Postcards from Goa

It’s been such an overwhelming week. Sensory overload. Hectic, tiring, physically taxing. Mentally and emotionally too, Ive felt stretched. But it has also been so satisfying.

Details to follow. But for now, thank you Goa, for a sparkly time, yet again. And before I head off to location two, here’s a few postcards from the past week spent wandering in spots I’ve roamed countless times, that I got to see through new eyes.

As a traveller. As a visitor. As an outsider. As an assistant to a film maker. As a professional on assignment.

Looking at everything anew sometimes makes all the difference.

Same time, last year: Day 293: Stuff

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Just do the next right thing, one thing at a time. That’ll take you all the way home.

I’ve been in this floaty in-between space, I call my extended time of transition, for so long now. First I was transitioning from Goa to Bangalore, then from my parent’s home to my own. At some point I realised this transition wasn’t just physical. In some ways I was transitioning from the 2016-me to the now-me (for a lack of words to explain this). And somehow, the process doesn’t feel complete. A trail remains, and I’m gliding along slowly.

Some part of me knows this is WIP, and perhaps not a start-stop kind of event that will ever end. This is a transformation of sorts, a shedding of what was and stepping into what could be. And I say could be because I’m not sure as yet where I’m going. I am sure of the lack of surety, because I see the signs that tell me not to rush, to wait and to allow things to settle in their own time. Because the process, and what’s happening now, is crucial.

I need to sit with the quiet. I know that much.

I have been in a funk with work. For many reasons, and that is the stuff of another post, should I choose to ever discuss it. C put is so perfectly yesterday when I was whining about this to her.

“I can’t stop thinking about writing. And yet I can’t seem to get myself to write. For work.”

So it’s what I’ve done. I’m only quietly pursuing a few opportunities that landed in my lap, and not aggressively going after anything. I have enough, and yet it feels like a lot. What I am doing, I am really struggling to keep up with.

On the home front, I’m semi-interested in most things. I feel like I could do with a project and there are so many up for the taking, but I don’t seem to want to actually push myself into investing time and effort into any of them. I’ve been doing the bare minimum to get by. The house is not always spic and span, the laundry tends to get ignored for longer than is ideal. Our meals are a far cry from what they used to be — sticking to basic stuff now that my diet has given me permission to scrap all the fluff.

Socially too, I’m not over-eager, neither am I cutting myself off or anything. I’m doing what feels easy and doable. Much like work, there’s a lot I think I want to do, but I realise maybe it’s just the idea of doing those things that excites me, and not so much actually going out and doing them.

I’ve considered travel several times these past few weeks. It just seems fitting no? To go away, be with myself while this shit works itself out. Especially given how I’ve unlocked new reserves of patience I didn’t know I had. But again, same issue — half of me is willing and the other half doesn’t want to budge. I just want to remain and watch as things happen.

I’ve discussed a hypothetical Europe plan with J and S three times this year. Finally semi committed to dash off to Singapore. And discussed numerous desirable weekend getaways with S and R. I stalked Goa airfares for about eight weeks before actually booking ourselves on the trip last month.

So yeah, maybe you get the drift? Have you ever felt like this? In limbo, on all fronts? Ennui-like and just happy to be afloat?

***

And then when I returned from Goa, it occurred to me that virtually, social-media-specifically too, I seem to be in the same headspace. Nothing compels me. Work was the only reason I would frequently visit facebook, and now with that fading, I don’t check in nearly as often. I am not feeling the burning need to respond to every notification or do anything else while I do check in. I’m only frequently posting on Instagram, because I still love picture-making and rambling on. But there too, my follow list has been pruned and transformed so much. I’m surrounded by art more than anything else. My interest in watching people and their lives has nearly died. Much like it did for food, clothes, cakes. But the icing on the cake was finding myself indifferent to whatsapp too.

Could it be that the quiet is creeping deeper than I thought it could?

Right now, it feels like there are several moving parts that are making small, almost non-existent movements to come together. I feel the movement ever so slightly. It is only some times overwhelming, but mostly tantalising. And yet I am only still waiting. Watching. Patiently waiting, quietly. To see where it is all taking me.

It is really beginning to feel like this is going to be a year I should write off to WIP, transformation and about enjoying the process while I get to where I am headed.

Just do the next right thing, one thing at a time. That’ll take you all the way home.

As for the title, it’s another quote from my favourite Glennon Doyle Melton. I read this somewhere a while ago (and I really wish I knew where it was) because it came back with resounding alacrity on one of our evening walks in Goa last week, as I watched this amazing sunset, wondering about exactly this. This limbo, and what I need to do next.

Time and time again these past few weeks wait and watch keeps coming back to me. It is the next right thing to do.

***

Speaking of limbo, I chatted with S last night after what felt like absolute aeons. I don’t think we’d actually properly caught up, giving updates on all that is happening in our lives, since we met in Bangkok last year. That is a long, long time for us. Listening to him tell me about his very own kind of comfortable limbo, in a world so different and remote from mine, I still felt an affinity. I could relate. In as many ways as our worlds and experiences are poles apart, that feeling of being in a comfortable limbo, in waiting, is so, so familiar. We spoke for an entire hour before I realised we were all caught up.

Literally all of this year we have made plans to catch up, promising to call each other as soon as a window frees up. The weekend, after work, when I’m back from my trip, when I’m feeling better — and somehow the right time just never came up.

I don’t know about him, but for me it was a lot of avoidance. I didn’t want to have to give updates about things I wasn’t fully sure of myself. Maybe I was worried I’d be judged? Maybe I was too shy to admit I was downsizing my amazing Goa life to a seemingly-less than ideal one in Bangalore? Maybe I just didn’t want to have to explain everything that had happened in the run up to this transition because it felt like just too much to have to talk about on the phone? I’m not sure. Maybe it was all of it.

But it felt like I needed to get out of my hole and call him last night, as it has for a few weeks now. The wonderful thing is that once I did call, it was just so easy. Conversation flowed, updates happened, all the things I thought I didn’t have the words for, suddenly articulated themselves. It helps when you have an eager, earnest person on the other side, genuinely concerned and interested in knowing what you have been up to.

It didn’t feel like an effort at all. It didn’t even feel like we were catching up, merely talking.

And then there was the kindred spark — the mention of that limbo. The only too familiar feeling of being comfortable while I wait and watch. And boom, i changed the conversation for me.

I’m not sure why I didn’t do this sooner, really. With S, I have a really special bond that has time and time again made it spectacularly easy to pick up where we left off, with barely any effort. There is never any awkwardness or the need to fill gaps and silences. It’s not something I have with too many people, and I realised last night how much I really, really cherish it.

As I drifted off to sleep, it dawned on me that actually, I have had this with a lot of people off late. With N, who I chatted with at length last week — catching her up on the amazing, life-changing experiences I had in Goa that I absolutely knew she would relate to. With P, who I had sworn I would never have anything to do with again, but with whom, time and time again, I have relevant, insightful and meaningful conversations that matter. With D, who came into my life most unexpectedly, but with whom conversation is rarely just that, and almost always impacts me in deeper ways.

I went to sleep with my heart brimming over. I have said this so often off late — that I don’t have much to show for on paper, when I think of what I’ve done/achieved this year. Yet, my life, even in it’s utter slowness, with the pregnant pauses and tantalisingly slow trajectory, feels so goddamn full.

***

And so I continue to wait, basking in the overwhelming gratitude for where I am, the people I am surrounded by, the connections I have and those that come back to me even when I’m not making the effort, and for everything moving along until it finds it’s place.

I wait because it just feels like the next right thing to do.

Same time, last year: Day 279: Sticky trash

What colour is your sky?

I’m still coming back to life in Bangalore, seeking rhythm and grounding in the mundane habits of my routine. It’s been an effort trying to find my pace again, while my mind is still in Goa at least 50% of the time. And I find myself wondering about perfection. Not the pursuit of it in action and practice. But magical picture perfect sequence of events. Like sunsets are for me. A performance in perfection of time. Like vignettes suspended mid air, the world on pause, waiting for you to notice.

There is something magical about sunsets. Especially like this one. When it feels like moments of perfection playing out before you. And you can’t help but wonder about the massive movements in space that are responsible for it. How much synchronicity must it take, for every little molecule and particle to find its place, align itself and move in sync, cushioned by the entire universe guiding the show, gently nudging things on so this plays out.

What decides the moment? When does the sky know it is time to put in a show? What goes into that one little move that clicks this rapid, vibrant, staggering play of light into motion?

Just how much churning energy does it take to create moments of perfection? And when you’re standing there, witnessing this, what colour is your sky?

Same time, last year: Day 277: 109 kms done

What coming home feels like: making friends edition

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

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

Wh is friendship in adulthood such an intimidating proposition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding life again

So much of becoming the person you are, requires you to let go of all that you imagine you are, and all that you’re convinced you should be.

For a variety of reasons, ranging from plain comfort for my ego to accepting the path of least resistance, cleaving to convenient labels, titles, roles, and imagined ideas and notions, has always felt like the ideal way to work towards being a better version of myself.

Things look so neat, so permanent, and good on paper when I can declare “I’m independent!”

“I’m a feminist.”

“I’m self reliant”

“I’m a full-time freelancer”

“I’m an introvert”

and so on and so forth.

A label feels like a declaration. So cutting and final, it removes the need for me to ever revisit. It’s easy. It removes the need for inspection, introspection and self-reflection. And so, it’s also true that I’ve been fiercely (and sometimes, unnecessarily?) fixed to these words that slot me into a particular type of person. For years now, I’ve allowed them to be the labels that define who I am.

I’ve been so overly  attached to them that they’ve shaped (sometimes, wrongly?) my perception of myself. Until reality kicks in, as it so often does, and makes you see that evolution and growth are not points in a scale, and transformation is seldom a straight line moving in one direction.

So much of becoming the person you are involves going back. Re-examining the comfort of old labels that no longer hold good. It involves reclaiming once forgotten labels you shunned. Most often it involves letting go of all that you imagine you are, and all that you’re convinced you should be.

It’s difficult to stay stuck to these labels when so much of my very existence is in relation to, in context to, in close proximity to, people around me, the various roles I play, my work, my experiences and how each of those shape me. None of those contexts is fixed, permanent. They change all the time, throwing various situations my way, testing my ability to either flow through it, or be held back by a previously held perception of myself.

I’ve realised that these are all smaller aspects that form a larger me. They’re very prone to changing, depending on the situation.

My story, each of our stories in fact, is riddled with phases in which one label or another stands out. For the last two years of my life, for example, I was convinced I was an introvert. It felt right, it resonated, it rang so true, it was comfortable. It was what I needed to escape the cacophony of mindless noise I needed space from. Today, I don’t think I’m as much of an introvert anymore. My current life, context and the headspace I am in demands that I get out and be more outgoing. This is not introvert behaviour. So it struck me the other day that perhaps that phase is over. After some resistance, once I accepted that I must go with the flow, I found myself doing it with ease.

And it go me wondering if maybe many such phases have come and gone, but in being so caught up with hanging on to notions of myself, I’ve forgotten what it is to flow?

Maybe I have been far too attached to singular aspects of each of my stories. When actually each of my past selves wrap together neatly to from a wholesome me.

The effort these past months has been to try and recognise them all, peacefully accept with as little resistance as possible, to look at every phase and every self with a little less seriousness, and then try and integrate them.

I am at times a wife, a sister, a co-worked, a colleague, a writer, a freelancer, a daughter, a friend. I am at times lazy, sometimes over-zealous, sometimes shy and reserved, sometimes the life of a gathering. I am a feminist, I am a homemaker, I am unemployed, I am self employed. I am child-free, I love children, I am married, I am my own person. I am all of these things at different times. I play all these parts, and yet no single label defines me completely. I am a sum of all these parts.

Re-learning this fluidity, letting go of the rigidity has been all kinds of liberating. And in doing this, I have witnessed the death of a yet another phase in my life. I’d like to think the tumultuous period that was the last two years are over — their purpose served. I’ve felt myself be pushed into a new time and space. I’m undoing so much from the past, closing open loops, fixing broken things, revisiting abandoned ideas, letting go of baggage, rebuilding fresh ideas that work for me now. In this death, I see vibrant, fresh life blossoming. The ease and comfort this time round has been astounding. Slowly, but surely I find myself content in these pockets of realisation.

So much of becoming the person I am has required me to let go of the labels and stories I am anxiously attached to. To kill what is old and no longer holds true, and make room for the now. The new. It’s required me to re-imagine who I am, and look at everything with a little softness. Minus the shame, minus the guilt. Minus the hate and self-loathing. Minus the notion that to change is to somehow let myself (or an older self) down.

It’s been a constant effort to remind myself that nothing is permanent, nothing stays the same. Not even me.

And so, I must keep flowing.

Same time, last year: Day 256: Lines and dreams

Busy times, apparently

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.)

Same time, last year: Day 32: On creative happiness

Happier: perpetual WIP

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.

ds-happy-02

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.

Same time, last year: Day 10: This and that

Day 365: All the books I read this year

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

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

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

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

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 300: Three hundred

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.

room

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

mondaze

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

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

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:

yougetalink

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.