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Tag Archives: Looking back

What coming home feels like: Seeking solitude

25 Jun

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.

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Because wanting to leave is enough

27 Apr

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.

In-stages

26 Apr

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.

I get by with a lot of help from my friends

25 Apr

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.

Kitchen Soup for the Homesick Soul

3 Mar

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)

2016

5 Jan

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

Day 365: All the books I read this year

30 Dec

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

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

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

3 best reads of the year:

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

3 most forgettable reads of the year:

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

And here’s the whole list:

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

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

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

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

Day 361: Spinning the wheel

26 Dec

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

9 Dec

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

3 Nov

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

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

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

“32,” came the reply.

No, I hadn’t misheard it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 280: Too many words, so here’s a cop out

6 Oct

I’m feeling a lack of words again. If last month I worked myself to the bone, like a hamster in a wheel, this month I’m trying to get better. I don’t want to keep doing the same things I do wrong, over and over. I want to make it right. It means I’ve been reading a lot of things to figure where my pitches are falling short, looking at the work of some folks I am inspired by to see what they’re possibly doing right, and generally reading a lot of work that comes my way. And then there have been the emails — fresher, better pitches, three better crafted stories (one of which was killed after it had been commissioned, worked hard upon and submitted, but that’s a story for another day), some back and forth on a new assignment that requires me to be on the telephone way more than I have been used to, and remembering to come here and write a post a day. I feel like I’m out of words for the week, already. I’ve been unable to read at the end of the day like I am used to and I’ve been feeling quiet this week, not my usual chatty, responsive self on whatsapp either. Then there was the newsletter I sent out earlier today. Which makes a good post, because it’s a summation of everything that’s been swimming around in my brain, neatly distilled in a letter (with a really cute gif for extra measure!). So for all you folks who haven’t subscribed, I’m stealing a bit of it for this post. Because I have no new words to give today.

The left and right halves of my brain have been in a perpetual twist over what I should be doing and what I really want to be doing. And it’s given me a terrible case of month-long hiccups. It’s always the hiccups that bring out the demons. The roadblocks that run you down, make your confidence plummet, and things seem a lot worse than they really are.

So when I found myself in a hole at the end of September, I had to take a moment and let the right side of my brain take over. Because it’s the side of my brain that rules, and reminds me that it’s the experiences that matter, that there are no mistakes – only lessons, that I am enough, that this may look utterly shitty now, but you can’t connect the dots looking forward.

The reason everything looked utterly shitty is I have been measuring myself by the rules of success that were never mine to begin with. I have never chased the kind of success that comes from hoarding an astronomical bank balance, or working 8 hours a week all week at something I don’t enjoy, or building it all up so one fine day I can sit back and enjoy it. None of this is to say it’s a terrible crime to want any of that. The astronomical bank balance does great things, I’m aware. As does the hard work and dedication extended to work that isn’t all enjoyable. But it’s just not for me. I have never been able to get on board with accumulating a lifetime of experiences, money and aspirations to enjoy it in a hypothetical time in the future, when really, all I have is the here and the now. And it’s waiting for me to step in and savour it.

All we only ever have is the here and the now. Maybe a little bit of knowledge to predict the immediate future, but not with any degree of accuracy, anyway. But what we do have, is a wealth of information about our past. To know what worked, what didn’t, and what you’d do differently the next time around. So that every moment ahead of you, is better than before. Isn’t that really what being happy is about? So if finding your bliss sounded like unattainable mumbo-jumbo, don’t worry. Here’s science to prove it:

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Widely shared on the internet, this is an image of molecules of the protein called myosin holding up a massive ball of endorphins, dragging it along a filament into the inner part of the brain’s parietal cortex.

Happy hormones walking a tightrope, making their way to your brain. ALL SO YOU CAN FEEL HAPPY. Like S once exclaimed, that’s literally the most accurate depiction of happiness: just focus on the here and now, keep placing one foot in front of the other, and just keep going on.

What you will be left with is a trail of experiences — good bad, shitty, traumatic, a bucket load of everything that comes your way. A lot of it will be amazing. A lot of it will leave you cold. A lot may not make sense, not immediately, anyway. But it’s all essential. All of it has a part to play in the larger scheme of things, as you plod along, carrying your big ball of happy on your back.

When I was done telling myself time and again how shitty September was, which is when the right side of my brain took over, I looked back. I realised that first of all what I’d deemed shitty was really just one aspect: my work. I’ve let that one aspect eclipse all else, outshining all the other wonderful things that happened. Second, I realised that despite everything, I had some amazing moments. I celebrated my eighth anniversary. I broke into one of my must-crack international publications — Broadly, a VICE channel — with a story that I’ve wanted to explore for over a year now, this story that I loved interviewing for writing finally went live after over a month of sitting on the bench, and I bagged a semi-long-term gig with The Telegraph UK. Apart from that, all the confusion and upheaval forced me to a point where I decided I needed to move ahead, rather than wallow. So I did. I changed tracks again.

Movement is always good, no? And there’s the thing I realised once again: confusion is essential. Unhappiness, chaos, discomfort — they’re essential milestones for change on the path to getting on with it. Sometimes that path is rocky, a squelchy mess, far from fun. But that is okay. I wouldn’t have realised any of this, unless I’d looked back on the shitty, shitty September. So it’s true what Steve Jobs said.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.

I’ve always been a gut-feeling kind of person, counting life experiences over time, and I think Karma has a lot to do with everything that comes our way. Somewhere, I’d forgotten that. And it took a shitty September to remind me to recalibrate my measures for what matters, and how much I want to do to get as far as I want to get.

Day 228: Sunday

15 Aug

The last day of a summer holiday was when I’d grudgingly pack a bag full of shiny new books, with freshly stretched glazed brown paper that gave them unwieldy, poky corners. It was a very demanding kind of Sunday evening. A starched uniform needed to be ironed, a pair of shoes — always one size larger than I was previously used — to lay waiting to be laced, there was the constant reminder to get it all done well before bed time that was suddenly advanced by an hour. And suddenly two months worth of memories of fun and frolic collapsed into a jumble, a little blob that would forever be wedged deep inside my brain only to be pulled out when bouts of nostalgia about the good old days hit me.

What stayed above the surface, always accessible, well into adulthood was that palpable sense of gloom. The last say of summer holiday was almost always a Sunday and it brought with it that special brand of end-of-summer-holiday gloom. The hazy uneasiness of grappling with time that passed by too fast, and time that will hit me too fast the next day. Thoughts of the next day only brought an unbearable, overwhelming feeling of intimidation. Next day would be a new day. A different kind of new. A new week, a new year. Just. Too. Much. New.

I liked the old better. Languid summer afternoons spent lying on cool mosaic floors, looking up at a fan spinning so fast, having absolutely no effect on the trickles of sweat making its way through the folds on my neck. Sunday evening gloom always made me want to stretch backwards and hang on tight to the weeks and months that have gone by. That’s where the comfort always was. Is.

Like a lazy nap. And it suddenly ends. Abruptly. A power cut makes the fan go off, or I’ve suddenly heard the violent cacophony of birds cawing their way back home. The din always makes me stir and if I’m unlucky, it is a touch past sundown. The sky is that odd shade of magnetic grey. Everything looks touched with a shimmery blue-grey hue. Silhouettes shine, but not in a resplendent, bright way, but like they’re tinged with the light of that strangest time when the last rays of the sun fight to stay alive. For just a minute more, even as the overpowering black of night swallows it slowly, inch by inch. Unwillingly, finally the day gives into the ebony might of the night. And I’m just left, stuck in that limbo with the play of light. That familiar gloom hurls itself back into the pit of my brain. Separating the bliss of the nap, from the Sunday evening gloom wafts above.

It’s like twilight. With the dusky rays meeting the night. Like something good ended too soon. Like the credits of a movie that touched my deeply, rolling on. I know I should be walking out the movie hall, but I want to stay and watch them right till the end. Just a few minutes longer. Or a book that had me by the scruff of my collar, gripped and unrelenting, that I rushed through so rapidly, the inevitable end leaves me bereft. Lost, confused, not knowing what to do with myself, or how to make time stop.

Sunday evening gloom is such a stark part of my childhood, I find it impossible to shake off the feeling even today.

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This time back home, I had not one but two Sundays. That same afternoon nap had ended. That same murky twilight lingered outside. A wonderful week, a beautiful holiday had ended. There was a cup of hot tea being had, much later than I normally would have. As I sat in the kitchen reading, watching amma cook, familiar smells of dinner filling the kitchen around me. That same feeling of a good time coming to an end washed over me.

I waited for that heavy thud of finality to hit me. It’s usually like gates slamming behind me, something pushing me ahead as I drag my feet on, dejectedly. I waited, but it didn’t come. Suddenly I realised Sunday at home, as a grown up, felt pretty damn good. It had the glow of good times, the promise of more to come, and the wonderful embrace of a home that was and always will be, and the home that is, that I will go to.

Day 221: On the road

8 Aug

It’s been ages since I have been on a road trip. Even longer, since I went on one with my parents. This needs to be said, because trips like this were par for the course when my sister and I were growing up. Ours was a family that was always ready to get up and go. We did this an awful lot, with far too many Sunday mornings that saw my parents overcome by the sudden need to take us on a picnic. Amma would quickly pack up some sandwiches, or puliyogare and curd-rice with some assorted nicknacks – chips, sugar-boiled sweets. It would all get stuffed it in a large bag along with a thermos full of juice for the kids and juice or tea for the adults. We’d wear our outdoorsy clothes, throw on our sneakers, pile into the car and take off. We never went to picnic spots or resorts, as was typically the norm. My dad would open out his most recent road map, show us the direction in which we’d be headed and we’d simply just drive, listening to music – everything from cassettes playing old concerts of my grandfather’s to The Beatles. The fascination of that kind of meandering trip, with no real plan or purpose but to just be together was enchanting. I always felt like I was on an adventure.

We’d converse a lot. We’d learn to identify birds, be told about important landmarks, our curiosity over everything from a roadroller at a new road coming up, to a tractor in a field where we’d stopped, or how the rain falls and why the trees are so many shades of green, would be piqued. And our questions entertained. We’d talk about all kinds of things and have most of our numerous questions answered. When we’d have driven out far enough from the city, my dad would pick a nice big lush tree and we’d pull over. Sometimes beside farmlands, sometimes overlooking a lake or river. Sometimes close to a little hillock which we would then climb, and I’d feel like I’d scaled the highest mountain. We’d spread out our trusty olive-coloured tarpaulin over which we’d open out all our food and drink, eating out of banana leaf plates, and making sure to gather all the waste, leaving the spot with no trace of us having been there, before we left.

In words, in conversation and in action, by example, I think I learned many a lesson about being on the road, and outdoors from my parents through these trips. It was very simple, but I distinctly remember those outings being my first experiences with understanding the concept of getting out, of travelling, of venturing into spaces outside where you usually belong. I could perceived the meaning of words like destination, duration and the passage of time.

Later, when we were slightly more grown up, there were innumerable trips to the jungle. My father is (used to be far more enthusiastic then, than he is now) an avid wildlife photographer, and was wont to making surprise plans with his photographer buddies and take off into the jungles for a weekend of photography. Every now and then, we’d make a family trip of it. I have fond memories of being huddled up in the porch of a jungle guesthouse, in the dim light from a naked bulb, thanks to the lack of electricity in the wild, listening to jungle noises creep around me, building impossibly imaginative animal stories in my head, giddy with excitement about the morning safari the next morning and the prospect of seeing a tiger. The forest guesthouse had a kitchen where basic meals of rasam/sambar, vegetables and rice would be prepared and brought to us in steel tiffin carriers. We’d turn in early and wake up in time to ride off into the jungle in an open jeep. Simple, invaluable things like dressing in sober colours that don’t stand out in the jungle, speaking in whispers or not at all, of looking behind you (because sometimes that’s where the best view is!) and most importantly, being patient began there – in the jungle. My urge to get out into the wild was stoked then, I’m sure.

For many reasons, these trips waned away. My father no longer goes away as often or as enthusiastically as he did back then. Over the years that my sister and I grew up and developed our own interests, family outings of this sort took last priority, as is known to happen. Ten years ago, my sister moved away to Bombay. Seven years ago, I came to Goa. And ever since, getting the four of us together at the same time has taken so much effort and orchestration, we’re mostly just happy to be under one roof – either in Bombay, Goa or Bangalore. Barring a family holiday to Sri Lanka in 2007, and another to Mahabs (that I could evidently not be bothered to write about!) in 2008, there haven’t been too many trips out of this sort.

So today, as I’m driving through rolling fields of sunflowers and marigolds at the edge of the Bandipur forest, I’m running on network fumes as it is about to disappear entirely out of reach, I realise this is a day worth recording. Especially because these are the views I’ve seen, en route to Wayanad.

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Heartbreakingly beautiful colours sweeping through swathes of plains, usually give all four of us the completely raw and visceral urge to just stop, get out and get as close to it as possible.

Par for the course, while we were growing up. I’ve touched sunflowers, held them against my face and marvelled at how large they actually are, dipped my toes in hill-side streams, touched passing clouds as we climbed mountains.

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This is probably the last of my posts for a bit. I don’t suppose I’m going to have any network in Wayanad where I’m headed. I don’t have my laptop either. So yes, I’m going to be MIA. For about a week, depending on how long I’m off the grid. And how long it may take me to surface once I’m back. See you on the other side.

 

(17th August, 2016, edited to add: I returned to Goa and once I was over the post-holiday stupor, I filled in the gaps with back-dated posts about the trip away.)

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

27 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

And we should be together

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

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

Find it for me, he did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 208: It’s always just a silly listicle

26 Jul

that hits you like a truth bomb you weren’t expecting. FB memories threw up this post I’d shared two years ago. A link to this piece about the struggle of having an outgoing personality but being an introvert. Two-years-ago-me seemed to think every single point in the piece was applicable to me. And it was true. Then. 

Some stuff has changed, but a majority of the list still holds true, though. And some of it is so succinctly to the point. Like point #1 on the list that is so spot on, and so me at the moment.

You’re not anti-social, you’re selectively social.

Point #4 talks about being the life of every party. I was never the life of every party, but I did enjoy socialising when the mood and right opportunity aligned. Now, the will to do that has faded and I find myself retreating inwards even when an opportunity that I might have jumped at even just 6 months ago presents itself.

The next point though, still holds true, post any hectic engagement.

…You then retreat into three days of complete solitude to recover.

And then there’s #8 which is still the reason I get myself into a lot of trouble.

You’re accused of being flirty with everybody, which is hilarious, because in reality, you can only tolerate like four people.

It’s not so much flirty as much as it is just exceptionally affable, which has been taken as flirty, mistaken as not-single-but-ready-to-mingle, and open for service on more than one occasion. Usually it hits me when I’m already too far into the friendship and I have had to do a lot of damage control in recent time. This is fatiguing to say the least.

The diametric opposite of “flirty” behaviour mentioned above is the cold ice-princess air that I have been told I exude. It’s entirely unintentional. It is mostly me just keeping to myself because I am either feeling inadequate or don’t have anything to contribute. But it’s almost always misunderstood and taken to be snobbery. Like it says in in point #9.

You retain an air of mysteriousness about you, completely unintentionally.

Points #12, #13 and #14 are all me. To the T.

You’ve never really understood the whole “introvert vs. extrovert” dichotomy (can we call it that?) Because you’re… both…

You’re always thrown into the wringer because people think you’re best suited to be the one who gives the presentation, confronts the boss, gives the speech, etc. Meanwhile, you’re practically throwing up over the thought of it.

You ebb and flow between wanting to be noticed for your hard work, reveling in the attention and achievement you receive, to sinking and panicking over the thought of somebody else paying more than 30 seconds of attention to you.

I can’t tell you the number of times my being lively, outgoing, social, wanting to engage and be in the company of people has been taken to be a good reason to assume I’m ready to throw myself in front of a group of people to make a presentation. I’ve found myself in this position in the past. It sucks infinitely. Especially when I’m told things like “but you’re so good with big groups” and then you have to try and explain, in vain, the absence of the connection between the two.

The remaining list has points that apply at some times, some points that no longer hold good – like the bit about being the life of the party dancing on the table and doing body shots, the point about indecisiveness and the bit about avoiding people but making it look like there’s nothing in the world I’d rather be doing when I do meet them. I was never the loud life of any party. Never. I used to be fairly indecisive, but that has changed noticeably and significantly in recent times. I still go out of my way to avoid people when I don’t feel like meeting them, but I don’t make efforts to cover it up. I am fairly honest about wanting my space and solitude. And when I take it, I am quite unapologetic these days.

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Possibly the most fitting point on this list that’s applicable today is the very last one. #18.

It’s taken you years to figure out that you’re shy. Literal years. And when you tell people, even your closest family members, that you’re “actually just shy” they pause, and then their eyes go big, and they go: “Oh my god you so are.”

It has taken absolute ages to realise the fine differences and that gradient, between what we think are two polar opposite states to exist in. It is possible to be both an introvert and an extrovert and have phases where you linger in the grey areas in between, sometimes indefinitely.

It’s also entirely possible for things change. Drastically. They keep transforming. Rough edges get smoothened, new angles emerge, you may soften up about some things that you cared deeply about, and you may develop new non-negotiables. The few tendencies of extroversion I once had, may have gone into hiding in recent times. My inability to sit still and be with myself from a decade ago has somehow vanished entirely.

If there’s one thing I’ve realised about myself in recent time it’s that I no longer enjoy hanging on to my aversions or to hang on to anything so tight that I’m left lost and unanchored when that state ceases to exist. It’s the only way to move through change with as little tumult as possible.

So yeah, it was interesting to see that virtually every single point on this list was applicable to me just two years ago, before a time when I fully understood that I was actually am ambivert leaning towards the introvert side of the spectrum. Before I realised there were sufficient anomalies to the general rule, to keep me out of the water tight compartmentalisation of one or the other. And long before I realised that that was perfectly okay. And today while so much of it has changed, so much still remains.

Day 147: On the calmness of being at home

26 May

This is what calm looks like at home in Bangalore.

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When peace resumes after extended Sunday lunches. When the hushed whispers that fill the room through afternoons of gossip and laughter, have been quelled by a round of 4 o clock cups of chai and digestive biscuits. When the evening music class is over, and the knob on the electronic tanpura is turned backwards, bringing the drone to a mere buzz and finally silence. When after prolonged family gatherings of excessive gluttony, way too much chatter and unnecessary cribbing, the guests finally leave, doggie bags in hand. When past midnight, the house-concert inches closer to a thunderous crescendo and the clatter of the applause dies down. This living room has seen it all.

And this is what calm looks like at home in Bangalore. Exactly the same way it did so many years ago. 

This is what calm looks like in my home here in Goa.

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When the suitcases have been unpacked, the laundry loaded, the morning chai brewed, a week’s worth of pending emails are being worked through, and edits on a precious story are being deliberated upon.

On days like this, I realise home is not where the heart is. How can it be, when the heart is in two places at once?

It’s hard to choose a favourite. I have roots in both homes. Both spaces. Actually, scratch that. Home is not even a space. It’s a feeling. It’s that perfect reaction.

It’s an energy. And it has the capacity to make getting back to the grind feel so comforting.

 

Day 120: Birthday weekend in progress

29 Apr

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: girlfriends, best. Because, I am lucky to have two of the most insane girls I know and love, come spend my birthday weekend with me. It has been filled with all the best things I could ask for, and the kind of things only girlfriends can make happen. I will write about it, and finish an incomplete draft on the topic of girlfriends that I’ve had lying incomplete for a while now. I will get to it eventually. So yes, a longer post will follow, when I have completely soaked up the immensity of this love, good juju and loveliness.

When I moved to Goa six years ago, I had a faint notion that it was a chance to begin every new year at the beach. But I only managed it once, in our very first year here – and what a birthday it was! 2011 featured a surprise ringing-it-in party so boisterous, that I had to spend the actual birthday in peace. I actually had no memory of the birthday of 2012 – zilch. Until I suddenly recollected it was a home party, where I cooked my friends dinner and ordered my own birthday cake! Then there was a crazy night of dancing over the birthday of 2013 that I didn’t think I’d ever wake up from. But I did, and lived to tell the tale. My 30th in 2014 was unusually quiet, but very memorable and happy. I didn’t even cut a cake, but it was a time of overwhelming peace and I was overcome by a lovely, everything-is-in-it’s-place kind of contentment. Last year I was on the beach, just not in Goa, but it should still count, right? We were in Sri Lanka, away from network and I had a fantastic, quiet birthday.

This year, I’m back on the beach again. And maybe I will tell you all about it. But for now, this is in progress and I’m going to be missing for a while.

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Here, listen to what I’m listening to, in the meantime.

Day 118: This day, that year

27 Apr

I stayed away from activating the notifications on that facebook memories thingie, until yesterday. When I realised it was exactly one year since Sri Lanka. Activating it has put me in a complete spin, and for the last three days, the first thing I do upon logging in to fb is check the onthisday feature.

It got me thinking back to this day, that year, for every year that I’ve been in Goa. Coupled with the fact that I’m closing in on the 10 year mark of blogging here, I scrolled back in time and read some posts from April down the years. I was happy to recall a lot of it – until 2010. Beyond that, things are a bit blurry. I often think of 2010, the year I moved to Goa, as a definite start of a new phase in my life. It is also the year I started blogging more fervently, regularly, and with a sense of purpose (at least in my head!). So it’s actually no wonder that times from the years before that, chronicled on this blog, are fuzzy, a bit muddled and in some parts just blank. For example, I have no memory of what might have triggered this post, though I have a distinct recollection of this happening.

So, looking back:

April, 2010. We had just moved to Goa, set up home and lived here one month, when R, S and H came to visit. It was a hectic weekend with a lot of fun and there was a new high in playing host, but also the fatigue of playing host. I distinctly remember feeling overwhelmed, conflicted and overjoyed all at once.

2011. I remember this day being the beginning of trying to explore other loves outside of work. Taking time out not to just faff around and have fun, but to spend it in something constructive, yet liberating. The art bug clearly hasn’t left me. It surfaces about once a year, much like it did in April, 2011.

2012. VC and I did this spending the day at the beach thing a whole lot more back then, than we do now. Now I got to the beach for a walk/run, or to watch the sunset. We rarely ever make an outing of it like this. Things are a lot more crowded these days and finding a peaceful beach usually involves driving way out – something I don’t always have the patience for anymore. In fact I was just telling S today, how I have probably not been for a swim in the sea, in Goa, in 2 seasons now. And no, Im not complaining.

2013. Ohhh this day. This phase. I look back on it wistfully because it was the culmination of the first few months of funemployment and funwinding from the advertising day job, that actually set the tone and the seeds for the life I am now living. I was clueless and had no idea where I was going to begin. It was all completely new to me and somehow I had this dream of reaching a place where I write about things that matter to me, things that excite me, give me joy. That I work on my own terms, with flexibility, and still make enough money to sustain myself – this was a dream on this day in 2013. I’ve come a long, long way and looking back at this post almost makes me choke up a little.

2014. I actually had no memory of doing this exercise in reflection, but once I saw the post and read through it the memory sparked back to life. It was a fun list to reflect on, on the eve of turning 30, which somehow seems like it was a long time ago, and yet like it only just happened. As I read through it, I realised how much things have changed even in the two years since the day. Maybe it’s time to do it again? Also my baby pictures in the post never fail to make me smile.

2015. Considering how little I blogged last year, April saw a sudden flurry of posts, prompted entirely by the mindblowing beauty that Sri Lanka presented. I was afraid I was oversharing, but I didn’t care too much, evidently.

And because I feel like sharing my on-loop song for the day, tekkit.

Day 117: See Lanka

26 Apr

This time last year, we’d set foot in Sri Lanka. Time last year, the hugsband was at the peak of his video shenanigans (remember our foodeos?) which meant that a heavy-as-hell camera bag and a complete kebab-mein-haddi tripod followed us everywhere we went on our trip to Sri Lanka. Being around VC when he is in the thick of shooting something also means patiently waiting till he has his fill, sometimes knowingly or unknowingly playing assistant/model/prop/creative director too. I stress the word patiently, because that’s where I usually fail. I’m on holiday, and I like to take things in as they are, without having to wait for the right moment and the best shot. It meant I couldn’t dig into my food until he had got the right shot of me serving it, and panned across my plate both ways. It meant waking up at the butt-crack of dawn for the first three days, looking for the perfect spot to catch the sunrise. It meant giving up my plans to chill with a drink on the beach, to trek up a hill to get the perfect vantage point.

VC makes me do these things. Not against my will, though. Because I am also known to suffer serious FOMO, sometimes the mere mention of a plan or a possibility is enough to tickle my curiosity and motivate me to get off my ass. Even on holiday. Even if some part of me doesn’t really want to.

So we did all those things. And a lot, lot more. Much of it was meant to make it to the blog, but never did (because you know what happened last year). Much of it will always remain in my head, and was never meant to be shared anywhere. Much of it filled my instagram – I stopped using filters and edits for good when I was Sri Lanka, the place was that gorgeous. And much of it still remains. In my mind and heart. And remnants of it keep coagulating into semi-solid memories that beckon me Sri-Lanka wards again.

For everything else, there is this:

To see some more video work (albeit grossly not up to date) by VC, pop over here.

Day 95: March

4 Apr

The first few months of every year always have that crunchy freshness of wrapping paper stretched over a new present. You can either delicately tear away along the cello-tape neatly, slowly unwrapping the contents that lie beneath it, or you can rummage at it with the frenzy of a young child newly in possession of a shiny gift.

I think I did a bit of both with the first three months of the year. It feels squeaky new still, and some of my friends and I are *still* wishing each other happy new year and giggling every time we do it, like a bunch of teenagers. But there were days in between when time rushed by hungrily consuming me in it’s hectic flow. After a deliberately slow January and an easy February of dragging my feet back to some form of productivity and routine, March has surged ahead and filled itself out like a hungry piggie on a mission to get fat.

My work calendar got chalked out so full, so quick. I only realised it when I revamped this spreadsheet that I use to tally my invoices and accounts, such that it now also tells me the quantum of work I pitch, finish and bill for, in any given month. I don’t know why I didn’t do this earlier because goddamn I have worked a lot this month and it wasn’t even one of my busiest months.

I got a lot of invites to food events. It’s completely, ridiculously ironic, the sheer volume of PR invites that now reach me, because it’s a time when I feel like I’ve been there, done it too much and I no longer actively want to cover events, unless it’s something ridiculously compelling or can be a part of a larger food story than just a restaurant review or listicle. Part of it is because I’m oh so blooming bored of what is expected of a “food writer,” and part of it is also because I’ve been feeling seriously anti-social. My new challenge is to up the ante for myself and I’ve made baby steps by pitching new publications, and pitching wider than Goa-based stories.

As for feeling anti-social, it’s not so much a new feeling as a re-surfacing of an old and familiar one. I pondered a lot about peace and quiet and despite all that was happening, I managed to surround myself in the quietude. I barely got out, haven’t socialised, except until my folks arrived. It worked well because it was perfectly timed with my attempts to cut excess alcohol and sugar from my life, which meant we didn’t go out to eat that much anyway.

I’m also working out like a maniac. But even with all of that squished into it, March had balance. It’s been a peacefully busy month. There was some contemplation about life and about work, there was some clarity in slowly overcoming my inability to say no, and there were confessions and realisations.

And then, there was the bicycle. OH, the bicycle. And the newfound love to be out there, bicycling. Fitness aside, it feels like a step up in unlearning the fear I’ve harboured about being out in the open, reclaiming space, a new activity, a different kind of freedom. VC bought me the cycle in March, but I’m taking it as an early birthday present and I can already tell it will be one of the best gifts of the year. And I don’t mean just the gift of the cycle itself, I gift that is the sense of liberation, the adrenalin rush, the newness and the geekery surrounding it, being able to enjoy something with VC again – all of it.

I have continued to write a lot more. Cannot believe I reached the 80 post, pretty much without too many breaks. I wrote a lot more haikus, and not just to fill in the posts. What I didn’t do too much of in March however, was doodle. S sent me a gorgeous calligraphy set that I was so touched by. I opened it very enthusiastically, but got so intimidated by the paraphernalia that I packed it away all too soon. I need to get down to experimenting a little. I also didn’t read all that much, but here’s what I did read and manage to finish:

How To Sell Yourself, by Joe Girard based on VC’s recommendation, and all our conversations about my general struggles in owning up to what I am good at and selling my skills shamelessly and effortlessly. It was an easy read, perhaps all too easy, but didn’t do much for me because it’s a brand of self-help I cannot warm up to. Too much hard-sell, too much simplistic you-can-do-anything-you-put-your-mind-to kind of mumbo-jumbo which ultimately feels like common sense being peddled attractively. Also so hugely rooted in The American Dream, I couldn’t relate to the theme at the heart of it.

We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Adichie which I finished in an hour, only to realise it is also a TED talk I could have just watched. But no harm done, because it puts into succinct essay-form, the definition of feminism and what it means for us personally, on a daily level. It lists out real situations of inequality and discrimination faced by women like you and me, in our families, at work, in the cities we live in, while travelling. Very relatable situations, completely honest examples that make you feel like the women in the essay could very well be you, and a very, easy conversational style make this a good essay to read and digest.

Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain that I wrote about here, which was so revelatory. It was like unwrapping and understanding a side of me I have never quite made complete peace with. By making introversion just another state of normal, it has made it okay and desirable for me. It helped me understand many difficult situations I have been in, caused by my introversion that is often dismissed or misinterpreted as timidity, snobbery or shyness. For a long time I have felt that I need to embrace my quiet side, accepting it as the way I am, with love and grace. But the general expectation is to fight it and replace it with an extra gregarious personality, and therein has always been my tussle. Reading this book turned that switch off for good. I now not only understand the ambivert that I am that much better, but I love and appreciate wholly, the introvert that VC is. This book has definitely made me look at his personality with a little more kindness than I have extended to him. And for that, it has strengthened the equation between us.

It’s the last few weeks before my birthday arrives, just around the corner. And that is inevitably what marks the turn around the halfway mark of the year for me, in my head of course. This is the general and brief course of every new year: NYE, January panic, February laziness, March frenzy, April anticipation, May birthday, four months of monsoon, an all too short “winter”, Christmas, NYE. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So yeah, the year is whizzing by on cue. Predictably.