myself when I feel vulnerable and my insecurities are exposed, and so in the past I may have done things like measured and calculated my wandering within Goa in the hope that I do not encounter someone I do not want to meet. I didn’t realise when this phase had passed, because on day 1 here, I didn’t even think twice about walking to VC’s office and waiting at the entrance for him. This was unthinkable last year. I was engrossed in an email when a friend from back in the day approached me with a tap on the shoulder. I turned, and when I saw it was her, I instantly expected a wave of panic and rage to come over me.

But it didn’t come.

We chatted, exchanging mundane pleasantries. And then she said those dreaded words.

Let’s catch up sometime.

Again, I waited for the polite response to make its way out with extra faked gusto: Sure!

But it didn’t come.

In its place was a measured, polite It’s alright.

And maybe I was saying that more to myself than her? It’s alright to be me. It’s alright to be honest. It’s alright not to put myself in a place I know will not make me feel good. It’s alright not to want the company of people I have chosen to move away from. It’s alright.

I’m grateful for whatever it is that’s happening with me that has suddenly brought forth this ability to put myself first. Even if in little, seemingly minor ways. I’m enjoying cutting away a lot of the unnecessary politeness, that stemmed from wanting to be seen and known in a certain light, fall away. I am grateful for the openness to discover this confidence to be seen as I am.

Sometimes distant. Sometimes impolite. Sometimes aloof. I am all these things sometimes, and it’s been freeing to let these sides be seen too.

***

With VC, I feel like I’ve come home to a whole new-old person. Does that make sense? Do you know what it’s like to know someone, deep in your bones and be so familiar and used to it that when a big change strikes it sweeps you over and knocks you down just like the charm you felt the very first time you met them? Maybe he’s changed as much as I have and I needed to be here to really see it. Maybe I’ve changed and I had to be here to see how it all plays out and what possibilities it now opens up for us? Maybe this is the beginning of something new and there was no way to unlock it than to come here. I’m grateful for the visible changes. I’m grateful for VC. I’m glad I came.

***

The very next day after I got to Goa, I visited A who has suddenly taken very ill. Last week, I sat in Bangalore, worried sick, helplessly wondering what I could do to make a difference. Distance is such a bitch at times like this. I’ll be there in two weeks. I’d said to JC then, feebly, feeling so inadequate and hopeless for not being able to be around when they’re dealing with so much on their own.

I guess it was just meant to be because here I am two weeks ahead of plan, and A got out of the ICU and came back home the same night that I landed. Which meant, I could see her immediately.

I know I went there for her. To be present, to offer support, to check in on her. But it was oddly fulfilling for me. There is an openness and welcoming nature she has that always, always makes me feel so warm and happy. I think even if 20 years go by and we meet again, I will feel this again. As I often worry about friends in Goa and having to start over in a pool that is already small, made smaller still by my very efficient first round of selection, I’m grateful for people like A who make me time and time again feel that it will be okay.

***

Of course I also went to visit D, Olive and Lego on day 1. The pups greeted me with exuberant jumping and many licks, hyper sniffing and loud demands for biscuits. All of this lasted much longer than usual. I am tempted to say it was the doggy bag of tandoori chicken that was parcelled in my bag, but I also want to say maybe it’s just that they remember me. And they are always so unabashed in showing that they remember, and welcome me back home. As per the norm, D and I chatted on and on and as per the norm, I caused her to miss her siesta again.

I like that we can pick up from wherever, whenever. Despite being emotionally all over the place in our own respective ways of late, I like that the prolonged silences do not get in the way. I’m truly grateful that I don’t have to pretend, or make extra overtures to bridge them. I can be what I am, the way I am and we still have a world of things to talk about, or sit in silence together, equally.

***

I know why I resisted coming here sooner than planned so much. It’s because the circumstances brought out these latent fears full force, and I was just not ready to face them. But today I think maybe I needed this. As much as VC did. Because it’s been just a few days and, I felt it the very next morning. I felt like something very fundamental that I was missing in the last few weeks has suddenly been found.

In many ways I feel like I have come full circle, and I feel today, like I did one day two years ago when I finally made some sense (and peace) with moving to Bangalore.

I just had a strangely serendipitous conversation with VC about how sometimes one has to really go the distance to learn something very basic. It seems like an unnecessary journey, and sometimes the upheaval seems disproportionate to the truth learned, but it is how it is.

One year ago: A life of stranger things
Three years ago: Busy bee day

Happy spots

I watched Daniel Fernandes perform Shadows tonight. I’ve been thinking I haven’t really explored comedy, despite having access to so many live shows here in Bangalore so last week it was past midnight and I was having trouble so I was browsing a booking app (yeah, this is what happens when you have no social media) when I saw he was performing in town. I didn’t bother to check where, just went ahead and bought myself a ticket.

This morning, when figuring out how to get to this venue I’d never heard of, I realised it was a club all the way across town — I’m talking 50 minute drive even early on a Sunday evening. Not an auditorium like I’d imagined, or like the place I watched Abhishek Upmanyu. Suddenly, momentarily, I was a little apprehensive, wondering what it might be like going to a club alone. Would it be worth the long drive, going alone? Where would I sit, who would I sit with, what would I do, what would it look like? But I went anyway, I wanted to watch him live.

To my surprise and absolute delight, I was seated at a table with five other girls who had come alone too. Initial awkwardness and some stolen glances trying to figure out if any of them were going to be joined by friends later, when the last girl to arrive filled the only remaining seat at the table, we all let out a collective guffaw of relief simultaneously realising we were all on our own.

This was the highpoint of the evening for me. It was liberating to be alone (and I hope I do more of this), and yet I felt a sense of communion to be seated at the table with these girls who were all there because they wanted to watch Daniel live, and couldn’t wait to find company. I checked, I asked each of them.

I’m someone who spent the entire duration of my 20s partnered, and nursing a such a strong yearning for a tribe that I often settled for whatever form that it came my way. I’ve been in a motley assortment of groups and cliques, and when I look back on these experiences I do feel I missed out a lot on the essence of me. Maybe I’d have done a lot more things differently, a lot of things on my own if I had half the sense of self worth I have today.

That evening I felt like I lived a little bit of an experience I knew I had missed, but that I didn’t know I could have now.

Solitary comedy shows. Solitary beers. Solitary long drives back home. And it’s own kind of contentment.

***

The special itself? Shadows — it was quite good. I went without expectations, to be honest. I’ve really liked some of Daniel’s work in the past, but I’ve also sometimes squirmed at some of the things he has said and done. I had no context about what he’s been up to in recent time. Because, no social media. So I literally went in blind.

Shadows wasn’t a ribticklingly funny stand up special. It was the brand of comedy that’s real, honest, a bit dark and intense in parts. Heavily autobiographical, it draws on experiences he’s had over the last 7 years of his life since turning to comedy as a career. From quitting a safe job, being broke, dabbling in comedy, navigating the scene, fighting the expectations and norms of family and society, realising he’s a square peg in a world of round pegs, and learning to be okay with it — the show had a lot of bits that resonated with me as it would with everyone who watches it I’m pretty sure. It was the kind of show that had more awkward silences, emotional pauses and squeamish stifled laughs, rather than loud raucous laughter because it was just that real.

I think what I enjoyed the most was the overarching theme of journeying towards an authentic self, even when realising what you’re discovering it isn’t as pretty a picture as you imagine. And being okay with that.

To embark on this journey needs courage, to talk about it even more so, but to turn it to art and perform it, knowing it may or may not be received the way one expects — the reactions may range from extreme validation to hate — and to do it anyway requires a whole different level of vulnerability. And that’s the bit that touched me the most.

***

Last week, I caught up with V after what felt like 10+ years even though we briefly hung-out over a very hurried meal in Goa some 5 years ago. In the years between then and now he’s gotten married and is now a father to a 2.5 year old baby boy. In the years between, we have also completely lost touch. Not even exchanging the occasional message. So when we decided to meet, I went armed with a book, fully anticipating our lunch would be a quick affair, and I’d make use of the journey into town, hanging out and reading some place quiet.

BUT, we ended up catching up in such intense detail. Discussing everything from politics to marriage, children and pets, future careers and whatnot. And we didn’t leave. For. SIX. HOURS. Over way more beer than I have consumed in a single sitting in about as many years as it has been since I used to know him.

It was fun, yes. But it was also heartwarming that it was possible. It was heartwarming to be surprised. I don’t know if this will happen again, or it even means anything significant for our friendship, but I will cherish that day and that meeting for a while.

***

There was also a stunning lunch at SodaBottleOpenerWala and a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon with D that will be unforgettable for entirely different reasons that I cannot disclose here, and cannot even recollect without laughing so hard, I tear up. But I’m putting it down here so I will never forget.

***

One year ago: Flowers in the window
Three years ago: Moved to tears

I let you go, in peace

Another advantage of being away, physically, from regular programming is this opportunity to pull back and view otherwise emotionally-charged occurrences in life from a distance. And a little dispassionately.

Since coming here, I’ve realised with resounding reaffirmation that I’m possibly most alone right now, as I’ve been in a very, very long time. This is As far as people goes. The palpable difference is a visibly significant decrease in discomfort as I acknowledge and say this out loud. The ease with which the realisation struck really shocked me.

Even with all the coming and going of people over the years, at every point I’ve always had a handful of people to lean on. That base number is currently at the absolute lowest it’s been. And if I discount VC from it, it goes even lower. I mean this entirely dispassionately, and to be able to say it as it is is all kinds of freeing. By alone, I mean for the first time in a long time, I feel an significant absence of people. And it feels okay.

For years now the aspect of people coming and going has been a constant, but this is a first: there have been very few new entries in the recent past. There’s been the deliberate culling in some part, a natural withdrawal from some others, there is a morphing of certain relationships. This is the first time I haven’t rushed to fill the empty space that has been created as a result.

I’ve always looked at people who have that quiet confidence about themselves that makes them the kind of people who can spend entire days, day after day, peacefully by themselves, doing the things they want to do anyway even if they’re alone, with a sense of awe and admiration. As I’m thinking about the kind of person I’m talking about, S comes to mind. He’s probably the epitome of self-assured for me, in this aspect. Cooking for himself with as much gusto and enthusiasm as he would if he were with someone else. Cooking, plating it, garnish and all, and instagramming the shit out of his meals-for-one. Traveling alone. Getting high alone. It isn’t so much the activities, but the solidity of having fun even alone. This has been a new realisation and craving for me.

Suddenly, when I’m feeling this absence of people, I’ve done more of those things alone than I would do waiting for company.

Going to the beach.

Dancing in my living room.

Getting a drink because I felt like it.

I felt like it has rarely been a good enough reason without the Let’s see who else does addendum.

And you know what? For the first time in my life, it actually feels natural and like it needs almost no effort at all.

***

Through it all, S has been there for me like a rock. I have leaned on her like crazy, crazy. Exchanging long, long messages and voice notes as I process this in my head. Bombarding her with my thoughts as they come, even on days when she is unable to respond. I really appreciate the space we have, mostly free of obligatory, cursory responses, but wide openness to bring anything to it.

It’s helped immensely with not stewing in my own head about much of it. It’s helped stop my unnecessarily negative narratives. It’s brought much clarity.

***

I’ve been wondering what happens when friendships are well and truly over. What is that exact moment when we actually progress from lingering, to moving on. Is it a point, or a spectrum?

Does it happen when the hurt finally ends (also: wtf is that??)? Or is it when you go a certain number of days without reliving the anger and extreme annoyance you do whenever they come to your mind? Or does it happen when you’re able to finally accept it isn’t your story at all? Or does it happen when you do something as mundane as deleting said person from your phone book and do the thing you never imagined possible — block them?

D had a super apt post about releasing such attachment from our beings and I felt a deep resonance with it. Many of those movements have naturally occurred for me in multiple relationships of my life over the last couple of weeks. I fully understand now why some endings are harder than others, even when the ending feels right — there is the matter of reclaiming power. I sometimes feel robbed of that opportunity, and of late I’ve been feeling that weight of wanting to say things I couldn’t say, explain and clarify misunderstandings lifting off of me.

Not just that, I also feel a cutting away and releasing of an older way of being — with people, in relationships, within myself — also falling to the side. There’s something very fulfilling about this, even though it is an emptying out, so to speak.

I feel tantalisingly close to a milestone, like I’m on to something. And it comes with that breathtaking excitement about a new development, a surprise possibility of an altered way to be as a human, a promise of some peace. I’m not quite where I want to be, but the wheels keep turning, I keep moving, I’ll get there sooner than later.

One year ago: And the living is easy
Three years ago: Flying solo

Stoking the friendship fire

Just marvelling at what a quiet, content, contained week I’ve had. Even as I had some difficulties with feelings about people, letting go and an overwhelming sense of loneliness again that came bubbling up, it’s been such a good week, now that I can pull back and look at it with some perspective.

I’m constantly amused, amazed and filled with humility about how much connection (something that I have been harping on and on about) has actually started finding its way to me. It’s coming in ways and means outside of what I am used to, and not always strictly through channels that I want it in. So I often miss it, but my God when I open my eyes and start noticing it, it fills me up in such an amazing way.

So it’s oddly nice to be ending this week feeling content, with this realisation, because I started the week feeling rather quiet and alone (the two seem to go hand in hand sometimes, no?)

My ideas of friendship, of empathy and of what I expect and want from people in my life is being tested literally every single day, of late. It’s like life forcing me to challenge what I have believed so far, and as always that process brings up so much sadness because it means I have to finally face up to many hurts that have been staring me in the face, and that I have avoided. It means I have to re-evaluate where I stand with the people who have caused me said hurt. And sometimes it means I have to just let go. Either of the feeling, or of the person. Sometimes, both. And that is never easy, even when I am fully aware it’s the best outcome possible.

When D and I spoke early this week, I realised how much I lean on her for support, even without really articulating it or even asking for it. Even with everything she has going on, she is somehow there for me. So many times the being there, isn’t literal. It’s a feeling. It’s an unspoken connection. A trust, a space I know I have. And I have been using it unconsciously, in more ways than one.

I said something similar to N too. We may not speak every single day, I know how much she is also processing at the moment and how much time and space that needs. Yet, I know she reads my blog and that is our way to connect right now. Because every now and then, she sends me a message with an insight — either a similar realisation she’s had, a common experience, something to read or a picture — that I feel an instant resonance with, or that will challenge me and give me a lot to think about. We don’t have to go into details about what we’re going through, but in the exchange of a few messages and conversation around it, I feel a sense of togetherness. That she is there for me. Miles away, but connected.

VC and I have been having unusually (for us) long conversations too. Time and time again, my relationship with him is testimony to the old adage about how we can go roaming the world looking for what is sometimes right under our noses. I have always cherished the connection I have with VC, but I feel like these days I cherish what it is slowly growing into, and I wait with eagerness to see where it will go to next.

And then there is S, who had a massive world of woes of her own to deal with. It was an entire shit-fest of massive proportions that made everything that I was dealing with pale in comparison. But with her, I have the capacity to bring even that little trouble up front, and know that it will be heard. In between stressful exchanges about unpaid fees and the anxiety in the pit of her stomach, I found the capacity to share my seemingly trivial worry, and she put her own worry aside for a minute to hear me out and be there for me. I latched on to it, shamelessly, as I realise is the liberty one can and should take with a precious few friends who will have it. We spent an entire day together, just staying in, mostly quiet and contemplative, talking about everything that we have had going on in our lives and our minds. Just reconnecting. It was a day I needed so much, I realised once I was back home.

Last week, while I was semi-moping about this hurt and letting go, I had an unexpectedly affirming conversation with a complete stranger. It was entertaining and refreshing in the moment. But in retrospect I realised it was an inflection point for me. My reaction, my behaviour in the instant was such a departure from what I have known to be me. It was a moment of realising something deeply fundamental has changed. My heart has opened in more ways than I am even aware of. And it’s exciting to witness this transformation in me.

Last week I also had a record number of comments and emails from readers of the blog. Affirming and filled with a sense of resonance and connection of its own.

***

There’s so much about connection that I am in the process of redefining. Clearly, this is the time to do it, given how much this deep longing for the presence of people has been coming up for me. Look at what it means and what is changing is essential to ensuring that I receive what is now coming my way, in the best way possible. I know for certain nothing about what is emerging, is coming from the backlog of what once was. This seems to be all new. It has a decidedly fresh energy and is emerging from a space of newness.

Connection isn’t about proximity or affinity, even. It isn’t about likeness, familiarity. Sometimes it isn’t even as much about vulnerability and empathy. Or about deep, intense conversations.

This last week alone, I connected with a stranger who launched straight into chatter about ZNMD, with as much intensity as I had a deep midday conversation with N about how friendship has changed for her. I feel closer and connected to VC and D in Goa, as much as I do to S who lives in my city but so far off that we don’t meet too often. So many of my conversations this past week affirmed the quietness of connection. So often that connection happens in literal silence, in the space where I hear and am being heard. No responses, no overtures of love and understanding, no sympathy needed. Just the space to be present to what is being felt, is enough.

That, precisely that, is what I have been missing and craving for so, so, so, so long. And it is what I have felt show up in a glimmer here and a shimmer there this past week.

These days, these are the moments that give me life.

One year ago: And so it is the shorter story
Three years ago: Time bubble

Weekend highs and lows

After a very long time, I had a weekend all to myself. A weekend that I spent almost entirely at home, just being a cooped up chicken. Just the way I like it sometimes. I cancelled all possibility of plans that could have materialised. I went for walks in the morning. I cooked full meals for myself. I had a massive Netflix binge. I read a book I’ve been attempting to begin since the beginning of January. I had long and winding conversations with VC.

On Saturday I felt extra pleased when I had finished dinner by 7 pm and was right back in bed and Netflixing immediately after. At 9.30 though, R and S called and dragged me out of bed for “a drive”. How bad could it be, I thought. I can get out for this, I told myself, as I got out of my night clothes, into a bra and presentable clothes again.

The “drive” ended at the airport. And what followed was a big binge, only to get home closer to 1 am.

On Sunday, after spending all day in bed, I showered at 3 pm and took myself out to work for a couple of hours. That was the extent of my venturing out.

I was telling VC last night how I am enjoying this time of cocooning and spending time with myself — I crave it and enjoy every last bit of it — as much as I am loving being in Bangalore where the world outside is just within reach whenever I want to venture out. I am really enjoying this access and ease.

***

Sunday evenings are the devil. They bring out a strange melancholy in me that takes me right back to the age of aching weekend endings. When white shoes needed to be washed and polished in time for Mass PT. When uniforms needed ironing. When books needed pre-packing. These were the rituals of the years when Sunday evenings ached. And they have pretty much set the code for all Sunday evenings of my life. No matter that my life today looks nothing like it did then, and has none of the trappings that life did then.

Even with nothing earth-shattering to wake up to on Monday, even with the luxury of starting the week with an easy 7.45 am yoga class (and really, this is easily the best way I have allowed myself to begin any week, in recent time) Sunday evenings bring that dull ache back, almost every week. With immaculate regularity.

And yet, every Sunday, when the gloom descends I forget to discount it as that specific kind of meaningless Sunday evening gloom. Week after week, month after month, endless Sunday evenings pass with this restlessness gripping me bang on cue. Invariably, it takes VC pointing out that it’s Sunday evening, midway through my whining and complaining, for me to realise it and let it go.

Sunday evening gloom is the new PMS in my life.

***

This Sunday evening I had a big mood, though. An incredible disappointment in all people, in what is left of most relationships in my life at this present moment. Several events leading up to Sunday have left me feeling excessively depleted, like I just have nothing more to give, and yet the ask and want from various quarters persists. Unabashed and singleminded asking, of me. With no regard or thought for the balance or what I might get in return.

After a long, long time I reached a point where I felt disillusioned and a touch of self-pity for the oddly familiar place I am in, that somehow still feels all new and shitty at times too. How did it get this way?

On the one hand, I have this longing for people, for connection, like I haven’t had ever before. All pretence of introversion has lifted. I want to be out there, meeting, talking to people, not just for the the heavy and intense bits but the light and fun bits too. And yet, of the mere handful of people that exist, there is just disappointment and a consequent lack of inclination to reach out. It makes me close up. Makes me want to be the lone ranger I have the habit of being. Makes me confirm the In the end we’re all alone anyway thought.

By late Sunday evening this mood had bloomed into a full blown rage. Complete with a big urge to just burn away all ties. To shut this blog down. To go under. And I expressed it to VC as a deep, deep desire to go away someplace completely new, where nobody knows me — not the old me, not the new me — to start over from scratch.

Monday came along, and some of it passed. But it wasn’t until after a solid afternoon nap and a long chat + reading with D that I felt some of the heaviness lift. Later last night, I had dinner with Amma who had just returned from Bombay. A dinner I had cooked and taken over, with a side of conversation and some laughs. And I felt infinitely better after it.

Maybe this is just it? Maybe I need to stop looking so hard and trying to catch this nebulous notion of connection that seems to be festering within all the time? Maybe I just need to let it go, put an intention out and let what will be, be. And give thanks for the little bits of connection I do receive, in whatever form they come my way.

***

Here’s a ragey tune fit for all Sunday evenings.

***

On the other hand, I am also acutely aware that all these feelings are a part of the process. This unsettling may be long-drawn and painful, and will bring with it a fair share of shedding. I am still partly afraid, even as I brave the daily reminders of everything in the people department in my life that is hanging by a weak tether. Deeply unsettling of all is not knowing which way I am going. The confusion, the not knowing too, is a part of the process.

I have known this all along.

This morning, I came across this tweet that reaffirmed my knowing of how wide open the choices out there are right now, for me. The fear is still in letting the reins go, in letting the old go.

One year ago: May your feet always be swift
Three years ago: Blush

On duality

A lot happened while I was sitting by this window, several times last week. A difficult conversation, a deeply life-affirming conversation on the back of that difficult one, some uplifting realisations, that delicious chicken sandwich I had the good fortune of eating two days in a row, reading this incredible piece on the psychological benefits of isolation (in a week where I have contemplated being alone versus feeling lonely, SO MUCH), and finally an internal settling and reckoning with the inherent duality in much of this.

Yes, these have been emotionally challenging times, but the sum-total of my life isn’t challenging. There’s both. They co-exist.

I am often sad, emotional and feeling the void in terms of safe and dependable spaces in which to share all of this. But my life isn’t entirely lacking space. There are spaces and I’m only waking up to the fact that the space is but half of the equation. Making myself available, and discovering deeper vulnerability is the crucial other half. There’s space, and there’s the difficulty of making use of the space. There’s both. They co-exist.

Yes, I love, cherish and choose my time alone. But I am not an isolated introvert. I also crave connection and meaningful experiences with people. There’s both. They co-exist.

Yes, I’ve had a cycle of making, breaking, losing, walking away from and discovering new relationships. But that script does not define who I am. Much as I sometimes coax myself into believing that it must be something in me that makes it so I’ve realised this is a direct consequence of growth, evolution and a steadfast commitment to a deeply personal goal (happily, echoed by The Atlantic piece linked above). There’s the grief of losing people, and the joy in gaining them in unequal measure. There’s both. They co-exist.

Yes, it sucks to accept it. I have tried all my life to fight it, and I’ve lived that fight out by repeatedly reconnecting with relationships that are clearly over and whose purpose was long served; by trying to make amends where there is little hope for it; by looking for empathy and listening where there is none available; by giving my heart to people who don’t know what to do with it; and by using my energy and resources in salvaging relationships that don’t deserve it. And try as I might to fight accepting it, this is just the way it is. However, it does not make me the woman who pushes people away. I am just the person who is constantly searching for deeper, authentic relationships, and sometimes has to let go of those that don’t met the bar. So there is always that lack of “large numbers” of people and the deeply meaningful relationships with few. There’s both. They co-exist.

Yes, sometimes this means I have to have difficult conversations at difficult junctures in these relationships, but it also means I am better and stronger in my relationships for it. Yes, there is fear, but there is courage right on the other side of it, and together it makes a wholesome, healthy kind of relationship. The kind I have been dying to have in my life. There’s crippling fear. But there is also courage. There’s both. They co-exist.

Yes, currently, VC is the only person with whom I allow myself the vulnerability I strive for. The only place where I can stretch myself, push those boundaries and see what happens. It is simultaneously testing and liberating. It makes me simultaneously miss him, and also feel so grateful for this physical distance between us. There’s both. They co-exist.

So often, in the quest to love forward and shed the old, I accidentally reject crucial parts of myself, when really the process this time around has been about integrating it all in a healthier manner. Such a subtle but crucial difference in realising that I can simultaneously move forward and grow old parts of myself. I can do both. They can co-exist.

***

I’ve been in such a rush to get through this “challenging” time these past 6-8 weeks. My Type A side kicking in instantly, throwing all the wisdom of slowing down out the window. It was a good few weeks before I realised this was happening. That I had made a project and a mission out of it, working out a plan, making a set of to-dos to tackle this. When all I really needed to do was put my head down, keep at therapy and just let the rest go.

This past weekend in class, I became aware of the inherent duality of pretty much all the feelings I have juggled this week. There is the difficulty of facing all of this all of a sudden as it comes up in waves — challenges, sadness, grief, loss and loneliness — before the wave passes and I can come up for a big gulp of air again.

I see the sun, I feel the breeze, I feel alive again. These are precious moments of release, of light, of joy and of life.

In coming to terms with changing so rapidly, I have felt physically altered, if that’s even possible. Some altogether new things have happened — this surprising need t face fear and confrontation more often than not, for one — and some old facets have made a comeback — I’m waking up early and chirpy again, I’m enjoying exercising again.

So much about growth and change is embracing parts old and new. Some forgotten, some that have receded, some that are slowly coming back, and others that are all new.

I am old, filled with comforting bits of familiar, old selves. And I am all new, shiny, and unexpected. Not all that is old need be entirely lost or given away. And not all that is new may define me for good.

There’s both. They co-exist.

***

Not lost on me is the irony that the window at Koshy’s where I have always loved to sit has changed too. For one, Koshy’s is spanking new — shiny, white and scrubbed clean. The bamboo chicks have been taken off and the light streams through. It’s all new. But the quintessential slow and easy character remains.

There’s both. They co-exist.

One year ago: I’ve been reading books of old
Three years ago: Emptying my cup