Support

In case you haven’t gathered already, whether I’ve explicitly stated it or not, it’s been a heavy couple of weeks weeks. Not to say it’s been outright down and out. We have made it through with our fair share of laughs. I was in Goa for the most part, amply bolstered by VC and my sister, being around whom, I realised just softens all the hard knocks for me. You know, there are some folks who make any situation better? I think VC and Niyu are those folks for me. So much so that it wasn’t until VC left to come be with his folks, Niyu went back to her routine, and I had a day all to myself that the full impact of just how heavy and overwhelming everything really was, caught up with me.

It’s been pouring buckets in Goa, the kind of weather I love. And I was all in to sit back and enjoy it. But the day VC left for Bangalore, I had a realisation that for now, he is the only remaining connect I feel with the place, the only reason I can get myself to spend any time in Goa at all. Without him around, even the rain, the solitude, the freedom felt a bit insipid and pointless. Because as soon as he left, I was all Okay what am I doing here ya very nice rain amazing weather beautiful lush green nice nice but can I just be with him thanks?

And so, it was also easier to follow and spontaneously book myself a ticket to come back to Bangalore a few days after.

Once here, felt ably supported to just do what I came here to do — to dive right in and be there for VCs family, sans distractions, because amma provided all meals — everything from hot rasam and rice, aloo buns to snack on, idli-vadas from our favourite breakfast spot — even though she is down with the flu herself. It meant I didn’t have to think about stocking up, cooking or managing anything at home, especially given that VC was recovering from the flu at home.

I managed to also squeeze in meeting with S for breakfast. It was meant to be quick and breezy, but it became a relaxed, drawn-out catch up because a turn of events allowed it.

I’m realising the importance to lean on my own resources and to take care of myself, so I can be there for others. The idea of giving from a full cup and all that. To recognise and acknowledge my support system, even if to myself. All the things — people, my routine and habits, comfort foods — that help me stay afloat, whether the going gets tough or not. I’m realising that I am less shy to ask for support when I need it, and a bit unabashed in stepping forward to take it when it is offered.

Recent developments with a friend, have really made me aware that sometimes the silence of waiting (for support, for help, for attention, for love) can be so detrimental. To the self, to a relationship, and to the other at the receiving end of it. I used to embrace silence — sometimes because I felt ashamed asking for help, or I felt indebted to step up and take help when it was offered, or I was hurt and offended that it hadn’t come anyway without my asking, or I just plain wanted the other to figure it out themselves. But all that ambiguity creates absolutely nothing but a lack of clarity about the truth. And quite honestly, sometimes it stemmed from my fear of stepping up and asking for it when I needed it — my fear of showing up as I am. Very often, in fact more often than not, it is my ego that keeps me from showing when I need support or what I feel the desire to connect.

In some ways, slowly being comfortable with myself, including all my imperfections and pleasant and unpleasant aspects, I cluding those that I once thought were “weak” or “shameful” in good times and in bad, has meant being able to take in all the love and support that I have, in a more fuller and wholesome way. And being comfortable with asking for it when I need it.

I really feel the difference that this has made to my life, during this time that was heavy and could have otherwise being very confusing, isolating and lonely. What a relief it is to know I can lean, and lean fully, on those who are there for me without having to be asked, and who don’t assume that I will come around when I need it. And what a pleasant surprise to realise that in the event that I need something extra — breakfast with a friend just for a few hours of normal talk, for example — I can ask for it unabashedly with confidence and without feeling lesser or shameful about it.

One year ago: Under my umbrella

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Powerlessness of love

Last minute, rushed brushing-up texts from last year’s course, as I prep for class again this week, I stumbled on this stunning description of “primary emotions” that I don’t remember reading last year. Or maybe I read it, merely glossing over it, not taking it in the way it stumped me this time around, simply because this stuff has come to mean so much more in recent times.

The author describes primary emotions as being so intense that there is a powerlessness in the experience of them. He speaks specifically of love, and how it, like most pure, primary emotions have that quality of lightness, ease, and of loosening up something within us, to the extent that they render us powerless.

I realised this only in context of how when we move into the realm of secondary feelings, what drives us is actually the desire to subvert that which makes us feel powerless. It is our inherent human tendency to attempt to control, to actually exert power over anything that tends to take over us — as most primary emotions do. It is what we all do, in order to make sense, in order to navigate what we’re feeling and in order to sometime just “feel” through the emotion.

I’ve consciously and unconsciously done this believing fully that it is what is to be done with emotions. But I’ve recently realised this is futile. It is counterintuitive and that the only way to move through it is to do nothing at all. To surrender to it’s power. To really wholeheartedly experience primary emotions like love and joy, are to surrender to the full impact of their inherent powerlessness, and how they invoke the same powerlessness in me.

In other words, let it all go.

I’ve been trying to let go, let loose a little bit more than normal when I feel primary emotions wash over me of late, to really see what happens when I do, what am I so afraid of. And the observations have been interesting to say the very least.

Gratitude for love and people in my life, this week. For the numerous small, daily opportunities my life presents for me to connect and feel this love in so many different ways.

Meanwhile, and as I speak of love, under a week to go before I see this face and get to do this IRL, than with screens between us. Gratitude for VC and for everything that he is to me, and this strange, magical place we are in.

Gratitude for the opportunity to be in a classroom again starting tomorrow. To learn. For no other reason except to itch the scratch of curiosity about something that has drawn me in so fully. To learn for the sake of learning alone.

Gratitude for the epiphanies this work and the learning continues to bring. For the numerous daily aha moments that abound. For the slowwww way in which it unfolds, creating the gentlest ripples in my life. For the incessant lightbulbs that go off and on from time to time. For this experience of learning that feels vast, endless and like I will take it through to the rest of my life.

Gratitude for exercise once again, this week. I realise the days immediately after my period ends are when I am at my lightest, most agile best. And I don’t mean this in terms of weight at all, but more in terms of how nimble and springy and ready to get up and run, I feel. There is a literal spring in my step that makes me quicker, feels like it transforms me into this lithe, subtle being that can fly.

Yesterday, at the gym after a four day break, fully expecting to take it slow an easy as I ease back in, I surprised myself by bursting into a spontaneous quick run that was faster and took me farther than I have been in the recent past.

I’m slowly figuring out the key to making myself sustain anything in a healthy way. The ways in which this works for me are to focus on consistency and ditch all the numbers. And this isbfinally how I’ve become about the gym too. I started in March and all I have done is very mildly streamline my food inake and get diligent about getting a spot of exercise six days, every week. I haven’t measured or held myself to any numbers or measures of progression as yet. I didn’t stand on the scales either. Until yesterday. But in the way that I feel, in the way I can run, in the way that I have been lifting weights again, I can feel myself getting marginally better every week.

I stood on the scales for the first time in years today, and was shocked to see I am back to my pre-wedding weight. This has happened entirely when I wasn’t looking for it. So I felt mighty thrilled and I treated myself to a slice fo flourless chocolate cake.

Gratitude for little surprises that break the monotony of this city life. D said to look out for signs in the form of bright, unexpected yellow flowers today, and minutes after I read the post, I realised I’d stepped into the midst of these.

And as it happens, I had extreme flow, zero obstacles on a day when there could have been many, a delightfully happy day.

One year ago: It’s just this thing that seasons do

Spaces in-between

This morning I felt immense gratitude as I was driving to the gym. Waking up and heading straight to the gym has been the routine for the last 10 days, and it hit me this morning how easily fulfilled this desire to get disciplined about working out has been. A gym close to home, my mothers car for me to use every single day, unencumbered mornings to spend at the gym without anyone or anything to rush home to. I am a very easy creature of habit, I realise. Especially with things I love and want to do everything to sustain. So to be able to chase this, so easily with literally nothing in my way, felt overwhelmingly special.

It’s a little thing, I know. But in the end it’s the little things that have the most impact, no?

In the moment I felt free. And I felt gratitude for all that enables this deep sense of freedom. In the moment it felt like gratitude for being in Bangalore which gives me access to so much that I need right now. But I immediately realised it’s not limited to the city, to geography alone. It’s those little things. The very things I’ve needed for so long, that are somehow being fulfilled here, at this point in time in my life, formidably aided by the options and opportunities this city has to offer.

***

Bangalore leaves a lot to be desired. I am routinely enraged, frustrated and bicker about the traffic, the apathy, the garbage and what not. I feel helpless and very agitated by the slow nosedive we’re making to utter destruction. I have to think twice about what I want to wear before I step out. In many ways I feel limited and held back. But even so, on a daily basis I feel a sense of freedom and openness — from within — that overarches everything else.

I didn’t know it then, but I left Goa because I needed space. Space to grow, space to stretch, space to explore and widen my inner life. And somehow, physically as well as emotionally and perhaps metaphysically too, Goa with all its wide open green spaces, overlapping social circles and limited options, had begun to feel so very small. Claustrophobic. Crunched up.

It’s the strangest thing, and I know it sounds odd even as I describe it awkwardly as I am. But this is the truth: this is the free-est, most wide-open I’ve felt. Open to change, open to uncertainty, open to love, open to discovery, open to surprises. Just open. And free. In a way that settles something within me. Gives me space, and a deep sense of openness, freedom to run, to be. A very palpable widening of myself.

***

Long after I left Goa and moved to Bangalore, I found myself constantly tossing up the pros and cons of both places to live. This is typical nature, isn’t it? The need to validate and justify our choices completely. Especially the difficult ones. And to keep trying and trying till we’re sufficiently convinced we’ve done the right thing. I constantly craved and looked for the big things, larger than life events, overwhelming circumstances that would feel like valid reason enough to have done the unthinkable and moved back from Goa to Bangalore — a city I’d run away from and sworn never to return to only 8 years ago. I found solace in some small things, but they were always just that — small consolations — and a larger part of my heart tugged with confusion and a mixed-up longing for…I-dont-know-what exactly for many, many months.

I knew with growing clarity that my time in Goa was done, that wanting to leave was reason enough, but in the years I was away Bangalore has exploded into a slowly self-destructing monster of sorts and the transition from quiet, green, expansive Goa to this gave me bouts of severe cognitive dissonance. The gentle, welcoming, unhurried Bangalore of the 80s and 90s that I knew, has been totally engulfed by this busy, chaotic, always-on-the-run city that I couldn’t quite make sense of. Even though, in pockets, I found comfort in nostalgia, familiarity and many little things (again, it’s the little things that made a difference) that felt like a throwback form my years growing up here, at a macro level, something didn’t quite fit.

That “fit” — that snug clink of pieces falling into place, of things making sense (in whatever way that they do) — is what I’m suddenly feeling I have found. A foothold, a grounding, a series of satisfying little moments on a daily basis that make me grateful for being here. In this city. Here in this moment of time.

It’s nothing tangible of course. It’s a state of mind, maybe? But I have it now. Today, it was the drive to the gym and way in which I lost track of time only to realise it had been 90 minutes since I began working out, that made me register that same feeling. That fit.

It isn’t the desire for fitness alone, though. There is also the desire for people. For family, and for friends. There is the urge to be out in public spaces — parks, cafes, bookstores, restaurants — anywhere but sitting at home all day long, basically, or avoiding public spaces for fear of bumping into someone I knew and didn’t want to meet. There is the need to move freely, the ability to get around freely, on my own. For dependable public transport.

This morning, I felt gratitude for how much all of this is so easily being fulfilled in my life right now. Access to space, all kinds of it, the means to get to places, to people, and to the in-betweens of it all.

***

Last week was chock-full with so many quintessentially Bangalore highlights, it really affirmed how much (and why) I am enjoying being where I am — in this monstrous city. To be walking distance from N and to be able to meet her once every week is a treasure. To hit the gym 6 out of 7 days. To be next door to amma and have so much time to spend there, doing nothing, or everything with them, cooking, chilling, working, lazing, whatever it may be.

There was brunch with A at Koshys one day with the option to amble into Blossoms bookstore, hanging out with S at Bharatiya Jalpaan another day and not feeling satisfied so prolonging our chatter over lemon chai after. On Friday Niyu and I took the parents for a pizza lunch all the way across town, and later that night I ended up (without prior planning) partying at a brewery surrounded by the sounds and smells of people way too young for my own good and bumping into the ex, and then a bookstore/cafe opening on the weekend where I got to listen to Mahesh Rao (who I have loved for so many years, and missed for so long now because, no social media) and Arshia Sattar talk about how they became readers and eventually writers, which was followed up by a chance almost-unplanned dinner with D at Koshys again, and Sunday brunch with S over too many Mango-Chilli Caprioskas and the allowance to indulge in berry pulao.

I know this sounds like an ode to Bangalore, maybe? But the thing that clicked into place in my head this morning was that this was never about choosing one city or another, it was yet another act of making space, and doing it in a place that allows me that luxury, in the way that I need it now.

There is space in my life right now. So much space, so much of it. And the freedom to meander and navigate it just as I please.

I was so done being cooped up in the way that my life in Goa had begun to feel. It is wonderful to now be out and about in more ways than one. I am so grateful for this time and all the things that have gone into bringing me here, all that it takes to keep me afloat and allows me the privilege to enjoy it.

One year ago: When the rainy days are dying
Three years ago: New tricks

Renewed relationships

It’s easy to get that comfortable in a relationship that we feel we have each other all figured out. And maybe we do, to a large extent.

If there’s one thing spending these past 6 weeks in Goa with VC has shown me, it is how refreshing it to also allow for growth, evolution and surprises from your significant other. I’ve been so consumed in my own growth, so much so that I had to physically remove myself from our partnered life and live separately, that I may have forgotten that the space and time apart could have done him wonders too.

In our eleventh year of being married, and almost thirteenth of being together, I’m surprised, humbled and so grateful that there is room for freshness, still. For surprises, for new developments, for renewed excitement, and the possibility of uncharted territory opening up once again.

I did not see this coming. But somehow, here we are.

There’s a lot of surprises that came from this trip. All totally unexpected, some very wild, but I think this has been my favourite surprise of them all.

One year ago: April

Summer

This year, the first in many many years now, doesn’t feel like it is zipping by me while I clamber to catch up with it. I’m aware May may have felt like it came too soon, wasn’t it just December last week, but this year I feel like I have experienced  what a slowly ripening mango waiting in my fruit bowl. Sturdy, bright, ripe, and yet gently giving in to age and time. There is life in that passing, and it shows in how it lives even as it passes.

Of late, life has the quality of that of light suspended through the gap in my curtains on a bight summer afternoon. It’s laid back, it’s still, and it is full of life.

This morning, I realised that perhaps this is a function of age too? And of this extremely fortuitous place in life that I am in, where nothing is too fast or too slow. Things just are, and they’re passing. I’m aware of it, but it is without the manufactured urgency and/or FOMO that has come to be synonymous with time itself. I’m grateful for the slow, empty, pensive weeks I’ve had since getting to Goa, which have undoubtedly contributed to this internal slowing within.

One year ago: Simple things
Three yeas ago: Summer evenings

Gratitude

I didn’t really plan on “birthday week” per se, but as it happened, the entire week of my birthday was a blissful happy time and it makes me really thankful for so much.

I watched Endgame, twice — on opening day and the day after. I am still not a hardcore MCU fiend by any stretch of imagination, but last year I really got into it and bothered to try and watch some of the better films of the lot, in order to get a handle on the overall plot. I did, to some extent, but watching Endgame made me realise there is so much I am suddenly curious about. So I also spent some parts of the weekend watching older movies. Dr Strange, for one, which I think is so far the best movie in this series for me.

We finally ticked off the other thing on my wish list on the weekend too. And. It. Surpassed. All. Expectations. The burger was huge, juicy, spectacularly flavoured, with a side of homemade potato chips, not fries, and aioli. MMMMMMM. The burger was in fact so big and filling, and my appetite has shrunk so much, both VC and I packed half a burger away to have for dinner. Which worked out just great for us.

Having my birthday on a national holiday has meant that there is always someone to celebrate with, and this time was no different. When I was growing up, it was always summer holidays and I’d mostly be in Bombay with my handful of chuddy buddies, and everyone was available because everyone was on holiday. As an adult, Labour Day has ensured that I’ve always had the day off and spent it with friends. VC had a holiday too, and we planned to go to the beach. But I got my period that morning, bummer, and was in no mood to swim anymore. So we made a detour and I got me another tattoo I’ve been thinking about for quite a while now. Even though it’s been in the works in my head for a while, I think the timing was perfect, and the tattoo suddenly means so much more to me, personally.

We then went out to dinner to my favourite Italian restaurant because earlier in the week I went down a rabbit hole watching endless videos of pasta in the making, that had triggered a serious, massive spaghetti bolognese craving. I went totally crazy and ate dessert too — a luscious, flowery fragrant creme brulee. Memorable.

It’s time to write my annual birthday letter to myself, and I got down to it this past week. Last year, I decided to write two letters a year to myself and ended up actually writing three — just so many thoughts and feels to share I suppose hahahaha. This year, in addition I’m writing letters to some folks I feel like letting know how much they’ve contributed to my life this past year. So there’s going to be a fair bit of letter writing in the coming days.

This is probably the only “work” I did. With fasting diligently on weekdays at home, I’m pretty much down to one meal a day. And that means I only need to cook dinner. So I spend a large part of the day, really just chilling. This extended chilling, with literally nothing demanding my attention or asking for my time has been timely, and hasn’t happened ever before. I’m learning to go with it, and doing my best to shut the guilty person in my head down.

Meals have been really good. Something kicks in in the evenings when I decide to get up and cook dinner. They’ve been simple meals, but low-to-no-carbs and unlike ever before, I’ve been feeling inspired to create something fun and hearty even with those limitations. VC has joined in and this entire week we managed to eat well, stay on top of the fitness goals by exercising every day, which always sets me up for a good state of mind.

On Friday, I went to my happy place this side of Goa — the Friday market at Mapusa and bought the freshest veggies, mangoes, and generally revelled in wandering about the crowded place. I love, love, love this place and going there just makes me so happy. To take in the sights and smells and to jostle about with the locals, watching the hustle does something for me. I came home with these insane flowery plants that I’m going to put in my terrace too.

I ended the week with watching Endgame yet again hahaha — third time’s a charm. Because I watched some of the older movies, and now I actually get — at a deeper level — what some of the little details mean. This past week I’ve been very taken by the cultural phenomenon that this entire comic book universe has been, almost like the Star Wars of our generation. So I got all academic and geeky and did a lot of reading to fill in the blanks for myself. And that really changed the experience for me. I’ve now decided to slowly go through the entire lot of movies in sequential order. While I think I should watch them in the chronological order of the sequence of events that unravel in the movies, VC believes I should go in the (mis)ordered way that they were made because that back and forth has a place and a logic, apparently. My sequence-obsessed mind is having trouble accepting that.

For various reasons, it’s taken me a while to get into the mangoes this season. Also, the best has only just begun in Goa, in my honest opinion. I’m firmly in favour of Goan mangoes over even the best Alphonsos which I honestly find super overrated. So I also got back some of my favourite mangoes from the Friday market, and I have to say there is quite nothing like breaking a 16-17 hour fast with mangoes. And for that, I am utterly, utterly grateful.

Every day this past week I’ve woken up to mildly overcast skies, with that sticky pre-monsoon stillness of heavy humidity hanging in the air. It’s given me wild hopes that I get to witness at least a shower or two before I leave for Bangalore again.

One year ago: The beer I had for breakfast
Three years ago: At sea

35

This has been a pretty significant year for me. But quite unlike significant times in the past that have had an unmistakeable flourish, this has been a quiet sort of significant year, with flecks of change, the tiniest shifts and movements flowing in, unnoticed. The sort of change that mostly only I and the people I am closest to know about or will likely notice.

For far too long I’ve been very shy about admitting how much I love my birthday. But the honest truth is that I love having a day dedicated to me, to look back on how far I’ve come, to give myself a good pat on the back, and to take stock and feel optimistic and really hopeful about the future. I’ve been fortunate to have this happen every single birthday thus far. So, even though I haven’t really admitted it in as many words, my folks, my sister and my husband already know how only too well, how much I love this day. To the rest of the world, I’ve always played the omg-it’s-just-another-day-it-doesn’t-matter act pretty damn well.

So, today is that day again, and I’m off to the beach to celebrate how grateful I am for the gift of another birthday, another year to travel around the sun.

I’m grateful for all that this past year has been — for the lessons it brought, for making me see that growing up sometimes requires looking back, accepting transgressions, grief, hurt, difficulties, but absolutely looking ahead and making amends gently, slowly.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to temporarily disengage from the forced cohabiting arrangement of marriage, and for all the realisations and insights that came out of this experience. It’s been quite the game-changer this past year, enabling me to stretch myself and come into my own. I’m so grateful for VC’s understanding, support and acceptance of this and all that came, and continues to come out of it. I really cherish and hold close his ability to accept me as I am, as much as the woman I am becoming (which I am sure sometimes feels like not at all the woman he married hahahaha), and the constant state of work-in-progress that is our lives at the moment.

I’m grateful for therapy that has so wonderfully tied together the various threads that currently bind my life and being, in a way that no amount of conversation with friends or family can, no amount of reading the best books has, and no amount of trying to figure this out on my own could ever have.

I’m grateful especially for my body. In the past year I have seen what happens to it when I deliberately, totally let go, allowing it to balloon and flourish in surprising ways. I began to notice age in some places — in the way the suppleness and flexibility I took for granted now resists when I push it, the way the skin on my face doesn’t spring back as easily as it used to, the way my digestion has visibly slowed, the tiger stripes that really stand out now, the way getting back to exercise was a bigger uphill task than I ever imagined it could ever be.

And yet, I’m grateful that with a little work, my body still does the things I want to do — whether it’s working my way up to a 5km run again, nailing push-ups again or doing a cartwheel on a whim. Yes, still got it.

I’m grateful for the awareness that all of these changes have come gently, slowly, with little to almost no panic for a change. There has been a very conscious awareness, yes, and it’s made me prioritise taking care of myself and my body in a way that feels very intentional. I’ve always had an eye for eating well, a penchant for fitness and staying fit and healthy, but somehow this feels very different from before when I held many fantastic (unrealistic) notions about my body.

I’m grateful that the rush has died down some. The rush to get somewhere, do this, be that, do more — that constant buzz in my head reminding me of time rushing by and there being so much left to do is dormant for the most part, and I’ve figured out how some tricks to shut it down, when it tends to get active from time to time.

This past year, I re-discovered deliberation. It’s brought a certain slowness and a calm, an ability to move with intention, that has really been another game-changer. It’s made me free-er in choosing which way I want to go, more open in accepting everything that has come my way, and just light and easy going in embracing it all.

A younger me might roll her eyes and scoff at me for turning soft. Maybe she’d balk at how little I hold on to anymore, and how fluid I’ve become. But it is what it is and it seems to work for me.

***

Just one birthday ago I wondered about whether I’ll ever really feel my age. For most of my life I haven’t felt exactly my age. I’ve always felt extremes — either too wise and old beyond my years sometimes, or just so young and naive for my age. This was mostly brought out in situations where I had other people my age to compare with. I’ve lived a large part of my life feeling like I never quite fit right.

This is changing, ever so slowly. I realised recently, that thanks to this newfound comfort I have begun to feel over the course of this past year, I have truly begun to feel my age. Not that I miraculously make myself fit, but that I am comfortable just the way I am, whether I fit or not. And so more often than not, it does feel like I fit.

Nothing feels out of sync, things don’t stick out and irk me as much, differences don’t hinder my experiences. I hold desires for doing more but the desperation to get there fast is slowly fading. I’m re-learning patience all the time. I’m comfortable in my skin, in my body, in the way I am, and the way I feel for the most part.

I don’t know if it’s a function of age or growing up, but I’m keenly aware that my time here is limited. So limited that I feel a strong need to make the most of it. Which is not so say I’ve drawn up a bucket list of impossible things like scuba diving and bungee jumping or visiting 10 countries in the next 10 years, I must tick off. I want to focus my time in spaces that matter to me, on things and people I love and am drawn to. I want to try and always say what I absolutely mean, be more honest, articulate and truthful in the relationships that matter, and try more and more to tell those people just how much they really mean to me.

I’m being constantly shown how often I need to redefine the many catch words that I hold on to — markers of things that are important to me — Peace. Success. Happiness. Care. Love. Strength. Joy. I’ve also learned that happiness and joy is not, and never needs to be, linked with perfection. Or success. Of any kind.

I am mostly bumbling along and stumbling over myself along this journey, but if there’s one thing I’m truly proud of, it’s how much I have been able tame that inner perfectionist in me. I’m grateful for having learned that it’s okay to change my mind. I’ve embraced softness as far as possible, in every area of my life that I can — softness with people, towards myself, with my body, with my dreams, with my emotions. I don’t see the need to be the kind of strong or hard that I once aspired to be.

This past year I relinquished control over the grand plans, a lot. Life has become so much about living the small everyday things, cheering myself on for the little wins, revelling in mundane daily happinesses and the utter smallness of it all. I’ve really been feeling this is where that joy — that I’ve so long believed lies in chasing the grand plans, the big picture, the distant future — is at. Right here. Now.

The nowness of life hits me on a daily basis, and it stays and lingers in a way that has made me feel very, very secure and steady. I put this down entirely to the course I did last year that altered my compass, pointed me closer to my true north. It’s made me see things so very differently, shifting my very perspective on everything, on life itself, 180 degrees. And there is just no unseeing it, no turning back. It has been like opening the curtains on a view I’ve known all along, but suddenly everything is brighter and beautiful.

Year 36, I’m so very ready for you.

Past birthdays: one year ago, three years ago, four years ago, five years ago, six years ago, seven years ago, eight years ago, nine years ago.

Beachy things

Here’s all the times I have been out to the beach, had so much fun and told myself I need to do this “more often”. 2012, again in 2012, and again in 2012 — makes sense, because this was the year I quit full time work. Then it became a sort of ritual to do one big trip, go away for a weekend or more, in 2013, 2014, 2016 and again in 2016. And this is just counting the few posts I remember writing about more than a day being spent by the beach, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the number of posts in the archives that I can’t remember, or the number of times I’ve been out for just the day, or the evening to chill by the sea, drink or book in hand, to just be — I had an almost-weekly routine of doing this and recall mostly taking either S or VC for company, when I didn’t choose to go by myself.

All this nostalgia and rewinding time to say this trip, I feel like I have been bitten by the beach bug good and proper. There was last weekend spent entirely by the beach in the water, which made me immensely happy to the very depths of my soul. I have not enjoyed the sea this much in a long, long time, such that I was unwilling to leave the water, sunburnt shoulders and nose be damned, until the sun had well set. If I count beginning the day at 6.30 am with a run with R, sometimes splashing through waves, it takes the average hours spent at the beach up a notch. All of this inspired the same old feels — a promise to get out and do this more often. (You can see VC’s recent pictures from these trips on his Instagram.)

What I didn’t think would happen so soon is yet another day spent at the beach. When D invited us to join her and the family (Olive too! And when I saw how happy she was on the beach, it made me miss Leo and Lego oh so much) at a beach in the South, I hesitated because we had planned a barbecue for 12 people that we had to prep for. But both VC and I decided in literally two minutes of discussion that we should go — that’s how much we’ve enjoyed the sea this season. So we rushed through preps the previous night and off we went the next morning.

Post full moon magic is real, you guys. The sea was magnificent. Giant rockers perfect for wave jumping and sea salt immersion, complimented with the gentlest bouncy bobbity waves perfect for just lolling about, with white froth and salty breeze in the air. I really soaked it in, coming out only to have a beer and eat batter-fried calamari and fries. We had landed up at the most random and uninviting shack, but were thoroughly surprised with how great the food was. A giant meal was had, and while we all balked at the quantities we had ordered at the start, I noticed we’d done a decent job of wiping most of it clean by the end.

BIG love <3

Again, we came home close to 4 pm burnt to toast and crashed for a whole hour, waking up only in time to do all the last minute things we needed to before folks began to arrive for dinner.

Yesterday evening, we went off to Chapora Fort. I hadn’t been back since 2014, and VC since 2012 or so. And boy, o boy, the place has changed. For the worse, I’m afraid. It’s got a Baga vibe, chockfull of tourists recreating their own Dil Chahta Hai moments — we saw a group of girls singing along to some DCH song and trying desperately to get it right and on video. They eventually did in what seemed like the 23rd attempt. To make things worse we didn’t realise it was Sunday so of course it was going to be packed. However, we found a spot to enjoy the seamless, vast views of the sea that remain, thankfully. It is still one of the best spots to catch the sunset.

Today, VC is in Mumbai for a meeting and I briefly entertained the idea of going to the beach in the morning, before giving it up in favour of gardening some. Phew. I’ll save it for the weekend.

The sea still remains one of the top things about Goa that I miss when I’m away. Sigh. It’s heartening, and I feel so very lucky for having had this luxury for so many years. I think of all the evenings, weekends and entire days spent under the influence of the sea and it truly makes me feel so grateful for this experience that I have really exploited. It’s undoubtedly one of the easiest ways to access healing, calming and humbling stimuli around here. Just walking on wet, solid sand watching the moisture stretch away under pressure beneath my feet, or having a wave completely submerge you, or getting that timing right down pat when I’m able to skim the surface of a giant wave and let it buoy me over than drag me under, it is just such a thrill.

Im approximately four shades darker from all of this — a colour I love, and haven’t had in many years now– and my shoulders have proceeded to peeling, painlessly this time thankfully. But on the inside, I feel so good.

One year ago: Doesn’t mean I’ll stop
Three years ago: Stop

Thank you, Bangalore

Couple of things I’ve been missing sorely:

Running on a treadmill. I’d built my way up to a decent pace and distance. And it was only going to get better with consistency, but running on a treadmill came to a grinding halt in Goa because I do not have access to a gym. I could run outdoors but I live just off what used to be a rather pretty highway flanked by villages in either side, that is now just a royal mess with massive road construction in progress for kilometres on end. It’s not only dangerous for me to try and run there but also just such a displeasure. The home workouts have been a blessing, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss the sheer rush of a good even-paced, speedy run on the treadmill.

Seeing Amma everyday. Most unexpectedly, I’m really missing Amma. I say unexpectedly because this is the sort of trip that’s happened many times before. We’re constantly travelling and not seeing each other for bouts of time. I wonder what has changed this time around?

My nearly-daily iced americano fix. I miss spending those couple of hours at Third Wave every other day, getting work done while nursing an iced americano that they’ve just mailed and that just hits the spot for me every single time. I’ve been demotivated to get working, enthusiasm flagging in the comforts of my home and loungey routine. I miss having the option to go to an “office” space.

My frennsss. Truth be told, I miss my friends too. I can count them on one hand, yes, but I miss them nonetheless. I’ve realised with alarming clarity that I am not as much of an introvert and homebody as I used to be or as I thought I am. I like the presence of people, I like making spontaneous plans, I like meeting with them regularly, I like going out and catching up over food and drink. And when I come here, all of that has a forced stop. The quiet is great, but I’d kill for some frequent, well-timed bits of action.

My therapist. Even though I continue therapy over Skype when I am in Goa, I do so miss the face to face interaction and the extra insights it brings.

Sunday walks. It’s been an unexpectedly long hiatus and it’s beginning to show, because last Sunday, I had visions of walking the snaking paths we do in Bangalore, covered by green, and the idli and vada we have after. Green space I have aplenty here, but I will never find an idli or a vada to match up.

***

I guess what I’m also feeling, on the flipside, is gratitude for all of this. It fills my life with a certain energy and richness that I feel the palpable lack of when I am away. This, I realise now. I’m so grateful for all that I receive from Amma. I’m grateful for the renewed inclination to get fit again and for all the help and resources I have to make this happen, uncompromisingly. I’m grateful for work, and all that it enables. I’m grateful for my friends, the ones who remain and who always show up. I’m grateful for Bangalore and the nature in which it shows me a contrasting experience to the one I have in Goa, because it makes me realise again and again that I am not bound to any one place, vibe or state of being.

One year ago: And I’m feeling so bohemian like you
Three years ago: Lucid

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

A good day to give thanks

Gratitude this week for:

My body for reminding me how resilient it is and how much I can push and stretch it to do things I sometimes think are unimaginable.

Access to a gym, to be able to afford it and to put money, mind and body into fitness as a priority.

My trainers and for the commitment and focus they bring. And for inspiring and pushing me.

One year ago: Love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves

Love-filled

I feel soft and full of love today.

***

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

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

***

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

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

Benaras: Orange

It is impossible not to feel the sense of reverence and deep, deep faith that people carry when they visit Benaras. It was palpable from the very first time we ventured out on day 1. While faith may be a singular word to describe what I saw, I saw it in many shapes and forms.

It was overwhelming to see how the city attracts all kinds of people, in an array of sizes and colours, from across the world, expressing their reverence in a host of different ways. Whether it was the solitary white man doing his early morning yoga, or the group of Naga babas offering their hawan at sundown hidden in a haze of what was clearly a chillum of hash, or just the blind way in which hoards of people thought nothing of throwing themselves into a veritably, visibly filthy river, or the literal gazillion people-strong crowd that was ballooning over the hour-long evening Ganga-aarti, clapping in unison with the bells and bellowing conches.

It was quite a rousing experience. To witness all of this in the matter-of-fact landscape of a religious place that somehow is the leveller that we expect it to be was humbling.

I witnessed the celebration of birth, or marriage taking place alongside the mourning of death. I saw white people filled with a genuine curiosity and reverence for soaking up the exotic edge they make of our culture, alongside boat-loads of Chinese tourists who didn’t bat an eyelid before collectively pointing all their cameras at the massive funeral pyres along Manikarnika ghat. There was a fancy cruise-liner like fancy boat that floated by the scores of humble hand-rowed small boats and the both co-exist in peace. There was as much a sense of spectacular outpouring of faith that gave me goosebumps as there was a little bit of the inevitable gross display of commercialism that preys off of religion. There was immense offering of gratitude, love and joy in the backdrop of such a filthy city.

The paradoxes were confusing, but also awe-inspiring, because they were just so reminiscent of how the nebulous idea of faith and whatever we make of it is beyond anything we can touch or tame.

I feel really grateful for the opportunity to witness something so far out from the limited purview of my world and beliefs I hold. Faith and belief are very different things for me, as a strictly non-religious believer. It can get very comfortable and dangerously limiting to have a unidimensional view like mine, in the absence of exposure to other opinions and realities. My time in Benaras really shook the ground beneath the foundation of my current thoughts about faith, especially in the context of a country that’s growingly religiously fundamental. I’m glad for the wake-up call to re-assess where I stand. I’m grateful for the opportunity to view what faith looks like for people in worlds so different from my own. To witness what it must be like to surrender faith and suspend belief to this extent, to give in blindly to something beyond oneself.

<3

Looking at Benaras through the lens of faith really brought home the immense polarity and duality in our world. This rock that floats in the expanse of nothingness is a simultaneously harsh and gentle place. It is equal parts enraging and inspiring. It holds its fair share of maddening, infuriating truths, as it does moments of tenderness and beauty. All of that sat front and centre, quickly in just a few days. Seeing up close and personal, the deeply emotional cycle of birth, life, celebration and degradation, and eventually death, held up against a vividly unemotional canvas, I felt a resonance and a renewed definition of being in agreement with life and all that comes with it.

The last thing I expected this trip away to do was send me down an inconclusive, meandering path, thinking. This was a trio unlike many others we have taken, for various reasons but I think VC described it the best yesterday: this was a trip that demanded some soul searching out of us.

It was so refreshing. So unexpected. And for that, it will be unforgettable.

One year ago: The real, deep-down you is the whole universe
Three years ago: How we’ve aged (part 2)

Back to base

There’s something still very exciting about getting in a capsule of metal and hurtling through the skies at gravity defying speeds to be in places much, much faster than you could I’d you chose to go by road.

I’m feeling very grateful for the capacity to do this as often as I do, and for the possibilities it affords. But I’m even more grateful that VC is on board with the idea, after many years of dismissing it as “too much kheti“.

Today began at 5 am again. But only to catch our flight back to Bangalore. We touched base only for enough time to catch lunch and do a batch of laundry before jetting off to watch Captain Marvel. And OMFFGGGGG it was so meta. And so damn good. So posts about the food and the rest of Benaras will have to wait while I pick my brains off the floor and recompose.

Until then, ta.

Three years ago: Pretending to be brave

Home away from home kind of feeling

It’s been the strangest, nicest stay in Goa this time around. Unlike every one of my visits over last year, where I had an agenda and work to get done — whether we were on shoot, or I came down to help get the house in order and done up — this time around I had no plans. Nothing to occupy me except my own whim. I also got a lot of my own work done ahead of game this month, so I had plenty of time on my hands.

I imagined this would free me up to be out and about a lot, but on the contrary, I’ve spent a most of my time on my own. At home, and outside. But on my own. I’m once again in a very inward state of mind, and being free of external encumbrance has meant that I have been still a little more, staying more.

Consequently, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone even when I did step out. I went to the beach alone, I haven’t done that in years. I caught up with C over breakfast and then a couple of hours sitting in the sunshine in the municipal garden. I spent entire days with A, something I have probably unconsciously shied away from these past few visits, I wandered around my neighbourhood, I drove to the airport and back to pick VC up, I spent a weekend with VCs college buddy and family mostly entertaining and being entertained by a 2-year old who was 100% more interesting than any of the adults.

At home, I’ve caught up on reading, I’ve watched way too many terrible Hindi movies (I’m embarrassed to say how many — some days I watched more than one a day) , I’ve cooked most meals at home (we’ve only eaten out twice since I got here!), I’ve managed to get more exercise than I usually do when I come here (though the last week was disappointing in this regard), and still I haven’t felt that restlessness I usually do when I come here. That restlessness to get shit done — to tick things off my wishlist, to go places, to meet people, to garden, to paint chairs, to fix shit or whatever else — has found some stillness.

I’ve just stayed put for a change. I didn’t plan this. It didn’t take deliberation. It has happened mostly because, for a change, I’ve listened to the cues and followed them, I think.

***

Staying always has incredible advantages. When the rumble of life comes to a slow whir, and my breathing normalises, when there is an almost-uncomfortable silence about me, is when some unshakeable realisations happen. These are moments when I least expect them to happen. I’m learning to welcome them, without having my world temporarily fall apart because of them.

There’s been a fair number of those.

Thoughts about Goa. About home.

Thoughts about friendship. Of letting go.

Thoughts about where to next?

Thoughts about change. And growth.

***

Gratitude, today, for the opportunity of this time. For the solitary state of mind Goa inspires in me. For all the forces that have worked at unearthing things within me that have brought me this far, to this milestone.

One year ago: I still remember, when we did not have the answers