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Tag Archives: Hits the spot

Busy times, apparently

31 Jan

At the start of the year, it felt odd not to log in here everyday and type out a post. I found myself wondering how I managed to write something everyday for a whole year. How did I cull out time? Which is another way of saying, I’ve been busier in January, than I was for the larger part of 2016.

I have had so much going on to keep me on my toes, and my mind buzzing. My folks visited us over the long weekend, which though it went by in a blur, was an amazing four days for me. Multiple ups and downs with domestic help has meant I’m back in the kitchen. 6 am wake up calls meant I’ve been perpetually running low on sleep. Weekends have been spent either typing up loose ends with work or chilling out so much I couldn’t be bothered with the computer. So I’ve been busy. The only difference is this time around I have no inclination to sweat over meals and dishing out something new and fresh every day. So we’re making do with a lot of rolling leftovers, quick one pot thingies, baked stuff and sometimes that means eating chaat for dinner. Old me would feel terribly negligent and guilty for not being able to efficiently manage my home and kitchen duties, but new me is too busy writing to give a fuck. It helps that VC’s response to most questions about food is one of two things: Please don’t make me eat dal or Whatever you’re eating is fine. On that dreaded weekend, he made me cheese toasts two nights in a row. We’re getting by, and if it means I can keep calm and write without losing my mind, I’LL TAKE IT.

As a result I’ve had a good month of work. Had a landslide number of accepted pitches, turned in all my work on time, and it continues to be good and positive. And there have been no downsides to any of this as yet. I’ve met my targets not just for January, but February too and I honestly can’t remember the last time this happened. So whatever’s at work here, letting me have this good run, thank you. I’LL TAKE IT.

Today, I broke into VICE. VICE-VICE. Even though I’ve written for some other VICE channels (Broadly here and Motherboard here)before, this is something I’ve been thinking about for over a year now. I’m even more glad I could do it with this story, that’s also been brewing in my head for over a year now. Alex’s work has fascinated, inspired and moved me ever since I first watched a video some time in 2015. Since then, I have been drawn to his unabashed and unapologetic spirit and I was so overwhelmed when he, Sudipto and Nilay gave me their precious time to share some very interesting, insightful and very thought provoking ideas with me. Two interviews ran well over an hour, and meandered across subjects, into a freewheeling discussion about things at large. I love it when that happens. Even the writer in me who really procrastinates until the very nth hour, before I actually pick up the telephone and make that call, loves interviews like these. The last interview ended at 11.20 pm. And I came away so charged, I couldn’t sleep so I got down to writing the story immediately. I know an issue or a topic has touched me when I am able to take away from the interview not just answers to my questions, but little nuggets of information to keep thinking about, when I learn fascinating new details and facts that I am prompted to google immediately, and when I feel like this issue deserves so much more than a single story. So I’m going to work towards that. But for now, the story.

Being Gay Is Illegal in India, but That Doesn’t Stop These Drag Queens

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“I started performing in drag in 2014. I came out the very next month,” said Alex Mathew, laughing unabashedly. “For 6 months, I had been framing a coming out letter to my parents. I don’t like being fit into boxes—I call myself queer, I think sexuality is fluid. So it didn’t go well. But Mayamma literally yanked me out of the closet.”

Alex is a 28-year-old communications professional in Bangalore, in India—a country where sexuality, gender and identity are deeply intertwined with religion, superstition and caste hierarchies, allowing little or no room to go against the grain. Coming out as gay or lesbian is much less publicly accepted than it is in many Western countries; to claim fluidity in one’s identity, then, is an unapologetic and daring move, much less to perform publicly in drag, as Alex does when he transforms into Mayamma (aka Maya).

In India, performing in drag invites potential for ridicule, social ostracization and the risk of persecution—Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, introduced in 1860 under British rule, criminalizes sexual activities that are “against the order of nature.” But Alex, alongside a rising class of performers spreading the gospel of drag throughout the country, has taken his performances to nightclubs and stages throughout the city, where Maya gets to push the envelope to incite progressive conversations and encourage LGBTQ acceptance.

Whether sashaying in a crisp white saree, singing an emotional rendition of Frozen’s “Let It Go” with jasmine flowers strung through her hair, or belting a boisterous cover of Lady Marmalade, cleverly renamed “Lady Mayamma,” every performance encapsulates an idea Alex holds close to his heart: to be uncompromisingly true to yourself. It’s as much a deeply held philosophy as it is a message about individualism, feminism and gender equality.

“Drag is a performance art; it’s what I do. My sexuality is my identity,” said Alex, carefully separating the two. Little wonder that it was a brush with drag that spurred his coming out: Growing up on a steady diet of Bollywood movies and classic Hollywood musicals, Alex developed a natural flair for theater. “I always wanted to be a Broadway performer, so I learned different forms of dance, acting, improv, and performed in local theater productions. But I always felt like I was missing the excitement and adrenaline rush that I expected from being on stage,” he said. When he revisited the 1993 comedy Mrs. Doubtfire as an adult, he was inspired to give drag a shot.

“Performing as a woman gave me a different rush,” he said. “It was an entry into a creative life that had been waiting for me.”

The act of men donning women’s attire to perform as women is far from new in India—it was previously common in traditional and folk art forms, like KathakaliYakshagana and Theyyam. But in the western, RuPaul’s Drag Race-inflected sense, drag as we know it—as a political act and performance art—has only recently risen in the country. Ironic, then, that to embrace the life of a drag queen is seen as a somewhat political act, given India’s cultural history of similar forms of performance.

Unlike Alex, who arrived at drag after searching for a creative outlet to better express himself, 23 year old Sudipto Biswas’ first performance happened somewhat by chance. Training in Western classical music, singing, songwriting and performing have been central to Sudipto’s life, but he found performing to be more frightening than exciting, because he was scarred by early memories of being mocked for his effeminate mannerisms.

“I’ve been singing all my life. But I have also had huge body image issues and stage fright because I’m not exactly a ‘manly man,’” he said.

He was introduced to drag in 2014 after watching Alex perform as Mayamma; RuPaul’s Drag Race was also gaining in popularity at the time. By marrying his childhood fascination with fabulously unapologetic divas with his desire to sing, he developed his own drag avatar, named Rimi Heart. He had the opportunity to perform as Rimi at Bangalore’s Queer Carnival last year, a fundraiser for the city’s Pride celebrations, which he said liberated a fearless performer within himself.

“Once I was on stage, I felt a radical different level of confidence!” he said. “You know the saying ‘ Give a man a mask and he’ll show you his true colors’—I didn’t hide my mannerisms. In fact, I was exaggerating everything!”

“Drag, by definition, is meant to attract attention. ‘Bad reactions’ to drag are heavily influenced by social conditioning, where it’s almost a sin for a man to do anything feminine. Hyper masculinity makes straight men worry that even remotely interacting [with male femininity] will somehow emasculate them,” said Sudipto. He’s now pursuing ways to break barriers to the public expression of femininity, and use drag to reach a wider audience for his performances.

22-year-old Nilay Joshi is a graduate Engineering and Psychology student with a clear goal—to use his foundational knowledge of psychology to develop his drag performances and bring the realities of LGBTQ lives to stage.

“When you are a drag queen, you get to boldly take to a platform and talk to an audience who wants to watch and listen to you. I feel it’s best way to talk about relevant issues,” said Nilay. His drag character, Kashtaani, is a portmanteau of Kashi bai and Mastani, the two wives of the 18th century Peshwa ruler of Central India. “I was inspired by their diverse personalities. Kashi is caring and subtle, a typical Indian woman, and Mastani is bold and open-minded,” he explained.

For some, drag becomes a way to make a direct political statement about the LGBTQ community itself, like Harish Iyer, a well-known Indian LGBTQ rights activist. You’ll find him applying foundation as he reflects on what drag means to him for filmmaker Judhajit Bagchi’s lens: “Even some of the supporters of the LGBTIQ community feel that it’s okay to be LGBTIQ as long as you don’t overdress or go over the top. I know what they mean—they mean drag,” he said. He told Judhajit that he does drag to represent “the effeminate gay man, the masculine lesbian…(who) are still largely ostracized,” even by the LGBTQ community.

Given the frightening rise of homophobia in India, people like Harish, Alex, Sudipto, Nilay and more are using drag to help subvert the idea that gender roles are binary and sexuality is rigid in a country trying to reconcile deeply ingrained tradition with our modern, global era.

“It’s extremely important to understand that just being a man in heels and a dress dancing and singing is a political act,” said Sudipto. “But there’s a lot of genius and thought process there, and real talent. It would be nice to see people focus on that, too.”

Homosexuality is still criminalized in India—in July 2009, a Delhi high court decriminalized private, consensual homosexual acts proscribed by Article 377; then, in December 2013, India’s Supreme Court recriminalized them. Last February, the Supreme Court heard arguments against its constitutionality, then decided in June to decline to re-examine Article 377’s validity.

The back-and-forth is indicative of the push-pull nature of LGBTQ rights in India. But whether it’s Alex speaking in drag at prestigious conferences, Sudipto pushing gender boundaries with daring performances, or Harish going further still to point out self-hatred within the LGBTQ community, drag may be an art form whose time in India has come.

(This story first appeared on VICE.)

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Happier: perpetual WIP

10 Jan

I’m not entirely blind to the unrealistic expectation that is thinking life will turn 180 degrees from where things were, just, well, last week, just because we moved into a new cycle of counting time. This big rock floating in space that we’re on, literally just completed another revolution around the life-giving blazing star, a time period that we’ve chosen to place such undue pressure on, holding it up to our desperate need for fresh beginnings and new avenues.

So it was natural for me to attribute the surge that I suddenly felt throbbing back to life, and persuading me to get out and see the light, to general peer pressure. One week in, I know now, that was a silly thought process. Because it’s not so much about flicking the pages of the calendar, or the turning of a proverbial new leaf, because yes they’re constructs of our achievement obsessed culture that train our minds to get ready-set-go at the start of the year only to lose steam approximately 2.5 weeks in. Which is about as long as it takes for the shine of a spanking new year to fade.

While it’s true that there needn’t be any reason at all for the uplifted spirit from the doldrums that was 2016, with the somethings-brewing kind of churn and rumble that I’ve felt as we turned the corner and stepped into 2017, the truth is, it was a happy coincidence.

The fact that I felt all the multiple diverging threads of my life, that for the better part of last year felt like they were unravelling slowly and painfully, suddenly converging again towards the end of the year, prompted me to take some time to regroup and prepare for a fresh start. That was intentional and well-timed.

Since, there has been a definite, undeniable shift, and I’ve bounced back to a former self I feel I had forgotten once existed. However, this week, I had to remind myself to press the brakes just a little bit. To slow down, not be impatient, and to remember the stillness and calm that I have worked hard to bring back to my life over the past twelve months.

It is crucial for me to make every effort not to lose this precious pace, to the urgency that brews at the start of every new year. To remember to mindfully, slowly, pace it out rather than rush in all guns blazing, only to burn out very soon.


The side of me that’s raring to go and rush in at all my goals like a maniac with a crack addled brain, is at loggerheads with the side of me that has tasted the benefits of letting go and watching things unfurl when you go at them with the tempered calm of a zen monk.

This morning, at therapy, I acknowledged that maybe I was slipping back into letting that pointless restless energy that does nothing but dissipate my focus, creep back and get the better of me. I visualised it as a ball of wires, knotted up, humming, buzzing frantically, the noise building to a noisy crescendo. But I spent the hour after, working those knots out as much as I could. And when I was done, I visualised myself chucking the whole mess of wires out of my life.

Indu shared an instagram picture with me last night, that reminded me of it’s origins in one of my most favourite posts. And it felt like today was a good day to revisit it.

Everyone is trying to find happiness or stay happy in any way they can.

I realise so much of getting through from one day to the next is in simple acts of mindful living. In tiny reminders of moments full of promise of joy that are in the works, waiting to be acknowledged. In schedules that bisect and dissect time the way I’d like it to be. In moments of peace snatched in between mundane chores like cooking lunch and folding clothes. In the little victories of stories submitted, deadlines met (or happily extended) or a surprise telephone call, shared by no one but me alone. In the simple contentment that comes from eating a square of chocolate. In knowing when you need to heal. In choosing to work out the knots. In trying to understand when to stop, and just throw the whole damn mess out. In not giving up on the urge to get better and thrive. In accepting that this is healing at work. In doing the work. And believing wholeheartedly that this itself, is the very purpose of being alive.

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You do not “arrive” at joy, but you can strive to create it in small and enjoyable ways.

This is a reminder to myself. (And maybe to you too.) That wanting to be happy, getting happier, staying happiest, is WIP. Keep at it, work those knots out, throw out the unnecessary, get help when you need it, find love when you’re feeling the lack of it, demand support from those who you count on, ask for it when they’re not listening, and just keep swimming.

Day 365: All the books I read this year

30 Dec

I know the title makes it sound like I read a whole cartload of books. But the truth is, I didn’t. And yet, I read more books than I have in a long, long time (which is driving my OCD mad because it’s one short of 30 and there’s no way I’m going to finish the book I’m currently reading by tomorrow to round it off neatly. But, I’m trying to fuck perfection this year, so I’m going with it like I don’t care). Also, it has to be said that all the reading fury kicked in in the second half of the year, once I bought myself a Kindle. It has been somewhat life-changing because it altered the very nature of my bedtime routine which now centres around ensuring I make enough time to really read before I fall asleep, it has contributed a greta deal to making me more anti-social because I indiscriminately avoided/cancelled plans in favour of staying home to read, and it has really, really made a wonderful companion through all the travel this year. Apart from all of this, though, 2016 was the first time after years and years of trying to reclaim the habit of reading, that I can say I have succeeded. After what seems like a lifetime, I have given reading a place in my life, rather than fit it into the gaps and empty moments, or use it to keep me company when I was bored/lonely/killing time. And only I know what a difference, not just what I read, but the act of making a habit of reading again, has made to my life. So, in that sense it’s been a very good year of reading.

Anyway, here’s a quick round up of all the books that I read in 2016.

  1. Fiction: 10
  2. Non-fiction: 13
  3. Self-awareness/self-improvement: 6
  4. Memoirs: 9
  5. Collections of essays: 6
  6. Books with marriage as a predominant theme: 11
  7. Books with food as a predominant theme: 2
  8. Books with women/feminism as predominant themes: 12
  9. Books that made me cry: 6
  10. Books that made me laugh out loud: 7

3 best reads of the year:

  1. Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay
  2. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman
  3. ToastNigel Slater and 31 Songs (alternate title: Songbook), Nick Hornby (I couldn’t help myself!)

3 most forgettable reads of the year:

  1. How To Sell Yourself, Joe Girard
  2. Before, and then After, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
  3. The Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman in Your Marriage, Veena Venugopal

And here’s the whole list:

  1. The Untethered Soul, Michael A Singer
  2. How To Sell Yourself, Joe Girard
  3. I Am You: a magical collection of stories and art about awakening, Carrie Louise Hilgert
  4. We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Adichie
  5. A Handbook For My Lover, Rosalyn D’Mello
  6.  Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain
  7. Before, and then After, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
  8. Tanya Tania, Antara Ganguli
  9. Walking Towards Ourselves, Catriona Mitchell
  10. The Girl on the TrainPaula Hawkins
  11. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman
  12. Alphabet Soup For Lovers, Anita Nair
  13. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
  14. This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett
  15. Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
  16. Where’d you go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple
  17. Love, Loss and What We Ate, Padma Lakshmi
  18. In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri
  19. Would You Like Some Bread With That Book, Veena Venugopal
  20. Brave EnoughCheryl Strayed
  21. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown
  22. Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
  23. ToastNigel Slater
  24. Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay
  25. Love Warrior: A Memoir, Glennon Doyle Melton
  26. The Mother-in-Law: The Other Woman in Your Marriage, Veena Venugopal
  27. Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage, Nandini Krishnan
  28. 31 Songs (alternate title: Songbook), Nick Hornby
  29. The Private Life Of Mrs. Sharma, Ratika Kapur

In the coming year, I want to definitely read more fiction. I’ve been building a really long list of to-read books on Goodreads, and hopefully it will help do justice to that goal.

What did your year of reading look like? And what was the most stand out book for you? Tell all, so I can let my reading list growwww. Hopefully, this time around, the habit is here to stay.

PS: You can find all my posts about books filed here.

Day 351: Misty mountain hop

16 Dec

For as long as I can remember, the winter cold has been a source of many a fun time coming to a sorry, sniffly end. It’s not just the winter, though. In my years in Bangalore, the frequent slightly-more-than-minor dip in temperatures that followed the frequent spells of rain typical to Bangalore, saw me bundled up in sweaters and shawls, socks and slippers indoors too. I have distinct memories of wishing my uniform had trouser just to escape the draft that came in through the open doorway on my bus. In college, when I was free to wear whatever the hell I pleased, jeans became my unofficial uniform for the same reason. My college was  along way away from home, and the journey involved changing two buses in the early Bangalore morning weather. I had a wardrobe replete with full sleeved pullovers, woollen tops, plaid and knitwear, and the odd polo neck too. We had “winter wear” too. The button down granny sweater to be worn at home, a sporty jacket, a hoodie, and a sweatshirt that worked with everyday college clothes. I’d even stretched the arms extra long, all the better to dig and snuggle my fists into, and made tiny holes where my thumbs would stick out from. This, long before the thumb-hole became a thing.

Of course all of this was discarded and/or packed away when I moved to Goa, which has barely a smidgen of winter. Certainly nothing to warrant precious real estate in my cupboard being wasted on “winter wear”. Worse, my body has unlearnt what little it did to manage or deal with the cold, rendering me progressively immobile and useless as temperatures drop.

It’s why in our very own Goan winter where temperatures teeter delicately in the early-mid twenties, in November and December, I feel the need to pull out a pullover or a jacket. And it’s also why I always carry a jacket to the movie hall, regardless of the season or weather outside. It is also why, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve stayed away form visiting Leh or Ladakh. Im mortally afraid I will just buckle in the cold and be a vegetable, unable to do anything or enjoy very much.

I realised how much living in a hot place impacts not just the clothes you wear, but your entire wardrobe, accessories, footwear and the way you process weather too, when I began to pack for this trip a few days ago. Since the start of the week, I’d been furiously googling the weather, only to be frightened by the single digit night time temperatures being reported there. I then messaged S to say I was preparing to turn into a semi-icicle.

I realised I don’t own closed shoes anymore, aside from the two pairs of sneakers I can only wear to the gym. I distinctly remember saving two full sleeved tees, for a rainy cold day, somewhere so safe I couldn’t find them, of course. I’ve distributed, given away, donated what was once my rather large collection of stoles and scarves because I got tired of storing them and watching them lie in abject neglect. At least they’ll get used this way, I told myself. Thankfully I’ve been recently gifted a couple of rather pretty (and warm) scarves, so there’s that. But for the rest, I’m banking on snug jeans, and layering up in two jackets, with scarves for good measure. And socks, plenty of socks. Which would be worn inside slippers. Such a winter fail, but I was not about to rush out and but a new pair of shoes just for a 5 day trip.

I shuddered to think about the temperatures all the way here. And last night, I needed the whole shebang — jeans and tee, jacket, a shawl over it, socks and footwear — when outdoors.

But all my worry faded away when I woke up to this view.


And I followed it up with an hour of sitting in the sun, reading, until I felt blind from the crisp light reflecting off my page.

Unlearning the ways of the winter, a tropically trained body and fears of frostbite aside, I have in recent time, realised I miss the winter. I crave colder climes. I long to wear warm clothes and be bundled up in layers.

From niggling yearning for a change of climate, it’s turned into a raging need for the cold again. It had to happen at some point, I guess. The first of it hit me in August, in Wayanad. And today, as I stared out at the clouds slipping through the valley, kissing the mist that cleaved the tea bushes, that mighty feeling that I have held down with some difficulty, in recent time, reared its head once again.

Should I stay, or should I go?

I’m at that point where cooler weather is calling out to me. Misty mountain tops are making balmy seaside scenes feel overrated. The hills are competing with the sea.

And it’s getting very, very hard to remain loyal.

 

Day 349: Indian Women Speak Out About Choosing Not To Have Children

14 Dec

I’m stoked to be finishing the year with a couple of pieces that have been amongst the funnest stories to write, most wonderful and enriching writing experiences, for outlets that have really been an absolute pleasure to work with. The first, is an essay about what it’s like for some childfree Indian women. It also touches heavily on one of the books on the topic that has deeply influenced me. I’m especially happy that I was able to interview my very own tribe of women who have embraced the choice, who I have befriended n the last 5-6 years of my life, who were willing to share their opinions and experiences with me. It’s likely the last of my rambles on the topic. Phew.

The version below is an initial, and longer, edit of the piece that was eventually published on The Establishment.

Selfish, Shallow, And Self-Absorbed? Five Indian Women On Remaining Childfree.

In many Indian homes, the intensely personal decision to have a child is not limited to the space between spouses, and certainly not women alone. I often joke that discussing procreation and being inquisitive about people’s desire to further their progeny is a national pastime.

I’ve had distant relatives  — people I don’t know too well — feel no hesitation to check about my plans to start a family. But it’s not limited to relatives making polite conversation at family gatherings alone. Friends report being grilled about their reproductive choices at staff meetings, conference calls, job interviews, and even first dates. There’s just no winning even with a baby in tow – one-time mothers are often chided about not having a second child, and ones with daughters pressured into having another in the hope that it will be a boy.

Despite my society’s obsession with it, I was initially ambivalent to the prospect of motherhood. Culturally, it’s deeply ingrained as a crucial milestone of adulthood, so I believed that sooner or later I would ‘lean in’ and accept it. Over time,this ambivalence turned to clarity that motherhood was not for me. For one, I never felt the pangs of maternal instincts so many women speak of. Thankfully, the myth that all women want children has been busted. Also, I couldn’t think of a single aspect of my life that I wanted to off-load (even temporarily) to make room for a child. But most of all, I intuitively knew that motherhood just didn’t call out to me.

As an Indian woman, my decision to not have children meant facing a barrage of intrusive questions, fielding off unsolicited advice, steeling myself from unwanted ‘treatments’ and ‘fixes’ – all offered to correct this ‘obvious flaw’. There is a common notion that motherhood “completes” a woman in a way nothing else can, and I felt lonely in my choice.

I was 31 when I stumbled on Megan Daum’s anthology Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision NOT to Have Kids — a book of essays about a range of experiences of writers, men and women of varied sexual orientation, living a childfree life. In this anthology, I found comfort, peace, and a sort of camaraderie that made me feel less isolated about eschewing motherhood.

It was only in my 30s, that I found company in a tribe of Indian women who echoed my sentiment. They listened, without belittling or rushing to offer a solution to alter my thinking.

Having faced their share of meddling questions and conjecture about their reproductive choices, I knew they’d appreciate the essays in Daum’s book as much as I did. I set out to talk candidly with four friends about the book … and gain insight into their own decisions to challenge motherhood – a concept so inextricably linked with my culture’s ideal of the perfect woman.

***

“I don’t hate children. The children of family and friends are much loved and pampered by me,” my friend Chandni starts off. “Just because I don’t want my own, do not assume that I won’t be interested in activities involving children.”

Contrary to the most common assumption about being child-free by choice, like Chandni, I do not hate children. Nor do I hate people who choose to have them. Our inability to acknowledge the possibility that some of us are simply not excited by a life caring for little ones, is dismissive of our agency to find purpose in places and activities outside of motherhood.

Roshni is 40 years old and an accomplished author. She tells me that motherhood didn’t particularly ever appeal to her. She finds the lives of whose with kids, stressful, burdened, and not enviable. But social conditioning runs deep, and she bore some guilt acknowledging a future without motherhood.

On finding solace within Daum’s book, she says: “The book provided some useful reference points to help me begin letting go without feeling unnecessary guilt or attachment to ideas I had been holding on to as a consequence of social conditioning.”

We both agreed that Pam Houston exemplifies this in her essay “The Trouble With Having It All”: “What if I’ve always liked the looks of my own life much better than those of the ones I saw around me?…What if I have become sure that personal, freedom is the thing I hold most dear?”

Accepting what is right for you, even if it means embracing an unpopular choice, requires conviction and courage in a society that has no trouble exerting its opinion on you at every turn.  Often it means going against the grain and shunning motherhood even if it looks like a weakness or selfishness.

***

I would love more well-meaning aunties to read Daum’s  introduction: “It’s about time we stop mistaking self-knowledge for self-absorption.”

The book does a fantastic job of plainly presenting the spectrum of reasons to choose a life without children. My friend Shilpa says it took her upwards of 30 years to really grow into herself as a person, become comfortable with her body and in her own skin. The idea of stepping into motherhood and inevitably unsettling that newfound comfort therefore never appealed to her. Her favourite essay, “Mommy Fearest” by Anna Holmes, states: “These days, as I enter my forties, I find that I am only now beginning to feel comfortable in my own skin, to find the wherewithal to respect my own needs as much as the others’, to know what my emotional and physical limits are, and to confidently, yet kindly, tell others no. Despite (or because of) my single status right now, becoming a mother would feel like a devolution as much as an evolution.”

Even the most self-assured women amongst us, cannot sidestep the painful possibility of waking up to realise that perhaps, we made the wrong choice. In “Beyond Beyond Motherhood” by Jeanne Safer, one of the most relatable pieces for me, she says, “There is no life without regrets. Every important choice has its benefits and its deficits, whether or not people admit it or even recognize the fact: no mother has the radical, lifelong freedom that is essential for my happiness. I will never know the intimacy with, or have the impact on, a child that a mother has. Losses, including the loss of future possibilities, are inevitable in life; nobody has it all.”

***

I sometimes wonder if being selfish about what I want of and for my life is really such a bad thing. More so when I consider the crucial fact that in most Indian families childcare is shouldered almost entirely by women. Even the most hands-on father will never experience pregnancy, childbirth, recovery or breastfeeding, leaving women to be primary caregivers.

In “Maternal Instincts” Laura Kipnis, debunks the idea that society favours parents. “Until there’s a better social deal for women—not just fathers doing more child care but vastly more social resources directed at the situation, including teams of well-paid professionals on standby (not low-wage-earning women with their own children at home)—birthrates will certainly continue to plummet.”

Nisha lives in Chicago, with immediate family across the world. The distance from this support system means she has to carefully consider everything that she will need to give up in order to transition to parenthood. “If it was easier to visualize a life with children I bet more women would choose it. But without help from family or financial resources to hire people to take care of cleaning, babysitting, shopping etc, it’s definitely not an easy choice.”

Increased dialogue around this means we’re also opening ourselves up to the idea that it’s okay to make this choice. We find common ground in circles of likeminded folks. We join Facebook groups for childfree people, we share essays, books, resources, and we engage with others, who like is, acknowledge that parenthood and living a wholesome, meaningful life are not mutually exclusive.

I’m a willing and happy auntie not just through blood ties but through bonds of friendship of my choosing, and I have, at various points, contributed to and been a part of some milestones in parenthood along with my closest friends.

Like Daum says, “These essays have so many people talking about the ways that they do have relationships with kids, nieces or nephews or kids that they mentor. You’ve heard the cliché ‘it takes a village.’ There are so many ways of being a responsible villager,” she says. I couldn’t agree more.

(A version of this story appeared on The Establishment.)

Day 316: That’s how the light gets in

11 Nov

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

— Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

Painfully apt because I’m reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, all about vulnerability and strength. I’ve only just finished the chapter about relinquishing the pursuit of perfection and freeing yourself from the belief that everything you want and can do is scarce. Oddly liberating. Definitely enlightening. But it’s 100% kicking my ass, this book.

Day 308: Reading list

3 Nov

Between being in a funk, staying away from the computer and trying, just a little bit, not to obsess about tracking my ideas, pitches, work, published work, invoices, payments I realise I forgot to share some updates here. Three little things I wrote went live and I hadn’t linked them up here.

First, this story about the woman driving Asia’s first all-woman-run food truck. I enjoyed working on this one so, so much. For multiple reasons, not the least of which was that I actually enjoyed interviewing Archana. I’m not to love interviews, otherwise. In fact I tend to really put them off until I can’t anymore. But some folks are just so lovely and energetic and make the job not just easy, but enjoyable. The best kind of interviews are those that leave you inspired, a little more curious than you were before, and also a little bit in awe. Archana was so vehement in telling me how she woke up one day last year and felt that she had only dabbled in one of her big passions — education and schooling — and not even gotten started on the other — food — and she realised that time was running out. It spurred her to get cracking on pursuing that dream too. Something about the urgency and the way she said time is running out really hit home.

I gently asked her age again, convinced that maybe I’d misheard the number she gave me at the start of the interview.

“32,” came the reply.

No, I hadn’t misheard it.

I worked on this quick list for overseas visitors potentially looking to take back Goan foodie souvenirs or gifts for folks back home.

And then there was this small newsy piece about events to catch in Goa over the next two months. If you’re looking for reasons aside from the sun, sea and sand to visit, this list has films, jazz and literary festivals to watch out for.

It was while updating my Contently Portfolio this morning, that I suddenly woke up to the fact that I’ve now written for over 20 publications. The article count on this page has crossed 70. And this is just the work I care to share. There’s a lot more that I don’t personally find portfolio worthy, which would take the count up to over 100 pieces since I began freelancing. I ruffled through my email to the start of the year and noticed that my pitches have only two publications to showcase, which made me realise that literally all the rest have been a product of my effort this past year alone. I broke into more international publications than I thought I was capable of. I wrote more than one piece for some of them. I even built personal relationships with some editors. Especially worth noting for me, is the fact that the two publications I bandied about in the early pitches from the start of this year are two I have now weaned myself off of. This happened for two very different reasons, but that can both be summed up as: I want better for myself. 

Last week I received an email out of the blue, from an editor in Hong Kong seeking to commission a story. I had tried to reach out to this person two months ago and failed at the time. The emails we shared back and forth pleasantly surprised me. When I bagged the story, I called VC to tell him, “I’m in shock” (at this turn of events).

“Well, stop being shocked,” came his very casual response.

He’s right. I have to stop being shocked. This is what I do, it’s my work and I am good at it. That shouldn’t come as a surprise anymore.

Suddenly, I feel very, very good about myself. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time berating myself for not really reaching exactly where I want to be. But I’ve been so blinkered with my goals. Metrics vary, and while I may not have reached some targets, I’ve more than surpassed others and knocked them out the park. Very quickly, I updated my portfolio to reflect this.

Perhaps I need to take stock, and bask in the sunshine of my small victories more often. But this post isn’t just a little bragging about my writing. I also wanted to share some recent good reads that I’d saved.

This hilarious piece titled I’m Not an Asshole. I’m an Introvert was so on point. With the proliferation of writing we’re suddenly seeing on the topic, it’s natural that the spectrum of introversion blurs. Titles and labels become watertight when they shouldn’t be, and many are used in ways that misrepresent their actual meaning.

After discovering you’re an introvert, waxing eloquent about how liberating acknowledging that was, was natural. When enough people had done that, the monopoly of the noisy extroverted world was sufficiently challenged, so it was only a matter of time before introverts with social awkwardness be mistaken for assholes with a lack of manners and social decorum. So I’m glad someone found a funny way to look this whole situation.

Okay, I did not see this coming, even though I’ve believed this to be true for a very, very long time. Bye-bye babies talks about how parenthood is such a fraught decision. One that many live to regret, but few care to admit. Some startling lines:

While women express their doubts about having children, elsewhere, the Independent reports, men have lost interest in the idea of marriage itself. Tens of thousands of men have formed an online community called MGTOW, or Men Going Their Own Way.

Children, as an idea, have also gone out the window in Japan where startling statistics released by the National Institute of Population Research show that 70 per cent of unmarried men and 60 per cent of unmarried women are not in a relationship.

In fact, the Japanese have pretty much stopped having sex. 42 per cent of male adults surveyed and 44.2 per cent women admitted they were virgins.

Some parts of Europe are experiencing what is now being called a “Demographic Storm” due to the increasing choice of people remaining child-free. From my very cursory understanding it’s a situation where women are outliving men, yet they aren’t having enough babies fast enough, while the old continue to die. Ouufff, sounds so first world to me.

Birth rates are falling and the government is worried. Falling birth rates are already a problem across Europe.

In India, we have an unsentimental attitude to children. Children are an investment in your own future. It’s a case of quid pro quo. You look after your children; you expect them to be at your bedside in old age. No wonder that the Indian economy is reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend rather than weathering a demographic storm.

Are all you iPhone (iOS) users finding yourself completely and utterly pissed off with every consecutive OS update? I can’t help but think they’re going the Microsoft way, ruining good things for no reason, and breaking the very fabric that their minimalistic, function-first ideology was built on. This piece makes an eerily accurate comparison between Steve Ballmer and Tim Cook. It makes me want my next phone to be the Pixel, and I didn’t think that day would come so soon.

Here’s another convincing piece on everything questionable about the direction in which Apple is moving, which often feels backward rather than forward. Convincing, and troublesome.

And finally, saving the best for last, the series of pieces about Monica Ghurde, written by seven women, in an effort to counter/resist/undo the insensitive, dehumanizing way in which she the media chose to write about her the days following her untimely death. These pieces all made me tear up and cry for a woman I didn’t know personally, but whose death somehow has hit me where it really hurts, and still leaves me a bit paranoid, afraid and confused about the meaning of freedom for women like me. Please read.

  1. In BuzzFeed: My Days With Monika, by Akanksha Sharma
  2. In Vogue: Learning to be a little monster, by Amrita Narayanan
  3. In Hindustan Times: When the earth laughs in flowers, by Arundhati Subramaniam
  4. In The Hindu: A letter to Monika, by Tishani Doshi
  5. In The Indian Express: This is how you fix what is broken, by Margaret Mascarenhas
  6. In The Times Of India: Don’t kill Monika Ghurde again, by Deepti Kapoor
  7. In The Herald Goa: Tribute to a very special woman and friend, by Katharina Kakar

Day 302: Soloism

28 Oct

The joys of doing things all alone are seriously underrated.


(PS: VC if you’re reading, contents of this post aside, I miss you and it’s time to come home)

Protected: Day 301: Notes to self

27 Oct

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Day 300: Three hundred

26 Oct

300 days. 222 posts. I don’t know how many pictures, videos, haiku – but somehow, I kept this up. I have 66 days and 44 posts to go till the finish line. Which is the end of 2016. I’m not sure it will be the finish line. Some of you may want to take this cue and unfollow me now. But this has become a bit addictive. Every time I hit a nice round figure milestone, I wondered how much longer I’d keep this up. Milestone posts also seem to be seminal posts this year, I just realised while scouring through my archives.

Day 10 came on a weekend. Day 50 was about major leaps and minor struggles. Day 100 also landed on a weekend. Day 150 happened to be the tenth anniversary of writing this blog. Day 200 was a shitty day so distinctly clear in my mind, it was one of the reasons I decided I had to change something. Day 250 is the day I gave thanks for my people.

Which brings me to today. Day 300.

After posting about my book quandary last night, I started to read Cheryl Strayed’s Brave Enough last night. And finished it this morning. It’s really slim, and it’s not really a book book. It’s a collection of quotes by her, from various places collected into one massive book of here-take-another-punch-to-your-guts. She calls it A Mini Instruction Manual For The Soul. And it is. If you’ve read and loved Strayed, like I have, you’ll want to add this to your collection. I read Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things with such fervour two years ago, and it hit all the right spots, over and over through the book, that I’m a Cheryl Strayed fan for life now. Goodreads reviews for this book range from terrible to amazing, so it’s that kind of book that nobody can seem to agree on with any kind of remote uniformity. Many people found it insipidly inspiration in a very Hallmark-card sort of way. And I can see why. But I’ve always found the simplest things sometimes speak very profound truths, to me.

This book is filled with them. Powerful, brutally honest words that aren’t always sugar coated or pleasant words that are exactly what you want to hear. Words that cut, sometimes so close and so deep you want to imprint them on your skin. This is a book of unbridled, raw inspiration. And as is the case with inspiration, it hits you the hardest, when it’s the right time. I read Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things at what I believe was the best time I could have picked them up. And I feel the same about this one too.

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This, is an overwhelmingly accurate summation of what I’ve been feeling lately. I even wrote about it a few days ago, only to find these six words say so simply what took an entire post out of me. A gentle coming back to life. A return to base. A peaceful acceptance, that feels like home. And there’s so many more quotes where this came from. I practically underlined every alternate page.

Some of my favourites:

Transformation doesn’t ask that you stop being you. It demands that you find a way back to the authenticity and strength that’s already inside of you. You only have to bloom.

***

Hello fear. Thank you for being here. You’re my indication that I’m doing what I need to do.

***

Desperation is unsustainable.

***

Bravery is acknowledging your fear and doing it anyway.

***

You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching.

Each of these quotes hits hard and makes you go ouch, but in a way that you’re grateful for the punch to where it hurts the most.

So it’s day 300. Booyeah.

And one last thing;

Vulnerability is strength.

Day 291: Mondaze

17 Oct

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Most times calm is a feeling. The quietening of a racing pulse. My feet returning to the ground after days of floating just a few inches off, anchor-less.

Sometimes, calm is a deadline met. Well before time. Sheer delight billowing the insides of my heart.

Calm is the obvious lack of worry. Worry that’s draining from my finger tips. Worry that never belonged here, but that somehow had made itself so at home.

Calm is an enjoyable book that’s melting away faster than I realise. Blurring the line between its last page and I.

Sometimes calm is reassurance. The weight of the hand that rests on my chest, slowing my very being down.

Calm, it’s thin, like vapour. Like the invisible evening dew that wraps itself around me.

Calm is like quiet solace trapped, like hot air rising to the ceiling.

Sometimes calm is an afternoon. Sometimes it’s solitude. Sometimes it’s a room.

Day 288: New eyes

14 Oct

If there’s one message that’s coming at me again and again these past few weeks, it is the need for patience. It’s an old theme that keeps coming back to me, but even more so of late. Sometimes a live project helps, to literally slow things down, bringing you within arms length of the guileless nature of waiting and watching.  It is a lesson in control, as much as it is in learning the natural rhythm of things, in picking up only when the moment is ripe. At the start of this year, I swam through a bout of waiting. It was like sitting in a cauldron of constantly bubbling, hot liquid. And it left me all sorts of undone. This time though, it’s lifting me up, one step at a time. Painfully slowly, but it has been oh so liberating. Because it has opened my eyes to all that I have ignored, compromised and lost, to impatience. In hastening everything up, in constantly rushing through time, I’ve forgotten to notice the little things — that which is unsaid, often not immediately apparent.

I’m glad for the fresh pair of eyes that has helped me see things anew. I’m happy there’s another perspective, diametrically different from my own broody, angsty one. But most of all, I’m immensely hopeful because I finally see the light. That’s all.

So here, take. Happy song for today:

Day 274: For every down, there is an up

30 Sep

There are good months. There are meh months. And there’s various kinds of meh. Professionally, it means that sometimes I haven’t received enough responses. Sometimes it’s that I’ve received so many responses, but I haven’t successfully converted as many of my pitches into stories. Sometimes it also happens that a story I expect to turn around really quick, drags out painfully. Sometimes I turn a story around in record time, and then the editor sits on it for an impossibly long time (seven months has been my longest wait, no jokes). Most times, I only get paid when a story is published. So, to take the story that was 7 months in waiting, it really does feel like what I’ve eventually earned is a significantly shredded amount, given the effort and time (including the wait) that has gone into a piece of work. Sometimes I send a story per a commission, and the editor ghosts me out. It happens, sometimes for legitimate reasons too, and then you can’t even be pissed.

The good months can be all kinds of awesome. I’ve had months when I’ve knocked it out of the park with my energy to pitch relentlessly. I’ve also tasted what its like to hit that sweet spot of having a high conversion rate. Some times I am able to knock the stories out as per the schedule. On extra good months, long pending payments come in, to tide me over until the work I’m now doing eventually pays me. The wait is long. The struggle is real. In an ideal world, the balance is a part of the routine and rhythm of this freelancer life.

I am far from that world. I swing from extreme highs to extreme lows of energy, commitment and digits in my bank balance.

But I am also slowly realising that the best months are the months in which I have sustained my routine, and my discipline and the months where I have let that slip, it shows. It shows in my work, it shows in my state of mind, and it shows in how I deal with what I am feeling. September has seen me all over the place, agitated, restless, sleeping badly. But every time I hit an emotional downer this past month, I’ve had a reality check that has made me question my perspective about some of my beliefs to do with my work. Eventually, I had an epiphany that I thought was a crucial breakthrough in the emotional tussle I am going through. It made me take myself to therapy this week, to address it. It’s all you need sometimes — a conversation with someone completely removed from your reality. It’s definitely what I needed, for starters, because it has caused a shifted in my brain.

I’ve been mulling over everything we spoke about at therapy for the last two days and this morning, I found a strange but timely affirmation of it all in a conversation with N. Later she posted a status message that had a sentence I needed to read;

Productivity and following plans is great when it happens but it’s not everything. On a day like this when life wants me to realise this important fact, I’m glad I took the bait and listened.

She’s talking about her life, and her important facts, and unproductive day, but I could completely relate. September has been a strange month, as you’ve probably already figured. I started with such gusto, and then slipped into a sea of self-doubt immediately after (if you received my first newsletter you’ll know, because I talked about it there). Then just as I got going again my laptop died. And here I am today, a week from that horrible day, realising it’s the end of the fucking month already. Part of me wants to cry and scream for the days that have gone by in a blur. But a larger part of me has this strange resigned acceptance.

I haven’t got nearly not as much work as I planned to do. I haven’t done nearly as much of it as I’d have liked to. But for the first time in months, I’m telling myself that it’s okay. I’ve been unproductive with work, but I have done the best thing I could do for myself, which was to take the bait and listen, at every point that life was giving me a cue. It’s how I had the epiphany. It’s what made me go to therapy. It’s what made me want to get to the bottom of this.

*****

If you’ve stayed with my self-indulgent navel-gazing ramble and read this far:

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Because I’ve lost some of the patience I have carefully built in the recent past, this post aptly titled Shut Up and Be Patient, really spoke to me, with sentences like,

These are all great transitions, good changes coming to a life that is slowly inching its way into its next stage. But life transitions, even when good, are always difficult, and they are always slow and gradual.

A good life is not a life without problems. A good life is a life with good problems. And so, despite the turbulence of the rocky waves and twisting tides, I can sometimes stare into the heart of my confusion and the crossed strains of joy and sadness, and smile and be grateful that it’s all there.

Did you watch the Presidential Debate? No, I’m not going to share yet another article that breaks down the obnoxious mansplaining of downright idiotic beliefs that one of the candidates displayed. It’s this interview with Chelsea Clinton that really stood out amongst a lot of the heavy post-debate analysis that has been doing the rounds.

I love that the topic of child-free-dom is seeing so much press. We’ve gone past the point of asserting out legitimate choice for a life without children, to talking about the many other ways in which those of us who have made this choice fulfil our instinct to care for and nurture people. This essay makes a lovely point about the presence of child-less women in the lives of mothers. I’ve always said I love being an auntie, and I am an auntie to so many lovely babies. This piece breaks it down so well, and while it is about alternative roles played by the child-free, it is mostly a case for building a life with community and kinship.

Remember that picture of Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama seated on plastic stools in what looked like a tiny eatery in Vietnam, sipping a beer each, that surfaced around May this year? Well here’s an interview with Bourdain, and deets about the episode that will feature the POTUS. So heartwarming.

*****

Okay, c’est fini.

I’m looking forward to a weekend of reading, a 100km ride on Sunday that I eventually decided to bite the bullet and go through with. I have had no practice in about a month now, so I’m going in blind. Armed with dates, chikki and ORS. Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

When Monday rolls along, I hope to feel more refreshed, ready to wipe the slate clean and take on a new month.

Day 265: Today, on the internet

21 Sep

I have been filled with incredible amounts of self-doubt and anxiety about the flurry of ideas I sent out last week. Partly because of the waiting, the silence, and the inevitable rejections that come. They always come. Of late, I have been consciously working on not taking it personally. It means constantly reminding myself that a rejection doesn’t necessarily always mean the idea sucks, or that the timing was wrong or that I am a terrible writer and shouldn’t be doing this at all.

This morning I opened one of my favourite sites, Indexed, and saw this. And it was like resetting the dials back to zero – the angst vanished, instantly.

There’s no shame in admitting that all I’m really doing is practicing, improvising, learning from trial and error and just getting by from one day to the next.

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I totally didn’t intend to post more links so soon, but I’ve been reading such a lot of fun, amazing, thought-provoking, commendable writing stuff off late, I didn’t want to put off sharing today’s finds with you.

I watched Pink last night, and enjoyed it for the powerful, relevant, important points it makes. And for bringing the issues it does front and centre of mainstream cinema. I have to call it that because it was clear why Amitabh Bacchan was needed to pull it off. Even as it was adequately disturbing and thought provoking in an extremely visceral way, I couldn’t shake off the irony of having a story about the struggles of three regular, everyday women being overshadowed by a larger than life male icon to deliver a socially charged message. I wonder if a film like it would receive the response it got if it was missing a mainstream star like Mr Bacchan?

About the movie, but on a different note, I thought this piece about the film’s triumph, was a telling.

I haven’t read a single news item about Brangelina splitting up, but I am a sucker for Buzzfeed pieces, and I’m so glad I picked this profile from the river of clickbaity posts that usually suck up a questionable amount of any given day.

This post, one of the last things I read tonight, on travel, culture and assimilation. And a realisation about the lack of magic in it all. Sigh.

And because everybody needs a good earworm before bedtime, or to start the day, depending on where you’re reading this from:

Day 264: Perch

20 Sep

This was where I was perched for some part of the past weekend. On assignment, for a piece you should see up soon.

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There are days when I lament the inherent competition and the potential to undercut services that exists in an industry like ours, working the way that I do. Last week I was exhausted sending out cold pitches for ideas in emails that would get opened a dozen times to no response. It’s lonely business, especially if you’re a slowly getting to be a stickler about the kind of work you will/will not do.

But every time I have hit a low, felt a bit at sea, floating in an endless waves of information, lost and unsure of how to get ahead, help comes along in ways I least expect it to.

I am glad for it. And it reinforces my faith in goodness, in chance friendships, in paying it forward. I’m glad for moments like that. For assignments like these, that come by and land in my lap without much effort. When they come through friends in the same business, willing to selflessly share a chunk of the pie, I am especially grateful, overwhelmed and overcome by the need to pay it back again.

At the end of an exhausting, meh couple of days, it’s moments like these that make me see the light again. I’ve found kinship and kindred spirits through my words, my work and and some days it’s all I need to feel uplifted and centred again.

So an unlikely, unexpected assignment came to be, and VC and I found ourselves in this spectacular property for a day and a night, where we mostly chilled over food and drink and spent time reading. I took a dip in the pool that overlooked the beach. And we went to bed extra early, and I clocked 8 straight hours of uninterrupted sleep for the first time in weeks.

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And of course he made a film.

Day 257: Down and up again

13 Sep

August saw a force-stop as far as work is concerned. But I didn’t realise how incredibly hectic it was with people visiting, until the last of my guests left on Saturday. I’ve pretty much been in the company of someone or the other since the end of July. And just the thought makes me feel so claustrophobic and peopled-out. To be surrounded by this kind of camaraderie is  immensely enjoyable while it lasts, and I push through into a sort of overdrive in the moment. I was making plans, always raring to go out exploring or for a meal or drink and the like. But in true introvert-style, it’s only when the last guest has left, the chairs have been put back in their place, the linen washed and put away, the glasses wiped clean and stored, and the the silence comes crashing in, does the fatigue kick in.

I slept for 15 out of 24 hours on Sunday.

Susan Cain talks about this in her book, Quiet, and if I hadn’t read it early this year I’d have thought I was ill and popped a pill or something. Engaging with people, no matter how enjoyable or stimulating, is far more taxing and demanding on intrverts/ambiverts than it is on extroverts. Obviously, it demands a lot more expulsion of energy and leaves us a lot more fatigued at the end of it. So it wasn’t just the alcohol, heavy food and late nights talking. I was really, literally people-d out.

Reading the book definitely helped accept this as a natural by-product of needing a fixed amount of down time to recharge batteries every now and then. So instead of fighting it and forcing myself to push on and get going with life, I allowed myself to relax. I spent the waking hours of Sunday reading, we ate leftovers for lunch and went out to eat a greasy dinner of Indian Chinese.

It was so needed. One day of sloth was all it took. Who’d have thought? Because after spending a good part of last week dragging my feet to slip out of that “holiday” mode, even though I promised myself I would resume work at the start of September, I snapped right into it yesterday. And I surprised myself.

Catching up on emails, and my work feeds on facebook, my brain was on fire. Ideas snapped out faster than I could keep up with them and I had to reign it in, breathe, put pen to paper and jot things down before they escaped me.

I pitched a total of 11 publications in 2 days. The most productive I have been in a long time. Some of those pitches had multiple ideas. This is not to brag because it’s entirely possible that absolutely none of them will convert and be commissioned in the form I imagine. But I’m just happy to get going for now. Of course there’s the part where every Indian editor I’ve pitched has seen my emails multiple times but hasn’t responded, all my American editors were likely asleep when I emailed them so those emails remain unopened. And I’m stuck here refreshing my inbox every 45 seconds. Oh, the joys of the freelancer life!

Since I’m starting with a clean slate, there’s going to be some waiting, I know. But, if I hear back from even a third of the number of people I pitch this week (there will be more emails sent out tomorrow and day after!), I will be okay.

I spent a significant time updating my collections sheet that I haven’t looked at all month, today. For the first time this year, I have zero outstandings. I can’t explain how good that feels.

I then sorted out my saved links, compiled all the bits and bobs of ideas floating in various places into my pitch list. colour coded the rejections and planned out my next wave of pitches too.

I’m inexplicably pumped today. You know how you feel it in your bones somedays? Even with a full day of work, and a long night ahead, you feel like you will get through it feeling okay?

That.

In other news, I’m mildly in shock that I received a surprising 34 subscriptions to my newsletter. I’ve got a ton of new music I am waiting to dig into. I’m reading a super fun book that I’m looking to finish tonight, and already have my next book lined up. I changed things around with my workout routine, once again, and it seems to have kicked my metabolism back in shape slightly. I almost couldn’t believe it when I closed this mornings kickboxing class with 5000+ steps and 1000+ calories clocked.

And all that done, I felt like I could sneak in a run in the evening. But I decided against it. I have a double whammy workout tomorrow – morning and evening sessions – and I must conserve energy.

That said, I’m feeling extra energetic, overall.

If this is the high that I can be sure to get every time I hit rock bottom, and then take time out to recuperate, I’m going to do this more often.

If committing to a holiday, with the unwritten promise to myself to work my ass off retrospectively, can somehow turn the switch and spark this level of earnest productivity, I may be on to something.

If this is the amount of energy sleeping for 15/24 hours can generate, I might consider calling Sunday, Sleepday.

Here, share some of my energy? I have enough to go around a couple of times.

And then some.

Day 252: Eight

8 Sep

VC, it’s that time of year again. This day wouldn’t be complete without me saying it feels like we only just got together yesterday. Like I’ve done so many times before. But we know the truth. It’s been a decade of knowing you, and in fact the enormity of that truth only sank in only a few days ago. Suddenly I realised we’ve been doing this for an absolute age. A whole damned decade, eight years of which have been spent trying to perfect this marriage thingamajig.

But you know what?

perfection

PC: StarvingArtistFilms

It’s been a far from perfect year, since our last anniversary when I waxed eloquent about how comfortably predictable things had become. This year there was many an oddball. It was anything but predictable. There have been so many heavy discussions about where to next, which came with a huge set of pros cons and our respective opinions, desires and dreams to juggle. There was a home loan in the mix this year, which has put a fair deal of pressure on us both. Not that you ever showed it, but I always know when you’ve been worried about it. There was a lot of angst about what to do next — for you and for me, as individuals and as a unit — and which way to go from here. It seems like this semi-charmed life has maxed out on it’s levels of near-perfection (when you discount the shitty roads and spotty internet, I mean) and that has time and again pushed us into a corner, begging us to ask ourselves some hard questions and consider some difficult options.

And so we did. It’s been a year of tremendous opinion-sharing between us. I can’t help but feel that the more rounded and formed our personalities get, the more we dig our heels in and stand up for what we believe in. Many times, we don’t believe in the same things. This year, more than ever before, we’ve sparred over things, small and big. From your smoking habit that I truly wish you’d kick, to a potential move beyond Goa, we’ve battled it out with loud exchanges of words, lots of confusion, plenty of tentative guessing and jumping to conclusions, a fair amount tears and the two instances when I left home and drove off into the night. Old me from about two years ago would say I’m not proud for what I did, or what pushed me to it. But I’ve learned this year, more than ever before, that it’s not important to agree and always see eye to eye. In fact it’s important not to agree, and it’s important to always have the room for that. I’m so glad that even when we’re in the throes of a belligerent rage, one of us has the sense to calm the other down and remind ourselves to make space for one another’s opinions.

I love that we have this healthy battle ground. Where we can spar, constantly remind ourselves to keep it civil, but not polite; honest but not rude; real, but not sharp. This year more than ever before, I have enjoyed fighting with you. Until last year, I always wondered if there was something the matter with us – our fights and disagreements were few and so far between. This year, I proved myself wrong and we’ve more than made up for the lack of disagreements in our lives so far.

I believe everything happens for a reason, and that this transformation came with a reason too. Because, I no longer fear fighting with you (and anyone else I hold close, for that matter). I’ve learned that every healthy relationship must have space for healthy disagreement. It’s become a marker for the authentic relationships in my life, across the board. It’s taught me that learned that sometimes one has to squash one’s ego, agree to disagree, and just hug it out. I’ve also learned that no matter what the outcome, it’s always a good idea to say sorry.

This year, you’ve taught me the value of saying sorry, even when it is the hardest thing to do and my mountain-sized ego will not allow it. In the number of instances that you plainly and easily said sorry, at the end of an argument, or when you thought you’d disappointed me, or when the truth about the numerous patterns of oppression women face in a typical Indian family suddenly dawned on you in its immensity, and you suddenly woke up to it’s existence in your own family, you apologised for it. You took responsibility, even though you’ve never behaved in a way that was oppressive or discriminatory. You apologised on the behalf of everyone else who never will. You have no idea how immensely liberating that has been.

This year, I’ve learned empathy from you. I’ve learned to tone down my judgement. To live and let live, in the truest sense of the term. Together we’ve turned many of our perceptions about a lot many things and people around. It;s reminded me that there is always have scope to grow, and I feel glad every time that we are able to acknowledge where we were wrong, and we try and correct our thoughts. I like to think we’ve turned into more self-assured individuals with firmness where it counts. I find you perfectly straddle being strong-willed, but soft-hearted where it matters. You’ve displayed conviction, with a rare kind of softness that I find immensely attractive. It’s a balance I still have to learn.

But most of all, this year will always be remembered as the year you helped me rediscover myself yet again. I don’t know if you realise the influence you have had on me. As the only person privy to all my thoughts, feelings, ups and downs of every aspect of my life, you share in my angsts and joys equally. And this year your only steady advice has always been to put a premium on myself. To always raise the bar, demand more, settle for nothing less than the best. Whether it has been at work — when demanding a higher fee, not settling for shoddy work relationships, or in my relationships with people — cutting off toxic friendships, prioritising my time, being uncompromising with the quality of friendships and focusing on myself and my self development.

You’ve been the sound voice, constantly dinning into my head the need to put myself first. It’s how I’ve bettered my work style and engagements. I wouldn’t have re-learned discipline if it weren’t for our many discussions about how to get better at this game. I wouldn’t have cracked so many pitches if we hadn’t worked on my emails together. I wouldn’t have come to believe in myself if you hadn’t backed me up every step of the way.

This year, we’ve completely soaked in the spirit of being quiet. You were always the quiet one, but this year I realised I have some quiet in me too. In learning to be still, I’ve understood myself better, sharpened my focus, fine-tuned my ability to be by with myself. As individually-focused as that sounds, it has changed my relationship with you. For the better. I understand you better. I respect you more. I honour you for the individual that you are, completely, with fewer expectations than before. As much as there’s been hectic chatter and loud disagreements, we’ve had our fair share of silence too. It’s one of the things I love the most about us. The way in which we can exist in a companionable silence, for hours on end, without having to engage. This year, I’ve learned there’s more than one kind of quiet, and I cannot wait to discover the rest. With you. Even though this was also the year we took off on our own respective tangents.

It’s the first time I saw in us, the patterns I see with my parents. In being starkly individualistic people, with completely different goals, diverging in entirely opposite directions, yet somehow making ends meet, and finding a way to let go, live and love, all at once.

I travelled by myself this year, more than I have ever before. And it was because conversations I had with you rekindled the hidden desire that I have let remain forgotten for all the years we have been together. You bought me the bestest gift of all times – a bike – that has triggered something deeper than a quest to cycle, in me. You’ve reminded and taught me how important it is to chase those things that are fundamental to our happiness, outside of amassing money in the bank and buying things. And you’ve done this by example. By taking off on your own path of self-discovery, traversing cycling, film and new areas of work – areas I am completely removed from. That has been your journey to take, and I’ve watched from a distance, with such pride.

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

I look back at this year and it looks so pock-marked, dented and imperfect, riddled with the weight of learning. It’s been a heavy year in that respect. But we’ve towed the line rather well, picking up when the other left off, holding each other up, and being the stoic, steady person when the other needed to waver for a bit. In you I’ve had the best friend and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner on this ride.

We’re still often met with this picture perfect notion of marriage, complete with the kids and the car and the giant home. We’re still asked when we plan to have children, and shocked reactions that prod deeper and wants to know why that’s not on our agenda. I understand now, where it’s coming from. It’s because that’s what it works for many people. But there is room for us. And for us, it has always been about doing it our way. Keeping our eyes and minds open, bucking the rules, bending with time and circumstances, flowing the way we choose to, changing as per the need of the hour and playing by our own rules. And you know what? That’s never going to be a pretty, picture perfect journey.

I’m ready for more.

Just to change this up, here’s a picture that represents us pretty perfectly.

fullsizerender-2

Happy 8th.
I love you.

*****

Past anniversaries
Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

Day 222: Extreme relax

9 Aug

img_6096

A view. A book. Or three.

Birds, sunshine, some rain. Sufficient cups of tea. Three good meals per day.

My family, conversation, laughter, cuddles.

And socks. All the time, socks.

That is all.

Day 215: Moving on

2 Aug

IMG_5935

With every step
Forward moves closer
And fear gets left behind.

Day 209: Smoke and ashes, email trails and matters of the heart

27 Jul

In a strange and unexpected twist of events today, I suddenly found myself rummaging through old emails dating back to the very beginning of my gmail account. It’s just about 8 years ago, but frankly every time this happens, it feels like I’m going back to the start of time. It’s just an unnecessary trip to take, quite honestly. Because it stirs feelings I’ve pushed away, instances I’ve chosen to filter out and it brings to the surface a mixture of nostalgic tinged with wistful longing for a different time that is so long gone there is absolutely no trace of it to cling on to. Except when you go looking for it, in gmail accounts and folders in your hotmail account that bear questionable names. One folder in particular, called “lau” – ayyo, yes, really. That folder always leaves me happy-sad. Happy for the good times and innocence, sad for the naivety and the struggle that I was rather oblivious to back then, but I see so crystal clear now. Right there in my inbox, I traced my way down the entire life cycle of one of the major relationships in my life, right to the end where it crashed and burned leaving a trail of smoke and ashes, that still lingers even till today, evidently.

How else do you explain what I was doing in the inbox of an email account I don’t even use anymore. Why are these emails still there? Why do I still know this password? Why are some memories so vivid and some others catch me by surprise when I read about them? So many questions.

Next stop, transitioning from hotmail to gmail, of course, I was neck deep in emails from 8 years ago. Chats with friends who helped me keep my sanity intact, during my years hopping from one ad agency to the next, like it was going out of style. There were chats of serious advice, of hatching plans to escape the world, rants about work, rants about Bangalore and being a single girl finding her way to work, rants about boys, rants about my then angst ridden rebellious relationship with my parents, a lot of rants basically. But I had some good people in my life, from the looks of it. Solid folks who stuck it out with me, heard me out, entertained my constant complains, kept me afloat, and shared a shit ton of good music with me. Through good times, bad times, melancholic times, moody times – there were so many youtube links and mp3s shared in email attachments.

I landed on this one chat in particular, where this song was shared:

This is such a bloody good song. And suddenly I went right back to that day. It was a long evening working, at what was probably my third or fourth job. I had been complaining to this boy who was once a very good friend, about the auto ride to work and how I was tired of being ripped off every single day just getting to work. I was also complaining about a relationship that was dwindling but refused to die a silent death. And I spoke of the existence of another boy who I never expected to be interested in, but suddenly had been eating up large chunks of my attention (I’m talking about VC, of course). I complained about being unable to deal with it all. I complained about not wanting anything to do with any of them. I claimed I wanted a no strings, happy, fun fling (hah, as if I was capable of it!). Here was a boy being the best friend a girl could have – and I mean this in an entirely platonic way. Saying all the right things, being there and listening patiently when she was complaining, sending her lovely music that was hugely appropriate for the moment, touching all the right chords and basically being a little too awesome to be true. So awesome that for some reason, I, in what now seems like a very stupid move, casually quoted a line from this song I was obsessing over at the time.

And we should be together

I suffixed it with “dammit!” and I slipped it into an email, quite unthinkingly. It was just a dramatic line from the song, and I didn’t think much of nonchalantly, flicking it away like a just-lit match glowering and sizzling as it cuts through the air, going out with a hiss. Leaving only smoke and ashes, baby.

What followed, and what I saw in a string of emails, was a confused exchange between me and said boy. Mostly him picking up on a sign he probably saw, that I had inadvertently led him to believe was there. And in the midst of it all, was this song, embedded in an email. This was before the days of ripping any damned youtube song I want, using third party sites that turn videos to mp3s. Finding music meant looking for a torrent and using a peer to peer file sharing software to download it. It meant only finding stuff that was popular and that would be easily accessible on people’s shareable file systems. It meant not finding slightly less popular Tracy Chapman tracks with as much ease as say the latest club track. And yet, there I was, quoting this amazing song to this lovely boy, and asking him to find me the song.

Find it for me, he did.

*****

Today this unexpected, but altogether pleasant trip was triggered by the most unlikely chain of events that started here, with the discovery of this song that came out early this morning:

Just a regular catchy Hindi movie song that’s a massive throwback to only like one of the most favourite jig-worthy tracks from my late teenage years. No big deal.

So of course, I may have played the song way too many times for my own good, as I am known to do very, very often.  Except this time, I may have somehow pakaoed myself by the continuous loop. Now that is a first even for me.

One thing led to another, and before I knew it I was going down a slippery slope. Sukhbir, Bally Sagoo, Stereo Nation and everything in between, including the likes of dil le gayi kudi gujarat ki and laung gawacha and oh god I don’t even want to tell you what else.

And then, I don’t know why, but suddenly I was in my email account, looking at old emails and feeling too many feels for a Wednesday evening, triggered by an avalanche of music that traversed Punjabi pop and ended with Tracy Chapman.

And here I am listening to it for only the 56th time since I saw the email. Yep, it’s on loop. I don’t know how this happened. Sometimes I don’t understand how my brain works. But I know how this will go. The song will play on loop, till my light and my heat have all been spent, leaving only smoke and ashes. Only smoke and ashes, baby.

Please send help, I’m drowning in a pool of my own feels and I’ve forgotten how to swim.