Postcards from Goa

It’s been such an overwhelming week. Sensory overload. Hectic, tiring, physically taxing. Mentally and emotionally too, Ive felt stretched. But it has also been so satisfying.

Details to follow. But for now, thank you Goa, for a sparkly time, yet again. And before I head off to location two, here’s a few postcards from the past week spent wandering in spots I’ve roamed countless times, that I got to see through new eyes.

As a traveller. As a visitor. As an outsider. As an assistant to a film maker. As a professional on assignment.

Looking at everything anew sometimes makes all the difference.

Same time, last year: Day 293: Stuff

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Nine

Nine. NINE! VC, it’s been nine years. I remember writing this post, overwhelmed that we’d hit the half-decade mark, like it was just yesterday. And this morning, I pointed out that today we’ve officially entered the double-digits. Next year it will be a decade since we got married.

The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same. It’s a old and overused cliche, but I can’t think of a better way to describe what it’s like being married to you. The change bit holds only too true for the past year. 2016-17 will go down as the year everything changed. Our professional paths, the painful changes in the run up to accepting that we’d have to leave Goa, moving back to Bangalore, figuring stuff out in the city once again, all the teething issues – physically and emotionally, setting up your new business — never before have we experienced such a huge quantum of change in such a short span of time.

You know what else changed this year? Our communication. I’ve always taken solace and quiet comfort in the knowing that we’ve always had a healthy level of honesty and good communication, but with everything that happened last year, I feel like we were thrust into a whole new level of brutal honesty that we didn’t know existed. I’ll admit it gets very tiring sometimes being the one to initiate us on this path, and constantly be the one digging deeper to find out what lies beneath the surface — our feelings, our opinions, our desires, our dreams — but I’ve realised there is no other way I’d rather have it.

I’ve seen far too many examples of marriages falling apart of late, where the fundamental reason boiled down to the inability to either face and voice the truth, or to accept and embrace it. So I’m extremely grateful for the space we share between us, where pretty much nothing is taboo. I can’t think of too many other relationships that give me this sense of safety. This space for extreme honesty is so, so, very cherished, and you have to know how much you (unconsciously, perhaps) have done to encourage me to speak nothing but the truth. Even when it was to finally realise and admit to myself, and you, that given the way my life has traversed this past year, I do feel that maybe we married too soon.

I broke down momentarily in therapy when I came to this realisation, because I expected to feel the predictable sense of regret. But to my surprise tears made way for relief. I felt so oddly free to be able to see what I had just articulated for what it is, and immediately I knew I was absolutely going to be able to share it with you. I know and believe and feel so thankful to have the kind of relationship with you that enables me to speak this, right to your face, no words minced. And to have us look at the fact with enough distance that is needed to learn the lessons in here, but enough keenness to know what to do with this awareness, and where to go with it. And that’s just what we did, it’s how we embarked on this most unexpected turn of events that has landed us in Bangalore. I do believe this is just the beginning, though, and that a change in cities has so little to do with the city itself, but that we have been presented an opportunity t dig even deeper.

This year, I feel stronger, more whole and at peace than I have ever before in my entire life. Therapy (with all the upheaval it brings in its aftermath), through which you have stood by me like an absolute rock, turned me into an absolute blithering mess at times. I talked nine to a dozen, rambling, losing the plot many a time, voicing and airing a lot of rubbish on the way to finding my clarity. Even as I was going through many of those sessions of verbal diarrhoea, I remember wondering if it might be painful to be at the receiving end of this all the time. It didn’t stop me, though. And it didn’t make you stop me either.

I’m where I am largely because you supported me entirely in getting here. I said last year that much of this exploration began because I was able to give myself the permission to do so. I allowed myself to let go of so much, because you constantly reminded me how important it was to put a premium on myself and do whatever I needed to, to feel whole again.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

I hope you never muddle your sense of responsibility towards me and this marriage, to lose sight of your personal goals and dreams. Which is why I want you to know that my wish for us this year, and going forward, is that you remember all those things you keep telling me. And I wish and hope that I can be there for you, like you have for me.

This year, I see you at the start of your journey of self-exploration, similar to the spot I was in a couple of years ago. I hope you’ll remember that I’ve always got your back. I may not bring home the bacon, but I’ve really, really, got your back. You can lean on me. I’m here for the talk as much as I am for when you need the silence of comfortable companionship. I’m here for the ride as much as I am for when we need to stay still. I’m here for the plateaus as much as I am change.

I want to go back to one little thing I said on our anniversary last year. It was a liberating, life-changing realisation then. And it holds true even today.

I feel like today, more than ever, is a good day for a reminder.

This year, more than every before, I realised that being together has little to do with being together. Not to take for granted how wonderful it is to have a roomie to come back to, someone to hold at night when the fear of the dark envelops me, someone to lean on when I’m scared or lonely, someone to share a laugh with in a way that only we can understand. But I realised that growing old together involves taking routes that aren’t always going to run in parallel, or end up in the same place. It is possible to be together and yet give each other the space to be apart – in what we do, in where we go, and in how we blossom. And for the first time in all our years together, and my vehement stand on long-distance relationships, I have opened myself up to the idea of living apart. It will mean spreading our wings in different directions, and I don’t mean that just literally. I hope we explore it someday, because I think it will only take us a step up from here.

Happy anniversary my superstar. I haven’t done a very good job of being around the last few weeks and months since we moved to Bangalore. But I want you to know you’re a champ, my absolute trooper and I can’t wait to see what the months ahead hold for you.

As for the ride taking you there, I’m all in.

You’ve got me. I’ve got your back.

I love you so very much.

***

Same time, last year: Day 252: Eight

Past anniversaries: sevensixfivefourthreetwoone.

2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

Day 358: Home is where the yellow roses are

VC is not usually one to feel the need to state the obvious. He sees no need to tell me he misses me, or that he wishes I was around. For one, he assumes it is understood, and doesn’t need constant repetition. He doesn’t find it endearing. So the only two occasions this year that he explicitly stated the fact that he missed me, I knew there was good reason for expressing himself. This time, I was away for longer than usual. It felt even longer so, with all the hopping travel and transit through multiple modes of transport. While I was enjoying my time away, and at home in Bangalore, I was suddenly told I was being missed. And that I should perhaps lay off on the travel and just “be with me” for a bit. Hein, yeh kya hua? I thought to myself, but brushed the thought aside almost immediately, thinking VC was yanking my chain, or being unnecessarily dramatic. It was only when I landed in Goa at 10 pm last night, and was picked up by VC who came bearing a bouquet of yellow roses, that I realised just how serious he really was. This year has seen one heck of a lot of travel. For both VC and I. Separately. Which has meant a fair bit of time spent apart. It has been altogether wonderful. While I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on my own, home and away, and I know VC has too, I think it has allowed us an opportunity to really miss each other again. And even though I cannot actually remember the last time VC gave me yellow roses, for no damned reason, I haven’t forgotten what they mean. 


Day 357: Cutting the fat

If there’s one unifying theme that ties all my travels, in and out of Goa this year, it has been the spontaneity that kicked all plans to action and the unbelievable effortlessness right through every one of them. Well, that’s if you discount the effort it took to find enough cash to carry in hand before we hit the road last week – *eyerollllll* – but that aside, effortless. And it has a lot to do with the kind of people I was surrounded with, on each of those occasions.

Of course when I think of effortlessness, actual instances of smooth, near-flawless and easy planning and events come to mind. But really, it’s so much deeper. It’s been so long since I have experienced this kind of light, clear and direct quality of relationship in my life that I have come to value all that it brings with it. A large part of which is this effortlessness. The easy way in which personalities, no matter how disparate, plans, people, just fit. And by fit I mean, making it work, without necessarily getting enmeshed or tangled.

I realised this with astounding clarity as S and I were quickly calculating out expenses on the return leg of our trip, over hot filter coffee at the A2B we’d stopped it. The entire exercise was a good reflection of how most of our trips, and some others that I took, have been this year. No loud haggling, no complains, no mismatched expectations, no effort. Very quickly and simply, we knew what we’d spent and how it was to be divided and who owed who what. Done and dusted.

Perhaps it is the slowing down of time, being free from routine and allowing time to empty out your mind that makes room for mini epiphanies like this. Earlier this year R, S and I had a conversation about why some combinations of people work better than others, and all three of us agreed on the high premium we placed on effortlessness and a complete distaste for drama and passive aggressions. Increasingly, I find myself gravitating to effortless people with whom I have an effortless equation. So much so that I notice the daunting, weighted and complex relationships have withered away rather, well, effortlessly. Without trying too hard. Earlier, I would be het up about it. Now, the aftermath is effortless too.

I’ve learned this from VC a long, long time ago – trimming the fat in all my relationships – and on returning form this trip I felt rather pleased to realise it’s become an unconscious, effortless part of my life. I don’t know if this makes me lazy, but it’s not that I want to stay away form putting in an effort or investing in relationships. It’s more about investing in less drama, more honesty and clarity. And I’m extremely glad and grateful I am finally in a place in life where I am surrounded by people who feel the same way, understand and respect it as much as I do. It has made a lot of the events in the last year less painful, less intense and less demanding of emotion and heartache. But most of all, I’m glad I have started to parse people and tell the genuinely effortless relationships apart from those that inevitably leech. I’m better for it.

Day 337: November

It’s December.

That escalated really quickly. And even within this year that seems to be in such a rush to slip through my fingers, while I’m still trying to get a grip, November was the fastest month of them all. It really, well and truly went by in a flash. And like I just said the other day, that only ever happens when you’re either having way too much fun, or you just have way too much happening in general. And the past month was a bit of both for me. Practically half the month went by in a holiday blur, and the other half went by in recovery, a little skulking around trying hard to normalise again, and a week with my sister. And poof, the month was done.

I have to pinch myself to check if this is really happening. How are we already in November? Wasn’t I just here, dealing with way too much at once, and feeling completely at sea?

But November was a month of contrasts. If the first half was spent zipping around, wheels on my heels, the second was spent being a homebody. Where the first half had be getting out and about, the second half had me avoiding everyone. For the first two weeks of the month I felt so upbeat and confident and with it, and the second half saw me nosediving a bit, trying to get it together again.

It all started with Diwali, which was actually the most non-Diwali-like Diwali of all time. It was a combination of many things — pre-holiday excitement mixed with a complete lack of enthusiasm for anything even remotely social — that led to having a meh festival. But I don’t mean to complain. It was a good day, and what was telling was the completely effortless way in which not doing anything after all these years felt normal.

I was wrapping up a lot of loose ends at work and barely had any time to really post in the first week of November. So there was the recap of October, some reading I shared, and before I knew it I was off on my long-winding trip across multiple cities, continents and modes of transport.

VC and I had planned separate holidays over the same period. This was a first for us, and I realised this is the first year we haven’t taken a single holiday together, but on the other hand we’ve traveled so much, separately. While I landed in Bangkok and was able to post from a quaint little cafe with wifi, VC was in the boonies of Goa where he had cycled to. I’ll admit, despite being en route to my very own exotic location, I was a tad envious.

But it was silly being envious, because I can (and we’re already planning this) always repeat the cycling trip in Goa. Thailand on the other hand was special. I can’t say epic or fantastic in the way that one might imagine girlie-trips in Thailand could be. This was special, most of all for the sunsets, quiet company, the epiphanies, the books, and the chance to go home again.

That’s the short version. For the longer version with excruciating detail, read this post about day one in Bangkok, the almost-week on an island, and the slightly bizarre and insanely fun return to Bangkok.

After that, and the bonus of spending time at home with the parentals, something strange happened. For the very first time ever, I had a serious case of blues to be back in Goa. Again, this was very telling. With every passing day I feel the curtains closing on my time here. And in small and big ways, in moments that take me by surprise, I realise I must accept this sooner rather than later. My usual unpacked-and-back-to-normal routine was shot to bits this time. I was lethargic, sluggish and sad for a whole week during which I got very little constructive work done, aside from tending to emails, doing the bare minimum amount of work, and reading. And then my sister arrived! Which called for interruptions in programming again.

Aside from the restful holiday, the other bright part of November was coming back to an abundance of published work that had either been sitting on the bench or waiting for a publishing date. What followed was a sudden tidal wave of payments, of course. But in a surprising turn of events, this month I also had a shockingly high number of inquiries for work. Thank you, universe.

Somewhere in between, I also watched and ranted about Dear Zindagi. And about a new Instagram disease called fashionblogging.

I’m in a strange headspace. On the one hand things are moving swimmingly. On paper, I have a fantastic life. But inside, it constantly feels like a gentle storm is brewing. I have bouts of lethargy alternating with restlessness. I realise a lot of this is a by product of on-going therapy, which is also a reason why I’m acutely aware of every damned little thing I feel. Nothing passes me by as just a mood anymore, and sometimes that gets tiring.

2016 has been a lot of things. But most of all it has been tumultuous. We (I speak for VC too hear because everything that happens to me, affects him too) have struggled through some parts, over a lot of different things, questioned our motives and looked for answers and alternatives. And it’s beginning to feel like this time of guessing is shutting shop. In my gut, I feel like the end of the year is going to be the end of the transition. November certainly felt like a fitting culmination of everything that is going on. A build up to crescendo, as we reach the pinnacle of the year, before we turn the lights out on the year with a bang. The hope is that the storm settles, the mind finds a uniform swing in the step, and life mellows out a little.

Everything looks better in retrospect of course. When the heat of the moment has passed, the burning angst has settled momentarily, and the day ends with a gorgeous sunset, is when you’re able to sit back and inspect the trail you’ve left behind. Oddly, everything makes sense.

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But enough of this. To the forces dishing out juju for net year, listen up. I’d like 2017 to be well done.

Day 311: Okaybye

Part I of the holiday began with me stepping out of the airplane yesterday into a crisp Bangalore morning. With blinding white sunlight but a nip in the air. I love, love, love these pre-winter mornings. And despite my skin immediately feeling that Bangalore parchedness, my winter-deprived self made me take my jacket off and soak up the sun+chill.

But that was only until about 11 am. Then it got hot. Hotter than Goa. This is a first.

Meanwhile, VC is on his own holiday. Cycling around Goa starting today. It involves cycling an average of 80 kms a day, everyday for the next four days, and surviving in two pairs of cycling clothes that he swears he will wash and dry overnight. In time for the next mornings ride. I wished him luck.

His holiday has already begun.

After two chill days with the parentals, I’m off again as part II commences tonight. Regular posting may suffer a bit depending on what connectivity is like on the island. See you on the other side xxox.

Day 306: Diwali 2016

I had the most non-Diwali Diwali of all time. I didn’t clean up my house or decorate or light a single lamp as I usually do. I didn’t even feel inspired to make anything sweet. I spent some parts of last week away from home myself. A large part of the reason was VC had been away for over 10 days and I’d really slipped into the solitary mode, which doesn’t leave much room for feeling inspired to celebrate. Or at least that was just my excuse this year. Actually, this feeling of ennui hits me every year right before Diwali. It’s the only festival the non-believer in me feels remotely enthusiastic about, more because of the nostalgia associated with the traditions my family has associated with Diwali, rather than the religious significance of the festival itself. So this year too, as is the case every single year, I waited for the ennui to creep in, pass and make way for last minute panic. As it always does. But, it didn’t. This year, I felt no need to do anything, not even the little traditions we have managed to build for our little home of two.

Instead, I stayed out of the house, on assignment, stuffing my face with delightful food, being taken around another property I would otherwise not have the privilege of seeing on the inside, and generally treating myself to a good time of solitude. I came home only to leave again to go watch Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (More thoughts on this in another post. Maybe.)

I didn’t make it the usual Diwali parties we get invited to. I was just not up to dressing up, meeting people and making conversation. I didn’t even actually wish too many people, aside from family and some friends who wished me. I took no pictures at all. It was an altogether quiet time for me. Eventually, when VC came home on Sunday, suddenly I felt inspired to at least cook us a meal. And I made a most non traditional, un-Diwali-like meal of grilled chicken, buttered veggies and saffron herbed rice.

But perhaps the festivities did eventually kick in a wee bit, and I made a batch of really creamy, rich rice kheer.

Remember this?

And then as per usual, like we do every Diwali, we went out to dinner like we do every Diwali. I watched and heard a few fireworks on our way home, and it somewhat felt like Diwali was int he air. But really, this has been the strangest festive time. First of all the festival came and went in a jiffy. But mostly I was surprised at how unmoved I felt. No pangs of nostalgia, no enthusiasm to participate or socialise, and no frenzy to be a part of anything remotely festive.

It truly does feel like the end of an era for me, in many ways. I wish I had the words to explain how and why, but for now, this will have to do.

Day 298: Weekend snippets

“Are you feeling lonely?” my mother in law asked me on the phone the other night.

“Not at all,” I said, disappointing her.

I wasn’t lying. I do enjoy my me-time and space. The next day, Saturday at noon, I found myself still in bed and a whole book finished. I had intended to get out, shower and head to the market to replenish veggies approximately two hours earlier. Funnily, I wasn’t kicking myself about it. At about 3 that afternoon, I called VC to say hi, and he hadn’t eaten lunch. At about 8 that night, he was still napping. His afternoon nap. And I wasn’t kicking him about it either.

Whenever VC travels, especially over extended periods, my routine goes out of whack. It’s not logical, really. There’s no apparent reason. If anything, it should actually be the time things go completely to plan, my plan, because there’s no additional variables at play. And yet, it becomes the time I let go and all my schedules relax. It’s the time I stretch food cooked once across three meals, watching back to back movies, enjoy a single drink every night, take off for a drive at all kinds of odd hours, spend inordinate amounts of time in bed reading and the like.

It always happens when he is away, and this time too, bang on cue, there I was, schedule unravelling. Except, I wasn’t het up about it, nor was I berating myself about letting things slip.

I told you something has shifted. And I’m taking this too as a sign for some unlearning, and relearning that needs to happen.

This trip of VC’s has been perfectly timed, with work petering out, the overwhelming emotional few weeks also tapering down to normal again, and the need for space and time by myself coming to the fore. Despite being alone for the most part of everyday, and looking forward to evenings with VC on a daily basis, time apart like this is always welcome. I know VC is enjoying it too, because he gets to lunch at 3 pm and nap till 8 pm. Without someone to remind him about the schedule he had no part to play in formulating. Heh.

*****

I finished two books this past weekend, and over today.

In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri, intrigued me completely with it’s premise. It’s a love story, an ode to a language. It is an expression of love for Lahiri’s second language – Italian. A series of short, but beautifully lyrical snippets, that I later learned were journal entries, she gives her love for the language so many different shapes and forms — each one so meaty, voluptuous and full of grain, that you can reach out and feel it. Many times I caught myself completely relating to the descriptions of love, the kind of relationships that she likens her affair with the language to, and I drifted away from the reality that it was all an ode to a language, because it takes on the form of people, of things, of places and moments, which are all somehow typical objects of love. One just never expects a language to take up so much headspace. And Lahiri does a brilliant job of bringing that love to life. It’s originally written in Italian, and translated to English. But so, so, beautifully so.

Would You Like Some Bread With That Book, by Veena Venugopal. I’ve admired Veena Venugopal’s journalistic work for so long now, that I was surprised I didn’t know she had written a book already. Actually, she’s written three, and I had no idea. So I had to remedy it quickly. On L‘s suggestion, I started with this one. It’s a book about books, quite simply. That it is a collection of essays extremely witty essays makes it even nicer to read. It’s a book for book lovers, and you’ll find yourself in more than one essay as the collection covers a lot of very relatable feelings and situations. From the nostalgia of old bookstores, the smell of yellowed pages of treasured books, seminal stories from the coming-of-age-time of our lives, inevitable literary snobbery, traversing the world of pulp and trash, and just the unbridled joy that is loving a book, which she so simply and beautifully calls “simply a relationship between the writer and the reader. It is the reader’s privilege to make of the words what she will….The book I have read is mine alone.”

I absolutely devoured it in a little under a day. It helped that that day was today, with just a few emails demanding my attention, so I could lie around and dip into the book, guiltlessly. All that was missing was some bread

*****

Work took me to this really lovely homestay. Not my first time at Arco Iris, I’ve even written about it here before, it’s already a favourite. So I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to write about them, or to visit again.

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This time I took D along with me. It was a quiet time of wonderful company and conversation. We nearly finished an entire bottle of wine between the two of us.The food was stellar, and I got to try the upstairs Indigo room for the first time. When my friends begin to stifle yawns at near 10-pm, doing their best to stretch bedtime as much as they can, I know I’ve picked them well. The best part, though, was that I got to visit the incredibly fascinating 450-year old Menezes Braganza House in Chandor. I wouldn’t have gone by myself, and the last time VC and I dropped by, I only got a hurried walkthrough, because it was closed and we were in a rush. This time though, we got to wander around at leisure, with the great-grandson give us a tour.

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It’s the kind of home with rooms that droop under the immense weight of their legacy. Where the walls chip away to reveal whispers of conversations it’s held secretly close for generations. Where the air echoes with whispers of century-old stories. Being in a treasure trove like that gave me goose bumps, and I was glad I finally had the opportunity to visit.

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*****

I came back last evening and R and I caught Jack Reacher, to tick off the only missing thing in my weekend agenda — a substandard movie. Actually it wasn’t all bad because it fit the Tom Cruise-mission-impossible brief to the T, and I should have gone expecting just that. It was entertaining, so I’ll be fair and give it that.

The highlight of the evening though was the dinner of idli and vada, to assuage an unsatiated hunger that breakfast at Arco had set off. Yep, idlis for breakfast and idlis for dinner. I’m that kind of South Indian. It was topped only be R’s incredibly entertaining and hilarious real-life anecdotes that always make me laugh.

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I rediscovered Vijay Iyer at Arco Iris, as D and I sat in the porch outside, post dinner, chatting, while the strains of this track I’d never heard before began to echo inside the long living room. Something about late-night melodies played at the right time just hit the spot immediately, and I had to shazam this one. Needless to say, it’s been on loop ever since.

So, what did you do this weekend?

Day 293: Stuff

Over the last few weeks I’ve been unable to write full, comprehensible posts. I’ve had so much to say. About women and safety, about why I’m learning self defence, about Priyanka Chopra’s utterly vapid Refinery29 interview, about her obnoxious choice of teeshirt for the cover of CNT, about her “beneath the surface” interview (I don’t know why she’s on my radar so much, and I’ve to remind myself to stop clicking on any link that has her name on it because it always makes me raaaage), about my renewed reaffirmed feelings for the girlfriends in my life, and thoughts about those I have let go of, therapy and some surprising facts that it has unearthed. So it has not for the lack of having things to say, but the funk I’ve been in. My brain has felt like it had stalled, performing on half battery for a bit now. But I realise in retrospect that it was probably just the natural course of things, of conserving energy, words, emotions, given that I had so little to spare and what little I did, I wanted to turn inwards, rather than dissipate. Anyway, long story short – it was hard to communicate, write, share. So much remains to be talked about, and maybe I will get to it. In the meantime, here, smatterings of things I’ve thought about journalling, but didn’t get down to.

*****

After absolute years, I’ve felt the need to escape my life. That theory about creating a life you don’t need to escape? Well, after many years of floating along painlessly, I’ve felt the simmering need to change things up again. Escape it for a bit. And I’m taking this as a sign that my life needs change. I’m starting by escaping temporarily. Early next month, I’m off to Bangalore again. This time en route to my holiday. S and I are running off for a week of girlfriend time. It all happened so fast and so unexpectedly. We were planning a trip to Gujarat, and I don’t actually know at what exact point it happened, but destinations changed and tickets were booked faster than I could say maybe-we-should-go-to. It started off being the four of us, and then one of us dropped out, then another, leaving just S and I. Much sad is happening at severely diminished numbers, but c’est la vie. Since our tickets were non refundable, we’re going, in the hope that the other two will be there in spirit. Spirit, heh, get it? Because we will have to drink and eat their share, I suppose. It only seems fair to represent them at the very least, no?

I’m mildly hysterical with excitement now that we are all finally booked, all hotel reservations done and ready to go. It only sank in once I saw all the confirmation emails. We’re going off to an island. We, well I have no plans, except to bum around on the beach, while S plans go diving. We then return to the big city, because it’s the kind of holiday VC and I would never take together. I needed to do it with girlfriends in tow, where the plan is to eat and drink some more. Just that, nothing else. If the past few holidays with the girls are anything to go by I have a fair idea of the shenanigans that will transpire. I realised somewhere in the midst of booking this trip that all my holidays/breaks this year, in and out of Goa, have been with the girls. VC and I haven’t even remotely entertained the idea of taking a break together. Okay, correction, I have entertained the idea, but not acted on it. I don’t think it has even occurred to VC. But that’s okay. Next year, big travel awaits us. (Fuck, did I just say next year?) We’re in that final leg of the year where everything is winding down and some part of me is already looking forward to wrapping up 2016 and moving on.

*****

Holiday aside, I’m looking forward to being home, even if it is just for a couple of days on either side of my holiday. I’m still that baby that wants to go back home to mommy when I’m having a rough time. I just want to tune out from regular programming for a bit, and be looked after. Is there any place other than home for that? I think not. The lack of a laptop means I won’t be taking my work with me. Pure unadulterated home time. I cannot wait.

*****

Speaking of leaving work behind. Something strange happened on the weekend. I worked. I had a sudden burst of inspiration and sat down to finish some stuff that wasn’t even immediately due or anything. I finished a lot of stuff ahead of time. And I realised I’d finished most of my big commitments for the month. With one fun on-going gig to keep me sufficiently occupied for the rest of the month before I go away on my break. Somewhere, in the midst of just trying to stay afloat these past few weeks, I didn’t realise it, but I’d gathered a lot of steam with my work. There’s a clue in there, about work and play and how much of it I need, want and am willing to give myself, that I am looking at. Because it was so good to be in that kind of flow again. The flow that has eluded me for some time now.

*****

My communication woes with editors in India continue. I used to be convinced it was something I was doing wrong, but I’ve been analysing and introspecting on a few utterly bizarre situations with mind boggling communication that I’ve experienced in the last few months, and I’m that close to putting it down to just our Indianness. Too many people at our disposal, we have no value for personal interaction, for giving someone the time of your day, for reaching out just a little bit beyond your call and duty, for preserving personal connections, for being humble. There’s nothing to lose, I realise, one writer moves on, there’s so many more in line. Perhaps editors have nothing to lose? I’m just wagering a guess here. The funny thing is some of these communication trails have been open for almost two months now, and remain unattended. And I’m waiting to see how far this will go before someone gives me a clear answer on each of these.

As an experiment, I haven’t pitched any fresh work with Indian publications in about 6 weeks now. For a while, based on the stark contrasts I find between the work ethic and general level of professional communication styles I find between Indian and Non Indian publications, I’ve feel like this is just the space that we have a lot of learning and growing up to do. And I’m talking about everything here – response time to emails, the tone in which emails are written, the urgency to get work done and out there, the alacrity with which payments are made, a sense of responsibility in fixing a wrong when there is a problem, a complete lack of power play – everything seems to happen with a lot more purpose overseas. People give a shit. I know this sounds like a generalisation, and maybe it is. I am aware that freelancers like me working overseas have their fair share of woes and a lot of them echo the kind of problems we face here, but in my experience so far, which has been fairly wide and varied, I have observed this.

So I’m testing it out with this experiment. Unfortunately, so far, my worst assumptions are coming true. And it is all kinds of disappointing.

*****

This week I had a massive flash from the past and traversed a lot of music from the good old days. Yesterday I went down the Seal-Guns N Roses-Bon Jovi-Def Leppard-Aerosmith trail and when I landed here, I got stuck. Good and proper.

Day 286: When the going is crazy

This is what I’ve felt like going at pretty much everything the last many weeks.

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(Most excellent gif that depicts my sense of purpose, but just will not play. Which, strangely, also depicts the state of things in my life right now.)

This is what I feel like, when I have recovered from ^^

And this is what it is really like around here. Once I’m done with the meltdown for the day, adding a fresh new angle to the level of crazy I’ve brought into our lives these past few weeks. After I’ve given VC a complete download of all the frustrating and exciting things I’ve been up to in excruciating detail. When I’ve made fresh promises to myself and managed to thrill and scare myself simultaneously. When I cannot handle any of it on my own. He stays, patiently listening, probably chuckling inwardly and reconsidering his decision to marry me every single day this month. But still, becomes this picture of calm that eventually rubs off on me.

 

 

Day 277: 109 kms done

So this happened, after all.

Vagus adventuro flags off

A post shared by Probyk (@probyk) on

After some deliberation and accumulation of a lot of blind over-confidence, I decided to go through with it.

Even the morning of the event, as my alarm woke me up at 4.30 am, I got out and looked at my bed. It was so inviting, tempting me to just get back inside and stop kidding myself about this insanity I had signed up for. As much as I have come to love cycling, I haven’t reached a point where I can say my love for cycling has overtaken my love for sleeping in. The difficulty of waking up early is strong and real.

Just 3 minutes prior t this picture being taken, it was still dark out. Don't believe these happy faces. I was NOT happy to be up that early.
Just 3 minutes prior to this picture being taken, it was still dark out. Don’t believe these happy faces. I was NOT happy to be up that early.

I went in completely devoid of any expectations of myself, fully psyching myself to give up if I needed to.

What I was lacking in confidence, I made up for in snacks. I was over-prepared in that department. Obviously. Lined my stomach with fruit and a sandwich even before the event began. Plenty of chikki, a handful of dates, two packets of ORS on the go. And I wiped it all out before end. This is not counting the large breakfast we had at checkpoint 1, and the ice cream at checkpoint 2.

I was one of two women in the event of about 25 participants. I was expecting more women. But clearly I was in the minority with that expectation because not one, but two dudes gave me the statement of utter surprise — “hey, you’re pretty good!” and I could almost feel the “…for a girl” subtext.

The ride: it was fantastic. For all the starting trouble I have, every time that I get on a bike and get going, it is rewarding. There is something mildly massively addictive once you’re on a bike, zipping through the wind and experiencing early morning like nothing else can, really. Not even walking or running. Okay, maybe doing this in Goa adds a million points in favour of the activity, so yes, I’m giving thanks for the wonderful place I’ve found myself in. The weather suddenly turned that morning, and we had grey cloudy skies. A ten minute downpour was a welcome relief, and I seemed to escape even the harsh noon sunlight which caught up with me only in the last stretch of about twenty minutes as I was struggling to the finish line.

Thankfully, the event wasn’t a race. It was about finishing, and there was a very comfortable outer time limit in which to do it. There were enough triangular shaped, testosterone pumped men who didn’t have a moment to spare to even smile or exchange pleasantries because they were dashing off to beat each other, or their own personal records, I’m not sure. I was the very very very last person to finish. I can’t say I didn’t expect it.


I’m just glad I finished. That was my focus, and I’m glad I didn’t waver there. I couldn’t have done it without VC who pepped me up with his inspirational talks, R who absolutely insisted this was going to be a cakewalk and then stuck around cycling with me for the entire second half of the ride, and a random friend we made, let’s call him A. A is a 51 year old man (possibly the oldest participant) who was also lingering around the back of the trail with me. We’re the guys who stopped to take pictures all along, got lost a couple of times, bothered to look at the map, ask for directions and generally have a bit of fun along the way. He claimed all he’d ever done in life was smoke and work, and that bicycling was a new interest. He’d so far only ridden a maximum of 30kms ever. He stuck around with us, we definitely drew off of each others’ energies and somehow stayed together until the end.

End of segment 1.
End of segment 1.
Control point #1, where a massive bhaji-pao breakfast was laid out with plenty of other essentials - cold towels, premixed ORS, carrot cake, a photo booth (!) and the route map for the next segment that ended at Baskin Robbins with the assurance of 2 free scoops of ice cream.
Control point #1, where a massive bhaji-pao breakfast was laid out with plenty of other essentials – cold towels, premixed ORS, carrot cake, a photo booth (!) and the route map for the next segment that ended at Baskin Robbins with the promise of 2 free scoops of ice cream.
<3
Just keep spinning, rere. <3

I couldn’t have done it without my people. And my playlist, which I heard from end to end for the very first time in my life. Twice over, in fact.

Also, training. For all the heavy duty working out I’ve been doing in the last 3 years or so, I’ve never done anything that’s tested my strength or stamina. This was quite the test, and it completely reaffirmed my faith in sticking with working out and always trying to remain fit. It always pays off.

I’ve also never felt a gush of endorphins as strong as I did at the 88km mark, when R and I, unsure of what turn to take, stopped to ask for directions. Except I wasn’t of much use because I was collapsing in a huge outflow of uncontrollable guffaws. For absolutely no reason at all. R watched helplessly, not sure what to do next. And try as I did, I couldn’t hold back the laughter. It was coming out in heavy, loud bursts that just couldn’t be contained. We had just pushed ourselves over a 8 kilometre stretch, hitting the highest speeds I did on the entire ride, and maybe the energy rush just got the better of me.

A stupid move at the very end, possibly caused by the lack of oxygen going to my brain by then, made me take a wrong turn. I was leading the trio at the point, so the other two followed suit, and we found ourselves off track, adding a whole lot of unnecessary kilometres to the finish, not to mention one major chunk of which involved backtracking across the stretch we had just covered.

Home stretch! Just across the bridge to the finish line.
Home stretch! Just across the bridge to the finish line.

So as it happens, I didn’t just complete a 100 kilometre ride. In fact, I clocked 109 kilometres to the finish line. And it was worth every minute of excitement, adventure, pain and exhilaration.

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Cold beers waited us at the finish line. Which we emptied into our water bottles to consume. Because, Gandhi Jayanti = dry day, it seems.

The next logical step is to attempt 200km. If someone had asked me last week, if I could see myself doing it, I’d have laughed loudly. But ask me now and I’ll say, hell yes, without batting an eyelid. I’d just like to be better prepared, maybe actually train for it next time around.

Honestly though, I didn’t think I could finish it this time around. I went in blind, like I said before. But maybe the endorphins kicked in, maybe being in the presence of all the other cyclists gave me a boost, maybe I just went into auto pilot, but it was hard to think about giving up. I actually didn’t feel the need to at any point. It was only somewhere around the 60km mark that I realised how far I had come and that I was actually possibly going to finish this.

So while the ride was physically taxing, as was expected, beyond a point it was entirely a mental game. Every 10 kilometres knocked down felt like a huge milestone crossed. There were moments when an unexplained energy kicked in, pushing through my lower back that had begun to ache, my quads that were tensing up, and my butt that had gone numb. I’ve never felt that kind of resilience in myself, I don’t think.

Clearly, I had underestimated my capacity to physically push myself, and overestimated the time it would take me, in the event that I did finish. I overshot my estimate by a 120 whole minutes, finishing in 6 hours. Despite coming in right at the very end, this was a win I needed to undo the collective shittiness that September was.

So that’s done and dusted.

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Moderate to severe levels of hysteria at having finished may be showing here.

Day 272: I am eager

It’s been a difficult, heavy few weeks. The kind of difficult that quietly piles up when you’re not even looking, the kind of heavy that has manifested in ways I couldn’t understand – an unexplained lethargy, an inability to find the words to say the things I want to, an inability to engage in conversation beyond the bare minimum. It’s the kind of difficult I didn’t even notice until it had, as usual, burst and unraveled before me like a bag of marbles gone bust. When I have my mind set on something, I can keep going until something physically stops me. And in this case, disrupts my flow, and sends me flying, completely by surprise. That’s here’s the thing: when I have a goal, I’m a blinkered horse on a mission to reach the end.

2016 has been a year of monumental discovery and change of a transformational kind that I cannot begin to put into words. I’ve had some high highs, but when each of those phases have passed, I have also sunk to lows that have needed a good lot of effort to pick myself up from again.  No matter what, I always get back and get going.

I get by, mostly because I am surrounded by people reminding me of all that I have going for me. Between VC, my parents, my friends, my tribe of girlfriends, some connections I’ve made online I am able to stay afloat, get up again and get going. I am immensely grateful and I never forget.

When enough time has passed, and I have smoothed over the creases, settled into the rhythm I like for myself, I have always felt like I’ve got this, I can do this. I am worth it. Increasingly, I realise I am so easily satisfied.

So when a new situation turns up and strikes me down, I am also easily alarmed. Things spin out of control and devolve much more than they should, or need to. I am strong, but I am also easily ruffled. I’m not talking about the laptop going bust, or the uphill climb that garnering work has been this month. It’s not the self-made pressure to make that holiday happen. It’s not the niggling issues I’m juggling around the home that have kept me from working full steam ahead. It’s not the guilt I have carried around like a burden of pebbles at the bottom of heart. It’s that same old shapeless, unputdownable, nebulous restlessness that keeps raising its head. Does this sound a bit familiar? If you’ve been reading my daily posts all year long, you will know how many times I have mentioned that I am feeling restless. That I am aching for my what next. That I am ready for something bigger, but have no idea what or how to begin getting ahead. This has been bubbling inside for pretty much all year, thus far. Time and time again I have found momentarily fixes that I have used to tape over the pain. Each time I have managed to even get on with life. Things have moved smoothly for weeks on end. I have had some spectacular milestones, some amazing wins. Eventually life has caught up, work flowed in and out, abundant travel happened, friends and family visited, I got busy with the mundanities. And every day the sun rises and sets as it should, the motions of it all are consuming and leave little room for deeper thought. Until the next big upheaval strikes, opening up old wounds, making new ones, exposing raw sides of me that need looking at. But you know what: no matter what I always pay attention. I’m not afraid to do the work that needs doing, to get up and get happy again.

2016 has been like wandering in a grassy field without a map, to reach a mystery location at the other end, with no idea how far I need to go, or in what direction. I know what I need to do, I get up ever single morning and I do it. I know where I need to go, but for a large part of this year I have felt like I don’t know where I’m headed. And yet, I have been forging my own path as and when I pleased, in the only way I know. I try. I keep trying. And I move ahead.

Today I realised that I have held on to my restlessness as the spark that I must keep fanning, believing it is the fire that will eventually force me out of the current space I’m in. But the truth is it has turned into a burden. And I am done lugging it around. I am done being weighed down by the immense proportions it has grown to. I am so over giving it more space than it needs in my life.

There’s the other thing about me. Once I have put my mind to something, I turn things around. I’m willing to live through the change, I can do the work it takes. But I always turn things around.

And so I decided don’t want to be restless anymore. Instead I want to go back to being keen. Eager. And always open.

Day 263: All you need is less – projects

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Weeding out the unnecessary and keeping the things I love and value close has been the a recurring refrain in my life for a few years now. It started off as an unconscious, casual side-effect of moving out to Goa, falling off the grid when I got off facebook and the like, but in recent time it’s become a mindful, intentional habit and I see it creep into every little decision I make. Consequently it’s reflected in the experiences that have come my way, the situations I’ve found myself in, the people I am surrounded by, the relationships I make and for better or worse, I think this is here to stay.

Possibly the biggest change I made somewhere at the start of last year was to cut back on professional assignments that no longer made sense to me. This was partly conscious, because I wanted to focus on certain kinds of writing about certain specific things, but it was also fuelled by the incredible frustration of dealing with horrible clients, settling for less money despite increased efforts, compromising on the quality of writing because of unreasonable editorial demands and the like. I snapped off a few exploitative professional ties, even at the risk of being unemployed and without contracted work for a good long time before I picked it up again from scratch. I suppose everything happens at the right time and I needed that culmination of many months of realising what I am good at and where my heart really lies. So in cutting back on work, I decided that I will do fewer projects, but focus on work that is meaningful and enjoyable.

Less work has meant a far lesser income that I am used to. Less profits, less savings for a rainy day. Of course I couldn’t have dealt with this one without the rock solid support that I get from VC. To go form being DINK to SINK, just because we can, is a huge privilege. Not one that I will forget in a hurry. That he bolsters me not just economically, but supports me creatively, valuing what I do, encouraging me to start small, work my way up and gives me inputs and help on how to grow my business the right way, is where I draw strength from. Shredding work down to the bare minimum – just me is to deal with a lot of loneliness. Not just physically, but in the pursuit of this business of writing itself. It is lonely. Freelance writing, lonelier still, and I count on having him around on the loneliest, days that stretch out like question marks in front of me.

While VC has provided the economic padding for our lives to not go off rails, it has also meant that we have had to consciously realign of our lifestyle to fit limited means. Something that would not be easy to do unless we were 100% on board with the idea and on the same page. Time and again my belief in a simple tenet echoed in this fabulous essay on creativity, self reliance and sticking to a living doing what you love has reinforced the idea that if the project you choose is genuine and has value, success follows.

If your project has real substance, ultimately the money will follow you like a common cur in the street with its tail between its legs.

Some times success isn’t monetary, but when it is, money it brings in, no matter how much or how little, is enough.

This realisation has come in small doses of accepting that “all we need is less,” every time I turned down a worthless assignment, every time I gave up an opportunity to “do something different” despite the lucrative promises they held. Conversely, it’s helped put a premium on myself, my skills and my worth, so I am learning everyday to say no where it counts, to push back when I need to, and ask for more when the time is right. It’s been a slow and steady learning curve, but I am happy about where I am where I am today. To be able to do what I love has been possible because I have a willing teammate, who believes in it as much as I do and cheers me on every step of the way.

(Part 2: People, will follow.)

 

Day 252: Eight

VC, it’s that time of year again. This day wouldn’t be complete without me saying it feels like we only just got together yesterday. Like I’ve done so many times before. But we know the truth. It’s been a decade of knowing you, and in fact the enormity of that truth only sank in only a few days ago. Suddenly I realised we’ve been doing this for an absolute age. A whole damned decade, eight years of which have been spent trying to perfect this marriage thingamajig.

But you know what?

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PC: StarvingArtistFilms

It’s been a far from perfect year, since our last anniversary when I waxed eloquent about how comfortably predictable things had become. This year there was many an oddball. It was anything but predictable. There have been so many heavy discussions about where to next, which came with a huge set of pros cons and our respective opinions, desires and dreams to juggle. There was a home loan in the mix this year, which has put a fair deal of pressure on us both. Not that you ever showed it, but I always know when you’ve been worried about it. There was a lot of angst about what to do next — for you and for me, as individuals and as a unit — and which way to go from here. It seems like this semi-charmed life has maxed out on it’s levels of near-perfection (when you discount the shitty roads and spotty internet, I mean) and that has time and again pushed us into a corner, begging us to ask ourselves some hard questions and consider some difficult options.

And so we did. It’s been a year of tremendous opinion-sharing between us. I can’t help but feel that the more rounded and formed our personalities get, the more we dig our heels in and stand up for what we believe in. Many times, we don’t believe in the same things. This year, more than ever before, we’ve sparred over things, small and big. From your smoking habit that I truly wish you’d kick, to a potential move beyond Goa, we’ve battled it out with loud exchanges of words, lots of confusion, plenty of tentative guessing and jumping to conclusions, a fair amount tears and the two instances when I left home and drove off into the night. Old me from about two years ago would say I’m not proud for what I did, or what pushed me to it. But I’ve learned this year, more than ever before, that it’s not important to agree and always see eye to eye. In fact it’s important not to agree, and it’s important to always have the room for that. I’m so glad that even when we’re in the throes of a belligerent rage, one of us has the sense to calm the other down and remind ourselves to make space for one another’s opinions.

I love that we have this healthy battle ground. Where we can spar, constantly remind ourselves to keep it civil, but not polite; honest but not rude; real, but not sharp. This year more than ever before, I have enjoyed fighting with you. Until last year, I always wondered if there was something the matter with us – our fights and disagreements were few and so far between. This year, I proved myself wrong and we’ve more than made up for the lack of disagreements in our lives so far.

I believe everything happens for a reason, and that this transformation came with a reason too. Because, I no longer fear fighting with you (and anyone else I hold close, for that matter). I’ve learned that every healthy relationship must have space for healthy disagreement. It’s become a marker for the authentic relationships in my life, across the board. It’s taught me that learned that sometimes one has to squash one’s ego, agree to disagree, and just hug it out. I’ve also learned that no matter what the outcome, it’s always a good idea to say sorry.

This year, you’ve taught me the value of saying sorry, even when it is the hardest thing to do and my mountain-sized ego will not allow it. In the number of instances that you plainly and easily said sorry, at the end of an argument, or when you thought you’d disappointed me, or when the truth about the numerous patterns of oppression women face in a typical Indian family suddenly dawned on you in its immensity, and you suddenly woke up to it’s existence in your own family, you apologised for it. You took responsibility, even though you’ve never behaved in a way that was oppressive or discriminatory. You apologised on the behalf of everyone else who never will. You have no idea how immensely liberating that has been.

This year, I’ve learned empathy from you. I’ve learned to tone down my judgement. To live and let live, in the truest sense of the term. Together we’ve turned many of our perceptions about a lot many things and people around. It;s reminded me that there is always have scope to grow, and I feel glad every time that we are able to acknowledge where we were wrong, and we try and correct our thoughts. I like to think we’ve turned into more self-assured individuals with firmness where it counts. I find you perfectly straddle being strong-willed, but soft-hearted where it matters. You’ve displayed conviction, with a rare kind of softness that I find immensely attractive. It’s a balance I still have to learn.

But most of all, this year will always be remembered as the year you helped me rediscover myself yet again. I don’t know if you realise the influence you have had on me. As the only person privy to all my thoughts, feelings, ups and downs of every aspect of my life, you share in my angsts and joys equally. And this year your only steady advice has always been to put a premium on myself. To always raise the bar, demand more, settle for nothing less than the best. Whether it has been at work — when demanding a higher fee, not settling for shoddy work relationships, or in my relationships with people — cutting off toxic friendships, prioritising my time, being uncompromising with the quality of friendships and focusing on myself and my self development.

You’ve been the sound voice, constantly dinning into my head the need to put myself first. It’s how I’ve bettered my work style and engagements. I wouldn’t have re-learned discipline if it weren’t for our many discussions about how to get better at this game. I wouldn’t have cracked so many pitches if we hadn’t worked on my emails together. I wouldn’t have come to believe in myself if you hadn’t backed me up every step of the way.

This year, we’ve completely soaked in the spirit of being quiet. You were always the quiet one, but this year I realised I have some quiet in me too. In learning to be still, I’ve understood myself better, sharpened my focus, fine-tuned my ability to be by with myself. As individually-focused as that sounds, it has changed my relationship with you. For the better. I understand you better. I respect you more. I honour you for the individual that you are, completely, with fewer expectations than before. As much as there’s been hectic chatter and loud disagreements, we’ve had our fair share of silence too. It’s one of the things I love the most about us. The way in which we can exist in a companionable silence, for hours on end, without having to engage. This year, I’ve learned there’s more than one kind of quiet, and I cannot wait to discover the rest. With you. Even though this was also the year we took off on our own respective tangents.

It’s the first time I saw in us, the patterns I see with my parents. In being starkly individualistic people, with completely different goals, diverging in entirely opposite directions, yet somehow making ends meet, and finding a way to let go, live and love, all at once.

I travelled by myself this year, more than I have ever before. And it was because conversations I had with you rekindled the hidden desire that I have let remain forgotten for all the years we have been together. You bought me the bestest gift of all times – a bike – that has triggered something deeper than a quest to cycle, in me. You’ve reminded and taught me how important it is to chase those things that are fundamental to our happiness, outside of amassing money in the bank and buying things. And you’ve done this by example. By taking off on your own path of self-discovery, traversing cycling, film and new areas of work – areas I am completely removed from. That has been your journey to take, and I’ve watched from a distance, with such pride.

This year, more than every before, I realised that being together has little to do with being together. Not to take for granted how wonderful it is to have a roomie to come back to, someone to hold at night when the fear of the dark envelops me, someone to lean on when I’m scared or lonely, someone to share a laugh with in a way that only we can understand. But I realised that growing old together involves taking routes that aren’t always going to run in parallel, or end up in the same place. It is possible to be together and yet give each other the space to be apart – in what we do, in where we go, and in how we blossom. And for the first time in all our years together, and my vehement stand on long-distance relationships, I have opened myself up to the idea of living apart. It will mean spreading our wings in different directions, and I don’t mean that just literally. I hope we explore it someday, because I think it will only take us a step up from here.

I look back at this year and it looks so pock-marked, dented and imperfect, riddled with the weight of learning. It’s been a heavy year in that respect. But we’ve towed the line rather well, picking up when the other left off, holding each other up, and being the stoic, steady person when the other needed to waver for a bit. In you I’ve had the best friend and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner on this ride.

We’re still often met with this picture perfect notion of marriage, complete with the kids and the car and the giant home. We’re still asked when we plan to have children, and shocked reactions that prod deeper and wants to know why that’s not on our agenda. I understand now, where it’s coming from. It’s because that’s what it works for many people. But there is room for us. And for us, it has always been about doing it our way. Keeping our eyes and minds open, bucking the rules, bending with time and circumstances, flowing the way we choose to, changing as per the need of the hour and playing by our own rules. And you know what? That’s never going to be a pretty, picture perfect journey.

I’m ready for more.

Just to change this up, here’s a picture that represents us pretty perfectly.

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Happy 8th.
I love you.

*****

Past anniversaries
Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

Day 214: Cycling in the rain

It’s hard to think that the same monsoon that’s wreaking havoc in the North East of India has been an essential source, of solace in the west and down south, and closer home, complete and utter joy. If it isn’t already abundantly clear, I’m revelling in the monsoon this year. More than usual. It’s been one of the nicest I have experienced in all my years here. — perpetually damp laundry notwithstanding.

When I began cycling this year, I thought I’d hit upon this absolutely magical thing because it somehow altered the very way in which I experienced my surroundings, my neighbourhood, the streets I’ve been driving around for only the last 6.5 years, and my immediate surroundings in general. Being out in the open like that, using your own physical effort to push yourself forward up climbs, down slopes, speeding down straights, feeling the wind, the sun, the heat, the rain on your body, taking in the smells, observing the sights closer to the ground — millipedes calmly meandering on, dead frogs, just-finished bottled of alcohol from a late-night road-side drinking binge —  mountains of trash in the vicinity that you somehow never noticed before, the quirks of lazy passersby, all of this really changes how you take in what you see and feel around you, how you engage with it, and what it comes to mean to you.

When I began cycling this year, I knew it was easily one of the best things I have done in a while, but I had no idea what was to come. Cycling is all well and awesome, but cycling in the Goan monsoon, now that is really something worth writing home about. It’s taken me father and deeper into parts of Goa I haven’t experiences up close. And it’s rekindled a deep my love for Goa that has been somewhat going through a flux the past 8-10 months now.

We cycled to the jetty at Ribandar and took the boat to visit two islands close to Panjim this past weekend, Diwar on Saturday and Chorao yesterday. I’ve been to these islands many, many times before. And yet doing it on a bike, going far, going beyond and being exposed in a way that only a bike can, really made it feel like a unique, first time experience.

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There’s something immensely simple and beautiful about how life just doesn’t stop in Goa, no matter how heavy the rain is. Dogs take the ferry up and down, people get their rain pants on, get on their scooters, take the ferry and get to work on time, going about their routines like oh, it’s just some rain, nbd, as the feathery drizzle turns to a storm that lashes down on us all in no time at all.

PC: VC
PC: VC

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We’re closing in on 7 years in Goa, and with every ride I realise just how much is still left to see and experience. It’s the kind of unbridled beauty that leaves you not wanting to take any pictures because you would just do no justice.

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American Beauty moments abound, echoing the emotion laden in every word of that monologue at the end of the movie where Kevin Spacey is lying in a pool of his own blood, thinking, “…it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.”

Except, I’m not dying. And it’s me, I take a lot of pictures at all time. And I did this past weekend too. Not too many, but just enough, before it all got too overwhelmingly beautiful and I couldn’t do it anymore. So this picture-heavy post borrows heavily from VC and R.

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The average weekend ride lasts about 4 hours. There is always a breakfast stop, sometimes a second chai stop, and lots of halts to stop and take the sights in. But, I swear, the happiness from every ride lasts far longer. It remains for days, long after we’ve returned, washed the gunk off our bikes and settled into a lazy weekend mode, and even slipped back into a regular work week.

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There is chit-chat and conversations. VC always gets his ass taken for being the studious, serious cyclist that he is, with pressing, pertinent advice for us. But there is also peace and quiet. And once the giggles and banter dies down, we just sit in silence, until someone suggests that it’s time to head back.

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PC: R

As I mull over the restlessness about what I’m doing and where my life is headed, thoughts of what-next and where-to-from-here gnaw at me from time to time. And let’s be honest, sometimes the answers and options that look exciting do point outside of Goa. I nurse these thoughts from time to time. And then I go cycling, sometimes it is on a rainy as hell Sunday morning, and I find my heart quietly brimming with an overwhelming joy that makes me believe I’m crazy to think I ever want to leave.

6

 

Day 200: Barely moving

The world is well and truly imploding. Literally every single day, something horrific happens. Five instances of terror in the last month alone. Kashmir. Alton Sterling. Qandeel Baloch. The FIR against Aklaq’s family. And closer home, LED bulbs being handed out in the run up to our next election (as if that’s all it takes to buy loyalty, they conveniently forgot about the power to light those bulbs up). The death trap of a main road. Some part of me is definitely turning numb. I see it in the reactions I have. Much of this, I process silently and it leaves me sometimes tormented, sometimes numb. But always deeply distressed. And restless. I suppress the feeling, as well as the way it always makes me feel little, pointless, shitty and helpless.

And then I move on. Deliberately keeping my social media timelines free of news. Steering away from politically fueled conversations with people I know I cannot engage with. Mostly using my own thoughts and words to fight these battles in my head, in private. To make sense of everything that seems to be fast escaping the realm sense, purpose and meaningfulness.

And then I move on.

I’m still down and out, and no, it hasn’t passed. Day 5 in bed today, with a persistent fever that abated only 24 hours ago. I guess I should be happy that I’m in a situation where I’ve been forced to stay in bed for five days now. But it’s no good when haven’t been able to do much with all that time. Reading a book or watching TV was out of the question due to severely blocked sinuses that made keeping my head up and focusing on anything near impossible.

Still despite all that, somewhere between then and now, a lot of has happened. I may or may not have used the words “a pain in my ass” to describe to a client the situation we’ve gotten ourselves in. I may or may not have cried copious amounts of tears that at one point I was afraid they just wouldn’t stop. I may or may not have told VC that I want to be a housewife because I am good for nothing. I can’t be sure.

What I can be sure of is that I had a persistent temperature that remained in the shadows of 99-100 degrees for two days straight and was beginning to worry me. Then when it spiked to 102 and VC had to resort to a cold compress on my forehead, I realised it was time to worry. That hasn’t happened since I was a child. A blood test was ordered, and that hasn’t happened in over 6 years now. A half-mile long list of medicines have been consumed with more regularity than I fancy, and it’s turned my stomach raw and my taste buds perpetually coated with a metallic taste. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was ill so bad that I couldn’t leave my bed for five days. VC was like a hawk and a chowkidar hovering over me all weekend, not letting me leave for anything. He brought me all my meals, endless cups of hot tea, and my medicines. He may have snuck in a packet of Nutties and a Snicker bar too. When he began to question me every time he saw me out of bed, even if I was merely going to the loo, I revolted.

So I’ve spent a lot of the last few days just moping and feeling more miserable than I actually am. It’s definitely added to the general state of ill-health. While it may have started with an itchy throat and a touch of fever, I had a work situation that caused something to snap in my head last week. It sent me on a downward spiral like I haven’t ever before been in a long, long time now. It’s not like me to break down over work issues, to cut communication and disappear into myself. But that’s just what happened. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, be around anyone. I just turned inwards and moped. Until VC shook me out of it partially on Friday night, when I began to see the light a little bit. Whether being physically ill aggravated my work stress or vice-versa, I’ll never know. But I feel like some part of this is my body telling my mind to chill the eff out. Or vice versa. But I need to examine it and fix it. Find that balance that I had regained temporarily, and have now lost again.

I opened facebook today after three whole days, to find something my friend V wrote and posted, right up top on my feed. V doesn’t post too often anymore, but when she does it always smacks the nail on the head. As it did just now too, bang on point, neatly summarising the inner turmoil I’ve been going through for the last 5 days now.

The two difficult forgivenesses:
1. Your gut, for not being loud enough.
2. Yourself, for not listening well.

Let that simmer a while longer. For now, I’m barely moving.

Day 194: Pedalling again

No, this isn’t the cycling post I promised I’d write to explain why I started cycling in addition to everything else. But it is a post about how I got off the bandwagon and may have just been kicked back on it again.

My initial gust of enthusiasm melted away in the unforgiving summer we had this year. I hadn’t (still haven’t) stopped kickboxing and cycling 3-4 mornings a week before I hit the gym was becoming hard to sustain. The sun would be out by 7 and dehydration is a real fear. So I decided to resume when the weather turned for the better.

There was also the minor detail about being chased by a pack of street dogs one day, that had me so panic-stricken I managed to get a good mind-block about venturing out too far, too fast and on my own.

Then the weather changed early last month, and VC resumed cycling with gusto. Relentlessly waking up, trying everyday to wake me up and get me to go with him too. But rainy, grey mornings are for snuggling under the covers, not for getting out in the rain, pedalling against the wind.

But VC carried on, and sometime last week he did this.

And it has sufficiently kicked me back on track (mostly from envy) because I realised suddenly that there is still so much of Goa left to see. This is easily the best time of year to do it. And to do it on a cycle is pretty damned special.

Day 172: Things about VC that I never want to forget #17

Things about VC that I never want to forget #17
He knows me better than I think he does

VC is constantly complaining that I know him a little too well for my own good. Complaining because he only realises this truism at moments where he is clearly at a disadvantage. When I have sniffed out his “surprise” plan even before it unfolded. When I predict his (very predictable) behaviour and caution him about a potential outcome and it, um, surprises him that I could guess. When he’s narrating a story about something that happened to him, and I finish the story off with what I think may be a possible ending, that turns out to be 100% accurate, and proceeds to steal his moment. And thunder. So yeah, he doesn’t like being that predictable. Always tells me I know him better than he knows me. But the truth is, it works both ways. he hasn’t registered it, but he knows me better than he is willing to realise.

Sunday morning, 10:30 am
Me to VC: It’s just 10:30, man are you drinking beer already?!
VC: Yeah, what’s time for to go with it?
Me: I’ll also drink, but later. Closer to lunch.
VC: Okay
Me: Such superb weather, perfect for a drink, no?
VC: …
Me: Gin is such a perfect drink for hot and cool weather.
VC:…
Me: I think I will…*interrupted by VC*
VC: Here *hands me a glass of G&T*

drink

-fifteen mins and one drink later-

Me: I LOVE gin VC, like really, really.
VC: Gym, aa? Ya I know.
Me: Gin, da! But gym, also. Yes.
VC: Yeah, that’s what I thought. You want a refill?