Happy bytes

The instructor on my workout video has this refrain whenever the workout hits a particularly tough or burn-inducing spot. Right when I’m wincing at that last rep, about to give up, he’ll go Just go to your happy place! and two months ago when I began using this channel, I’d chuckle, roll my eyes and have a giggle at his morbid sense of humor.

This morning though, right in the middle of all that burn, something like 45 burpees in, when he said Just go to your happy place! I suddenly got it. Even in that eye-popping, muscle-stretching moment, while I was melting nose-first, when I could have been seeing white spots in front of my eyes, I had such an endorphin rush I burst out laughing. In a truly happy, full-body guffaw of sorts.

I’m so happy that I’m back in this old familiar zone, even though I feel like a whole new me this time around. Where the exercise isn’t a pain or a chore (like it had become through 2017-18), and is in fact a joy-inducing, happy-making activity I am willing to put other things aside for, dedicating myself mind, body and soul.

***

Speaking of happy places, it’s been five years since P and I made the Goa Happy video, our little contribution to the literally thousands of local spin-offs to the Pharrell Williams song that took the internet by storm in 2014. So I revisited it!

If you watch closely you might even spot me hahahaha.

***

I spent the weekend with D, because VC went away on a bike trip with work buddies to Gokarna. I think after food, therapy and tarot, the thing we’ve started to discuss the most is plants and gardening, and as usual (as always — I realised I’ve always left her home with plants or cuttings or both, on this trip) I came home with so many new things to pot.

I came away earlier than I usually would have. Ostensibly to catch a Sunday nap, wake up in my own home so I have the mojo to cook and settle back in, rather than be washed out by Sunday evening blues as it tends to happen to me.

What followed though made me want to stop and think, What Sunday blues?! because I woke up from my nap and went straight out into the terrace. I planted a whole bunch of fresh cuttings of plants I wanted that she’d painstakingly made for me, I repotted some plants that have grown too big for their pots over these few weeks, and I did sundry round of tending to everything, picking out dead leaves, watering, loosening soil and the works. All this while listening to Coke Studio that has made a timely pre-monsoon comeback in my life, right on cue.

The evening light was beautiful, and we’ve had a warmer couple of days so there was the residual heat of the day, as the sun is getting the full effect of the last of it’s rays in. My terrace was strewn with picked weeds, dry leaves, piles and trails of soil from all the dirty work, pools of water, muddy footprints. The sun set in a glorious pink yesterday, and when I looked up I was a sweaty, muddy mess. Such a joy. Such bliss. I didn’t realise I had kept going long after the sun had set, until VC walked in and laughed at how engrossed I had been.

***

Last weekend I cooked pork ribs for the very first time on my own. Following no recipe, winging it as I went along, throwing things in intuitively. And it turned out beyond delicious, if I can say so myself.

This has been happening a lot of late. The draw to go experiment, without too much planning, going in and going all the way. Some days are for the simply comforting givens like khichdi, and some days we pull out all stops and go the whole hog.

Either way, the kitchen has been a huge source of comfort for me these past few weeks. I’ve said so much about the peace and quiet and solitude staying in Goa offers me. And as much as I have enjoyed it, last week I realised I am ready for the hustle of my Bangalore life again. But this kitchen joy, the steadiness and joy that it brings to me, is something I want to try and keep going in Bangalore. Even if I am cooking in Amma’s kitchen, or even if I’m cooking for just myself at home.

Today, I’ve just cooked a marinara sauce, fortified with minced carrots and smashed stove-top charred red and yellow peppers, with smoky cumin and coriander and lots of red chilli flakes. I tossed up some frozen meatballs in some olive oil, and I will put them together right before we eat, mopping it up with millets and a salad.

***

After the bursts of those quintessential curly edged long green leaved mango trees, delicate frangipani and bougainvillea, we’re at that time of year where the gulmohar trees have come alive in all their glory. Literally everywhere, there are these clouds of fiery red, leaf-less trees, curvy and orb like when seen from a distance, eye-hurting flaming red when seen up close.

***

I’m all set to go back to Bangalore. I feel like this time of rest has been amazing, and well-timed and I am so refreshed and ready to get back to regular programming. I’m excited at the blank canvas sense I have for the next few weeks, and I feel certain I need to be in Bangalore as it unfurls.

Looking back, I’m so happy for the unexpected twist that brought me to Goa earlier than time, and kind of set a very different tone to the way the last two months have gone. It was unpleasant and challenging at the time and induced a fair bit of anger, frustration and resistance within me at the time, but as usual, as always, I can only connect the dots looking back.

It’s abundantly clear to me that there was no escaping this time, or the gifts it has brought, foremost amongst which has been the quality of the time VC and I have had together this trip. It’s been different. There was a quiet, reassuring and steady quality to it that hasn’t been there for a while — probably ever since we moved to Bangalore two years ago — that I didn’t know was missing until we somehow have regained it while not even looking for it. And so while I am looking forward to going back to Bangalore, this time around I am already feeling the pangs of missing him that I am anticipating will follow.

This is new. I have been so busy and involved with myself for the last six months, there hasn’t been a lot of room to sit and miss him really. I’ve been having a really good time in Bangalore, too much to let the usual longing dampen it. So this is going to be interesting.

Three years ago: Malleswaram market things

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Renewed relationships

It’s easy to get that comfortable in a relationship that we feel we have each other all figured out. And maybe we do, to a large extent.

If there’s one thing spending these past 6 weeks in Goa with VC has shown me, it is how refreshing it to also allow for growth, evolution and surprises from your significant other. I’ve been so consumed in my own growth, so much so that I had to physically remove myself from our partnered life and live separately, that I may have forgotten that the space and time apart could have done him wonders too.

In our eleventh year of being married, and almost thirteenth of being together, I’m surprised, humbled and so grateful that there is room for freshness, still. For surprises, for new developments, for renewed excitement, and the possibility of uncharted territory opening up once again.

I did not see this coming. But somehow, here we are.

There’s a lot of surprises that came from this trip. All totally unexpected, some very wild, but I think this has been my favourite surprise of them all.

One year ago: April

35

This has been a pretty significant year for me. But quite unlike significant times in the past that have had an unmistakeable flourish, this has been a quiet sort of significant year, with flecks of change, the tiniest shifts and movements flowing in, unnoticed. The sort of change that mostly only I and the people I am closest to know about or will likely notice.

For far too long I’ve been very shy about admitting how much I love my birthday. But the honest truth is that I love having a day dedicated to me, to look back on how far I’ve come, to give myself a good pat on the back, and to take stock and feel optimistic and really hopeful about the future. I’ve been fortunate to have this happen every single birthday thus far. So, even though I haven’t really admitted it in as many words, my folks, my sister and my husband already know how only too well, how much I love this day. To the rest of the world, I’ve always played the omg-it’s-just-another-day-it-doesn’t-matter act pretty damn well.

So, today is that day again, and I’m off to the beach to celebrate how grateful I am for the gift of another birthday, another year to travel around the sun.

I’m grateful for all that this past year has been — for the lessons it brought, for making me see that growing up sometimes requires looking back, accepting transgressions, grief, hurt, difficulties, but absolutely looking ahead and making amends gently, slowly.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to temporarily disengage from the forced cohabiting arrangement of marriage, and for all the realisations and insights that came out of this experience. It’s been quite the game-changer this past year, enabling me to stretch myself and come into my own. I’m so grateful for VC’s understanding, support and acceptance of this and all that came, and continues to come out of it. I really cherish and hold close his ability to accept me as I am, as much as the woman I am becoming (which I am sure sometimes feels like not at all the woman he married hahahaha), and the constant state of work-in-progress that is our lives at the moment.

I’m grateful for therapy that has so wonderfully tied together the various threads that currently bind my life and being, in a way that no amount of conversation with friends or family can, no amount of reading the best books has, and no amount of trying to figure this out on my own could ever have.

I’m grateful especially for my body. In the past year I have seen what happens to it when I deliberately, totally let go, allowing it to balloon and flourish in surprising ways. I began to notice age in some places — in the way the suppleness and flexibility I took for granted now resists when I push it, the way the skin on my face doesn’t spring back as easily as it used to, the way my digestion has visibly slowed, the tiger stripes that really stand out now, the way getting back to exercise was a bigger uphill task than I ever imagined it could ever be.

And yet, I’m grateful that with a little work, my body still does the things I want to do — whether it’s working my way up to a 5km run again, nailing push-ups again or doing a cartwheel on a whim. Yes, still got it.

I’m grateful for the awareness that all of these changes have come gently, slowly, with little to almost no panic for a change. There has been a very conscious awareness, yes, and it’s made me prioritise taking care of myself and my body in a way that feels very intentional. I’ve always had an eye for eating well, a penchant for fitness and staying fit and healthy, but somehow this feels very different from before when I held many fantastic (unrealistic) notions about my body.

I’m grateful that the rush has died down some. The rush to get somewhere, do this, be that, do more — that constant buzz in my head reminding me of time rushing by and there being so much left to do is dormant for the most part, and I’ve figured out how some tricks to shut it down, when it tends to get active from time to time.

This past year, I re-discovered deliberation. It’s brought a certain slowness and a calm, an ability to move with intention, that has really been another game-changer. It’s made me free-er in choosing which way I want to go, more open in accepting everything that has come my way, and just light and easy going in embracing it all.

A younger me might roll her eyes and scoff at me for turning soft. Maybe she’d balk at how little I hold on to anymore, and how fluid I’ve become. But it is what it is and it seems to work for me.

***

Just one birthday ago I wondered about whether I’ll ever really feel my age. For most of my life I haven’t felt exactly my age. I’ve always felt extremes — either too wise and old beyond my years sometimes, or just so young and naive for my age. This was mostly brought out in situations where I had other people my age to compare with. I’ve lived a large part of my life feeling like I never quite fit right.

This is changing, ever so slowly. I realised recently, that thanks to this newfound comfort I have begun to feel over the course of this past year, I have truly begun to feel my age. Not that I miraculously make myself fit, but that I am comfortable just the way I am, whether I fit or not. And so more often than not, it does feel like I fit.

Nothing feels out of sync, things don’t stick out and irk me as much, differences don’t hinder my experiences. I hold desires for doing more but the desperation to get there fast is slowly fading. I’m re-learning patience all the time. I’m comfortable in my skin, in my body, in the way I am, and the way I feel for the most part.

I don’t know if it’s a function of age or growing up, but I’m keenly aware that my time here is limited. So limited that I feel a strong need to make the most of it. Which is not so say I’ve drawn up a bucket list of impossible things like scuba diving and bungee jumping or visiting 10 countries in the next 10 years, I must tick off. I want to focus my time in spaces that matter to me, on things and people I love and am drawn to. I want to try and always say what I absolutely mean, be more honest, articulate and truthful in the relationships that matter, and try more and more to tell those people just how much they really mean to me.

I’m being constantly shown how often I need to redefine the many catch words that I hold on to — markers of things that are important to me — Peace. Success. Happiness. Care. Love. Strength. Joy. I’ve also learned that happiness and joy is not, and never needs to be, linked with perfection. Or success. Of any kind.

I am mostly bumbling along and stumbling over myself along this journey, but if there’s one thing I’m truly proud of, it’s how much I have been able tame that inner perfectionist in me. I’m grateful for having learned that it’s okay to change my mind. I’ve embraced softness as far as possible, in every area of my life that I can — softness with people, towards myself, with my body, with my dreams, with my emotions. I don’t see the need to be the kind of strong or hard that I once aspired to be.

This past year I relinquished control over the grand plans, a lot. Life has become so much about living the small everyday things, cheering myself on for the little wins, revelling in mundane daily happinesses and the utter smallness of it all. I’ve really been feeling this is where that joy — that I’ve so long believed lies in chasing the grand plans, the big picture, the distant future — is at. Right here. Now.

The nowness of life hits me on a daily basis, and it stays and lingers in a way that has made me feel very, very secure and steady. I put this down entirely to the course I did last year that altered my compass, pointed me closer to my true north. It’s made me see things so very differently, shifting my very perspective on everything, on life itself, 180 degrees. And there is just no unseeing it, no turning back. It has been like opening the curtains on a view I’ve known all along, but suddenly everything is brighter and beautiful.

Year 36, I’m so very ready for you.

Past birthdays: one year ago, three years ago, four years ago, five years ago, six years ago, seven years ago, eight years ago, nine years ago.

Acceptance

It’s been nearly a month since I made a sudden, unplanned departure and came to Goa. It has been an interesting, sometimes challenging month since, for VC and for the both of us. We’ve been mostly going about life, letting things unfold and pass in their own time. There have been some tremendous changes for me, during this time, and it has been interesting to see evidence of old patterns fall to the side, making way for new ways of being. As individuals, of course, but we’ve also seen how much that impacts what we bring to the table as a couple and how our relationship can change for the better. The biggest learning for me here, is how much work I have to do in taking him as he is, for the person he is, knowing where to let go, understanding what is not in my control, and that so often my love and adoration (no matter how well-meaning) for him cramps his style.

So this is yet another appreciation post. For VC. For many, many things — and I don’t want to go into listing them. But mostly for his mammoth levels of patience and acceptance of me, in taking me just the way I am. In all my ever-changing, ever-growing glory.

For as much as I chide him for being impatient, in a rush and for how he never gives anyone a proper chance in life in general, somehow, with me he is this gentle, patient being, with an immense capacity to just let me be, and watch from a distance while also always having my back.

Everything that I have been going through on my own has not all been easy for him, or on him. Not immediately and certainly not in the moments as they happen. So I like to take pauses like this, to pull back and to really acknowledge the goodness in him that makes so much of being me possible. If today I believe I have the space t be this version of me, it is because he has absolutely made space and accepted it. And for this, he has had to grow in slow and silent ways on his own too. I love you, VC. I don’t know how you do it, but time and time again, you do.

One year ago: Looking back, over my shoulder

Chance encounters

One of my big fears about coming back to Goa used to be facing some of the people I left behind when I moved. I say left behind because it’s what I did. My moving cities coincided with a gradual moving away from certain people. It was an inevitable, gradual shift in my mind, but I can see now how and why it must have seemed to them like an abrupt kind of abandoning. And so every time that I am here, I wonder about what it might be like to meet them again. Goa is a small place, and thanks to my workplace, my freelance work, the gym I went to my circles were all very mixed and I was in a social space where everybody knew everybody (that in itself was too much for me, and a big reason why I just wanted out). On past trips here, I’ve been unusually stressed about possible encounters, getting riled up at hearing about things they’ve said about me post my leaving, and such. But I underestimate myself, and the capacity of enough time having passed and the wonders it can do for growth.

It is my tendency to protect myself when I feel vulnerable and my insecurities are exposed, and so in the past I may have done things like measured and calculated my wandering within Goa in the hope that I do not encounter someone I do not want to meet. I didn’t realise when this phase had passed, because on day 1 here, I didn’t even think twice about walking to VC’s office and waiting at the entrance for him. This was unthinkable last year. I was engrossed in an email when a friend from back in the day approached me with a tap on the shoulder. I turned, and when I saw it was her, I instantly expected a wave of panic and rage to come over me.

But it didn’t come.

We chatted, exchanging mundane pleasantries. And then she said those dreaded words.

Let’s catch up sometime.

Again, I waited for the polite response to make its way out with extra faked gusto: Sure!

But it didn’t come.

In its place was a measured, polite It’s alright.

And maybe I was saying that more to myself than her? It’s alright to be me. It’s alright to be honest. It’s alright not to put myself in a place I know will not make me feel good. It’s alright not to want the company of people I have chosen to move away from. It’s alright.

I’m grateful for whatever it is that’s happening with me that has suddenly brought forth this ability to put myself first. Even if in little, seemingly minor ways. I’m enjoying cutting away a lot of the unnecessary politeness, that stemmed from wanting to be seen and known in a certain light, fall away. I am grateful for the openness to discover this confidence to be seen as I am.

Sometimes distant. Sometimes impolite. Sometimes aloof. I am all these things sometimes, and it’s been freeing to let these sides be seen too.

***

With VC, I feel like I’ve come home to a whole new-old person. Does that make sense? Do you know what it’s like to know someone, deep in your bones and be so familiar and used to it that when a big change strikes it sweeps you over and knocks you down just like the charm you felt the very first time you met them? Maybe he’s changed as much as I have and I needed to be here to really see it. Maybe I’ve changed and I had to be here to see how it all plays out and what possibilities it now opens up for us? Maybe this is the beginning of something new and there was no way to unlock it than to come here. I’m grateful for the visible changes. I’m grateful for VC. I’m glad I came.

***

The very next day after I got to Goa, I visited A who has suddenly taken very ill. Last week, I sat in Bangalore, worried sick, helplessly wondering what I could do to make a difference. Distance is such a bitch at times like this. I’ll be there in two weeks. I’d said to JC then, feebly, feeling so inadequate and hopeless for not being able to be around when they’re dealing with so much on their own.

I guess it was just meant to be because here I am two weeks ahead of plan, and A got out of the ICU and came back home the same night that I landed. Which meant, I could see her immediately.

I know I went there for her. To be present, to offer support, to check in on her. But it was oddly fulfilling for me. There is an openness and welcoming nature she has that always, always makes me feel so warm and happy. I think even if 20 years go by and we meet again, I will feel this again. As I often worry about friends in Goa and having to start over in a pool that is already small, made smaller still by my very efficient first round of selection, I’m grateful for people like A who make me time and time again feel that it will be okay.

***

Of course I also went to visit D, Olive and Lego on day 1. The pups greeted me with exuberant jumping and many licks, hyper sniffing and loud demands for biscuits. All of this lasted much longer than usual. I am tempted to say it was the doggy bag of tandoori chicken that was parcelled in my bag, but I also want to say maybe it’s just that they remember me. And they are always so unabashed in showing that they remember, and welcome me back home. As per the norm, D and I chatted on and on and as per the norm, I caused her to miss her siesta again.

I like that we can pick up from wherever, whenever. Despite being emotionally all over the place in our own respective ways of late, I like that the prolonged silences do not get in the way. I’m truly grateful that I don’t have to pretend, or make extra overtures to bridge them. I can be what I am, the way I am and we still have a world of things to talk about, or sit in silence together, equally.

***

I know why I resisted coming here sooner than planned so much. It’s because the circumstances brought out these latent fears full force, and I was just not ready to face them. But today I think maybe I needed this. As much as VC did. Because it’s been just a few days and, I felt it the very next morning. I felt like something very fundamental that I was missing in the last few weeks has suddenly been found.

In many ways I feel like I have come full circle, and I feel today, like I did one day two years ago when I finally made some sense (and peace) with moving to Bangalore.

I just had a strangely serendipitous conversation with VC about how sometimes one has to really go the distance to learn something very basic. It seems like an unnecessary journey, and sometimes the upheaval seems disproportionate to the truth learned, but it is how it is.

One year ago: A life of stranger things
Three years ago: Busy bee day

New ground

It’s going to be six months since VC moved to Goa and I decided to stay on in Bangalore. I have travelled here a lot, and we have actually not been apart for very long periods during this time. But even so, I feel it has impacted us in many positive ways.

Sometimes I feel I cannot get enough of this solitary life and I lose myself in thoughts about the future, the worry that this blissful new-found joy will come to a premature end eating me up. But there are also moments when I miss the everyday togetherness of our life, the comfort and intimacy of a life together, the familiarity in a rhythm that renders words redundant, makes mere movements suffice, and I long to be with VC enough to want to impulsively buy an overpriced ticket to fly off immediately.

I suppose those are the two most obvious, yet opposing feelings. They both exist, and accepting that two equally has been a journey in itself. Nonetheless, this time away and apart has been transformative for me. I have had the luxury of a support system, a city that I have grown to love and that really works for me just now, three homes to choose from, and abundant company and bodies around me whether or not loneliness strikes. VC on the other hand, has lived the truly solitary life, shuttling between work and his home-for-one, and pretty much staying afloat all on his own in the way he knows how. The experiences and effects of each have been drastically different for the both of us.

Our lives now look entirely different. Not just from the way they used to be when we lived together, but also from the way each others lives as individuals are. And one of the things I have enjoyed observing is how far apart our disparate lives can and have moved. Conversely, thoughts about whether they might meet again, and when and how that might be, follow close after.

Back in 2016 when we first contemplated the idea of living apart to see what a little space could do for us, VC was the first to suggest it. I wanted to move to another country and VC was undecided. I wasn’t entirely ready for the distance. I was open, but apprehensive. I’ve ended potential relationships in the past because long distance relationships frightened the hell out of me. So to actively choose this of our own volition, when it would be the easiest thing for us to just be together has been interesting.

As I work on myself, I’m slowly discovering the many, many misconceptions I have about the idea of space. In life, in relationships, in my physical world. What it is to give and take emotional space? How can I make space for love change and growth and all the many things I want in my life, even as I give of myself to people and things around me? As I navigate my way, finding new sense and context to the aspect of space, I realise the work is in finding what works for the person I am today.

I’ve watched in fascination as the changes have slowly crept in. Into my life, into some key relationships in my life, into my marriage, and certainly into my physical world too. Whether it’s the little act of taking up two cupboards instead of one, or going out all on my own, how I carry myself, how I feel within the space my body occupies, or feeling unabashedly, righteously upset to have the flow of my routine upset by this unexpected travel — I’m seeing surprising shifts all the time.

***

The predominant reason for the muddle of anxiety and fear that I have unconsciously harboured over the last few weeks has been the sinking feeling (almost a premonition) that sooner or later something will happen to make me move to Goa. And it’s something I am not ready to do, yet. I’m not done soaking up all the space I’ve made for myself. Whether physically — enjoying living alone, exploring my city and my interests on my own, travelling, or even emotionally and spiritually — experiencing what it is to be alone sometimes, lonely sometimes, how it is to be tethered to relationships even as I hold my space and play with re-making  boundaries in this new reality.

In essence, this time apart has given me the space to be me again. The me I’d blended away and mushed up into marital roles, gender stereotypes, stuffed into the only kind of life I knew to live in Goa (where my adult and partnered lives both really began). The time apart has given me the space to dig out old facets of me that lay in hibernation, and it has given life to new facets to emerge, alike. Sometimes, on an idle moment when I catch myself saying or doing something I would deem so “uncharacteristic” of me, I take myself by surprise. Quickly, I remind myself that perhaps this is in fact not our of character at all. It is characteristic of the me I am now.

The claiming of space, cultivating it and nurturing it slowly over the last many months has been precious. Through therapy, writing and constant witnessing of my life, I have built this step by step. And I’m only getting started,

So the fear is real. The fear 0f having to lose this new, hard-won space, freedom and being, so quickly. I’ve only just dipped my toes in, and I want to deep dive in this, still. So the question arises again — when and how will our disparate lives meet again? And can they meet without either of us blending away into each other once again? What impact could a life bound by a certain geography (Goa) have on me? Will it bring back the inherent compromises to my life that it did back then? Or will this new me navigate these same spaces differently this time around?

***

Just two days ago when I was experiencing heightened anxiety, I felt hollowed out and like I was melting away, at the mere thought of what this sudden trip to Goa means, and if maybe it’s the beginning of the inevitable move that looms large. As I fought it hard and even as I found myself digging my heels in, I had vivid images of having to jump back into a life and an existence that feels so small and constricted, that I wanted to do nothing but dissolve and disappear through the gaps and cracks.

But the new me has surprised me yet again. Just two days of being here already, there has surprisingly been no talk of moving back (in a hurry or otherwise). I find myself at peace. Where I felt hollow and like I was dissolving, I now feel full and alive. The shaky ground beneath my feet now feels solid and sturdy. I’m here now. I don’t have to run.

In the smallest ways, I can feel my body adapting to what it is to really be with someone, to share space, without having to dissolve myself or melt away to make space. I’m discovering what it is to be a support for another, without destabilising myself, how it’s possible to relate but not at the expense of myself. I can be whole, even as I am with the other. I can be myself, even as I am being there for the other. And what a frighteningly refreshing way to be this is.

For now, I’m taking small sips at it, rather than rushing to gulp this experience down greedily. I’m taking tender, gentle steps, my body slowly taking shape and space, yet again. I feel like this is a whole new opportunity to grow, yet again.

One year ago: March
Three years ago: Because everything is never as it seems

Love-filled

I feel soft and full of love today.

***

Today, I cooked the first proper meal all by myself in my home. I’ve had the extreme, extreme luxury of hopping over to my parents place for every single meal since I got back from holiday over ten days ago. Between feeling disoriented and resuming a killer workout schedule that has rendered my movement in the rest of the day a little compromised, and a whole week of hectic social activities, I have unabashedly leaned on amma and her unrelenting capacity to give and keep giving. Whether it’s hot meals, breakfast every single day, her car whenever I need it (which has been every day these days *eyeroll*) and just generally being that fall back I always have. It has meant I didn’t have to stock up my kitchen till yesterday, I didn’t have to worry about my nutrition as I stepped into the 6-week program, I didn’t have to do a thing other than show up and be fed with wholesome, nutritious food.

S is coming over for lunch today, so I decided to cook rather than order in or go out. While cooking this morning, I realised that to be able to slip into domesticity as and when I feel like, rather than bound by necessity is such a game-changer at this present time of my life. This is one of the big issues I fought in Goa, right before I left. I felt bound and tied down by some parts of domesticity, and constantly felt like doing them was keeping me from doing the things I really wanted to. I feel grateful for the proximity to my parents that allows this, for amma’s constant presence and support in ways I don’t even have to ask for, and for how life sometimes conspires to make possible the smallest, seemingly insignificant details of my life a reality, and for how hugely that impacts my life.

***

I woke up this morning feeling fresh as a new summer day. I’ve been having some incredibly good sleep since resuming working out harder. My digestion feels more settled, my skin feels better — these, and some other small niggling physical changes in my system that had begun to creep up last year seem to be on the wind-down. It’s amazing what a little extra movement, some essential burning of excess energy and regulation in food and hydration can do. I’m grateful for another opportunity to workout with S. For the new sneakers I got this past week. For access to a gym so close to home. For summer mornings that make waking up easier. For VC’s constant, unquestioning support in this area of my life.

One year ago: Somebody holds the key
Three years ago: Silence

Things that are shiny and new

right now. These events, these feelings are just so precious, I want to cradle them in my palms lined with baby blue cotton, so they’ll remain unbroken, yet fragile for long as I can help it.

So I don’t forget this little milestone:

  1. Vulnerability for precious vulnerability sake. Not as a tool for validation. Not even to measure my worth in my own eyes.
  2. Vulnerability with myself first — and how it is deeply linked with the most honest, authentic connection with my inner self.
  3. Laughing at myself and some of the rubbish narratives I’ve built and held for so long.
  4. Deeply honest conversations with VC, that are pushing the levels of empathy and understanding in me, showing me reserves that I didn’t know I had.
  5. Making a new kind of space for us, redefining our relationship.

One year ago: People say I should forget

The last of the despatches from Benaras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baffling Benaras

So, Benaras had been on my wish-list for so long, oh so many, many years, that I actually forgot/lost track of it somewhere along the way. I remember having a conversation with VC about 5-6 years ago after my parents and sister had visited, saying we should go too, and I remember him being most disinterested — “What’s to do there?”

We’ve always had very different motivations to travel. I’m more about the sights and sounds and different kinds of experiences, I find forests as exciting as cities, and I enjoy history and heritage as much as I do the nothingness of a beach. VC is and always has been all about the photography and for a bit in between, the videography (as his Instagram will reveal).

A place was worthy of visiting only if there was something to do there, ie: photo-worthy locations to scout. Even in this, cityscapes, historic/heritage places have never been his thing. As a result, our inclinations to travel and the destinations we’d pick often do not converge. This has meant that I’ve done a fair share of travel by myself, or with my family, my friends, without him. Lately though, I’ve noticed a change in him, in this respect. Where there was once absolutely no curiosity about places that didn’t fall into his very narrow category of an inviting destination, there is now a willingness to at least experience it, and a readiness to go even if no great pictures come out of it.

I was aghast when he announced to me in January that we were going to Benaras. He had decided it singlehanded, on my behalf. He was right to assume I’d want to go. I had absolutely no complains, no inputs even. I just go on board from the word go, and only gave him the nudge by doing my share of research about which area to Benaras to base ourselves in and where to stay.

As it turns out no amount of research can actually ever really, fully prepare you for what a place is really like. We chose to base ourselves about a 400 mt walk away from Dashashwamedh Ghat, which VC picked because he’d figured it’s one of the most widely frequented places in Benaras by photographers of the world. But we didn’t realise the interiors of the older parts of the city along the ghats and banks of the river are mostly not motorable. Old Benaras is mostly a labyrinth-like maze of narrow alleyways, haphazardly cobbled, with homes packed close and high on either side and doors opening almost by surprise right on to the door. Everything happens in these alleys — shops open, little eateries with their coal-fueled stoves right on the road, old women gather around for a chat, school kids run amok, cows and buffaloes amble about very, very slowly, and sometimes two wheelers zip through recklessly.

It can be dizzying and quite confusing to navigate, even with Google maps on hand. It’s also mindbogglingly filthy with open drains, sewerage flowing through in parts, plenty of trash just thrown all around, and lots and lots and lots of shit. Real and proper shit. Open defecation is real in this country. And then there’s cow dung, to top it all. So yeah, it was fascinating to navigate this every time we had to get from the hotel to a spot to shoot, or catch lunch or even just venture out for a meal in the evening.

On the up-side the location was perfect for what we were there to do — explore these parts on foot and get pictures. We didn’t take a single cab or rickshaw the entire time that we were there, until we had to head back to the airport.

The thing that hit me the hardest all through the trip was the extreme levels of filth. I was forewarned but nothing, nothing, could have prepared me for the levels of filth I witnessed. More than the actual filth itself I was severely disturbed by how easily life seemed to go on around it. Sidestepping piles of shit, people stepping out of their homes to casually take a leak or a dump right in the street outside their homes — I couldn’t get over the numbness towards it. It also made me feel very aware of my privilege as well as how out of touch I am with these realities in the far reaches of this country that seem to exist our of sheer lack of choice. I can’t imagine anyone being okay with these living conditions out of choice.

All of this was doubly baffling and disturbing to witness in the landscape of one of the most religious and “pure” places of interest in the country. And this is exactly the sort of paradox that Varanasi is full of.

I haven’t digested so much of what I saw and observed and all that I felt — a rousing sense of rage, confusion, disbelief and helplessness at how terrible things really are in our country. And how much we are falling prey to an excellent PR campaign. The conversations I had with some of the locals really brought to the fore a deep dissonance between what they believe and what the reality right before their eyes is. How did things get this bad?

And yet, I believe this was a good trip. Eye-opening in more ways than one. We experienced a kind of raw and unpolished kind of holiday very very unlike anything we’d usually pick for ourselves. The pictures and the food — essentially what we went for — didn’t disappoint. I put that down to the advantages of getting down and dirty instead of slick and fancy.

One year ago: Everyday is blue Monday

Back to base

There’s something still very exciting about getting in a capsule of metal and hurtling through the skies at gravity defying speeds to be in places much, much faster than you could I’d you chose to go by road.

I’m feeling very grateful for the capacity to do this as often as I do, and for the possibilities it affords. But I’m even more grateful that VC is on board with the idea, after many years of dismissing it as “too much kheti“.

Today began at 5 am again. But only to catch our flight back to Bangalore. We touched base only for enough time to catch lunch and do a batch of laundry before jetting off to watch Captain Marvel. And OMFFGGGGG it was so meta. And so damn good. So posts about the food and the rest of Benaras will have to wait while I pick my brains off the floor and recompose.

Until then, ta.

Three years ago: Pretending to be brave

Mornings in Benaras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three years ago: No. Just no.

In-between

Bye, Bangalore.

Hi, Goa.

I don’t know if this feeling of landing up here and feeling right at home, especially now that there is a home to go to, will ever get old. It was so nice to come to a familiar space, sleep in a bed that’s mine and wake up and make myself coffee and eggs in a kitchen that’s mine.

Considering how much I have been enjoying Bangalore, and all the changing feelings I’ve been experiencing, it felt like an odd time to be going away. But I have been missing VC dearly. I suspect he has too. And, it’s always a good time for a Goa break. This time around I’m also looking forward to three days in a workshop, hopefully off the grid on the island I’m going off to.

Three years ago: Light and shadow

Stoking the friendship fire

Just marvelling at what a quiet, content, contained week I’ve had. Even as I had some difficulties with feelings about people, letting go and an overwhelming sense of loneliness again that came bubbling up, it’s been such a good week, now that I can pull back and look at it with some perspective.

I’m constantly amused, amazed and filled with humility about how much connection (something that I have been harping on and on about) has actually started finding its way to me. It’s coming in ways and means outside of what I am used to, and not always strictly through channels that I want it in. So I often miss it, but my God when I open my eyes and start noticing it, it fills me up in such an amazing way.

So it’s oddly nice to be ending this week feeling content, with this realisation, because I started the week feeling rather quiet and alone (the two seem to go hand in hand sometimes, no?)

My ideas of friendship, of empathy and of what I expect and want from people in my life is being tested literally every single day, of late. It’s like life forcing me to challenge what I have believed so far, and as always that process brings up so much sadness because it means I have to finally face up to many hurts that have been staring me in the face, and that I have avoided. It means I have to re-evaluate where I stand with the people who have caused me said hurt. And sometimes it means I have to just let go. Either of the feeling, or of the person. Sometimes, both. And that is never easy, even when I am fully aware it’s the best outcome possible.

When D and I spoke early this week, I realised how much I lean on her for support, even without really articulating it or even asking for it. Even with everything she has going on, she is somehow there for me. So many times the being there, isn’t literal. It’s a feeling. It’s an unspoken connection. A trust, a space I know I have. And I have been using it unconsciously, in more ways than one.

I said something similar to N too. We may not speak every single day, I know how much she is also processing at the moment and how much time and space that needs. Yet, I know she reads my blog and that is our way to connect right now. Because every now and then, she sends me a message with an insight — either a similar realisation she’s had, a common experience, something to read or a picture — that I feel an instant resonance with, or that will challenge me and give me a lot to think about. We don’t have to go into details about what we’re going through, but in the exchange of a few messages and conversation around it, I feel a sense of togetherness. That she is there for me. Miles away, but connected.

VC and I have been having unusually (for us) long conversations too. Time and time again, my relationship with him is testimony to the old adage about how we can go roaming the world looking for what is sometimes right under our noses. I have always cherished the connection I have with VC, but I feel like these days I cherish what it is slowly growing into, and I wait with eagerness to see where it will go to next.

And then there is S, who had a massive world of woes of her own to deal with. It was an entire shit-fest of massive proportions that made everything that I was dealing with pale in comparison. But with her, I have the capacity to bring even that little trouble up front, and know that it will be heard. In between stressful exchanges about unpaid fees and the anxiety in the pit of her stomach, I found the capacity to share my seemingly trivial worry, and she put her own worry aside for a minute to hear me out and be there for me. I latched on to it, shamelessly, as I realise is the liberty one can and should take with a precious few friends who will have it. We spent an entire day together, just staying in, mostly quiet and contemplative, talking about everything that we have had going on in our lives and our minds. Just reconnecting. It was a day I needed so much, I realised once I was back home.

Last week, while I was semi-moping about this hurt and letting go, I had an unexpectedly affirming conversation with a complete stranger. It was entertaining and refreshing in the moment. But in retrospect I realised it was an inflection point for me. My reaction, my behaviour in the instant was such a departure from what I have known to be me. It was a moment of realising something deeply fundamental has changed. My heart has opened in more ways than I am even aware of. And it’s exciting to witness this transformation in me.

Last week I also had a record number of comments and emails from readers of the blog. Affirming and filled with a sense of resonance and connection of its own.

***

There’s so much about connection that I am in the process of redefining. Clearly, this is the time to do it, given how much this deep longing for the presence of people has been coming up for me. Look at what it means and what is changing is essential to ensuring that I receive what is now coming my way, in the best way possible. I know for certain nothing about what is emerging, is coming from the backlog of what once was. This seems to be all new. It has a decidedly fresh energy and is emerging from a space of newness.

Connection isn’t about proximity or affinity, even. It isn’t about likeness, familiarity. Sometimes it isn’t even as much about vulnerability and empathy. Or about deep, intense conversations.

This last week alone, I connected with a stranger who launched straight into chatter about ZNMD, with as much intensity as I had a deep midday conversation with N about how friendship has changed for her. I feel closer and connected to VC and D in Goa, as much as I do to S who lives in my city but so far off that we don’t meet too often. So many of my conversations this past week affirmed the quietness of connection. So often that connection happens in literal silence, in the space where I hear and am being heard. No responses, no overtures of love and understanding, no sympathy needed. Just the space to be present to what is being felt, is enough.

That, precisely that, is what I have been missing and craving for so, so, so, so long. And it is what I have felt show up in a glimmer here and a shimmer there this past week.

These days, these are the moments that give me life.

One year ago: And so it is the shorter story
Three years ago: Time bubble

On duality

A lot happened while I was sitting by this window, several times last week. A difficult conversation, a deeply life-affirming conversation on the back of that difficult one, some uplifting realisations, that delicious chicken sandwich I had the good fortune of eating two days in a row, reading this incredible piece on the psychological benefits of isolation (in a week where I have contemplated being alone versus feeling lonely, SO MUCH), and finally an internal settling and reckoning with the inherent duality in much of this.

Yes, these have been emotionally challenging times, but the sum-total of my life isn’t challenging. There’s both. They co-exist.

I am often sad, emotional and feeling the void in terms of safe and dependable spaces in which to share all of this. But my life isn’t entirely lacking space. There are spaces and I’m only waking up to the fact that the space is but half of the equation. Making myself available, and discovering deeper vulnerability is the crucial other half. There’s space, and there’s the difficulty of making use of the space. There’s both. They co-exist.

Yes, I love, cherish and choose my time alone. But I am not an isolated introvert. I also crave connection and meaningful experiences with people. There’s both. They co-exist.

Yes, I’ve had a cycle of making, breaking, losing, walking away from and discovering new relationships. But that script does not define who I am. Much as I sometimes coax myself into believing that it must be something in me that makes it so I’ve realised this is a direct consequence of growth, evolution and a steadfast commitment to a deeply personal goal (happily, echoed by The Atlantic piece linked above). There’s the grief of losing people, and the joy in gaining them in unequal measure. There’s both. They co-exist.

Yes, it sucks to accept it. I have tried all my life to fight it, and I’ve lived that fight out by repeatedly reconnecting with relationships that are clearly over and whose purpose was long served; by trying to make amends where there is little hope for it; by looking for empathy and listening where there is none available; by giving my heart to people who don’t know what to do with it; and by using my energy and resources in salvaging relationships that don’t deserve it. And try as I might to fight accepting it, this is just the way it is. However, it does not make me the woman who pushes people away. I am just the person who is constantly searching for deeper, authentic relationships, and sometimes has to let go of those that don’t met the bar. So there is always that lack of “large numbers” of people and the deeply meaningful relationships with few. There’s both. They co-exist.

Yes, sometimes this means I have to have difficult conversations at difficult junctures in these relationships, but it also means I am better and stronger in my relationships for it. Yes, there is fear, but there is courage right on the other side of it, and together it makes a wholesome, healthy kind of relationship. The kind I have been dying to have in my life. There’s crippling fear. But there is also courage. There’s both. They co-exist.

Yes, currently, VC is the only person with whom I allow myself the vulnerability I strive for. The only place where I can stretch myself, push those boundaries and see what happens. It is simultaneously testing and liberating. It makes me simultaneously miss him, and also feel so grateful for this physical distance between us. There’s both. They co-exist.

So often, in the quest to love forward and shed the old, I accidentally reject crucial parts of myself, when really the process this time around has been about integrating it all in a healthier manner. Such a subtle but crucial difference in realising that I can simultaneously move forward and grow old parts of myself. I can do both. They can co-exist.

***

I’ve been in such a rush to get through this “challenging” time these past 6-8 weeks. My Type A side kicking in instantly, throwing all the wisdom of slowing down out the window. It was a good few weeks before I realised this was happening. That I had made a project and a mission out of it, working out a plan, making a set of to-dos to tackle this. When all I really needed to do was put my head down, keep at therapy and just let the rest go.

This past weekend in class, I became aware of the inherent duality of pretty much all the feelings I have juggled this week. There is the difficulty of facing all of this all of a sudden as it comes up in waves — challenges, sadness, grief, loss and loneliness — before the wave passes and I can come up for a big gulp of air again.

I see the sun, I feel the breeze, I feel alive again. These are precious moments of release, of light, of joy and of life.

In coming to terms with changing so rapidly, I have felt physically altered, if that’s even possible. Some altogether new things have happened — this surprising need t face fear and confrontation more often than not, for one — and some old facets have made a comeback — I’m waking up early and chirpy again, I’m enjoying exercising again.

So much about growth and change is embracing parts old and new. Some forgotten, some that have receded, some that are slowly coming back, and others that are all new.

I am old, filled with comforting bits of familiar, old selves. And I am all new, shiny, and unexpected. Not all that is old need be entirely lost or given away. And not all that is new may define me for good.

There’s both. They co-exist.

***

Not lost on me is the irony that the window at Koshy’s where I have always loved to sit has changed too. For one, Koshy’s is spanking new — shiny, white and scrubbed clean. The bamboo chicks have been taken off and the light streams through. It’s all new. But the quintessential slow and easy character remains.

There’s both. They co-exist.

One year ago: I’ve been reading books of old
Three years ago: Emptying my cup