Day 32: January

Right, so I guess it’s safe to say now I’m going to be blogging through this year, much like I did right through 2016. I wanted to gather enough steam and continuity before I confirmed it even to myself – hahaha.

No it isn’t a blogathon, it is just me making yet another attempt to find one thing that I can sit my ass down and do every single day. The last time I did this, my life was very different. I lived in Goa, I was quite fed up with the comfortable plateau it had brought me to, and an inexplicable restlessness pervaded through my entire being. It was the year I began to contemplate a different kind of life, and that required me to examine a lot of things about myself, my personality, my attitudes to many things and also my demons and fears. It was the year I worked harder and more than I had ever before (or after). It was the year I started therapy. It was the year that set of a lot of the changes I came to face in 2017. All of this gave me a lot of very concrete, tangible things to write about.

Through the erratic, tumultuous time that 2016 was, keeping this diary of sorts played my constant leveller. It gave me sense of sanity and regularity, when around me things were anything but normal. No matter what happened (and a LOT happened!) I found it useful, reflective, meditative and just productive to record it here.

This time around, I find myself not so preoccupied with what is going on around me, but within me. I’m aware this doesn’t make for very glamorous reading. I also am aware it isn’t very unique or refreshing. No longer being in Goa has reduced a lot of the novelty in my blog. But that alone, was never the purpose of my writing, this blog, or taking to write a post a day. I write because it makes sense to me, primarily. Everything else is secondary.

Without Facebook and Instagram, where I’d usually post about my blog and announce updates and garner readers, I sense the silence around here. The numbers of visitors are far fewer, the comments non existent. The emails though, they still keep coming. And it is oddly satisfying, reassuring in a way that statistics will never be. Because it tells me, time and time again, that no matter what I may be going through, it is not new or special. There’s always someone feeling the same way, experiencing the same things. It creates a bond, a special connection, and it is simultaneously humbling.

Despite the silence, in the absence of promoted posts, social media numbers and shares, to still find a space for my voice and to know that I am heard, is all kinds of satisfying. Perhaps, this then, is why I write.

***

I’m going to also continue to reflect on every month gone by, and that makes me balk that January has passed me by in a flash. Consequent to what I’ve rambled on above, I guess these recaps will be far from exciting. But I’ll do it anyway.

Here’s what occupied my mind right through the month:

Reflections:
Growth, change and healing — Right from day one I’ve been determined to move ahead and it showed in my rumination on:
Friendship — A lot of churn in the last month of 2017 in this area of my life meant reflection, altered beliefs and a lot of reassurance.
Gratitude — One thing I know for certain, the more I acknowledge the goodness in my life, the more goodness finds it way to me. And so there is going to be a lot of giving thanks, like so. And also a weekly habit of looking back and giving thanks, overover and over.
Fitness and body-positivity — Last year, I went on a six week food plan. At the time I thought I knew what I was after. It did me a lot of good, in some ways, but six months down, with the benefit of retrospect (and some much needed honesty with myself) I realised it also damaged me in far worse ways than I realised. It’s been an ongoing struggle this month, but I finally feel like Im coming back to myself.

Reading:
Looking back on all that I read through 2017 probably helped me set off to a good start with some fabulous fiction this year.

Tales of travel:
I recapped our December holidays — a cycling trip to Wayanad and a quiet getaway to Coonoor.

Other rambles:
I’ve revelled in the extended winter, talked about what I’ve been watching, felt got a bit consumed by love.

I had an opinion on the Aziz Ansari debacle, conflicting feelings about Uber in Bangalore and even a brief cynicism on patriotism.

Two years ago: Day 32: On creative happiness

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Day 9: The hardest part

is admitting that you were wrong. But once you’re over that hurdle, it’s like walking into the light, or unlocking the next level of a mystery you’re desperately trying to solve.

For someone so convinced I was an out and out introvert just over a year ago, the past year has seen a big change. The developments of recent time, specially the last six odd weeks have only confirmed what I have known to be true for a while now: I have changed, in ways I know, but more so in ways I am only getting to know slowly.

The more willing I am to sit still and observe, question and think about the changes I see, the more I know this to be true. And that willingness is the hard part. Because it means accepting that it may be time to let go of some rigid truths, or that I might need to soften up on some of my staunch aversions, or it means letting go of the safety of labels that I use to define me. It means instead, to look at the very real circumstances that are shaping me in entirely different ways.

It means finding new connections.

It means sometimes standing alone.

Daunting as it sounds, and is in some part, it is also incredibly energising. Nobody talks about how refreshing and life-giving the process can be. It is not without tedium, and there’s really no escaping the bitter realities that you’ll have to stare in the face, but once you’re over that hurdle, it is like a breath of fresh air. Light, rejuvenating, and puts the spring right back in your step.

Perhaps it is the mistaken ideas of adulthood and becoming-who-you-are that we have inculcated, that makes this journey seem one way. The pursuit of prescribed ideals, boxed definitions and perfection itself makes looking back, revisiting old versions of yourself and admitting less than ideal facets of yourself impossible, and a waste of time. Shame, envy, inadequacy, confusion become bad words we don’t want to believe are parts of us.

But the truth is, growing up involves going back and forth all the time. It is acknowledging these unsavoury parts of ourselves that unlocks the potential to plummet ahead. Never before have I valued retrospection so much. For it has helped revisit so much, only this time with a softer eye. Less self-loathing. Less judgement. More acceptance.

With every passing week, I realise I’m not the introvert I was in the months before I left Goa. It was circumstances that made me withdraw and seek my own company, closed in from the world. But I didn’t understand why or how it was happening. It was simply the playing out of what N articulated perfectly — Everyone can’t go with you everywhere — a truth (and several others) I’m only realising this now. And I’m changing, because of it.

Even until weeks mere ago, it was hard to say if it was a change brought on by changing circumstances, or if the shifts brewing within me in turn were reflected in my circumstances. Mostly this has been a revelation about how wrong I was.

I noticed around the middle of last year how suddenly I was much more willing to go out, be with people, socialise and do things outside of the four walls of the introvert cocoon I’d settled into. The frequency with which I’d surprise myself by volunteering to do something I thought was uncharacteristic began to rise, till I realised it was too frequent to pass it off as “exceptions to the rule”. It was, in fact, the new normal. Try out a new restaurant, I’m in. Want to come to xyz, with abs, def, (who you don’t know), sure! Want to try out a reading club where we’ll read a book on self-esteem, why not? Poetry reading, yes. Movie with the family, yes. Dinner with extended family, okay to that too. Cooking for fifteen people over two days, count me in.

Slowly I found myself feeling a lot more energetic and willing to to put myself out there, in situations I’d told myself were never for me. The clincher was willingly joining VC in his new business, and taking on a client-facing role.

Conversely, I don’t fancy spending as much time all by myself at home. It helps that amma’s home is in the next building, so I always have a cocoon of comfort to jump into when things get overly solitary around here.

This is a big change for someone who in Goa barely ever left home, and loved being alone. The most joyous moment on any ordinary day then, would be when VC left for work and the help finished for the day. I would savour the solitude slowly over the course of the day, wearing my space and isolation like a comfortable skin.

It’s true what they say, the company you keep really does reflect your state of mind. And maybe this, in some measure also explains the dissonance and distance I’ve felt with those I’d most easily turn to for daily kinship. I’ve carried this feeling, that something has changed, but I’m not quite sure what to do with it, around uncomfortably for a few weeks. Eventually, the truth dawned on me: in the face of all this drastic change, I feel less and less inclined to stick to fixed anythings. My faith in the rock bed of certainties has shaken, so I’m finding it very counter-productive to stick in places I am feeling restless. Whether that is a pattern of friendship, the habits I think I need to have, or fearing breaking them because it means being alone.

The last few weeks saw me do both. And surprisingly, it got easier. The fear subsided and I felt charged with an energy I didn’t know possible.

Do you know what it is like to watch yourself move from being a somewhat passive, this-is-who-I-am-and-I’ll-just-stay-here-until-the-right-stuation-happens to a let’s-go-out-there-and-find-a-way-to-make-this-work state of mind? It has been like dipping into a secret reserve of self-worth I have suddenly discovered.

We really underestimate how much we are capable of growth. How much we are in fact changing all the time. Drastic growth brings with it such significant shifts in the mind and body that inevitably, it leads you to the reality of leaving things behind. By definition, it is what movement entails.

So whether it’s a time (it’s futile being torn up about moving on from the perks of full time employment, for example, because it doesn’t have a place in my life or in my current reality), place (similarly, so meaningless to wistfully long for my life in Goa when this is where I am now and it is what I know is most necessary), or even company (If I am changing all the time, surely every body else is too. So what then am I hanging on to so tight?), the need to loosen the grip and ease up on expecting a pre-defined kind of certainty has slipped under my skin.

Much like hanging on to older ideas of a version of myself did nothing but delay the movement that was waiting to happen in my life, I’m realising that hanging on to a fixed, rigid idea of the kind of friendship I am made for, or what I am capable of in relatonships, has made it hard for me to find deeper, authentic connections suited to where I am now.

 

One of the things that has become utterly clear to me in the recent past is that my life has little meaning without connection. I’m craving it all the time. In people, in activities, in experiences, in spaces, in habits. I’m only now learning how believing so hard in the fallacy that I am a complete introvert, has held me back in this respect.

It was hard to acknowledge that my introvertism was a temporary shield I donned, while I waded through emotions I didn’t want to face. I mistook a streak of introvertism to be a personality-defining thing, when actually it was just me seeking safety in numbers, in memes that scream relatable truths that made me feel like I belonged. Because I wanted to belong anywhere, but to the real self that was desperately running away from feeling all the feels.

Until, I was ready to break out and do all of that — face those scary feels, be as vulnerable as I possibly could, acknowledge how wrong I was, look at new and intimidating ways of being that my situation now required.

Now, I’m less afraid to make connections.

Similarly, I am less afraid to stand alone.

This shift in my attitude has already brought tremendous positive change — I see it in the most significant things like the way I was able to accept moving to Bangalore to the smallest, seemingly insignificant things like suddenly embracing hot pink lipstick with a casual comfort that was alien to me.

I see it in the way I am suddenly more outgoing. Accepting invitations to meet new people, pushing myself out to events, trying out new restaurants, making plans to beat traffic and increasingly seeking new experiences, over the comfort of mundanities, when it comes to people. I’m reluctant to keep going over the same motions out of habit. I have little to share in terms of mundanities, and the lack of conversational sharing does mean I’ve fallen out of the loop. But I’m dealing with that, and even with its difficulties, I feel it’s better than the hollow, exhausting efforts of continually trying to flog a habit I’m clearly not in the space to hang on to.

I am so not that person anymore.

Accepting that was the hardest part.

This business of looking back at the trail we’ve traversed now seems like an essential healthy practice, one that I should probably do more often. To see where we were, how far we’ve come, to ask crucial questions about where we’re headed, why, and if we’ll actually be happy once we get there requires so much reworking of of our old selves, to take what’s best for us and to let go of all that no longer serve a purpose.

But I won’t lie, that is the hardest part.

Day 4: Going by the book (and all that I read in 2017)

It’s safe to say the reading habit took a big bashing in 2017. I started off so great, and went full power until about August. Which is exactly when life took over — the physical, logistical aspects of shifting were done and I was in the throes of adjusting to living in Bangalore, figuring out work and the rest, and basically finding a new rhythm. And you know how we all have that one thing that takes a hit the minute there’s a time crunch or heavy demand on our mental faculty? That one thing that you’re most likely to give up in a pinch? Well, reading is that thing in my life. When the going gets tough and I’m pressed for time, I push reading on the back burner. So yeah, I slipped. First to infrequent reading, and reading so slow I didn’t finish a book for yonks, to eventually just giving up and thinking “oh well, the new year is around the corner, I’ll just resume in January!”

I even went back and sneakily edited my Goodreads challenge to reflect a success! Yeah, I know. I hate losing. The odd thing is half way through the year I was more than half way mark as far as the number of books I promised myself I’d read. So I was on track to finishing, and I fucked it up. Anyway, I still closed the year with some good books under the belt.

Which brings me to where we are now. Last week, right before we left for our weekend in Coonoor, I quickly downloaded a book I thought I’d finish over the 2-3 days we were away. I didn’t want to dip into something I already had, or try and finish any of the books I’ve been struggling with. I wanted something I could start and finish before I returned to Bangalore, and I didn’t want something too frothy or vapid.

I picked The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson because I remember reading an article of the same title, on his blog a few years ago. Also the books been showing up on my Goodreads for a while now. I steered away because I’ve not had a very good experience with self-help in recent times. But, I’m happy, albeit a bit ashamed, to report this one hit the spot. The cleverness isn’t so much in the content — which is to say a lot of it is common sense and you wont really read anything revelatory or that you haven’t heard or thought of before — but in the way it’s packaged into neat little precise truths. Truths that hold good for each and every one of us, without exception.

In this latest book, Manson presents what he calls a counter-intuitive approach to living a good life. And he boils it down to simply re-prioritizing what you value and want to care about. IE: What you want to and don’t want to give a fuck about. As the title suggests it’s about choosing not to give a fuck about the most common things that we tend to, and pick other more valuable things that will result in a fuller, wholesome life. Like I said, nothing earth-shattering, but maybe it’s the fact that he uses relevant and relatable examples, anecdotes and experiences, or the fact that much of what he dwells on — overcoming the need to be right, letting go of the need for certainty, figuring out toxic relationships and learning boundaries, to name a few fundamentals in the book — is stuff I’ve been pondering about a lot this past year, or it was just the right time for this kind of book in my life, that I rather surprised myself with how much I enjoyed the book. My only gripe: he does come across as trying too hard to sound cool and cocky at times, and sometimes he’s downright sexist. I nearly put the book down at one point when he goes into a particularly sexist example of the differences in the way he and his wife approach differences, but I decided to count to ten, breathe deeply and finish the book. I’m glad I did.

I suspect I’ll thumb through some parts of this book again and again, as the journey he describes in the book is a lot like the one I find myself on. Figuring out what/who I truly care about and how much of my time and effort I want to spend indulging it, all while being better every step of the way, and becoming my own person has consumed me off late. This is why the book spoke to me. I’ve committed myself this year, to make this journey an active part of my life, and not something that happens at the fringes or in my free time. I want to mindfully, actively participate in my growth, and if you’re familiar with his work, Manson’s craft is really fine-tuned for this.

It was also nice to finish the year with a book I closed on the very last day. Clean slate for the year to come, and a good time to look at the year that’s been. In terms of books, of course. Much like I did last year.

  1. Sula, Toni Morrison
  2. The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
  3. The Rachel Papers, Martin Amis
  4. Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea
  5. Things that Can and Cannot Be Said, Arundhati Roy and John Cusack
  6. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  7. The Smoke is Rising, Mahesh Rao
  8. The High Priestess Never Marries, Sharanya Manivannan
  9. Karachi, You’re Killing Me!, Saba Imtiaz
  10. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer
  11. All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg
  12. Baaz, Anuja Chauhan
  13. Heartburn, Norah Ephron
  14. When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
  15. About a Boy, Nick Hornby
  16. Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist
  17. The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
  18. Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott
  19. Sex Object, Jessica Valenti
  20. One Part Woman, Perumal Murugan
  21. Bangalore: A Graphic Novel: Every City is a Story, Jai Undurti
  22. The Rosie Effect, Graeme Simsion
  23. Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit
  24. Dongri To Dubai : Six Decades of The Mumbai Mafia, S. Hussain Zaidi
  25. Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  26. Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler
  27. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson

Looking back I realise I’ve done absolutely no justice to fulfil my desire to read more fiction last year. If anything I’ve read a lot of non fiction, a lot of writing by women, and despite repeatedly telling myself self-help probably isn’t for me, I’ve reached out to several titles because some excerpt, some nugget somewhere spoke to me.

My current want-to-read list is bursting at the seams. It’s a good mix of fiction and non fiction, but I want to try and broaden me perspective this year. Not just in terms of how much I read, but what I read too. Essays are still my most favourite format, I realise. But it is possible to go deep and read essays that talk about life and times in places and scenarios so very different from mine. I’m looking forward to that.

Let’s see how it goes.

Two years ago: Day 4: Love letters

Crossing over

It’s looking-back time, I know. But I find myself only filled with wishes for the year ahead. I ended 2016 with a strong burning need to find my place — physically speaking — as I dealt with the growing certainty that it was not Goa. but I had no idea how that search had little to do with location or city or anyplace. And everything to do with looking within.

I moved cities, back to Bangalore, a move I didn’t imagine possible even ten to fifteen days before we took the decision. And it was merely the start of a series of unexpected, but so necessary, changes that would surprise and challenge me in equal measure.

2017 has been one heck of a year and the thread unifying it all would have to be one of transition and transformation. It’s been a time of letting go of the reins in order to figure out a new way ahead. In a strange space of being back on familiar ground, yet recognising so little of the city I once called home, I found fertile testing ground to stretch my ability to allow change, move with it and realise I actually enjoy it. Physically, it took wrenching myself out of the comfort zone to find myself again.

How odd that it took cutting the roots off to find belonging. It’s been a year of discovering that belonging and my place. In family, in work, in friends and camaraderie, in connections, in extended family, in my marriage, and most of all, within myself. It’s been a year of peeling back a few more layers and getting closer to what’s at the core. A year of understanding, with extreme clarity, how necessary it is to be so wholly comfortable in my place and in my skin, in order to belong to each of the systems that I do, need and want.

This will always be the year that I realised with astounding certainty how much I need and love my family. I’m closing the year rich with memories and experiences of time spent deeply engaged with my parents, amazing times with my sister (who fortuitously moved back home around the same time that I did), VC — my truth-teller and fellow braver-of-change, and a handful of friends who have walked along with me as I navigated the shortest. I feel so much gratitude for the gift that was 2017. Even with all its oddballs and challenges it was a gift to realise and claim a whole new set of values to go from here on.

For all my life I have craved stability, consistency and the safety of roots. This year I let that need go and turned my life around in the most significant way possible. The truth is, I have seen how different the entire year turned out to be, as a result of it. I took a wild chance, shut my eyes and jumped with little idea of what was waiting for me. I’m happy with how taking this chance has turned out. Because it turned out that at the bottom of that jump, I had an army of support waiting to hold and bolster me. Giving me a huge step up even as. Picked myself up with okay feet and wobbly knees. It’s been an incredible year of vulnerability that tested my resilience, but gave me surprising revelations and staggering opportunity for personal growth. And it wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t changed certain fundamental truths and values I held to be mine.

I’ve seen as much loss as I have, gain, this year. People have come and gone. Work has transformed. My sense of home currently lies in shambles (and it’s okay). Like I said before, it’s been an incredible year of shedding. But all the room created by it has only opened me up that much more for what’s to come.

I’ve already signed myself up for another year along this path. To discovering more. To talking less and doing more. To belonging more and more to myself.

Same time, last year: Day 366: December

I shake off all that no longer serves me

I started to write this post on the 1st of this month, and wanted to add in a fitting song because I realised all of 2017 has passed without a single music track/link being posted on this blog. That is utterly unthinkable. But guess what, the silence and an inexplicable energy-saving mode of sorts has crept in so deep, I didn’t get down to finishing the post and I have now forgotten what song I wanted to add in.

Pardon this jagged, rushed job of a post. Its long winded, repetitive and very roundabout. I’m aware because I haven’t even bothered to edit or prune it. It is an attempt to get going and have it out. Something, is better than nothing, I tell myself. Letting go of my obsession for perfection and finishing all business to the T has been constant work in progress and this too is an attempt to express, and write even when the words aren’t coming out the way I’d ideally like them to.

*****

It’s December, and funnily that expected panic and omg-how-is-it-December-already feeling hasn’t hit. I don’t think it will this year. Possibly because I’ve spend most of the year in a state of churn, and haven’t really felt settled in the real sense of the term. There’s been a fair bit of travel and moving around always makes me feel like I don’t have my feet firmly on the ground. I vascilate between the comforting mundanities that bind my daily routine, and the little surprises it throws in terms of things to do, travel out of Bangalore, meeting new people and trying out new things.

The rumbling workings of moving from one phase to another is what 2017 has been about. Even as I think back and feel like I don’t have much to pen, I know this has been a big year of shifts, change on multiple fronts. It feels so full and hectic, even as I realise I don’t really have much to show for it, in tangible, tactical terms.

And so I have written this entire year off to WIP, a state of transition, with no expectations of having done big stuff, ticked things off the proverbial list and the like. It was much needed because it meant letting go of control, the very notion of it, and the contents and parts I tend to try and have a hold over in my own life.

This year more than ever, I let go of patterns, fixed ideas and considering the relocation back to Bangalore, I had no choice but to make space for the physical change it brought. The only way to make sense of it and move through it with least angst was to go with the flow. Truly go with it was what I was aiming for. It took a lot of conscious effort, but for the first time ever, I may have succeeded in some part. In doing so, I got a taste of what it is to surrender to the what-will-be-will-be philosophy that so far only sounded too good to be true. I got a better sense of what is important to me — personally, professionally and otherwise — and began to focus on it. I am coming to terms with constantly allowing space for change, not only within and around myself, but also in people I associate with. It has meant accepting changes in relationships, allowing myself to feel disappointed and shaking it off quickly rather than brooding over it, and most importantly it’s brought people I had turned my back on for good back into my life in a pleasant, refreshing way.

I’ve realised this year, more than ever before, that my feelings towards people and the longing for kinship of a certain kind has always been fraught with angst caused by my own tendency to remain fixed to a pre-meditated and cookie cutter idea of the nature of relationships I want in my life. This year, I accepted differences, tonalities and diversity in people and I know I am all the better for it. Differences matter less, disagreements bother me lesser, and my life feel full of people, even as I’ve trimmed some folks out.

All in all, If I spent the last two years anxiously in wait for change (not knowing I was actually laying down the path to move ahead), this year I stomped ahead and claimed that path. So there really isn’t much to take stock of. On paper, I have little to show for what happened and what was accomplished this year.

Yet, so much has happened. Most of it has been internal, and even though I pontificate and ruminate over it in cyclic fashion on this blog, I’ve found it hard to bring it into conversations with people around me. Even those who have been a part of and shared much of this journey with me. I’ve found myself conserving energy, feeling silent and sitting with the shifts I am experiences, craving more and more of it, and consciously moving towards a place of intensifying growth and becoming better with every passing day and week.

This was the year I shed a lot of my fear of change, examined more aversions that I’d like to admit I had, and recognised how much I was getting in my own way and how much of this has been keeping myself from getting ahead. But that process in itself has been the journey, and there’s no easy, short-cut to get around it. It takes painfully long, and my days are often dotted with tedious introspection and reflection.

The funny this is, it slows down time and yet this has been the fastest, most brisk year to have zipped by, yet. I know I say this every year, but 2017 has really made me feel it. The general theme has been wait-and-watch, rush nothing, look before you leap, but let go and move with the flow.

While I’m cursorily looking back on the year, its clear as the first rays of morning sunshine, that this has been a year of a great amount of shedding. The first step to a lot of that has been to truthfully look at everything in my life — people, habits, attitudes, work, likes, dislikes — and accept where it is and what purpose it serves. Many times it has meant coming to a painful conclusion that something/someone I love, or who makes my life look and feel a certain way, isn’t actually serving me any good anymore. Some times it has meant letting go of a stupid idea I believe defines me, when actually it defined me two or five or ten years ago, when I have actually moved on and hanging on to it is actually keeping me away from a fresh experience. There has also been the odd yet very humbling instance of seeing my own harsh and judgemental outlook on so much around me, and trying every single day to consciously be gentler with myself and with people around me, with the words that pass through my brain and the lot that carelessly slip out, has opened up something for me.

It is constant work. At being present. At being conscious. At being mindful and watchful. At being gentle every chance that I can. At allowing space for change all the time. At moving closer to a deeper, more granular level of honesty. At choosing kindness. And all the while reminding myself that nothing, not even all of this, is forever or permanently written in stone. What works today, may not have a few years ago. And may not serve me well in the years to come. Understanding this, is what has required the work, the mindfulness and the repeated need to quieten down and tune inwards.

I shake off all that no longer serves me. Again. And again. And again.

Same time, last year: Day 348: The last of the books for 2016

Acceptance is a small, quiet room

About my post earlier this week: I see I’ve come full circle, from this post I wrote a year ago that echoes much the same feelings, albeit in an entirely different context and environment.

Acceptance. Peace. Contentment. Call it what you will – it doesn’t need the perfect situation. It doesn’t even need most things to be just right. It needs just the right things to work, and a little faith, is all.

It almost never comes with bells ringing and celebrations of pomp. It comes silently. Quietly. Sometimes when you’re all alone.

Illustrating my point exactly.

And while you’re at it, check out this post too.

Same time, last year: Day 320: One day in Bangkok (or day one in Bangkok)

What coming home feels like: The sweet, sweet taste of acceptance

Some days I wonder at how I felt so compelled to uproot my near perfect life in Goa and swap it for this one here. Given how change-averse I am I used to be, it sometimes makes me want to pinch myself and go over the sequence of events in my head. On paper this shift makes no sense. Sometimes even I don’t have the words to explain the whys and hows of it articulately. Most times I do a lousy job of spelling it out, which is why every time that I’ve been asked, I’m met with expressions that tell me I’m really unconvincing.

It got me to thinking why I even need to explain myself. Aside from answering a question, what is this need for me to justify this?

Am I really just answering a question? Or am I trying to process the new normal myself?

I bumped into an acquaintance the other day, someone I first met in Goa, as I was walking down MG Road the other day. Of course the first thing he had to say was, “what are you doing here?!”

Maybe he expected me to say I was visiting.

“I live here now,” I said, instead.

“How come?!” began the volley of utterly predictable questions. It’s happened too many times. And I suppose it is to be expected. It is the most predictable train of thought.

But I’ve reached a point where I can’t help that my answers are so dead-pan and straight. There is no big twist in the story. I wanted a change, and so I moved. We started a business, and so we moved. I wanted to be around family and friends, and so we moved.

“You left Goa to come to this?”

It is unconvincing I suppose. Illogical too. And I don’t expect anyone to really understand or make sense of it. Which is why I’m getting used to the next reaction that follows, as it did with this specimen too:

Standing there, under the groaning weight of the concrete monster that is the Metro Line that has changed the face of what was one of Bangalore’s most iconic views, surrounded by the din of honking vehicles, hawkers shouting each other out to get our attention, the “left Goa” and “this” in that statement weighed me down.

There couldn’t have been a starker picture to illustrate how different my life and surroundings now are, compared to the where I used to be.

And yet my answer was a simple “yes”.

It was the first time I realised I didn’t need to explain myself.

***

This past weekend it dawned on me that I’ve finally found my place, after many months of coming to terms with the transition. Even just looking at the posts I wrote at when I just moved, I can trace the process. Part of it was explaining, over explaining, and making sense of it all myself. And it has been a process, not a mere turning of a switch. I see today, how crucial it was to take that time. Because it wasn’t just about adjusting to a new city and a new routine. Along the way, there have been lessons in making peace with the unlikeliness, opening myself up to uncertainty. In slowing down, letting that shit go. In being vulnerable and sit with the quiet, no matter how disconcerting. In allowing myself to unravel, come undone because how else can one grow out again, differently. In loosening up, expecting less and allow myself to be surprised. And shocked.

I was the most change-averse person I knew. But even that has changed. I find the more I let go of the rigid ideas I have about myself, the more I am in harmony with what is to come and the way things are panning out. The more I am willing to let things in, sit with them a little before I decide how I feel about them, the better I am able to deal with everything — the good and the bad. All this is not to say the transition has been smooth sailing. It has been anything but. There has been much getting used to, physically, emotionally and psychologically. This has taken a toll on both VC and I. We’ve both taken our time in dealing with this our individual ways. We’ve had arguments galore — disagreed and fought more this year than we have in a decade of being together.

But conflict always preceded great change, didn’t it? We’ve fought, differed, challenged each other, and I know deep in my bones we’ve grown as a result of it.

***

Last week, I met an ex colleague and friend from Goa, who is also back in Bangalore. This time, I was asked “so how are things?”

Again, there is no straight, simple answer. Honestly, I said “they’re so-so.”

Because that is the truth. I have learned to appreciate and respect and enjoy that which I know I am here for. Some new and enjoyable have presented themselves as a result, and it certainly sweetens the deal for me. But, I do miss Goa. I suppose that can never change, and I cannot expect it to go away.

“You’re never going to be happy, are you?” he grinned, almost as if to suggest coming to Bangalore was the silver bullet to every inadequacy I was feeling in Goa.

I don’t see it as not being happy, to be honest. I’m really happy. In fact I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, if you can even believe that. I know, I didn’t. But being happy isn’t a constant, one time state that I can turn on. I’m happy to let things go and come. And that is just the beauty of this shift. This new found flexibility. This give, the relaxation in the rigidity in my being. The openness to the possibility that I can love both places at once. And I can focus on the good, here and now. It has made space for so much change, and so much good has come from it.

I’m far more social than I have allowed myself to be.

I’m not the cagey introvert I was convinced I was.

I’ve reconnected with people I didn’t think I ever would.

the few people I thought my life would depend on, I barely meet. And it hasn’t turned my life upside down.

I’m loving the winter, and the wonderful choices I have when it comes to restaurants and food (since it is mostly all Bangalore likes to do).

I have embraced public transport and I barely drive anymore.

I’ve let go of the idea that being a writer defines me completely.

I’m open to working out new ways of earning money.

I find myself rediscovering the kitchen once again, after a bout of never wanting to look stove-wards again.

Things change. As long I’m willing to let them. And this fact in itself has been such a big learning to have come from moving base. If nothing else, I am grateful for this.

So no, I’m not peachy perfect and happy. I don’t believe I ever will be. Because it’s that rumble of unsettledness, that yearning for what’s next that keeps me going.

***

This past weekend it dawned on me that I’ve finally found my place, after many months of coming to terms with the transition. In a flash, I realised with utmost clarity, the many, many good things that have come from getting my change-averse self to uproot my near-perfect Goa life and swap it for the mad crawl of this city.

It doesn’t always make sense to people out there, but in my heart and in my bones, I know it’s what I most needed.

And I took a moment to savour the realisation that I somehow always find my way to where I most need to be. 

Same time, last year: Day 319: Homeward bound

Brain noodles

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

What coming home feels like: finding new comfort in old places


Nothing prepared me for the kind of freshness this new beginning in an old home would bring.

I thought I was wiping the slate clean and starting over. I hadn’t the faintest clue that so much of this new beginning would involve picking up old threads I’d left behind, visiting feelings I thought I’d dealt with good and proper, and doing things I swore I would never do.

I’m the most change averse person I know. I usually find security in sameness, in old comfortable habits, in well set patterns. But Ive realised how sometimes that cuccoon keeps me from experiencing things I need to. It keeps out the possibilities that I most need. Not just events and experiences as end points, but the process of getting there too.

So much if this newness has been about relaxing a little, letting go of my staunchly held beliefs, questioning all the firm nos and opening myself up to the gentle maybes, and allowing some bits of the old back into my life, looking at it anew and opening myself up to that change completely.

What I once knew to be crippling fear that made me build my walls up high, has turned to a gentle acceptance – first and foremost, of myself – of this wave of fresh energy. Bright and green, new like the eager blade of grass pushing through damp soil, ready for life.

I seem to be dealing with a lot of this change and everything that has come with a lot more grace and gentleness. Towards myself, first. Rather than stiffen up with fear, I’m learning to relax and take a chance more often. It’s led me to stumble on new, interesting people, to some kindred spirit, and best of all uplifting friendship in unlikely, old connections I was so sure I was never revisiting.

The change then, has been within myself, than in my external surroundings.

I not sure I love Bangalore. I haven’t fully come to terms with where I am going. But for now I am utterly and completely at peace with why I am here.

I’m still learning.

Same time, last year: Day 224: Wayanad Things

What coming home feels like: Sunday lunch edition

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

What coming home feels like: Seeking solitude

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

Because wanting to leave is enough

A little over seven years after I wrote this very telegraphic post, I’m back in the exact same spot. I came to Bangalore early this month in search of a break, new beginnings, to get a feel of all things city-life again, and to house hunt. I’m aware of how ridiculous this sounds considering I am from Bangalore, but the truth is seven+ years away feels like an entire lifetime. And we’ve both completely forgotten what living here used to be like.

Very soon, I’ll be in this phase. The last time, I was leaving the security of home to fly off into the unknown, with mixed emotions. It was a happy-sad farewell. I was sad to go, but bracing myself with a hint of excitement about Goa and newfound freedom. This time around, I want so desperately to move, and after such a roundabout hunt, I’m coming back home. Yes, Bangalore is nothing like it used to be, but there’s nothing better than returning to familiar ground, home turf, right back into the safe space that is being around parents.

It’s strange how one tends to always end up right where one belongs. Even if it takes a long time getting there, and sometimes it’s the last place you imagine and believe you want to be.

That we wanted to move, was fact. It has been in the works for about two (painfully long) years now. What took this long was closing in on a destination. And that proved to be the hardest part, rife with unplanned twists and turns, and multiple choices, difficult conversations that weighed out the pros and cons a hundred times over, which made the decision-making process a bigger test than we ever imagined it would be.

I’m facing the “why are you moving?” and “why Bangalore?!!” question at least once a day and I find myself strangely at peace about it. Perhaps it’s because I’m not really feeling all that heavy-heart-y about leaving Goa. Yes, there’s a lot I’ll miss terribly about Goa, but for far too long now I have felt that I need to shake things up and move on. So I’m feeling more positive and ready about the present and what lies ahead, than wistful about the past. It has little to do with which destination makes a better home, and everything to do with where we are in life at this present moment, and what we want from it.

Also, we now have a home in Goa and I envisage some back-and-forth-ing is in the works. Every time the big city gets hectic, it’s nice to know we’ll have a space to camp out at in Goa. So it really doesn’t feel like a sad close to this amazing time, rather a much, much needed segue into a brave, new world.

And so that brings me to Bangalore, where finally, we have found a new home. I say new, because it feels like a new phase, but it’s an old home in an area I grew up in. Talk about full circle, eh? D pointed out to me this morning, how our bodies talk to us. It’s a connection I’d made, but hadn’t articulated quite the way she did. It’s very telling of the slow and steady, step by step movement towards acceptance of why I must go, how and when that eventually gave me a push. Closure, peaceful acceptance, the serenity of everything happening for a reason only really fell into place when I answered the why now? question with honesty. When I accepted the most fundamental reason that needed no further explanations or justification. To borrow the words of the inimitable Cheryl Strayed:

Go, because you want to. Because wanting to leave is enough.

Getting to this point of clarity has been a humbling exercise in learning to let go and trust the process. It took everything out of us, but without it there was no decision to be made. Once we got there, though, there was no stopping or turning back. Before we knew it, various elements had snowballed right before our eyes, pushing us into relocation mode faster than we could fully register what was happening.

I’ve always believed I don’t do well with change, but for the first time in a long time, I’m hungering for some.

For now, it’s goodbye Goa. And in true VC-style, there had to be a goodbye video. Featuring me and my very itchy feet that have been raring to go.

 

As ​7.5 brilliant years in Goa come to a close, I’m eager, thrilled and so at peace with being at the brink of change and beginning a new trip. Until next time, stay amazing, Goa. You’ve been everything.

Same time, last year: Day 118: This day, that year

In-stages

By no deliberate design the frequency of my Instagram updates dwindled at the start of the year. Scrolling back the other day, I realised that aside from work updates, my feed (before April began, that is) has an unnaturally high number of pictures focused on my feet. And legs. (Remember this and this?)

I don’t know what brought this sudden preoccupation on, but the whole thing is kind of telling.

March 5, 2017.
When I was a bit resigned to keeping my head down and getting from one day to the next. Knocking off assignments, doing the drill. I was still very much in limbo.

In transit.

March 14, 2017
Holi day began with a big breakfast of idlis and vadas. And I saw this splatter of pink at the entrance of the restaurant. It was a week when things began to shift for the better and a quiet reassurance was creeping in.

And I think everything is going to be alright. No matter what we do tonight.

March 16, 2017.
Somewhere in all of this, the positive swing made me realise that I needed to focus on getting my head together and moving on, which required time and attention. Attention I couldn’t squander on much else. Not even work. But this wasn’t an easy thing to accept. My inner Type A rises to the fore way too frequently, bringing up a perspective that is at loggerheads with the one that one that demands silence. This is where I began to really question what ambition, productivity and the rest means to me.

It was also my quarterly reminder to stop holding myself to irrationally high standards or productivity, and to just keep swimming.

There is literally nothing in nature that blooms all year long, so don’t expect yourself to do so either.

April 9, 2017.
By the beginning of April, it was clear I was going to be on my way. A sabbatical, some time off was on the cards. And given that I intended it to be an indefinite break, we decided to go away for the weekend with some friends. And their pups.

At the end of a deliciously easy weekend away, on the eve of my trip to Bangalore, I came away ever so recharged and happy for what lies ahead.

Things about Goa I’ll miss the most: weekending outdoors. Spent my last one amidst cashew groves, lazing in the summer heat, reading, waking up to chirping birds and having these two at our feet.

April 20, 2017.
This trip to Bangalore has had a definite relaxed mood like never before. It’s been without the rush to do the things I’m always urgently wanting to tick off because I only ever have a few days at my disposal. Very high up on that list is getting some down time with S&S. As it happens, we try and combine it with sampling some food, or a menu or restaurant I haven’t tried before. But this time, we met only ten days after I got into town. In a relaxed, beer tinged evening at home, spent gabbing while we waiting on our home delivered Thai meal to arrive. It was a good taste of times to come, of one of the few things that promise to make living in the city bearable again.

To more nights like this <3

Step by step, in stages, I’m getting through it after all.

Same time, last year: Day 117: See Lanka

I get by with a lot of help from my friends

Honestly speaking, I’m all into this mindful seizing of day, living in the present business. I really am. For the most part. But for the longest time now, I have literally felt like I am existing in-between. Like I’m passing through a conduit of endless waiting. In limbo. And it has meant enjoying the present is a tough ask. It has tested the absolute life out of my capacity to stay still, to remain present without racing ahead of myself with dreams of the future or being stuck in a loop of lamenting about the past.

It’s been painfully slow to move, this time of transition between one phase and the next. And the pain started as a smidgen of dissatisfaction with what had become of my life. Feeling limited in the littlest ways, and that longing to go beyond — at work, in my city, with people around me — constantly clawing away at me, in tiny nibble-sized chunks. A little minuscule molecule of dissatisfaction in a period of almost 24 months morphed into a burgeoning restlessness that rumbled on endlessly, just beneath the surface. And when I was unable to decipher and deal with it adequately, it festered. Gently at first, a very covert sort of twist and churn, making itself seen and known in small, but shocking ways. Eventually, the churn got bigger, noisier, and the made its presence felt in painful, alarming ways, more often than I cared to be reminded of it.

But that was just it. As I busied myself with convenient distractions in the form of the pursuit of over achieving, outrageous professional goals and what not, the rumble continued to make itself known, nudging me to stop filling my everyday life with distractions, and instead look at the bubbling cauldron of pain I was in. I saw the signs, and I took every one of those events as an affirmation that the pain I was feeling was real. But I just didn’t know where to go to begin to fix it. To find my way out, I had to stop and acknowledge the situation I was in, and accept that I couldn’t and didn’t need to do it alone.

But everything has a tipping point. Over time, the fuzzy restlessness turned into a distinct surety that my time here was done. And that was really hard to wrap my head around. I mean this is where my life is. It’s where adulthood really began. In Goa, in this phase of my life.

It was in Goa that I landed quite by surprise, and then cobbled together a home with the man I love, built little every day experiences and got through eight years together, ploughing through an assortment of situations — good, bad and ugly. t’s here that I trudged through expanses of most no work prospects and yet carved out a flourishing career in a manner that made sense to me.

This is where I’ve made, nurtured and lost friendships, relationships, associations of all kinds. This is where I found other sides of my identity, and it’s also where I shed them. This is where I learned to appreciate solitude, the bliss of silence, where I stumbled and fell multiple times, picked myself up and gathered myself time and time again, where I truly embraced the slow life.

This is where I hit my stride and became the adult I was waiting to be. This is where I discovered sides to myself, found my feet, explored hobbies and chased experiences I wouldn’t have had in my other life if I had continued the way I was going in 2010,

This is where the naive decision to pick up our lives, wrap them in 13 little boxes, and a car and get going came to fruition. My life since has been full of experiences. Enriching, enlightening, eye-opening, humbling, and so much more. This blog, more than anything else, is testimony to the changes we went through, the various milestones and setbacks we hit along the way. There has never been a more transformational time. This is where I had the best years of my life.

To go from near-eight years of that to a sudden, but very rapidly consuming limbo was all sorts of painfully incapacitating. For a while now I’ve felt this building up of everything to a very pregnant point, this growing ennui has gone on so long. It has only kept pointing me closer and closer to all the little, seemingly insignificant aspects of my life that I was ignoring (some by choice, some by sheer ignorance itself) because it would mean facing difficult questions, difficult choices and difficult conversations.

For the first time, I realised what having a empty life was like. While I was consciously and unconsciously filling my days with all that I thought needed my time and attention, life was doing it’s best to pare itself down, so I would just focus for a moment, on that which needed it the most.

In the bargain I stripped my life down to the bare minimum. The friends I have left will affirm this. Only a handful know what’s really been going on with me. I found it impossible to expend even an ounce of energy in explaining any of it to an audience just because they were curious or concerned. It’s not like I chose to alienate people, but it is what happened as I sought the company and conversations of folks who cared to check on me, understood when I explained, and kept conversations from going back to talking about themselves. With work already taking up a fair bit of my mind space, I had very little left to spread between therapy and those few who did get my pain. Fewer still were the number of people who realised that my needing some time and space to myself was not a reflection on them, and therefore no reason to take offence.

In many ways the experience of the last 2 years has been a large filter, holding a mirror up to the quality of interactions I’ve accumulated over the years. It’s been a slow withering away of those that existed at the fringes, held by weak ties, and pulling those I hold close, even closer still. Without much effort or doing, it became exceedingly clear the friends I was clinging on to, many of whom, ironically, weren’t close to me in proximity. Spread between Bangalore, Bombay and even as far as Singapore and America, they’re the ones who stayed. Pitched in when they had advice to give, insights to share or answers to those 12 am questions. And sometimes even when they didn’t. They’re the ones who had the constant reminders to not be hard on myself, to take my time.

For the absolute first time in my life, I realised what it was to be lonely. I fully fathomed the pain of longing for the company of folks you love, because they get you, and are so far away.

Despite the distances, though, pain has a strange way of bringing those you need the most closest to you. In a late night call with N one day in March, she reminded me of this really pertinent snipped from Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior.

…we think our job as humans is to avoid pain, our job as parents is to protect our children from pain, and our job as friends is to fix each other’s pain. Maybe that’s why we all feel like failures so often — because we all have the wrong job description of love. What my friends didn’t know about me…Is that people who are hurting don’t need Avoiders, Protectors, or Fixers. What we need are patient, loving witnesses. People to sit quietly and hold space for us. People to stand in helpless vigil to our pain.

It was the kind of conversation that clicked something into place in my head, and set off a ripple effect of things that were just waiting to happen. It set the wheels in motion, in a way that wouldn’t have happened without the push. And just like that I felt like the vacuum that was the two-year limbo suddenly released, making way for movement again.

I’m grateful for the timely reminders.

I’m grateful for the kindred spirits and the uncanny commonalities we discover in our lives.

I’m grateful for the company that blurs distances and erases time zones.

I’m grateful for the gentle nudges and the wholehearted pushes.

I’m grateful for my tribe who has consistently sat quietly, holding space, sometimes in helpless vigil, to my pain.

I wouldn’t have realised my pain, and made the effort to move through this two-year limbo, without them.

It finally feels like I’m at the start of something new, rather than wasting away in the dregs of something old, done and dusted. And I’m so very ready to get going.

Same time, last year: Day 116: Bits and bobs

Kitchen Soup for the Homesick Soul

So here’s a little known detail: Somewhere in 2014, I was suddenly inspired to write a book. It would be a food memoir, I’d decided. Threading memory, tradition, nostalgia, food, and how it had all shaped me into the accidental kitchen-lover that I’d turned into after moving to Goa. Fragments of ideas popped like mustard seeds in a hot wok of oil. The time was ripe, I thought. So I jumped into it all guns blazing. Took 2 weeks off, went away to Bangalore with the intention of doing nothing but writing. It was a glorious time away from all responsibility and I spent my days writing and reading furiously, adding bits and bobs in the cauldron that was brewing my book. I came back to Goa with what I thought was more than 50% of the writing done, and confident that all that was left to be done was finish it. The draft has been sitting in cold storage since then, a series of episodic events that I needed to somehow tie together with a more than just coherent narrative, to take it from reading a blog to make it a book. Farr too often, I’ve seen bloggers, especially food bloggers, make the mistake of thinking that a successful blog is a validation of one’s ability to write a book. There have been some truly atrocious food memoirs and books to come out of the Indian food blogger community and I suddenly became very conscious of adding to that list. It also has to be said that in the time between then to now, my interest as it was then, in food, also waned. As I found more avenues and stories to go after, I found myself looking beyond food in the myopic way that I was: through the lens of nostalgia and memory alone. In case you haven’t already noticed, I shut down my food blog somewhere along the line too, and until I find a compelling reason, I will probably not resurrect it. With time, it became alarmingly clear to me that I no longer wanted the book to be just a chronicle of disjointed food-related memories peppered with recipes. Eventually, it became clear that I didn’t want to finish the book at all, not in the form it was.

But at the end of last year, I decided the least I could do was pick out episodes from the book and turn them into essays that explore the gamut of emotions, experiences, thoughts and memories I made in the seven years that I have lived in Goa, where my love affair with food began. So, I went ahead with shaky hands, to pitch this. As luck would have it, my very first attempt landed me this opportunity with Arre, a website whose distinct style intimidated me. This was really gratifying to write for more reasons than one. Besides being able to finally find an outlet for the umpteen stories in cold storage, it was made made even better by a delightful edit experience that is becoming increasingly rare amongst Indian publications.

*****

Kitchen Soup for the Homesick Soul

cooking

I remember sitting cross-legged on my mother’s kitchen counter, eating beans palya out of a steel katori, while she put finishing touches on a meal. I remember watching my grandmother deftly work the large grinding stone in her kitchen, breaking down fresh spices with a mesmerisingly giddying turning of the stone. I remember the excitement stirring every time my grandfather stepped into the kitchen to make his six-hour slow cooked mutton stew.

I remember always being a mere observer, a taster. I had no interest in the cooking, a process that everyone in my family took such pride in. The one time I succumbed to being taught how to cook, I was coerced into it. I was 13, and holed up in stuffy classroom with girls. It was the home science laboratory, and we were in groups of four, poring over our single-burner stoves, atop which were pots of bubbling pongal. While every other girl in the room lovingly stirred her pongal to buttery, smooth goodness, I was looking at a solid mass, fast transforming into a something that resembled industrial strength adhesive.

I’d rather have been out in the field playing, to be honest. These were electives, extra-curriculars, as they’re called. And I wondered why the only choices for us girls were aerobics and home science. Why were athletics and sport not up for grabs? I stared down at the gloopy mess that lay before me. While every other girl in the room lovingly stirred her pongal to buttery, smooth goodness, I was looking at a solid mass, fast transforming into a something that resembled industrial strength adhesive.

Right then I had decided this domestic business (okay, home science) was not for me. Years of tender convincing on my mother’s part turned to goading and silent worry. How would I feed myself when I moved out? How would I provide meals for my future family? Given that I couldn’t boil a pot of water without a minor casualty, her concerns were valid. But all that gentle persuasion was only met with my staunch rebellion.

I was convinced cooking was a completely unnecessary skill and played no part in my womanhood.

Over a decade after that ill-fated pongal incident, on a blistering day in March, I found myself setting up a new home, miles away from my own. Nothing shatters a self-satisfied, smug existence like a reality check. Mine had arrived less than 24 hours after I had landed in sunny Goa, in the form of six large cartons of kitchen equipment that I didn’t know what to do with.

I realised very soon that two-minute noodles and quick-cooking oats simply weren’t going to cut it and that there are only so many ways to cook eggs. Before long, I was deeply regretful for not watching Amma make phulkas. For wishing I knew what to make from the three different kinds of dal in the supermarket. Was there some way to thinly slice onions, without gouging my eyes out?

Resisting slipping into the identity of a homemaker that this situation demanded of me, I chanted repeatedly: Cooking isn’t for me. But, I had to eat my words. Along with the badly made meals of dal, rice and sabzi.

I began to cook in my new house because I simply had to. I was overwhelmed by homesickness and hunger. I had been wrenched out of a job I loved, uprooted from the only city I have ever called home, and was starting life over in a dusty home that didn’t feel like mine. I had no choice but to make sense of the demands of this new space I was in. This kitchen, this home, and this life in general. I had to recreate an identity and purpose in these new circumstances.

I began first with taking solace in recreating the comfort of rasam and rice. When I needed a challenge, I attempted to deconstruct a biryani from the memory of taste. When I felt lost and weightless, I grounded myself in the mundanely tedious rhythm of peeling garlic, making a massive batch of tamarind extract, rearranging my kitchen, or cleaning the fridge out. When I simply needed to occupy my mind that would race toward unwanted and sometimes destructive thoughts, I went into the kitchen and cooked a meal. When the emptiness felt like it was consuming me inside out, cooking filled the void. All of it to bring some semblance of sanity back in my life.

Memory is a wonderful thing. Almost every single day, my mind would float back to the humble homely meals, festive celebratory meals, skimming over the traces of taste, texture, and aroma that lingered at the back of my mind, thoughts of customs and habits related to food. I recalled things I didn’t know I had stashed away at the back of my mind – the way my mother stored her coriander and curry leaves in the refrigerator, the exact dishes she made when she was strapped for time, the way her pressure cooker was the centre of all kinds of magic. All of this simmered together slowly, and gave me a sense of self again.

Before long, my days began with praying the dosa batter had risen, picking out the weekly vegetable and fruit supply, and haggling over best prices of grains and pulses. I don’t know when I embraced the kitchen, even less when I began to find contentment and joy in cooking.

In finding myself, I somehow found my way back home too. Through simple, hearty meals to satisfy hunger at first, and more complex challenging ones, to satisfy my mind and find my feet again. When every other aspect of my life, and strong facets of my identity felt like they were slipping away from me, cooking helped put it all back together again.

I was not only teaching myself to cook, but was also recreating my own sense of home. Donning the identity and roles I’d observed all the strong women in my life play so very well, being in the kitchen was no longer an aversion. It was my sanctuary, and cooking, my raison d’être.

In the process, I rekindled relationships of a new kind with my mother, grandmother, and aunts. They gifted me cookbooks, emailed me recipes, and sent me tips and tricks I could use. I forged new ties with friends when we gathered around my dining table. Eventually, though, and possibly the happiest consequence of all, I found a career in writing about food.  In an odd roundabout way, stepping into the kitchen, into the very role I believed was a trap, had liberated me.

Thirteen-year old me would most likely be disappointed to see how contempt has been replaced by a deep affection for the kitchen. But if only I knew back then, that it would eventually be food, that would teach me to love my life again, and that learning to cook had little to do with being a woman but everything to do with identity, I’d probably have tried to just keep calm and stir that pongal to perfection.

(A version of this essay first appeared on Arre)

Same time, last year: Day 63: Shine on

2016

So it’s done. What I’ve called the most forgettable, shitty year, time and time again, is over. It’s true that last year I had more than a fair share of lows. But it’s also true that in bouncing from one low to the next, only keeping my head above water, occasionally remembering to thwack my limbs and move towards the closest object for support, I’ve often needed to remind myself that I’m still alive and breathing. Which is a convoluted way of saying, a lot happened in between the lows that really wasn’t bad at all. But I have been so occupied with just barely staying afloat that it’s felt like I’ve been mostly stuck in a downward spiral of negativity. The bad has a way of eclipsing the good, and painting a picture so dismal, you wonder why this is your life. Which is why I’m thankful for forced stops in the infinite loop of time. We put a date to the end of the year, we decide it’s a time to reflect, and I’m glad we have this opportunity to lay out all the cards, pick which ones to fold over and put away, and which ones to take ahead.

There is such a difference in looking back cursorily, because all I can see is large spans of time spent lying in bed, unable to move, just staring out the window, and looking back one day and month at a time. Broadly, I feel like I spent way too much time wondering why this is happening to me. This, being the thick and heavy fog that consumed me. But, it’s only when I combed through my archive that I realised I was diffident, cynical, exhausted from the get go. I entered the year in a terrible headspace. Maybe it set the tone for the year? Maybe I was a fool not to see how things were hurtling towards an inevitable crash right through 2015? Maybe this was all just a necessary intervention in the making? I don’t know.

What followed was a lot of indecision and confusion that really chipped away at my confidence and left me on very shaky ground. Pretty much the entire year after has been spent trying to regain that solid ground beneath my feet. Whether it was putting my confidence in myself and my work back together and resuming in a direction that made sense to me, but scared the shit out of me, or opening myself up to honesty of a different kind, running all my relationships through a sieve and keeping only the most important ones close, learning to distinguish between an inner and outer circle, basically redefining the very notion of love and friendship, or regaining some bit of pride and a sense of self and identity that I’d lost sight of — everything about 2016 was an effort towards building something in me that 2015 had broken.

I couldn’t have picked a better year to write a post a day, because looking back has helped me see that while 2016 was far from fantastic, it sure was eventful. It was shitty in many parts, challenging in ways I have not previously known but omg, you gaiiis, so much happened!

Mostly, 2016 has been a year of rediscovering honesty. Of coming to terms with many things I was either not seeing right, or turning a blind eye to. It all started with the decision to take some time off. To regroup and clear my head out. I had a breakdown at the end of 2015, that made me realise I was overworked, confused about my priorities and sorely needed some time out. My inability to be honest with myself was pushing me into a cycle of repeated losses that had left me very, very tired.

So, I planned to spend 5-6 weeks unwinding and doing the things that gave me joy, in the hope that it would make room for some clarity. I read and wrote. And that’s not counting my work. There was some drawing, some haiku, and an exercise regimen, all in the interest of building a routine that enriched rather than depleted me. With all the mind space to introspect, it wasn’t long before the truth, or rather the lack of honesty emerged strong and loud.

I don’t mean honesty in the sense of truth-telling. I mean honesty in so many different ways — the inability to break through my denial, my stubbornness in not admitting to seeing things as they were, the fact that far too many people in my life had more to take than give me, the false belief that the work-life pattern I had unconsciously fallen into was necessary for success, my misplaced conviction that it was what I liked and wanted, when the truth couldn’t have been farther from it.

I’d begun to realise a need for a deeper honesty in my friendships. As it happened several of my closest friends found themselves in a bad patch at the start of the year. It involved unravelling, together, and being there for each other and made me realise just how much I valued openness and vulnerability, even in or maybe especially in hard times, as a measure of authenticity of any relationship. I suddenly saw how I was surrounded by relationships lacking in it, even though I considered them to be the solid, long-term ones. I backed away from many that seemed to exist in a perpetual state of hiding behind convenient veils of passive aggression, demanding more from me than I could give, or they could ever give back to me.

This has meant being alone a lot more, staying with solitude and embracing this part of me wholeheartedly. This will always be the year I made peace with my introvert tendencies. After a hectic 2015 chock full of socialising, putting myself out there and pursuing things I never imagined I would have, giving the hedonistic life a shot I realised my place. It’s indoors, with myself, away from the mindless din of connections and networking. I much prefer the loud camaraderie of a few I call my tribe, even if we choose to exist in absolute silence.

This too, required honesty. In laying the tussle between the virtually-social and actually-solitary, to rest. On the one hand, I live what many call a “social” life, especially thanks to frequent and frantic social media posting. And on the other hand, I was trying to teach myself boundaries, to say no, to protect my personal space and energy. This tug-o-war between sharing my life has given many observers a sense of false camaraderie that often oversteps the virtual lines that separate me and them. I began to see through social media veneers, and was disappointed by people on more than one occasion. I found myself wanting to dig deeper and find within myself the strength to accept the differences that these are just virtual interactions, while saving my energy for the solid core of authentic interactions I have in real life. Even when it meant accepting the truth that was far from pleasant, realising that seemingly normal people sometimes display unacceptable behaviour, or that I myself had untowardly let some folks far deeper into my life than was needed.

The need for this honesty came with a price. For one, I let go of the steady promise of work that I had in hand to make room for the work I wanted to pursue. Second, I had to consciously let go of a couple of friendships that I had assumed were easy-going and probably for life.

What I gained, though, was immeasurable. Because the time and energy freed up from it, was channeled into all that I wanted to put my mind to, but had failed to in the years before. I will always remember this to be the year I moved closer to finding myself, and my voice, professionally. The decision to quit a steady, decently-paying gig with scope for growth, to dive fully into the erratic, unpredictable world of full-time freelancing was a pivotal one. A lot of it happened because I had to own up to the fact that clinging to a safety rails was only going to get me that far. Yes, I’d have a salary in the bank at the end of the month, but the hours spent earning that salary was definitely keeping me from expanding my repertoire, aiming higher and going wide and deep into the kind of writing I want dip into. If I were to be honest with myself, and I was, I needed to be brave. Or at least pretend like I was. It was not without its moments of extreme imposter syndrome, but I know I am better for it.

There were moments of immense frustration. A steep learning curve that I didn’t particularly enjoy at all times because let’s face it I wasn’t feeling positive and upbeat for a large part. The long waiting periods, systemic inefficiencies, blatant unprofessionalism made me cynical and under-confident. Incidentally, it was the year with the most number of unsavoury professional experiences. But while navigating the doubt and incertitude with heaps of scepticism, I did manage to get a whole lot of work done. It’s funny how the haze of unpleasant experiences has clouded this reality that. Ironic that the shittiest year is the year I had several work wins that I am proud of. Like this, this, this and this and this and this. I never imagined I’d write essays worthy of being tweeted by the UN Women’s handle. I didn’t think I’d see myself published in The Telegraph. I certainly didn’t imagine I’d find myself in a publication dedicated to science and technology.

I even managed to throw together a website and a portfolio that I should have done a long, long time ago. Much of this had to do with trying very, very hard to unlearn my obsession with perfection. Of quitting the terrible habit of waiting for the ducks to get in an absolutely straight line before making a move. In accepting that well begun is half done, I may have taught myself a thing or two about what is possible when you accept what works for you and hold yourself to slightly more realistic goals and ideals.

One of the best things I did was write and write and write every single day. Whether it was the for the stories I worked on, daily posts on here, scribbles, ideas for stories, half written posts — I made sure I did a little writing every single day and this is a habit I don’t want to lose. I am a little astounded at myself for seeing the daily post habit through to the end of the year, even though I fell off the wagon and frantically caught up again, sometime. Even with all that writing, I have so much more to express and share. So I started a newsletter. Admittedly, it’s taken a break so soon after it was launched but I hope to be back this year. 2016 marked the completion of 10 years since I started blogging. I wrote 318 posts this year having blogged every week, which feels like a fitting way to mark a decade of rambles.

On Day 1, I decided it was going to be a year to move more. In addition to upping the ante with training by joining, pursuing and loving kickboxing, I let the husband get me a cycle. It transformed the middle parts of this year in ways I can’t explain. Unfettered joy and immense satisfaction have been had from the hours spent pedalling through Goa. Cycling changed the way I experienced what could potentially be my last monsoon here. I even finished my first ever 100 km ride.

Part of the reason I caught the cycling bug was the undeniable urge to get out and get out. In the open. To travel. It’s something I’ve denied myself the pleasure of indulging in, for various reasons in the past few years. I travelled back home more than I ever have since I have moved out. Cleartrip sent me an email calling me a Happy Tripper today, for the 18 flights I’ve taken. There was a trip to Chettinadu, KeralaThailand and Coonoor. There were a few mini vacations right here at home too. I turned 32 in the company of these lovelies who came down to celebrate over a weekend of beach time, with me. And it reaffirmed my faith in certain inalienable truths about why some relationships endure and others don’t. It’s the one year VC and I haven’t taken a holiday or travelled anywhere together. And no, we’re not complaining.

The other big change I made this year was I kicking myself back into the reading habit by getting myself a Kindle. It has made all the difference and  finished the year with 29 books read, a high for me. While I’m looking at numbers, it seems a good time to look back at this post where I detailed the few things I want to see myself doing through 2016.

  1. Read a little everyday – check, post-August
  2. Write a little everyday – check, check, CHECK
  3. Give in to the urge to draw/doodle as much as possible, don’t put it off for “later” – check, for as long as the inspiration and urge lasted
  4. Avoid multi-tasking at all costs – yes and no
  5. Wear a saree at least once a week (any more is a bonus!), and don’t wait for the “right” occasion – ditched
  6. Call ammamma more often – check
  7. Meditate every morning, consciously remember to slow down – check for the first half of the year, then abandoned
  8. Go to the beach more often, even if it is for a stroll or to catch the sunset – check, check, check (run a search for “beach” to see how)
  9. Actively avoid clicking random links that lead to news on social media – CHECK!
  10. Whenever posting something on facebook, ask myself if the post would annoy me if I were looking at it posted by someone else – check, followed this for the most part, but slipped a lot, now correcting it by slowly deleting all fb activity from all of time
  11. Generally, avoid oversharing on fb – not every thought needs to be telecast to the world on fb, do it here instead, in longer form – check
  12. Keep phone away from bed and sleep-time – failllll!
  13. Sneak some more kisses – CHECK!
  14. Choose things, make decisions with purpose – CHECK
  15. Make the most of Goa, get out, breathe, watch, listen, do – CHECKCHECKCHECKCHECK, cyclecyclecycle
  16. Reclaim stillness whenever it happens, and when it doesn’t, create it – this is WIP
  17. Fuck perfection – this is WIP

Speaking of WIP, one of the best things I did for myself in 2016, was take myself to therapy. When the cycle of breaking down, finding my footing, stabilising, coasting and only to slip again recurred three times in a span of 8 months, I knew I was in over my head. Again, it called for a kind of honesty I didn’t have, but so desperately needed to find. To accept that I cannot navigate this alone, that I need a fresh pair of eyes to see things differently and help me work my way through, rather than away from this. It has been the best, because it brought to the surface things I wouldn’t have noticed on my own. It made me reclaim myself, discover and strengthen crucial aspects of my identity that were slipping away form me. Much of my newfound peace, focus and positivity is a result of this, and I know that every day I am making progress in facing up to and loving my imperfect self.

It hasn’t been an easy year to live with me. Every break down has brought with it several emotional outbursts, thoughtless spewing of anger and frustration, violent mood swings, long periods of demotivation. But through it, VC has been my constant. Constant everything. Punching bag, sounding board, friend, foe, confidant, co-homemaker, support, voice of reason, strength and solace. We celebrated our eighth anniversary. Ironically, it was a year that made me fully understand how relationships that nurture are the ones that help you growing together, separately, rather than collapse and grow into one entity, and completely turned my beliefs about marriage around, that somehow also brought us much closer.

I find myself feeling a little sheepish about how much I have bashed 2016. It had so many sore points, so many weeks and months I wanted to just wish away. So many events and incidents I wish I didn’t have to go through. It all felt so damned shitty. And yet, when it all stacks up and I look at it in retrospect, it was rather eventful. Memorable, even. But most of all, transformative. They say things sometimes need to get really bad before they can begin to get better. Maybe my bad bits were peppered right through 2016. But right there, in between the bad events, things were already beginning to get better.

This year I just want to build from here. Make some goals, shut up about them, work hard, live big, laugh loud, love hard, breathe deep and smash them to the sky.

*****

Quick guide to posts in 2016
Monthly recaps: APostADay
Bheja fry, since this year had so much of it
Work and writing
Books and reading in 2016
Travel and photographs
Cycling and exercise
Music

Same time, last year: Day 5: In-bloom

Day 365: All the books I read this year

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

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

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

3 best reads of the year:

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

3 most forgettable reads of the year:

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

And here’s the whole list:

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

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

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

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

Day 361: Spinning the wheel

2016 seems cock sure and determined not to go out quietly. As if the blows we received this year weren’t enough, today we lost another gem. I woke up to the terrible trending news, and in my head I ran through the whole gamut of GM memories. From ogling him in his itty bitty denim cut offs to heartbreak when we realised he was gay, to rediscovering the full depth and breadth of his repertoire in my late teens, to having some songs associated with some of my best people. Oddly, I spent a whole day listening to GM last month, binging on his entire Vevo channel.

It’s been a year of unprecedented loss, but if I didn’t write the typical social media outpouring of grief or an eulogy for most people this year — not Bowie, not Prince, not Muhammad Ali, not Glenn Frey, not Doris Roberts, not Zaha Hadid, not Harper Lee (I remembered Leonard Cohen, though) — it was because I just couldn’t keep up with the frequency anymore. Most times, words seemed futile.

Today, I feel no different.

So, I’m going to sleep listening to some of my all time favourite George Michael tracks.

 

 

Go well, GM.

Day 344: Looking back

The dregs of this year, they’re dragging. If anyone has a fast-forward option, I’d be down for that. The sudden bouts of clarity, positivity, and hope for 2017 to be better, way better, than 2016, are egging me on, teasingly. If someone could just push me straight into the throes of the new year I’m in. (Okay, anyone listening and trying to make it happen, please only give it a shot after next week, when I go off on what may be my last holiday for the year.)

This blog has been a largely accurate reflection of what’s going on with me, and in my head (except when I’m faffing off by posting silly haiku and pictures that only interest me). So it’s been an all round mope-fest around here for the past many weeks. I’ve lost track of when I began to slide and the multiple occasions on which I’ve felt hopeful and upbeat only to slip right back into the doldrums again. Around me, the world has fallen apart, everyday there’s shocking news that bristles and causes reactions worth being spoken about, I read things that amuse and entertain me, move me and impact me in ways that I can only describe in writing, I’ve done more things than I’ve cared to talk about here, and there are plans afoot of which I haven’t really been very articulate at all. All I’ve focused on is myself, and my sads. Of late, that has turned into a 100% pity party. I’m aware. Today too, I was moping to A on fb, when a thread from a bunch of writers caught my eye. Each one of them taking stock of the year and reporting their achievements, challenges and stating their plans for the next year.

I’ve contemplated this, and made small beginnings, to some extent. But I just haven’t had the inclination to further it. Instead, I’ve been moping about the catastrophe that was 2016 and wishing for a magic trick to teleport me right into 2017. Seeing everyone’s inspiring updates of the year gone by, though, I was prompted peek into my excel sheet, to see just how I’ve fared. Considering it’s been a year with a shocking number of forced and unforeseen breaks from work, I’ve felt my focus and motivation shot to bits. So I wasn’t particularly inclined to do this looking back business. But I have an excel sheet I’ve been rather meticulous about keeping this year, so “looking back” is a matter of glancing at a well-formatted excel sheet, rather than rummage through work folders and files like I had to last year.

2016 was a largely challenging year, personally, of course. Professionally too, there were challenges a plenty, but in retrospect it has all been positive. As it turns out, 2016 has been the most prolific year in terms of the amount of work I’ve done. I realise I have a lot to be thankful for, despite everything.

I’ve written 50 stories, for 16 publications. These include 7 new (for me) international publications and 4 new Indian publications that I broke into. This was a bit of a happy surprise for me, something I haven’t registered even though I am doing the writing, and excel sheet tracking. At the start of 2016, I had a measly goal of breaking into at least 3 international publications. It was only looking at the sheet right now that I realised until I’ve more than surpassed that goal. As for earning, I’ve doubled what I earned last year, but I could have done a lot better if the hiccups and forced breaks hadn’t kept me away from writing as much as they did.

The other big change, and win, is that I’ve finally made peace with facebook, because I’ve learned to wield it to work best for me. I say this because I found almost all my work this year, through resources and discussions through facebook writing groups that I am on. Through them, I’ve been exposed to some incredibly inspiring writing from around the world, got a glimpse into the lives and routines, challenges and successes of some wonderful women writers. I’ve found inspiration and solace in their virtual companionship. In their numerous anecdotes I’ve realised that no problem is unique, someone somewhere has already been there, done that and will most likely offer to help. I’ve also made some new friends through these groups and I’m really glad for some of the writer connections that keep me going.

All said and done, this year was not without its fair share of lessons. Every big meltdown this year was caused by a professional situation that had bubbled over when I wasn’t looking. And each of those situations had very clear lessons that I had failed to pick up and act on before. I continue to trust people blindly. I still sometimes fail to consider all options before jumping in. And I still don’t fully know how to put a high enough premium on myself. I’m still utterly useless with managing my collections and don’t fully understand the business side of managing my work. This is something I hope to either outsource or take steps towards mastering myself, in the coming year.

I’m still growing a pair of lady-balls, and learning my worth. I’ve had moments of success in the rare instances that I was able to be brave and push myself outside my comfort zone, but those situations were scary and will take a lot more getting used to before it begins to come naturally. I have such a long way to go.

This will always be remembered as the year I took the difficult decision to let go of an anchor gig that while offering economic stability, only leeched away at my joy and creativity. It will be the year I actively worked towards bettering my professional communication and saw amazing things happen as a result of it. I’ve bettered my working relationships with a few editors, seen a duplicitous side of others, and managed to navigate through all kinds of situations.

Does 2016 make me feel proud and victorious? Not really. Could it have been better? Definitely. But, am I happy with the way things stand? Hell yes.

Day 308: Reading list

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

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

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

“32,” came the reply.

No, I hadn’t misheard it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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