The last of the despatches from Benaras

I took a lot of pictures in Benaras and I’ve rambled on for a week about this city and the short time we spent there. It was just 3.5 days, and I even while we were there and I was so clearly taken by the place, I didn’t expect it to have had such an impact on me. But this is the last of the pictures. At least the ones I want to share. So this post will sum it up, before I move on to regular programming.

As it might be clear by now, I couldn’t get enough of the boats.

VC usually has his research down pat: where we’ll stay, how close it is to his select few spots that he’s always aware of before hand, where to eat, how to get there, etc. This time, there was a free-flowing unplanned method to getting around. I had presumed VC had done his thing, but when we got there and I saw he was as much at sea as I was and was surprisingly open to figuring it out on the go, nor desperate for optimum productivity in terms of photography opportunities and to top it all, he was chill about not getting a single good picture from the trip, I really felt something major has changed for him.

As a result we had my kind of holiday, where things aren’t planned to the T, with lots of wandering, knowing not where we were going, taking chances — a turn here a turn there — winding through Benaras and having all the opportunity for surprises — good and bad.

VC takes upwards of an hour, sometimes nearly 2, taking pictures at sunrise and sunset. Sometimes, most times, all of it amounts to just one picture. It probably sounds tedious and painful, and it did to me too when I first realised this was his process. Now, either I’m very used to it, or I have figured out a method for myself too, but it has become the best part of travelling with VC. I get to do the favourite thing I like to do on holiday: plonk myself in one spot and just watch, watch, watch and watch some more as the world goes by.

In a time where travel takes on a very glossy, fetishised quality about it, thanks to all the incessant sharing (mine included), my own thoughts about travel as an activity have undergone change yet again. I’ve gone from calling it my purpose in life, my raison d’être, to rolling my eyes at that same admission a few years on, to wondering if travel was an escape and if so what am I escaping from, to wanting to cultivate a life I don’t have to take off from, to today wanting and craving travel all the time just for the pure experience of it.  The non-fanciness of this trip to Benaras only solidified my belief that travel to me isn’t about the fancy getaways or the swanky stays in gorgeous locales alone. While I love that, I love this kind of holiday too.

The unpredictable nature of our time in Benaras was refreshing. The zero-expectations that were over-delivered was the cherry on the top. This is the kind of holiday that unknowingly moves something in me, and this is the kind of experience I want more of from my travel.

For now, that’s it from this edition of despatches from Benaras.

One year ago: Where the world is impossibly still
Three years ago: Quiet

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The food, the food

Be warned: this is a picture-heavy post.

This trip was all about the food, for me. I had a pre-planned list of things I wanted to taste, and I am happy to have knocked it all off except for the bhaang which although I was keen to try, just looked so dodge when I saw how it was made that I suddenly had cold feet and didn’t feel ready to experiment with.

Right off the bat I have to say we didn’t have a single non vegetarian meal through out this trip. Now, this is very easy for me to do. While I enjoy eating meat, it’s not a crucial component of a good meal for me. I can go days, and in fact I prefer this, with simple, hearty, vegetarian food. But VC is the kind of person who needs meat. So for him to admit he didn’t miss eating meat at all said a lot.

Our very first meal was breakfast on day 1. We dumped our luggage in the hotel and started weaving our way through the narrow lanes looking for a “breakfast place”, realising very soon that there are no “places”, just beautifully characteristic hole-in-the-wall type establishments with giant kadhais set over hot coals, right at the foot of the store, inviting you with an array of smells.

Kachori-aloo-jalebi is the staple Benarasi breakfast and I wanted to try nothing else. We ducked into the first joint we found because a) it smelt so good and b) a cow was blocking the road ahead.

Turns out they call them kachoris, but they’re actually puris mildly stuffed with something (I couldn’t figure out what, exactly.). For a mere Rs 25, we got a stack of kachoris, a dona of aloo curry — this place had a curry mix with aloo, black channas and kabuli channa faacckkkk — and a couple of hot jalebis. Uncleji handed it to us and watched us for a minute as we tried to juggle all the hot stuff in our hands,  side stepping piles of you-know-what, looking for a place to settle and eat. Kindly, he invited us in. Behind the stove that was right at the entrance to the store, he had two small tables squashed into a room blackened with years of soot from cooking over charcoals. Warm, smiling and just so hospitable, it was a sharp contrast to what people had psyched us about “watching out for” people before trusting them.

Rubbish, I tell you. Across the board, the people of Benaras were nothing short of lovely, warm and helpful. We didn’t have a single bad experience, and I was happy to have my faith in my innate tendency to trust first, until proven wrong, reaffirmed. Of late I’ve been told I’m too quick to trust, and I find that I had begun to sometimes second guess my instincts. I was happy to be proven wrong.

Breakfast was so sumptuous and filling, and was followed by adrak chai and a morning of roaming around the ghats white VC scouted for spots to shoot over the next few days. I just took in the sights, smells and sounds. Benaras had already begun to gob-smack me, taking me in fully from the get go with its bizarre mix of heavy character and just so much life, along with the inherent paradoxes that are so hard to miss. It’s a city that you sense heavily, feeling it under your skin.

We managed to sneak a boat ride in too, and returned to the hotel in time for check-in. We had landed into a 15 degree post-winter morning, but by noon the sun had come out full force, the heat was searing and dry and we realised it was going to be the kind of trip where we spend a bulk of the day indoors. So we lugged back a couple of beers each into our room, fully expecting to skip lunch thanks to the heavy breakfast and settled in to Netflix and chill.

But that was not to be. In a couple of hours we got hungry, but I suspect it was more a curiosity about what we could taste next. We scoped out the closest chaat bhandaar, one of the highest rated ones in Benaras was 400 mt away from us, so we walked there.

We sampled the gol gappas (good), the papdi chaat (excellent), palak chaat ( beyond excellent!), a samosa chaat (it didn’t do much for me — the masalas in the samosa and the gravy they pour over it was an overkill), aloo tikki chaat (much nicer because the tikki itself was mildly spiced, lending just that required starchy potato-goodness that allows the flavours of the chaat to shine through) and the local specialty: tamaatar chaat, which I thought was no big deal. It was essentially a cooked curry of tomatoes, tangy and spicy, covered in a medley of chaat-y toppings like imli ki chutney, green chutney, spice powders and dahi, showered in crunchy sev-like thing (which in Benaras is chunky and shaped like pellets).

Dinner on day 1 was late, and because we didn’t feel up to venturing out a third time in the day to look for food, we slipped into one of the many local “shuddh shakahaari bhojanalays” and packed rotis cooked over hot coals, with sabzi and dal. So satiating and hearty, consumed in bed while binge watching Made In Heaven.

The next morning we set off to catch the sunrise over the ghats, which was a good two hour affair, of which one hour was spent on another boat ride along the entire length of about 25 ghats. This had us occupied and quite frankly just so engrossed, I didn’t realise it was breakfast time. On our way out, we discovered a stall that served what is easily the best tapri chai I’ve ever had in my life. Non-boiled, but just so kadak and good. It was so good that VC, the desi-style chai lover of the two of us, admitted to it being the best tea he’d had and came home and tried to replicate what he’d seen of the chaiwalas method.

But the star of that stop was the bun-maska. OMG. 100 gms of Amul butter spread over 4 buns that were toasted over a smoky charcoal fire, that we dipped in hot tea and gobbled before it fell into soggy blobs into the glass. JUST SO EFFING GOOD.

We made two pitstops at this tapri over the next two days and the bun-maska-wallah had figured I was a fan. I don’t know, maybe the incessant picture taking gave it away?

That bun-maska was just a appetiser, and the real breakfast that followed was this kachori-puri-jalebi, which at another joint was a medley of vegetables — potatoes, carrots, peas and cauliflower. Equally delicious, but so heavy we’d started to share a single portion between the two of us.

I saved the best for last. This right here is the crowning glory of the food we ate in Benaras and since it is only made and enjoyed in the winter, Im so glad we managed to catch it.

This here, is malaiyo, a fluffy airy, cloud-like form of cream and full-fat milk. I’m told it is traditionally churned a day in advance and left out in the open over a cold winter’s night so the dew that settles on it, over the course of the night, helps hold up its airiness.

It looks like rabri, but has the texture and mouth feel of something that beats the best tiramisu pants down. It is quite literally like eating a cloud of rich, saffron and pista rich rabri. There’s no biting it, because it just disappears in a pool of air in your mouth. It is only available before 11-o clock because the heat causes it to collapse so even if you step out as early as 6 am, you’ll find street vendors with giant vats of malaiyo along the way to the ghats.

Our breakfast was fixed, 90% meals comprised entirely chaat, and the remaining 10% was a roti-sabzi affair. VC sampled the famed Benarasi paan on three occasions, but claims none of them really appealed. I am not a paan-eater. I have in fact never tasted the thing and I refuse to even try it, so I could not vet his opinion.

***

And here’s some pictures of the people who made the food, people who fascinated me as much as the food did.

Even though he doesn’t look it here, this was the extra warm, hospitable uncle who gave us space to sit and enjoy our hot breakfast on day 1
Fresh kachoris
Laung Latika (a crispy pastry pocket filled with mava and finished off with a single clove pressed through it) in the making
Mr Malaiyo, my favouritest food-person
Bestest chai tapri just outside Dashaswamedh Ghat
Piles of kachori-sabzi every morning
Benarasi paan-wala who failed to please

One year ago: We form our own boundaries

Mornings in Benaras

After years of cribbing about VCs enthusiastic need to wake up early on holiday, it looks like Im finally on board with the idea. This kind of holiday agenda, where we venture out early and catch the sunrise only to return after breakfast wandering, spend the hottest part of the day indoors, and step out to catch the sunset, only to return after dinner, has slowly but surely become my favourite way to do holidays.

VC does this to catch the golden hour windows everyday. I’m most only interested in what we’ll eat. In the past, very rarely, I have opted to sleep in while he wanders around himself and we meet for breakfast. But mostly, I tag along and catch the sights I can. This trip I was the one kicking him out of bed at 5 am everyday.

There is quite nothing like discovering a place as life is kicking in at the break of dawn.

Benaras is a bizarrely fascinating place. I’m overwhelmed in more ways than one and maybe I’ll process all that it has made me feel slowly over the next few days. For now, here’s some morning snapshots from roaming around pre-sunrise.

There’s a mini 6 am aarti offered to the Ganga everyday. It’s not as grand or heavily attended as the evening one so I got to go really up close.

Walking along the ghats just as morning was beginning to crack, the boats are empty, the river calm, the sky placid, almost in waiting for the day’s craziness to unfold.

Then the sun begins to creep up. First a light glimmer and then a glow cast across the whole sky, before a gden orb begins to peek up from behind the horizon across the river on the banks facing us. Within minutes it’s all up and blazing powerfully.

Boatfulls of people begin to venture out to catch the action along the ghats. What a strange, strange place this is, where so many opposites coexist in blissful harmony.

We’ve walked a hell of a lot everyday since we’ve been here. Lots of getting lost, lots of dodging massive amounts of poop, lots of getting across roadblocks by cows and bulls, lots of climbing up and down stairs.

Chai from a tapri, with bun maska toasted over hot coals, followed by a big breakfast of puri-aloo and jalebis, and more chai has been my final destination for the past three days. the food we’ve loved deserves a post of its own.

This was an unlikely choice of destination VC picked. I’ve been wanting to come for absolute years, and somehow things have never aligned. I came with no expectations, but somehow this quick getaway has exceeded anything I could have expected from it.

Three years ago: No. Just no.

As Goa as it gets

I have an internal map of Goa in my mind. And it is riddled with pins dropped in every nook and cranny of the state — places that dot the landscape of the entire memory I have of the place. Not just physical spaces, locations, but places that evoke feelings, feelings that bring back memories, memories that draw out faces of people I knew and know. And because I am sentimental, that map is alive and thriving, getting updates in real time. Even when a memory is sometimes somewhat hazy, it takes very little for it to jog itself back to the fore, brightening up like a bulb turned on suddenly. A mere mention of that fish thali, a faint passing recollection of that one monsoon 100 km cycle ride, an aching memory of the countless Sunday evening G&Ts at my favourite sunset spot, the joy of that urrak smuggled from the neighbourhood restaurant — and just so many other things — all come rushing back to life.

For the entire duration of the two years that I have been away, I haven’t been able to conclusively decide where I belong. If Goa was a home that I have left, or if Bangalore was always the home that I have returned to.

My life in Goa (and every single thing about my experience here) is so key to my sense of self and who I am, even after all that has happened and after two years of living away, that I sometimes feel I’m split in half. Rendered perpetually torn.

The real-time map in my head makes me feel like I know Goa like the back of my hand. And I do. It’s here where the streets are wide open, the coconut trees stretching over to meet, the salty breeze and muggy air that is so quintessentially special to here, that I’ve roamed around so much all by myself. Driving to faraway beaches, scoping out eateries in distant nooks, seeking out stories and interviews with people doing interesting things, visiting friends in places all the way down south, staying alone on assignment in strange and fascinating hotels, and so much more. I took most, almost all, of these trips alone. They’ve contributed to who I am. And the map is a reminder of all that I’ve been and felt in the years gone through.

There are the parts that signal the newness. A decade old bittersweet semi-excited, semi-shitting-bricks euphoria. My first home, the store right outside that refused to deliver milk to my door, the pao-bhatti that I frequented ever so often. There is the drive down Miramar to office to work. My first workplace in Goa that would be the longest I’ve ever been employed. The days of trying to walk back home in an attempt to get some exercise again. Stopping at our favourite bars on the way home and making last minute plans so everybody would congregate. Endless meals of greasy Chinese and too much consumption of alcohol and other narcotics.

There is the spot that marks fond memories of barbecues past. Of jumping into pools with my jeans on. Of gathering 65 bottles of beer when we were done.

There’s remnants of memories from that daily beach running that eventually wrecked my knees. Of finding a gym that made me fall in love with weights. Of discovering kick boxing and finding true love in my trainers there.

There’s the years spent writing and writing and writing. Blogging. Professionally. Reviewing restaurants. Food blogging. Home baking. Cake selling. Full-time freelancing. The whole nine yards.

There were three home changes. Each home giving me a set of special things to love. Th smallness of the first one matched perfectly with our cluelessness. The open green field view in the second. And priceless neighbours and a promise of the hidden recluse in me in the third.

There was the brush with learning to salsa, jive and bachata. There were innumerable different groups of acquaintances and some friends. Plenty more people I met and knew through work. And the inevitable clashing of all circles and the world closing in.

There was angst about the ex workplace. There was angst about knowing too many people. There was angst about running out of work. There was angst about inadequate internet speeds. There was angst about having to work too hard as a writer reporting in Goa. There was angst about being the lonely isolated writer in my den.

There were the silent noise parties in Palolem, the projector parties every monsoon, the rooftop movie marathons, the holidays bhaang parties and the office Diwali parties. There were the Friday morning visits to Mapusa market, the Sunday morning fish market jaunts, chasing the sunrise at Divar, cycling to save my life all over Goa.

There was so much. Each phase, each year, each stage a page in my Goan chronicles. And in so many ways I feel I’ve lived in so many different Goas. The map in my mind, is very real. It’s as Goa as it gets for me.

***

Today, I had a quintessentially Goa day. A thali for lunch with A, some aimless wandering in our old haunts, window-shopping for export rejects and fighting a nap because we had too much to talk about. An unexpectedly extended evening there also meant another round at the market. I always feel crippled by nostalgia there, seeing the fisherwomen with their baskets laden with fish lined along the streets. So wistfully I stepped towards one of them and pulled out my phone to snap a picture fully expecting her to smile. Except she rolled up the newspaper she was reading and swatted me on my shin, startling me completely. I nearly dropped my phone in shock and had to make a run for it.

Serves me right for making like an annoying tourist.

Even as I was startled, it was such an endearingly hostile move. It made me grin wide. That’s just such a Goa thing to happen! I thought. And it might have been the highlight of my very Goa day, if I hadn’t wound up at the carnival square where the red and white dance for the year was about to begin. It’s carnival week here in Goa and I didn’t anticipate I’d head to the thick of the action, eat beef croquettes, fish cutlets and drink Urak out of a Thailand-style bucket, all while listening to Maria Pitache.

Two urraks down, laced with slit green chillies, lots of lime and a good dash of salt, and a grilled beef wrap in me, I think this entire day, today, is as Goa as it gets.

That map just stretched itself a little bit more today, and wrapped itself around me.

One year ago: Hit the road, Jack 
Two years ago: Kitchen soup for the homesick soul
Three years ago: Why Facebook just feels like a lot of noise

Open

I sit with this fresh, new feeling
like my heart is in my hands
pulsating to a new beat
and like my soul is finding new shape
with every word I speak.

I’ve just sown some seeds of newness, gently
there. With love and care
and now it’s time I wait.

There’s no scraping this this up again.
No sewing up old crevices,
or digging in too deep
Now it’s time to just be.

And so, I wait.

For the sapling ripe with new life to burst forth
to grab a foothold, find new ground,
send tender little baby root deep within me
locking shoots with my bones,
digging deeper beneath the surface,
embracing that part tucked away within me,
gently nudging it to wake.

I wait.

For a season of springtime, of play to bloom
to be touched by the morning dew of mirth,
feeling the kiss of giggles and laughter
in the gentlest caress of the evening breeze.

For the tendrils of oneness and belonging
to twist around my little finger,
to keep me up.

For the bright green, baby leaves
of the child I used to be
to find space within this big old body
of the woman I am today.

We are the same after all.

I wait,
for this newfound comfort in the tenderness
fragility and delicateness of it all
to become me.

For when this spring comes,
with its fragrant freshness
it will take me,
sweep me up in its sweetness.
Filling the endless expanses of my being with
a seductive joy.

It will crack through my bones,
trickle through and beneath my skin,
erupt in loud lovesongs,
waft through in every breath that I exhale,
fill every square inch of my body with playfulness
smudge little bits of love on whatever I touch.

And so, I wait.

***

Still basking in the post-workshop glow, the desire to process, make sense, and even revisit everything has found this strange new quiet. I feel energetic, but the energy high seems contained. I find I’m not veering to my typical tendencies to either distract myself with a burst of activity, neither am I losing many hours to the deep, deep sleep that usually comes after I’e done a piece of this kind of work.

It has helped being alone here in Goa at this time. This is a nice kind of alone time. For a change, there is that familiar loneliness again, but this time unlike the usual why-me-why-now thoughts that come with it, there is an unusual, but very pleasant settling. Of just sitting with it. And to my surprise it hasn’t caused any eruptions, like it usually does.

Is it possible to feel this cut wide open, vulnerable, tender, yet free to leave it be, and yet also find a peaceful containment, like this?

I feel a ferocious urge to claim what has opened up for me at the workshop. But with it, is this deep, deep pause. To wait, not to act in impulse.

So, I sit, making space for these thoughts and feelings.

In some ways it’s like I’m meeting this part of me for the very first time.

One year ago: The race is long, and in the end it’s only with yourself

At ease, at home

No matter how hard I tried to get most of my work done before I got here, there’s that little tail that’s lingering, and only two days for the month to end and for me to tie up the loose ends. The reason I worked my ass off ahead of time, this time around was because I know what happens to me when I get to Goa. I slow down, and I got into a mental shutdown, holiday-like mode, for no apparent reason. So here I am, making difficult choices. Much like I did yesterday. To research a new and wildly fascinating aspect of septic tanks again (please sense my sarcasm, please sense it), or watch the Oscars? To finish that scintillating post about the economics of sanitation or to binge watch This Is Us that I didn’t even know has started again?

Decisions, decisions. Anyhow, you’ll be happy to know I spent 75% of yesterday binge watching Trevor Noah, before I decided to get down to work. And somehow, I managed to finish, and meet my deadline before the end of day, while simultaneously cooking us some pasta for dinner.

Speaking of binge-watching, I have been watching a lot of TV since I got here. I watched Period. End of Sentence. last week — it’s possibly one of the most beautiful documentaries I’ve seen on menstrual health in India, and even though it’s a topic that has the potential to be dismal depressing, it made me just so happy watching it. OH, and it won an Oscar yesterday!

I watched Stree last week, and as much as I love Rajkumar Rao, I think this one was lost on me. I just didn’t get what the big deal was. On the weekend, VC and I re-watched Befikre (Ranveer Singh makes this one worth it for me, again and again and again) and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (surprisingly, I enjoyed it this time around, which makes me think the company of the opinionated twats I watched it in the first time had coloured my experience). After we watched Gully Boy last week and having our senses smacked in, I’ve been guzzling any video related to it. So I decided to rewatch whatever Zoya Akhtar films I can get my hands on, just for the heck of it. I recently watched Dil Dhadakne Do, only for like the fourth time around, so I might give that one a pass.

I’ve managed to sneak in exercise almost everyday, and mostly cooking all meals at home. This time around, things feel a lot more settled, and I even though there are places I want to go to, I’m tempted to stay in and just be. On Sunday night, though, VC and I went out to dinner to a charming little restaurant in the garden of a home in the neighbourhood. The music played off an old Macbook hooked up to a Altec Lansing tower speaker, the furniture looked like it was dragged out of the home itself, the lady of the house chattered away on the telephone to her grandson loudly while we stifled giggles, and the power went off three times dashing our hopes of eating the lasagne because their oven went out of commission. The joys of living in a village, the chef/owner said to us. And I agreed. It was a joy to eat in the mostly silent ambience, with just the sound of granny chiding her 15-year old grandson who is in Bombay and refuses to learn Marathi or Hindi, and the crickets, with no lights in sight for miles. When the lights did come back on, there was this.

This week though, I plan to drive myself to Panjim to meet A, And C. I also want to go to the beach again. VC’s friends get here on the weekend and we’re going to be socialising and back at the beach, I anticipate. I also want to eat at at least one of the places on my list of restaurants I like to visit whenever I am here, but I’m having trouble deciding which one.

This time around, things feel a lot more settled. This time around, there is clarity. And even though I am unsure of when and if I will ever move here again, it’s a really good feeling to have a home and the mindspace that feels like home enough for every visit.

One year ago: I’m glad that I’m alive
Three years ago: In between mouthfuls

Notes on an island

It’s really hard to put into words what the past four days have been like for me. It’s one thing to be in a therapeutic, healing space. I’ve been in several of these workshops before now. But this time around, there was something about being on an island, something about leaving life as I know it behind for four days, setting off from the mainland, to go away (it’s not too far, but even so) and be surrounded by greenery and singing birds, waking up to misty mornings, spotting bright butterflies, a pair of wobbly ducks, the gentlest dog, and having the luxury of a pool to dunk into at the end of the day, hot wholesome home-cooked meals three times a day, and a big comfortable bed to retreat into at night, that made the experience so much more than just a workshop. I can’t emphasise how much being away added to my healing experience, this time around.

As such the air in Goa always feels so rich and laden with good vibes. I’ve said it before — things slow down within me, in the best way possible. Also, given everything that has been coming up at therapy in the run up to this trip, I felt like all roads were leading me here. It was time, and I couldn’t have been more ready for it. To physically take myself there, in a space, a bubble away from life as I know it, even here when I’m essentially on holiday, felt meta!

I actually also enjoyed the company of the people in the group. It was a small, intimate, but diverse group of people, of whom I knew only D. For a change, I mingled some, and actually felt drawn to some people. I guess this is what allowing for connection is like?

It was nice to be in the midst of folks who come from such different lives and backgrounds, but have that one thing in common that had brought us all together — a keen interest on working on ourselves. It’s sometimes all it takes to break walls and build bridges. I think I bonded more with this bunch than I have with the bunch I’ve shared a whole year of learning with.

It’s strange, but I woke up on Sunday in my bed at home actually missing walking into our workshop room.

I managed to wake up every morning and get a long walk in, and also run a little. The island is trapped in time. Every time that I visit it, I feel I need to live there at some point, and this time was no different. The people, the homes, the streets, the chai tapris, the church on top of the hill — everything feels otherworldly.

In the evenings I’d dive straight into the pool for a dip, which was so, so so needed every single day. I miss having access to a pool in my regular life, I realise.

The mornings were especially mind-boggling and stunning, and brought up overwhelming gratitude and a feeling of contentment for the opportunity it was. Golden kissed air, a low hum of calm and peace within, a slowness that forced me to be even more present than I thought was possible, or that I was capable of.

I’m usually bursting with words at the end of these experiences, but something has shut down that impulse in me off late. I’ve been feeling a lack of words. Not so much a difficulty with not finding the words, but a comfort and ease with not having to go into the words to make sense of it. I find myself soaking it in, feeling the small nudges and bubbling shifts within me. There is a new quietness about this that I am enjoying.

There were tears, so many tears, and so quick and easy to flow. It was different and liberating. There was also a palpable sense of completion, of finishing a part of something I had started over three years ago. There was a sense of having turned, of having moved forward, of seeing the same world with new eyes. It’s really hard for me to put into words what the past four days have been like for me. This time was different. This time felt complete.

One year ago: All my sweat, my blood runs weak
Two years ago: Ten reasons why I love the girls I’m in long distance relationships with
Three years ago: Travel

Like waking up again

Unlearning the ways of my adult mind and psyche has proven to be equal parts fascinating and frustrating. Trying and liberating. It has felt like a struggle and a joy. But every little bit that I go deeper, every step of the way, I know I am that much closer to my authentic self.

I came into this workshop with little idea of what specifically I wanted to address. It wasn’t so much a lack of clarity as it was an openness to whatever it may be that comes up for me. And I am so grateful that I have so unexpectedly chanced upon the idea of play. As something that is so simple at its core, yet has the capacity to profoundly change my life at this point.

The road ahead seems bright and open, rather than heavy and taxing like it does at times, even as I have been on the path to heal, integrate and look ahead.

***

E. A. T.

S. L. E. E. P.

C. O. N. N. E. C. T.

One year ago: Let it blow through you, don’t let it move you
Two years ago: Roads and Kingdoms
Three years ago: Playtime

Like coming home

It’s so nice to wake up before my alarm actually goes off and then will myself to stay in bed until the sun has come up enough for it to be light out.

I took myself for an hour-long walk/run around the island this morning. I already feel like it was the best thing I’ve done today. No map, no directions, no familiarity. Just out and about.

I am constantly overwhelmed by the beauty of divine timing and the ways in which everything happens in its own time. I have been feeling so very prepared for this workshop in a way that I know I wasn’t last year. This feels right. This feels like the time has come.

Been thinking a lot about my connection with Goa and how by unknown circumstances and by design, I find myself experiencing some of the really meaningful inflections in my life here. It feels like an old connection but a fresh one too.

***

P. L. A. Y.

F. E. E. L.

B. R. E. A. T. H. E.

One year ago: I hope you’re not lonely without me

Like seeing sunlight

I am so resourced.

I am stronger in ways I didn’t know.

***

S. T. A. Y.

H. E. A. L.

B. R. E. A. T. H. E.

One year ago: Stop this train, I want to get off and go home again

Another favourite

Play time has gotten off to an excellent, excellent start. I ticked this one off the bucket list too, last night.

I kid, again. There is no bucket list. Just opportunities for things I’ve been wanting to do that have been consistently showing up. And the rather uncharacteristic reaction of jumping into them with minimal thought.

I’ve been trailing Abhishek Upmanyu (who I absolutely love, love, lovvvveee), and this show particularly, for about a year, I think. Either I missed the dates because of all the travel I had going on last year or I’d be late to wake up and book tickets, or they’d be too expensive. But things aligned last month when I spotted the show, saw tickets were affordable and available. I did the logical thing to do, asked around to see if anyone else wanted to go with me. Nobody did. The logical thing to do then, or what I would have typically done, was can the plan.

Instead, I booked myself a single ticket and decided to go on my own.

So there I was last night, by my lonesome, surrounded by a demographic that had showed up in deafening numbers — very loud, Hindi-speaking, 20-something boys. It was so fascinating to be an observer.

The show, of course, was so completely worth it. Upamanyu lives up to all the hype, to his online persona, to my huge expectations of him. After the show, I treated myself to a drink and dinner out by myself before I headed back home.

I had a really good time. Bangalore makes me feel free in some ways and yesterday was laced all over with that feeling of freedom.

***

I’m a bit high on just how good this week has been to me. This was meant to be a time for celebration. I am balking at how without much deliberation or execution on my part, it has somehow been exactly that, almost as if by some divine plan.

Actually, the fun began last week. I’ve had two full weeks with so much fun, enough alone down time, and little space for much else that could bring me down. I have been extra happy and at ease. Like I’m in a bubble, and nothing can touch me.

It peaked and showed at therapy — possibly my best, most path-breaking session yet. It was so good to tie up some loose ends and soak in that feeling of completion, from understanding where this is coming from, and how far I’ve moved to find myself here today.

I also got an inordinate amount of work done ahead of upcoming travel, so I have freed up enough time to chill when I’m away.

I had an unbroken ten day streak of daily exercise, and I’m feeling that good feeling from within. Cleaner from eating better, leaner from really enjoying working out again.

The Bonobo gig has mildly blown my mind. But it wasn’t just the gig. Something about the entire experience softened me some. To let go of my reservations, give in to fun just the way it was left me feeling light and playful. This is precious, it’s like tapping into a previously untouched part of myself and surprising myself with the realisation that hey this is fun too, who knew? It’s like discovering an old, young side of yourself you didn’t know still existed, you know?

I enjoyed dancing so much. It’s been years since I went to a club, just with the express intention to dance the night away, or just danced with abandon for no apparent reason. I had a phase in 2015, where I massively binged on all kinds of dancing. I’d found myself in a clique of people who frequently partied, not to drink, not to socialise but only to dance. And we went at it with the regularity and focus we brought to working out. I had even signed up at a dance class and spent 6 months learning to jive, salsa and also bachata a bit. But there’s been nothing since. Dancing that night made me realise how much I love to do this once in a while, and how much finding the right company for it matters.

Bob’s Bar was so fun. So reminiscent of the kind of drinking joints we’d frequent when I was in college. That typical Bangalore breed of bar that’s buzzing at 5 pm on a weekday. Also, full marks for the clever name and most excellent chicken pakodas.

I’ve been enjoying the city so much off-late. Really indulging the city-slicker in me. Taking cabs to zip around the city, any time of day or night, having an “office” at the local coffee shop (where I have become something of a permanent fixture in the afternoon), enjoying Cubbon Park, taking full advantage of the multiple exercise options within driving distance of home, having access to a pretty good array of festivals and shows, exploiting the spoils of good weather to walk as much as I can, having my friends in the same city as me, and living right next door to my parents.

I’ve realised that my years in Goa, blissful as they were in their own way, abruptly ended my access to this kind of city joy. While I adjusted to and enjoyed Goa thoroughly, there’s a part of me that has really felt a deep void from not having these indulgences. As much as I embraced the small, simple life, this big, loud life with so much access has my heart some times. At least at this point in my life, this makes sense. It fits and I’m glad I get to experience it fully.

I feel utterly fortunate for the chance to have a foot in both places so I can enjoy them both alike, without missing out or feeling a sense of lack for either. I’m not ready to choose one over the other. So for now, this makes sense. It fits.

At the gig, I met a friend I used to be pretty thick with in 2002-2003, with whom I’ve totally lost touch with in the years since. We were standing beside each other for a full ten minutes before he noticed me. Turns out he’s still in my phone book, but I hadn’t thought to let him know I’d moved. He was offended, and that surprised me. So we parted with a promise to catch up. It was so unlikely, unexpected, but just so heartwarming.

I had three instances this week, where I caught myself sticking my neck out to preserve a healthy boundary, valuing my time and choosing well by me. In all three instances, I chose to express my feelings rather than couch them or make them palatable in some way. I didn’t even realise it was happening in the moment, but much later when I was thinking about it, I felt excited and incredibly happy to see old patterns that once plagued me are slowly breaking away and the evidence of a new possibility emerge from each of these events.

I’ve been feeling very centred — possibly thanks to the point above — thanks to a very obvious sense of some of these pieces of my life falling into place. There is contentment with things just as they are, in a constant state of straddling perfection and imperfection. There is gratitude for this strange journey and all the many twists and turns it has taken, and continues to take. This feeling has only been growing as the days go by, and I find myself really feeling “enough”. Fulfilled, wholesome, whole, complete. I was writing this in my journal the other day, when I landed on this page that I’d scribbled randomly into a page in between, somewhere at the start of December.

When will it be enough? has long been a big question in my life, fuelled by that itching constant yearning for something more. This wasn’t the positive, healthy passion for seeking more, this has always felt more like a slightly dark, gnawing want that was driven by a definite sense of lack.

To have completely by fluke, scribbled my way to land on that very page, on a day when everything felt so complete, just sooooo enough, made me tear up.

At this point, everything is enough. It has been for a while now. And I see it, and take it in completely today.

Is there anything more delicious than the serendipity of long-unanswered questions finding happy resolution in a time and place one least expects?

One year ago: If you could change your mind
Three years ago: Make like a tree

You’re my favourite, you’re my favourite

Ticked this off the bucket list, last night.

I’m kidding. I don’t have a bucket list. But I did go to what I think was a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity gig, for me.

To catch only like my most favourite DJ live, in Bangalore, was wild. I almost wouldn’t have gone if Niyu hadn’t pushed me to. I was being my usual finicky self preempting loud, large crowds, dusty outdoors and badly organised scenes.

However, I am so glad I pushed my adult worries aside and went anyway, because the rest of it wasn’t half bad, and the gig was insane good.

Fitting way to kick off play time.

I booked my ticket all alone, prepared to just go by myself. But I ended up tagging along with Niyu and a bunch of her almost-30 year old friends, so I did things I haven’t done in a long time — absolute years. Dressing up! Pre-gaming at Bob’s Bar. Walking to the gig in our “outrageous” clothes. Consuming whatever alcohol I could get my hands on. Coming home with super achy feet and quads from all the dancing. Waking up severely hungover this morning.

It was oddly freeing. And it certainly helped that it was a cracker of a live set.

I mean she was there. *all the heart eyes*

And in classic Bonobo style, a full band too with the whole deal — drums, keys, guitars, trumpets, sax, strings — for all the instrumentation.

My only complain was that it ended too soon, in utterly predictable Bangalore fashion, at 9.45 pm. *eyeroll*

BUT, they played one of my current obsessions:

And if you’re enthu, here’s the official video:

And even though this felt like a once-in-a-lifetime gig, I’m already setting my intention and wishes on a do-over. Preferably outside India.

Universe, make it happen.

One year ago: There’s still time to change the road you’re on
Three years ago: Cloudless skies

Born again, all grown up

I’ve been feeling overwhelmingly content. Like there’s just so much of this good life, I can’t get enough of it, I’m too small to take it all in, it’s abundance spilling over from all around me.

Everything is a bit superlative right now. All the words are excessive and extra. And even then the words to explain how new this all feels aren’t enough.

I feel young, tender, and wide open like a child. I also feel very confident, whole and empowered like an adult. All kinds of grown up.

I feel whole, like stepping into a new door with new agency. New energy.

This is new. This is mine. And I don’t have to fight for it anymore.

So much gratitude for where I am today. For how for the first time in probably my entire life I feel a sense of balance. Of everything being right just as it is. No unquenched yearning, no burning desire, no sense of longing or incompleteness for anything.

I have never known this before and I feel such immense gratitude for having arrived here.

One year ago: We’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got

Super-power

I’ve peeled myself, and I’m only nearly halfway done
I’ve pulled myself out, and I’m still in, waist-deep
I’ve picked myself dry, and I feel anew.
I’ve cracked open the box I’ve only ever held closed shut
Only to find that inside,
It isn’t filled with truths I can touch
Or make mine in an instant.
It feels empty, but I look deeper within it’s drawing darkness
And I find only more questions, leading me on,
I find gratitude I want to reach out and kiss.
A whoop of laughter, a big gulp of life,
A tender lock of loneliness, a feather-touch of grief, still,
An inner steadiness,
And an invisible calm that fits in my palm.
It’s my super-power. What’s yours?

***

Last week was such a good week. Yes, even with the way it started. Even with everything that transpired. There were flowers in my home, night rains, many much-needed coffees, lots of time spent in bed, a significant amount of writing, mostly being alone by myself at home, a day with S, lots of time and space for me, many letters and postcards written, every yoga session fulfilling, a fabulous post-rain Sunday walk that was longer and faster than usual, an excellent and game-changing session at therapy, a certain togetherness that I felt palpably around me. And a deep, deep sense of calm within.

Three years ago: Fail

Safe and sound

Life is suddenly very quiet. Things have quietened down. Within as much as around me. There is an expansiveness about this quiet. It stretches for miles around me, it slows down time, it fills me up and makes me feel safe.

This quiet has a very different quality from peace. And I feel it because much of the inner quiet is seeping into my outer world too, and I can sense how different it is from just being calm or feeling peaceful. It’s in the overwhelming safety in being a small speck in the wide wide-openness of it.

This feels different. And now that it’s here, I feel a sense of old, old familiarity and resonance. Like it is something I had unknowingly lost, and that I have been waiting for, for so long now. And there is the heart-crushing gratitude for it too.

This quiet. This sense of containment. And of steadiness.

One year ago: The heartache lives on inside
Two years ago: Commitment issues
Three years ago: Begin again