My life has new breath. My breath has new life.
My heart, it’s so full.
My life has new breath. My breath has new life.
My heart, it’s so full.
I moved to Goa restlessly in search of a new turf. I’d always dreamt of a life full of travel. But after eight years, Bangalore is the home I have chosen to return to.
The rain has always reminded me of Goa. In all the years that I was there, I steadfastly maintained that it was best experienced in the monsoon. So sitting in my home in bone-dry Bangalore – where I have just returned after eight long years in the sunshine state – watching my Facebook and Instagram feed replete with images of liquid skies, has made the bittersweet nature of my decision suddenly very apparent.
The street outside my bedroom window is packed with people, quite like an inescapable matrix. The chaos is palpable, the diametric opposite of the silence in my study in Goa, where the large French windows were the perfect lookout for the rain. I spent the bulk of my time there, mostly alone, with just my words for company: a simple, still, and satisfying existence. In fact, it was finding a room of my own, complete with a sturdy writer’s desk right beside a day bed and a view that really made Goa my home. And yet, Bangalore is the home I have chosen to return to.
Home. The word has such a sense of finality attached to it. Finding home, coming home, returning home – they all seem like such swift movements in a single direction. It has always evoked a sense of having to choose something, one way or another. A city, a house, a place to forever swear allegiance to.
I came to Goa restlessly in search of a new turf. I’d always dreamt of a life full of travel. Drunk on the idea of independence, charting my own trajectory, being forever unbound… coming to Goa was a ticket to escaping a reality I didn’t want to make my own.
Moving there eight years ago was my massive “fuck you” to city life. I wanted out from the endless cacophony of big-city noises, a hectic life consumed by work and commuting to work, that left me with no mind space to do the things I really wanted to. I was earning well, but constantly fighting to create time and space to enjoy the rewards of the hustle. Twenty-four years was too soon to be plagued by questions that define a quarter-life crisis – shouldn’t there be more to this life? Is wanting a simpler, smaller, quieter life really such a bad thing?
Quitting seemed like the best answer at the time. As a city, Panjim was refreshingly different. Everything about it felt wonderfully welcoming and I found a balm for every single painful sore memory that had driven me away from Bangalore. And then there was the monsoon – four full months of it.
Never, not even in my wildest dreams, did I imagine I’d give it up to go back to the bustle of Bangalore.
Quitting city life at 25 to go live in a beach town wasn’t all idyllic and romantic. It meant being the trailing spouse. It meant stepping out of the corporate race entirely, a choice that had life-changing consequences for me. It meant opening myself up to the unexpected and unpredictable ways of a small town. And I was going to have to embrace a domestic life I had no experience with. The introvert in me was going to have to start finding new friends.
Having never lived outside of Bangalore, and knowing absolutely nobody in Goa, I tasted a kind of anonymity I’d never known. Free and far away from social, familial, and professional commitments gave me large doses of alone time. All that quiet meant that I had to learn to befriend solitude, embrace it, and pretty soon I learned to love it. I began to write for myself, testing waters in a new craft. I started reading entire books again. I even did what I thought was unthinkable and discovered a love for cooking.
I became a homebody, feeling like I’d finally found my feet, grown into myself. I’d found the safety of a home that allowed me to be me. And it sparked the start of many good things. A hermitic existence, ensconced in peace and quiet, close to nature, away from the disorderly rat race, Goa was home because it’s where I began to thrive.
I dug my heels in and bound myself tightly to the new-found belonging. In its fixed, firm foundations I found myself anchored. Over eight long years, the gentle ebb and flow of creating the life I wanted not only helped me find myself, but also redefine what home really is.
And yet, as soon as the transition was complete, I found myself wanting to pick up and go again.
I realise now that my sense of home is rooted in specific things, rather than a city or place. Home is any safe space in my head. Sometimes it is a process – like it was for me, a period of transformation.
Sometimes it is the satisfaction of tasting freedom, of leaping into the unknown. Sometimes it is the acknowledgement of my privilege, the security of knowing that I can to lead a life based on my own choices. Sometimes it’s in accepting that home is just a word. It isn’t a single place wrapped in the foreverness we attach to it. Home doesn’t have to be an end.
Home is – as I realised when I craved a change of pace again – very often just a means to an end. It needn’t be weighted down by the heaviness of roots. Sometimes, it has the lightness of agility.
Home is a state of mind. And it can be anywhere or any place you want it to be. Home needs space, to grow, to spread itself out and open its doors to newness. Homecoming then is not about going somewhere you necessarily want to be. It is going somewhere you need to be.
And so, I did the unthinkable. I left the near-perfect simple life of Goa, to dive straight into the chaos. I came back to the Bangalore. It’s overwhelming, it’s grotesque, it’s oppressive. And yet, I’ve once again made it my own. I am at ease.
(This essay first appeared on Arre)
Same time, last year: Day 258: This morning
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
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
Nine. NINE! VC, it’s been nine years. I remember writing this post, overwhelmed that we’d hit the half-decade mark, like it was just yesterday. And this morning, I pointed out that today we’ve officially entered the double-digits. Next year it will be a decade since we got married.
The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same. It’s a old and overused cliche, but I can’t think of a better way to describe what it’s like being married to you. The change bit holds only too true for the past year. 2016-17 will go down as the year everything changed. Our professional paths, the painful changes in the run up to accepting that we’d have to leave Goa, moving back to Bangalore, figuring stuff out in the city once again, all the teething issues – physically and emotionally, setting up your new business — never before have we experienced such a huge quantum of change in such a short span of time.
You know what else changed this year? Our communication. I’ve always taken solace and quiet comfort in the knowing that we’ve always had a healthy level of honesty and good communication, but with everything that happened last year, I feel like we were thrust into a whole new level of brutal honesty that we didn’t know existed. I’ll admit it gets very tiring sometimes being the one to initiate us on this path, and constantly be the one digging deeper to find out what lies beneath the surface — our feelings, our opinions, our desires, our dreams — but I’ve realised there is no other way I’d rather have it.
I’ve seen far too many examples of marriages falling apart of late, where the fundamental reason boiled down to the inability to either face and voice the truth, or to accept and embrace it. So I’m extremely grateful for the space we share between us, where pretty much nothing is taboo. I can’t think of too many other relationships that give me this sense of safety. This space for extreme honesty is so, so, very cherished, and you have to know how much you (unconsciously, perhaps) have done to encourage me to speak nothing but the truth. Even when it was to finally realise and admit to myself, and you, that given the way my life has traversed this past year, I do feel that maybe we married too soon.
I broke down momentarily in therapy when I came to this realisation, because I expected to feel the predictable sense of regret. But to my surprise tears made way for relief. I felt so oddly free to be able to see what I had just articulated for what it is, and immediately I knew I was absolutely going to be able to share it with you. I know and believe and feel so thankful to have the kind of relationship with you that enables me to speak this, right to your face, no words minced. And to have us look at the fact with enough distance that is needed to learn the lessons in here, but enough keenness to know what to do with this awareness, and where to go with it. And that’s just what we did, it’s how we embarked on this most unexpected turn of events that has landed us in Bangalore. I do believe this is just the beginning, though, and that a change in cities has so little to do with the city itself, but that we have been presented an opportunity t dig even deeper.
This year, I feel stronger, more whole and at peace than I have ever before in my entire life. Therapy (with all the upheaval it brings in its aftermath), through which you have stood by me like an absolute rock, turned me into an absolute blithering mess at times. I talked nine to a dozen, rambling, losing the plot many a time, voicing and airing a lot of rubbish on the way to finding my clarity. Even as I was going through many of those sessions of verbal diarrhoea, I remember wondering if it might be painful to be at the receiving end of this all the time. It didn’t stop me, though. And it didn’t make you stop me either.
I’m where I am largely because you supported me entirely in getting here. I said last year that much of this exploration began because I was able to give myself the permission to do so. I allowed myself to let go of so much, because you constantly reminded me how important it was to put a premium on myself and do whatever I needed to, to feel whole again.
And for that, I am eternally grateful.
I hope you never muddle your sense of responsibility towards me and this marriage, to lose sight of your personal goals and dreams. Which is why I want you to know that my wish for us this year, and going forward, is that you remember all those things you keep telling me. And I wish and hope that I can be there for you, like you have for me.
This year, I see you at the start of your journey of self-exploration, similar to the spot I was in a couple of years ago. I hope you’ll remember that I’ve always got your back. I may not bring home the bacon, but I’ve really, really, got your back. You can lean on me. I’m here for the talk as much as I am for when you need the silence of comfortable companionship. I’m here for the ride as much as I am for when we need to stay still. I’m here for the plateaus as much as I am change.
I want to go back to one little thing I said on our anniversary last year. It was a liberating, life-changing realisation then. And it holds true even today.
I feel like today, more than ever, is a good day for a reminder.
This year, more than every before, I realised that being together has little to do with being together. Not to take for granted how wonderful it is to have a roomie to come back to, someone to hold at night when the fear of the dark envelops me, someone to lean on when I’m scared or lonely, someone to share a laugh with in a way that only we can understand. But I realised that growing old together involves taking routes that aren’t always going to run in parallel, or end up in the same place. It is possible to be together and yet give each other the space to be apart – in what we do, in where we go, and in how we blossom. And for the first time in all our years together, and my vehement stand on long-distance relationships, I have opened myself up to the idea of living apart. It will mean spreading our wings in different directions, and I don’t mean that just literally. I hope we explore it someday, because I think it will only take us a step up from here.
Happy anniversary my superstar. I haven’t done a very good job of being around the last few weeks and months since we moved to Bangalore. But I want you to know you’re a champ, my absolute trooper and I can’t wait to see what the months ahead hold for you.
As for the ride taking you there, I’m all in.
You’ve got me. I’ve got your back.
I love you so very much.
Same time, last year: Day 252: Eight
It dawned on me this week that growing up doesn’t have to happen at the expense of the child inside of me. That a major part of the self development piece involves acknowledging that child/younger self without feeling guilty, ashamed and afraid to admit to the person I once was or the things I have said, believed and done in the past. Owning up to some of these past versions of myself has been difficult. And yet it has been strangely liberating.
Four weeks into the six-week shred I’m on, I did four full nose-to-the-ground push ups. The thrill of watching progress and improvement as it unfolds right in front of your own eyes is unparalleled. When I began, I was hopeful and confident because of the changes I’ve already experienced with my body. But nothing prepared me for this kind of drastic, visible transformation, possibly the fastest and most impactful I have ever achieved on my own.
This time around there is the added discovery that I can be self-motivated beyond what I’ve assumed to be my natural or innate capacity to push myself through the grind. I didn’t think I could ever go off white rice. And yet, here I am four weeks in, not missing it, and potentially tossing up the idea of giving it up for good.
It was Teacher’s Day yesterday and I was asked to make a list of ten mentors/teachers/people who have impacted my life positively. It was strange how not a single actual teacher from my years in school and college came to mind. My list included abstract things like *life* and *marriage* and at the very end, just when I was finishing it off, I thought it D and A who have taught me so much about how to look at life by looking within. And then. Thought of B and R who have permanently altered the way I look and feel about my body. These folks didn’t come into my life as teachers. But they’ve hugely impacted the way I have understood and explored the strengths my mind and body are capable of. I am eternally grateful for the experience – especially of the last 3-4 years. My life wouldn’t be the same without it.
Same time, last year: Day 250: Finding my people
I don’t know the first thing about graphic novels, but I feel like getting myself down to the launch of the Bangalore graphic novel, where I got to watch and listen to some of the good folk who contributed to it makes for a decent start into the genre.
Also present were some of the younger contributors, for some of whom this was the first time being published in print. Their excitement was so relatable. I was particularly inspired by Ramya Ramakrishnan who spoke simply and cheerfully about her process and how the story came to be. When someone asked if she was open to freelancing, she ended with a little fist bump, proudly declaring “I’m a full-time freelancer!”
It was my first time visiting Goobe Book Republic which is not as serious and officious as the book republic bit of he name makes it out to be. For a tiny, seemingly non descript hole in a basement on Church Street (that currently can only be accessed by crossing over a mini canyon) it has a whole lot of heart and good, good energy.
It helped that despite the god awful rain and feeling mildly marooned on Church Street (it had turned into a literal river) by the end of the evening I even got to eat the Andhra meal had my heart set on. And I came away with some choice book recommendations too.
A few weeks ago I complained to more than one person about how I feel there’s nothing to do in Bangslore except eat and drink. I’m slowly eating my words. For now. I have since joined a reading club, stumbled on this book launch (and actually made it to watch) I’m off to a cookbook club potluck lunch this afternoon. There are good intentions to watch a stand up act next week and take a weekend trip away some time in the next month too.
It’s tricky managing the balance between retaining and reclaiming time I want for myself and also making the effort to get out there and do some of the things I actually want to. It’s far easier to slip into hermit mode, specially once getting out in Bangalore has been quite overwhelming on more than one occasion. But for a select few things and with the right company, I hope to be able to push myself a little bit every time an event or performance or something catches my eye.
Back to the book — Bangalore, A Graphic Novel — it’s independently published, has a really good selection of contributors from Appupen and Prashant Miranda to Zac O’Yeah and several other comic book creators, illustrators and artists that I hadn’t heard of but am so happy to be introduced to.
It’s the second production by Every City is a Story, a city-centric story telling initiative. They already have a Hyderabad graphic novel out there and a Goa one in the works!
Same time, last year: Day 211: Interwebzy things
I firmly believe we have entered a time of being grotesquely overfed and unnaturally preoccupied with food. Nothing confirmed that for me as much as moving to Bangalore did. I realised very early on that meeting people had to involve a restaurant or pub. The number of events and happenings in the city revolving around food boggle me. A visit to some of the happening hubs in town make my head spin. Take 12th main road in Indiranagar, for example. I cannot get over how dazzlingly chock full of restaurants and night clubs and pubs it is. Each one seemingly bursting at the seams, and most of them running full house on weekends with business roaring.
I’ve been conflicted about this lately. As I think of alternate ways to engage with people — a walk in the park! a play? a concert? meeting over tarot cards? book club, anyone? I find that despite the largeness of a city like Bangalore, and the variety of opportunities to engage with the culture one might imagine it to present, to service the varied interests of this people-infested place, I’m struggling to find avenues that don’t revolve around food.
So in these times of overfed everything — from our instagram feeds (I’m so over the here’s what I ate for breakfast/lunch/dinner updates :-/) to the fetishization of meals we put in our bellies, it feels a bit self-indulgent and vacant to say food brings people together. And yet to not state it, in the manner I mean it today feels a bit fraudulent. Because it’s true what they say, food brings people together. At its most fundamental level, so many of my memories are bound by flavours, and nostalgia stirs when certain aromas or remnants of events surrounding food are evoked. It could be something as simple as the baby food I’d wait for my 6-month old sister to waste so I could wallop, or it could be the ginormous indulgent buffet i ate for five days straight over my honeymoon, or my grandfather’s very own mutton stew. Food memories have preserved my sanity on more than one occasion.
Flying out of the proverbial nest gave me wings in more ways than one, and one of the bittersweet joys of being away was creating my own set of traditions and rituals — many of which were around food. Festival sweets, Sunday breakfast eggs, nuts to start the day, supaari to end the day. And I’ve missed the grounding and centering effect of many of these simple habits and homely traditions, followed almost too tediously, week after week.
These are the same rituals I sometimes resisted participating in, many times when Iw as young. And stupid. But I was too naive to fully realise how much lingering over a shared meal, letting conversation unravel sometimes, or disappearing into comfortable pockets of silence, mindfully eating the complex outcome of someones thoughtful, deliberate labour, played a role in keeping me grounded, together.
Growing up, our Sunday lunch at home was one such event. It was where the stories of the week were shared. Where sneaky giggles, tired sighs and everything on between came together, in long belaboured detail, for everyone to chew on. The meal itself wasn’t necessarily large and sinful. Sometimes a simple khichdi, sometimes an egg curry with fluffy white rice and a naked salad. But sometimes, like today, it was a leap of faith into a previously untouched cuisine. It was larger than usual, felt fancier than the familiar fare we were usually fed. But no matter what it was, it has always been the heart of Sunday afternoons in my home.
Post lazy oil-bath mornings usually spent tidying up or hurriedly ticking thru homework, after a tiring dance class, there was nothing I looked forward to more than a meal with my folks and sister.
A meal is a magical thing. So much a labour of love, putting together a meal is an energy sapping activity. And yet, when it is done and finished, it is only the memories that linger as aromatic evidence. I realised this on Sunday, as I sat at the table we dragged out into the terrace garden at my parents home. I’m beginning to like that peaceful feeling of acceptance that washes over me, like like telling me I-told-you-so, every time I notice I’ve come full-circle. And it happened again the other day, back at the table on a Sunday afternoon. Even though our family is larger by almost-two and life has taken us all in such divergent paths. We’re louder about some things, clandestine about others. And yet, when we come together, the laugher, the noisy munching, the clinking of spoons against bowls and plates and the hearty fullness of a shared meal remains much the same.
Same time, last year: Day 194: Pedalling again
The monsoon has hit Goa with all its might and fury and my social media feeds are filled with envy-making pictures, videos and words that are doing nothing to make me feel better for being so far, far away from the best time to be in Goa.
Last year I had an inkling it was to be my ultimate monsoon living in Goa and even though part of me felt like I was inching closer to the reality of it, a larger part of me wanted to remain blissfully unaware. And in denial.
My facebook memories have been brutal in throwing up images and blog posts from all of last year and monsoon nostalgia has taken over me considerably this week.
I miss Goa terribly. I’m hopelessly and inconsolably homesick for Goa.
But. There have been small joys. Silver linings, if you will. Moments of pure surprise or happiness. Everyday realities that have grown on me unconsciously. Until suddenly I woke up to see the light.
After living in west-facing homes for literally all my life, I’m now on the other end of the spectrum. Enjoying 6 am wake ups thanks to the burst of light that no curtains can keep out, loving how the entire home is always bathed in a soft, gentle yellow, and low-key obsessing over watching day-long shadows as they morph on the hour. The sunlight is doing wonders for the plants we got and I’ve gone over six weeks without killing anything.
Daily surprises happen with fair consistency. I’ve got to start looking and acknowledging them more often.
Same time, last year: Day 187: June
For many years while I was away, I believed I missed absolutely no part of my life back home. It sounds extreme, but for a brief while, this was entirely true. Call it the honeymoon period, or whatever else, but I was snug as a bug in the newness of the anonymity and the pleasures of discovering everything a new life in a new city has to offer. It helped that the Goa I moved to was the diametric opposite of everything I left behind in Bangalore. And I mean this in more ways than one — it was a shift to an entirely different space and time. And that joy lasted a long, long time. The fresh excitement at the newness remained for more years than I imagined possible, for far long after the newness was no longer even new.
But as I’ve discovered near-eight years is a long enough time to go full circle. And I had definitely entered a headspace where I began to slowly miss some very specific things about being home. Big and small, they included everything from being a short drive away from my friends to easy access to fresh filter coffee.
There were days when I longed to wake up to a hot cooked breakfast, amma-style. Or the smell of fresh filter coffee. Or weeks when I’d walk out of the gym on Friday night and desperately long for the luxury of being in the same city as my friends, friends who get me, so we could all gang up at home over wine or beer and do nothing but talk.
I’ve missed experiencing a wide range of food and drink. I’ve missed having options, and I’ve missed having people to obsess over the variety with. I’ve missed the comforts of being on familiar ground, of old haunts an of new discoveries. In the months I’ve been here we’ve already sampled a fair amount of microbrewery beer and I may have found a temporary favourite too.
I’ve missed my family, just being around them even when there is nothing particularly important to say. Breakfast time, evening chai time, and dinner time — which is usually when we gather together. Weekday chai time with amma, weekend drinks with anna, for example. Coming back to this ready set up, where I don’t have to work to provide it or create a space for it has been the change I wanted. When all else fails, I have my parents to go back to.
When enough years of basking in the newfound hermitism grew old, I yearned for some of the bustle that people bring in your life. The right kind of people. Without the frills, without the special occasions, without the stilted conversations and pretence that comes with manufactured togetherness. With equal amounts of silence and the mania that only kindred spirits can appreciate alike. Converging and agreeing on the silliest of things, going into raptures about the most mundane and inane things, and knowing that it is with only just these few that you can and will always be at your unbridled best.
In the last two years of being away, as I rediscovered sides of myself I didn’t know existed — some that I thought I’d left behind had actually resurfaced, and some that I never imagined possible had made a loud appearance — I realised how much the transformation had affected my relationships. Both near and far.
Distance and time are difficult variables to work with. Very unconsciously, I had started to filter people in my immediate circles out. Days and weeks would go by without me getting out of the house. No plans, no get-togethers, no outings seemed to tempt me into engaging with the family I’d built in Goa (save for a few people). And yet, the bonds that grew thicker, stronger and richer were with folks in Bangalore and away.
Here I am now, and even as I carve out a niche for myself again, a large part of the everyday joy of coming back is in reminding myself how I’m so close to all the things I love. Especially the things I was craving in the last two years of my life away.
Anyhow, this ramble just to say that coming back has been difficult in many ways. I’m often taken aback by situations I’ve forgotten how to deal with, overcome with emotion when the stark contrast between Goa and Bangalore makes me question my decision, and there have even been the odd instances where I feel defeated and overpowered by the city whose way is to ensnare everything within its reach.
Yes, this city is overwhelmingly large (literally and figuratively) compared to where I used to be. But within and outside of my home, I have pockets of peace. Sanctuaries of love and abundance that I can slip into. A mere glance through my picture roll on my phone showed me enough evidence of ample instances of this abundance. Unsurprisingly it is about the people, punctuated by food and drink. In each of these images is a reminder of the things I desperately missed until three months ago.
Yes, I’ve left behind a lot and sometimes I’m not entirely sure the trade off makes sense. Especially when I feel the lack — of open spaces, of greenery, of silence amongst many other things. But there is an abundance of exactly that which I was seeking. And it counts for a lot.
Same time, last year: Day 182: Watercolour eyes
I’ve been fighting the worst creative block for weeks now. Work is slow. Both because the energy I’ve directed towards the pursuit of it has been flagging, and also because I’m being a hopeless procrastinator over what little I have going.
I’ve tried everything — locking myself in my home away from distraction, taking myself to the comforts of my parents’ home where Amma plies me with filter coffee, working at night, working early in the morning, tempting myself with afternoon naps as a reward for a morning of writing, reading to get the words going, silence to get the words going. But nothing has really pushed me out of this stupor.
Until today. And this chance visit to an old haunt.
I had a meeting close to MG Road and a few hours to kill until dinner time (which is also happening this side of town, making it pointless for me to trudge home and back again in a few hours). So, I made the wise decision to carry my laptop along. It’s a fabulous day out and I enjoyed a lovely walk from one end of MG Road to here. When the weather stays this way, and it has been splendid, I’m rediscovering the joys of a walkable city again. Little pleasures that make being back in this monstrous grind, just a wee bit more bearable.
And for now, a glass of kadak milky super sweet tea and a plate of smileys seem to have done the trick.
Same time, last year: Day 181: Holiday vibes
After ages, ages, ages we’ve had a slow Sunday with no plans whatsoever. Just like many of our Sundays in Goa. The thing with being back home is that there have been ample welcome distractions. I’m dangerously close to my folks, where the promise of an open kitchen and warm home cooked meals and their company is ever present. We’re also not too far from VC’s folks, and there have been weekly visits over to theirs too. With friends around, I’ve been out at least 2-3 times a week – a welcome change from the way life was in Goa – and it’s been a tad tiring. More than tiring though, it has contributed to my not feeling fully settled and rooted.
In order to feel really at home in my home I realised last week that I needed to get into my own routine and do the homey things I’m used to. Potter about, change the sheets, laze around without bathing all day, work into the night if inspiration strikes, cook something spontaneously, stock up veggies and groceries – you know, the little things that go into creating a space to call your own.
Last night, I had a massive attack of Goa homesickness. Something about the weekends in Bangalore brings them closer than I am willing to deal with. Every weekend I feel the stark contrast between life in Goa and life here – and I suppose it’s natural and going to be a recurring event to keep comparing the two – and when I realise there is literally no peaceful, quiet place to go to, where I can slip away with a book to read or write in and sit by myself for a few hours. This is something I did almost every weekend in Goa. Either with or without company, the closest beach was a three minute ride away. I could always choose form at least three cafes that were perfectly silent to go and sit by yourself. A glass of wine or a beer, a plate of fries or a chorice-pao, it was really easy to just order something simple to pass the time when you really wanted to just sit and read.
Alternatively, finding a spot of green, a cliff with a view, a quiet beach, a lonely road winding through green fields was a matter of driving out of Panjim which no matter what part of town you lived was never more than a 10 minute drive. And many a weekend we’d venture out to get some fresh air and a slice of the outdoors. And lets not forget all the cycling. All the cycling.
Bangalore poses a serious dearth of that kind of peace. The kind that’s suited for solitude. And that too has contributed to me feeling a little out of my depth, unsettled and not quite at home as yet.
So finally, this weekend, we vegged out and stayed in. Meals were cooked together, conversations we’ve been dodging because of a lack of time together were had, long naps were taken, I even snuck in a long overdue salon visit to unwind a little, and managed to finish a book I began in May but hadn’t touched until Friday night.
I may be back in the big city, but I think a part of me will always be the silence-seeking, solitude-loving, small-town person Goa taught me to be. I guess I’m going to have to learn to recreate a pocket of peace right here at home for when the weekend blues strike.
Same time, last year: Day 176: Begin
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.
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.
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
I’ve already expressed adequate shock at how fast we’re already at Christmad time. How is this the end of the year already?! Time flies when you’re having fun, they say. It’s true for the most part, except the parts that weren’t fun. Which, if you have been reading, were many. But time also flies when you’re facing big, life changing transformation. The fastest, zippiest years have always been that kind. And 2016 will go down as one of the quickest, most transformative years in my life.
In many ways, that I realise in retrospect, this was a year that set us up for what is to come. I already know how much next year is going to be different. We’re embarking on some big changes which we will begin prepping for this month, going into the new year. What I don’t know, is the exact ramifications of the impending change, on the rest of my life. And facing and accepting that kind of uncertainty has been the theme for literally everything Ive done these past twelve months.
As much as change is a constant, and as much as I say I’ve been craving it, I’ve never been very good at actually facing it when I’m on the brink. But this is what 2016 has beaten me down to doing. Opening my self up to uncertainty, not fearing the unknown and trusting that it is enough.
This time I’m trying to really take it one day at a time, one step ahead of the other, and letting things happen without getting too het up over it.
For now, Christmas is here and we’re having nippy evenings, mad sunsets and properly cold nights. The planet is going bonkers, that’s to sure. But it sure knows how to look pretty while it’s at it.
It used to be so effortless returning to Goa. One almost never felt the blues. And yet, there’s a first time for everything I suppose. While I took solace in the fact that I was going home and that was always awesome, I was completely unprepared for what happened. It’s hard enough returning from a place that’s hyper efficient and works almost like clockwork. But it’s harder still returning to surprise gridlocked traffic, an area-wide power cut and an internet outage.
For the very first time ever, I felt waves of sadness to be back. Mildly tinged with regret. I spent large parts of last week crawling back to normalcy, fighting the cynicism and the urge to complain. But every time Im feeling like this, Goa woos me again. Like it did on Sunday night, with a stunning sky, spectacular sunset and an opportunity to get a drink by myself as I watched the drama unfold.
Of late, it has felt like my life here falls short on many fronts. But that’s not so much about what the place has to offer, as it is about my changing expectations and needs for myself, Ive realised.
Just a little over half a day to go before we head out of the island. I watched the sun set in a neon orange blaze framed by an icy cool blue this evening and I felt once again, what I have felt so many times these past three days – time slowing down so much it feels like you could fuse into the furniture and blend away into the background.
It’s been all kinds of lovely. As I knew it would. I’m so very grateful for having had this chance to getaway by myself. But also for the perfect getaway partner in crime. It’s not often that you find the right company when you plan to cross continents and travel to faraway lands to do nothing. That’s what these last few days have been about. If there were a way to illustrate perfectly just what I mean, this picture would have to be it.
Part I of the holiday began with me stepping out of the airplane yesterday into a crisp Bangalore morning. With blinding white sunlight but a nip in the air. I love, love, love these pre-winter mornings. And despite my skin immediately feeling that Bangalore parchedness, my winter-deprived self made me take my jacket off and soak up the sun+chill.
But that was only until about 11 am. Then it got hot. Hotter than Goa. This is a first.
Meanwhile, VC is on his own holiday. Cycling around Goa starting today. It involves cycling an average of 80 kms a day, everyday for the next four days, and surviving in two pairs of cycling clothes that he swears he will wash and dry overnight. In time for the next mornings ride. I wished him luck.
His holiday has already begun.
After two chill days with the parentals, I’m off again as part II commences tonight. Regular posting may suffer a bit depending on what connectivity is like on the island. See you on the other side xxox.
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.
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.
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.