What coming home feels like: Revisiting old haunts

I’ve been fighting the worst creative block for weeks now. Work is slow. Both because the energy I’ve directed towards the pursuit of it has been flagging, and also because I’m being a hopeless procrastinator over what little I have going.

I’ve tried everything — locking myself in my home away from distraction, taking myself to the comforts of my parents’ home where Amma plies me with filter coffee, working at night, working early in the morning, tempting myself with afternoon naps as a reward for a morning of writing, reading to get the words going, silence to get the words going. But nothing has really pushed me out of this stupor.

Until today. And this chance visit to an old haunt.

I had a meeting close to MG Road and a few hours to kill until dinner time (which is also happening this side of town, making it pointless for me to trudge home and back again in a few hours). So, I made the wise decision to carry my laptop along. It’s a fabulous day out and I enjoyed a lovely walk from one end of MG Road to here. When the weather stays this way, and it has been splendid, I’m rediscovering the joys of a walkable city again. Little pleasures that make being back in this monstrous grind, just a wee bit more bearable.

And for now, a glass of kadak milky super sweet tea and a plate of smileys seem to have done the trick.

Same time, last year: Day 181: Holiday vibes

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Just breathe

Many times over the last three months, I’ve caught myself in a loop of guilt. It’s usually at the most inopportune time, just as I am about to allow myself a brief break. When I most feel like I need to catch a breather. Once the guilt has arrived at my door, taking stock of how much I’ve done and if I deserve the break, taking it becomes so much harder. And in that moment of guilt, I convince myself that I am not worthy of taking time out.

Because, you’re not working yet.

In the past few weeks, I’ve felt this way more often than I’ll care to admit. I know this is partly my nature. This compulsive need to justify and earn every little break. But this time, it also has to do with the limbo we have been in since taking the decision to move back to Bangalore.

On the surface, most of the basics are settled. Life has resumed in a new city, a new home that’s set up enough for us to occupy and live in but that could do with a few more frills and spoils, I even dragged my feet back to some kind of efforts at work after the unplanned and extended hiatus. But I’m constantly torn between focusing on all the extras that remain to be done, and just putting a full stop on it and moving on with real work.

Maybe that’s just it?

The nebulous nature of things, with my line of work and with the current state of my life — with no real “plan”, no pressing demands, no conventional schedule, no impending deadlines — that leaves me with little validation or justification for the effort, time and energy I am spending day after day. No deliverables, no neatly packaged articles, no money flowing into the bank. Yet so much energy and money flowing out. Energy, money, effort and time that we have expended in making this move. This, combined with the hardcoded, deeply-ingrained notions of “hard work” that still rule my world means I still don’t always take my own effort seriously, unless it fetches me external validation and affirmation, preferably by way of a handsome fee. At times like this where life happens and one just gets on with it, and there is little prodding or congratulations, I feel empty, depleted and exhausted.

This is not a complain about the external world not congratulating me for getting on with life. It’s just me acknowledging my ego and the way it works. I often beat myself up about not working the past three months. A one month break unexpectedly turned into a three months off. Not because I decided to take time off, but because we landed ourselves in the midst of a mildly life-changing shift that needed our time and focus. I’ve had my hands full for the most part of the last two months, at least, working at smoothing things out in this time of transition. And yet, I’ve had this low hum gnawing the back of my brain out slowly – you’re not working. You should be working.

When I usually feel the need for time out, it is following a period of hectic activity, when I need to refuel and recharge my batteries. And my way to do that is to indulge in the things that fill me with a good, happy energy.

Like sit back and enjoy the fruits of our effort the past few weeks.
Like write the many blog posts jammed tight in my brain.
Like leisurely writing out the story ideas I’ve accumulated in the last three months.
Like meet with people I’ve been meaning to ever since I got to Bangalore.
Like finish reading those books I began in May.
Like begin to enjoy Bangalore a little more.

So, when guilt arrives at my doorstep, taking stock to check if I need or truly deserve the break, it puts a spoke in things. Instead of rejuvenating myself, I feel guilty. And that  quickly spirals into a a loop of desperation when I realise how little I have in hand — again, little is measured purely in conventional terms.

It then makes me feel like I ought to get going, not relax. And since this is fundamentally at loggerheads with what I intuitively know I want to be doing, I get stuck. Not moving towards what my head tells me I should do, or what my heart tells me I should feel.

Temporary relief follows soon after because the good thing is I’m beginning to notice and pin point these patterns, and I am quick to correct myself. But it is only temporary. I let go briefly, only to quickly feel the panic and the lack of doing things again.

In my head the idea that to be productive, useful and busy is still tied in to churning out one assignment after another, bringing those cheques in one after another. I’m slowly but painfully realising that this is what I am trained to believe, and not what makes sense to my soul.

My life the last few years has been a series of gradual shifts towards being my own boss. I don’t mean that professionally alone. I mean it’s been a constant work in progress towards tuning in and listening to my own cues and working on feeling content most, if not all, of the time.

The inwards tussle this time around, is with knowing that yes, I do need to work and earn some of my bread (even though I have a perfectly capable, willing, giving partner who provides it for me), but no, I don’t have to make myself unhappy and exhausted doing it. I am privileged and lucky to have a situation that allows this.

***

A couple of nights ago, we had friends over for dinner. Even though we’ve been living in the new home for almost three weeks now, and had my folks and VC’s folks over for a meal, it wasn’t until this past weekend that I felt like we’d put the home in this home — complete with  a gas connection and water and internet. Right before our friends arrived, I looked up from where I was sitting, at my dining table.

And I realised — this is the validation I needed. This is what I’ve been working on. This is the sum total of the work that has kept me physically and mentally engaged since early May. Making a home from an opportunity I stumbled upon and grabbed with both my hands, even when my heart was aflutter in the anticipation and overwhelmed with change.

I often forget to that work cannot only be measured in the time spent strapped at a desk — whether in an office or at home. Heck, right now I don’t even have a desk. And yet, I’ve been working for the most part of these last few weeks. Moving cities was work, getting the house up and running took a lot of work, setting up a new home has hard and exhausting work.

This has taken a lot of work. And it has been tiring. Even more so because I haven’t allowed myself to acknowledge this simple fact, or allowed myself a real, refreshing break from it.

It’s true, work fuels life. Not just by giving us the currency to do the things we want to do that cost money, but it also fuels our sense of worth and pride. But I’m gradually realising that the nature of what qualifies as work ticks different boxes for different people, and it can change constantly from one phase to another.

The last few years in Goa, I immersed myself in a fulfilling kind of work through words. It was right for that time and place, and it made sense for where I was then. But it makes no sense to force fit that definition of productivity to the rest of my years. Somewhere, these past few weeks, I’ve lost sight of the reason why we moved out of the boonies and back to civilisation. A significant part of that reason was to be able to mingle a little, dip my toes into the spoils of the city a little, and surround myself in the the company of folks I’ve been longing to be around

I’m finally here, in the right space and environment that makes sense for me now, and here I am trying to be productive and busy doing things that don’t make sense right now. Here I am berating myself for being not as useful or independent as I can be. When the truth is, I’ve been busy. This transition has taken work. And I am not less productive, less useful, less anything for not putting in time at my desk chasing bylines.

Maybe I need to get out of my head for a bit, to explore and create a new definitions of work for myself. To allow the newness of this experience to break through the old moulds I’ve held it all within, to come out and soak it in. Maybe it’s time to loosen the grip and re-create new sense of what this time, place and phase asks of me.

Maybe it’s time to revel in the fact that this is me, now and there’s no way to expect an older version of me to thrive in a new set of situations. Maybe instead of brushing aside the guilt, as everyone tells me to, I should hold it up, look it squarely in the eye and understand that the guilt is just my ego in another form, luring me back into an older way of being, one that makes little sense now. And even as it writhes in my grip and wriggles it’s way back into my everyday life, I must look at it, accept it, maybe even wallow a little bit in it. But eventually, I must just remember to breathe. And live a little.

Same time, last year: Day 174: Hit by a crippling case of travel excitement

Whisky-shisky

The longer, boozier story I mentioned was in the works? It’s live. It’s about an Indian whisky being distilled in India, but it’s also about what makes it Indian, what it’s like being a Master Distiller, and what’s generally been shaking up the whisky scene in India.

john-distilleries-34

If you’d like to read it, head on over here: A Scottish-style Whisky with Indian Characteristics

Given my headspace and the lights fading on my life and time here in Goa, I’ve been steadily moving away from writing Goa-centric things, but when the opportunity to write this came up, I just couldn’t pass. It’s also nice when the end result is so far off from where the idea is at — in a good way — that the process of writing takes you to people and places you wouldn’t have connected with otherwise. This was one such gig. The story benefitted from my meandering, for sure, but even more than that is the lessons I learned.

Aight, so go read? I promise to be back with some updates that are more than just stories being plugged in and passed off as blogposts. Soon. Soon.

Same time, last year: Day 64: Because I want to remember

Kitchen Soup for the Homesick Soul

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

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

*****

Kitchen Soup for the Homesick Soul

cooking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(A version of this essay first appeared on Arre)

Same time, last year: Day 63: Shine on

Roads and Kingdoms

A fair bit of writing about beverages has consumed me in recent time. It was a nice little segue. I’m delighted to have had two quick pieces out in Roads & Kingdoms’ 5 o’clock somewhere segment, in quick succession. And I have a longer, boozier feature in the works for them, coming out possibly later next week. Heady times. In more ways than one, but more about that later.

For now: want to read the pieces I wrote?

The latest on drinking feni in one of my favourite little bars in Panjim.

chilli-feni

And another on enjoying mangoes on sticky rice, pretty much all through my trip to Thailand last year. I might have made a passing mention of it in this post, and saved this little nugget for the story.

Same time, last year: Day 53: Playtime

Pointless post

Today feels like a I.can.not.able.to.do kind of day.

In under an hour I’ve gone from feeling what I think are flashes of maternal feelings for the puppies we just got sterilised and released back in their home ground, to raging over tech difficulties updating my LinkedIn.

Is there a more unintuitive, non-user-friendly, lets-get-people-to-hate-us-completely platform that LinedIn? I think not.

Yesterday I was all wise and zen in talking A out of a panic attack where she thought she was the shittiest writer and really stupid for thinking she can do this freelancer gig thing. Today, I am in A’s place.

Can.not.able.to.do.

I had a massive breakthrough yesterday. A result of a nap I allowed myself to take, despite crazy amounts of work that were keeping me from succumbing to it for a full two hours before I actually gave in, and a conversation with R. I live for aha-moments of clarity like these.

I started writing out what I felt, in my notebook, as opposed to here. Half way through I stopped and wondered why. I don’t have an answer.

I’m headed to Bombay this weekend. It’s going to be a hectic trip, I just know it. I’m feeling travel inertia like nothing I’ve felt before. The thought of packing and taking a flight and everything else is making me want to just call the whole thing off. But I cant. And the only thought keeping me going is that I get to meet Niyuuuuuuu. And my folks.

Okay. Time to go fight the worst case of Imposter Syndrome I have had in a long, long time, before it paralyses me completely. Because this week is not the week for me to buckle under the pressure. I do not have the luxury of taking it easy or taking a break.

If you’re still reading, your morning is probably currently as pointless as mine.

Thank you for listening. Go work now, k? Bye.

Same time, last year: Day 46: Morning views

Commitment issues

Of late, I’ve really begun to feel like navigating the freelance life is a lot like dating. You know, serial dating without wanting to commit? I want to aim for the best on my wishlist, I want to associate with the names I admire and am attracted to, I want to have the freedom to write and say the things I want to that give me satisfaction, and I want to do it all with just the right outcome of contentment. Basically, I’m playing the field. Wanting all the best ass, being extremely picky, choosing only the best of the crop of men out there watching and looking for traits that excite me enough to just dip into, taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that from multiple sources, relationship testing, if you will. And yet, I want every experience to be wholly uplifting, without the pressure to commit to something long term. I want in, but only as much as is exciting and beneficial for me. And then I want out, and I want the freedom to flit to the next thing, whatever else rocks my boat.

The reluctance to drop roots and get into a long term entanglement is in part caused by the aversion to the ups and downs of the typical relationship curve. The tedium of the entire exercise, learned habits, the forced behaviour patterns, the expected stereotypical acts that beget those expected outcomes, the whole tired song and dance of getting to know one another and settle into something that fits. Only to be inevitably disappointed when the inevitable crash happens — the display of an unsavoury habit, a terrible attitude that shows when you’re least anticipating it, good old boredom. Basically all the things that tend to come into the light once the thrill of the chase has ended and reality kicks in.

You know what else playing the field and freelance writing have in common? The fear of rejection. In good measure. Debilitating enough to make you not even want to attempt a pitch or story, for fear of having it rejected or not find a home. Of late, though, it’s really  begun to feel like I’m more turned on by the thrill of the chase. I get such a high from turning stray thoughts into potential ideas. Playing the field, basically. And it’s oddly satisfying. I’ve realised it’s so much easier to operate this way, without having to engage long term in an in-your-face sort of way. So much easier to flit in and out of little interactions over shorter spans of time, just until the deed is done and each of us gets what we want from it. This way we’re also mostly just  exposed to the pleasant bits, and the minute the inevitable disappointment strikes. Want me to write on spec? Want me to write for exposure? Want me to write on a ridiculously short timeline? Want me to source pictures for no extra cost? Want me to believe you’re too busy to answer even when you’re opening my emails every day? Bye Felipe! There’s always the lesson learned and you segue swiftly on to the next thing.

You know the other by product of the thrill of the chase? The ones that  have positive outcomes. You grow your ladybits large enough to be brave, you put yourself out there, you even do that dreaded networking thing and roam the marketplace, you indulge in some sales-ey tactics you always thought you’d never have to resort to. You’re relentless, determined and persistent. You work hard, focus on your target. And suddenly, you strike. Lasso around the one you really, really want. You’re ecstatic. Your heart racing, palms sweaty, face flushed. Could this be the start of a heady new something? All those familiar feelings of the first time rush in.

And then, you freeze. Suddenly, all you can think is dafuq did I just do? Now I actually have to date this guy. I mean write this damn story. Suddenly you feel like the most incapable person. Your worst inadequacies and insecurities rise to the surface and you’re convinced you’re the world’s most incompetent person for the job. Every now and then, despite all the good, positive and altogether encouraging developments my work life have shown me, I arrive at the crossroads of what-the-fuck-am-I-even-doing-here, also known as the junction where self-doubt meets extreme procrastination.

Today’s procrastination involved introspection to understand what kind of a writer it makes me if I suddenly don’t find the ability to write the stories I claim I so badly want to write, immediately after someone gives me the green signal to go forth and conquer. I haven’t really ever played the field in my years dating. The one time I came close, I chickened out very early on into the game, leading me to believe I’m made for the simple, straight and narrow. Could it be that this is that hitherto unexplored side of me finding an outlet.

*shudders*

*****

When I think about how I arrived on this life of writing that I now have, I feel incredibly privileged. Privileged to be able to scratch the writing itch, to quit a full time job and be able to sit at home pursuing this slowly and steadily at my pace, experiencing no immediate fall outs to the quality of my life. Reading this incredibly eye-opening piece about the almost unbearable, but very real, privilege (and struggle) of doing what you love, I realised once again that I am in such a small, astoundingly privileged minority to be here today.

After a day of struggling to get myself going, to finish all the pieces I started at the beginning of this week, to avoid picking up yet another distraction to keep me from getting down to it, in a whatsapp exchange with M today, I caught myself saying “It’s nice. I’m finally close to where I want to be.”

Where is that, she asked.

“Writing for the most part of any given day,” came my answer, without so much as a seconds thought.

It’s true. Despite the debilitating self doubt, the weight of feeling horribly lucky and undeserving in equal measure, the incredibly high highs and the very low lows, the loneliness of working from home, the days of fumbling around in the dark knowing not what the fuck to do, the Herculean efforts to get up and get going with nobody to answer to, I’m incredibly happy to be here. Playing the field, serial dating, flirting with my inability to commit to a full time gig.

Same time, last year: Day 40: Begin again

Busy times, apparently

At the start of the year, it felt odd not to log in here everyday and type out a post. I found myself wondering how I managed to write something everyday for a whole year. How did I cull out time? Which is another way of saying, I’ve been busier in January, than I was for the larger part of 2016.

I have had so much going on to keep me on my toes, and my mind buzzing. My folks visited us over the long weekend, which though it went by in a blur, was an amazing four days for me. Multiple ups and downs with domestic help has meant I’m back in the kitchen. 6 am wake up calls meant I’ve been perpetually running low on sleep. Weekends have been spent either typing up loose ends with work or chilling out so much I couldn’t be bothered with the computer. So I’ve been busy. The only difference is this time around I have no inclination to sweat over meals and dishing out something new and fresh every day. So we’re making do with a lot of rolling leftovers, quick one pot thingies, baked stuff and sometimes that means eating chaat for dinner. Old me would feel terribly negligent and guilty for not being able to efficiently manage my home and kitchen duties, but new me is too busy writing to give a fuck. It helps that VC’s response to most questions about food is one of two things: Please don’t make me eat dal or Whatever you’re eating is fine. On that dreaded weekend, he made me cheese toasts two nights in a row. We’re getting by, and if it means I can keep calm and write without losing my mind, I’LL TAKE IT.

As a result I’ve had a good month of work. Had a landslide number of accepted pitches, turned in all my work on time, and it continues to be good and positive. And there have been no downsides to any of this as yet. I’ve met my targets not just for January, but February too and I honestly can’t remember the last time this happened. So whatever’s at work here, letting me have this good run, thank you. I’LL TAKE IT.

Today, I broke into VICE. VICE-VICE. Even though I’ve written for some other VICE channels (Broadly here and Motherboard here)before, this is something I’ve been thinking about for over a year now. I’m even more glad I could do it with this story, that’s also been brewing in my head for over a year now. Alex’s work has fascinated, inspired and moved me ever since I first watched a video some time in 2015. Since then, I have been drawn to his unabashed and unapologetic spirit and I was so overwhelmed when he, Sudipto and Nilay gave me their precious time to share some very interesting, insightful and very thought provoking ideas with me. Two interviews ran well over an hour, and meandered across subjects, into a freewheeling discussion about things at large. I love it when that happens. Even the writer in me who really procrastinates until the very nth hour, before I actually pick up the telephone and make that call, loves interviews like these. The last interview ended at 11.20 pm. And I came away so charged, I couldn’t sleep so I got down to writing the story immediately. I know an issue or a topic has touched me when I am able to take away from the interview not just answers to my questions, but little nuggets of information to keep thinking about, when I learn fascinating new details and facts that I am prompted to google immediately, and when I feel like this issue deserves so much more than a single story. So I’m going to work towards that. But for now, the story.

Being Gay Is Illegal in India, but That Doesn’t Stop These Drag Queens

alex4

“I started performing in drag in 2014. I came out the very next month,” said Alex Mathew, laughing unabashedly. “For 6 months, I had been framing a coming out letter to my parents. I don’t like being fit into boxes—I call myself queer, I think sexuality is fluid. So it didn’t go well. But Mayamma literally yanked me out of the closet.”

Alex is a 28-year-old communications professional in Bangalore, in India—a country where sexuality, gender and identity are deeply intertwined with religion, superstition and caste hierarchies, allowing little or no room to go against the grain. Coming out as gay or lesbian is much less publicly accepted than it is in many Western countries; to claim fluidity in one’s identity, then, is an unapologetic and daring move, much less to perform publicly in drag, as Alex does when he transforms into Mayamma (aka Maya).

In India, performing in drag invites potential for ridicule, social ostracization and the risk of persecution—Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, introduced in 1860 under British rule, criminalizes sexual activities that are “against the order of nature.” But Alex, alongside a rising class of performers spreading the gospel of drag throughout the country, has taken his performances to nightclubs and stages throughout the city, where Maya gets to push the envelope to incite progressive conversations and encourage LGBTQ acceptance.

Whether sashaying in a crisp white saree, singing an emotional rendition of Frozen’s “Let It Go” with jasmine flowers strung through her hair, or belting a boisterous cover of Lady Marmalade, cleverly renamed “Lady Mayamma,” every performance encapsulates an idea Alex holds close to his heart: to be uncompromisingly true to yourself. It’s as much a deeply held philosophy as it is a message about individualism, feminism and gender equality.

“Drag is a performance art; it’s what I do. My sexuality is my identity,” said Alex, carefully separating the two. Little wonder that it was a brush with drag that spurred his coming out: Growing up on a steady diet of Bollywood movies and classic Hollywood musicals, Alex developed a natural flair for theater. “I always wanted to be a Broadway performer, so I learned different forms of dance, acting, improv, and performed in local theater productions. But I always felt like I was missing the excitement and adrenaline rush that I expected from being on stage,” he said. When he revisited the 1993 comedy Mrs. Doubtfire as an adult, he was inspired to give drag a shot.

“Performing as a woman gave me a different rush,” he said. “It was an entry into a creative life that had been waiting for me.”

The act of men donning women’s attire to perform as women is far from new in India—it was previously common in traditional and folk art forms, like KathakaliYakshagana and Theyyam. But in the western, RuPaul’s Drag Race-inflected sense, drag as we know it—as a political act and performance art—has only recently risen in the country. Ironic, then, that to embrace the life of a drag queen is seen as a somewhat political act, given India’s cultural history of similar forms of performance.

Unlike Alex, who arrived at drag after searching for a creative outlet to better express himself, 23 year old Sudipto Biswas’ first performance happened somewhat by chance. Training in Western classical music, singing, songwriting and performing have been central to Sudipto’s life, but he found performing to be more frightening than exciting, because he was scarred by early memories of being mocked for his effeminate mannerisms.

“I’ve been singing all my life. But I have also had huge body image issues and stage fright because I’m not exactly a ‘manly man,’” he said.

He was introduced to drag in 2014 after watching Alex perform as Mayamma; RuPaul’s Drag Race was also gaining in popularity at the time. By marrying his childhood fascination with fabulously unapologetic divas with his desire to sing, he developed his own drag avatar, named Rimi Heart. He had the opportunity to perform as Rimi at Bangalore’s Queer Carnival last year, a fundraiser for the city’s Pride celebrations, which he said liberated a fearless performer within himself.

“Once I was on stage, I felt a radical different level of confidence!” he said. “You know the saying ‘ Give a man a mask and he’ll show you his true colors’—I didn’t hide my mannerisms. In fact, I was exaggerating everything!”

“Drag, by definition, is meant to attract attention. ‘Bad reactions’ to drag are heavily influenced by social conditioning, where it’s almost a sin for a man to do anything feminine. Hyper masculinity makes straight men worry that even remotely interacting [with male femininity] will somehow emasculate them,” said Sudipto. He’s now pursuing ways to break barriers to the public expression of femininity, and use drag to reach a wider audience for his performances.

22-year-old Nilay Joshi is a graduate Engineering and Psychology student with a clear goal—to use his foundational knowledge of psychology to develop his drag performances and bring the realities of LGBTQ lives to stage.

“When you are a drag queen, you get to boldly take to a platform and talk to an audience who wants to watch and listen to you. I feel it’s best way to talk about relevant issues,” said Nilay. His drag character, Kashtaani, is a portmanteau of Kashi bai and Mastani, the two wives of the 18th century Peshwa ruler of Central India. “I was inspired by their diverse personalities. Kashi is caring and subtle, a typical Indian woman, and Mastani is bold and open-minded,” he explained.

For some, drag becomes a way to make a direct political statement about the LGBTQ community itself, like Harish Iyer, a well-known Indian LGBTQ rights activist. You’ll find him applying foundation as he reflects on what drag means to him for filmmaker Judhajit Bagchi’s lens: “Even some of the supporters of the LGBTIQ community feel that it’s okay to be LGBTIQ as long as you don’t overdress or go over the top. I know what they mean—they mean drag,” he said. He told Judhajit that he does drag to represent “the effeminate gay man, the masculine lesbian…(who) are still largely ostracized,” even by the LGBTQ community.

Given the frightening rise of homophobia in India, people like Harish, Alex, Sudipto, Nilay and more are using drag to help subvert the idea that gender roles are binary and sexuality is rigid in a country trying to reconcile deeply ingrained tradition with our modern, global era.

“It’s extremely important to understand that just being a man in heels and a dress dancing and singing is a political act,” said Sudipto. “But there’s a lot of genius and thought process there, and real talent. It would be nice to see people focus on that, too.”

Homosexuality is still criminalized in India—in July 2009, a Delhi high court decriminalized private, consensual homosexual acts proscribed by Article 377; then, in December 2013, India’s Supreme Court recriminalized them. Last February, the Supreme Court heard arguments against its constitutionality, then decided in June to decline to re-examine Article 377’s validity.

The back-and-forth is indicative of the push-pull nature of LGBTQ rights in India. But whether it’s Alex speaking in drag at prestigious conferences, Sudipto pushing gender boundaries with daring performances, or Harish going further still to point out self-hatred within the LGBTQ community, drag may be an art form whose time in India has come.

(This story first appeared on VICE.)

Same time, last year: Day 32: On creative happiness

Work. But also life.

I started 2017 with a couple of mini work goals. One, to send out a minimum of 20 pitches every week. And second, to just consistently do it without losing heart or feeling wasted.

I did the former fairly well, but semi-sucked at the latter. It has to be noted that the second half of last year saw me rolling way back on the effort to find new work. With everything else going on I was consistently only just doing enough to keep me going, and stay in touch. So I kind of began January with a clean slate that needed to be filled from scratch. That’s a scary place to be especially when your bank balance is slowly diminishing and there are bills to be paid. So my restless self began to despair just one week into January.

Why won’t people respond soon?

Why can’t my emails just be acknowledged, even if it is to politely reject my idea?

How long should I wait before I move on?

Maybe I should try something else.

Consistency has never been one of my strengths. I have the attention span of a housefly most days, and the patience to stay with something even when it seems like nothing is moving comes in bursts and spurts. So I hoped that this would be an exercise in gaining some chill. And getting it to stay.

Additionally, the ups and downs of last year, the number of weeks I took off from work has meant that the motivation to keep writing has also been sporadic. Even though I did write something every single day, turning it to work is another thing entirely.

I’ve had numerous instances of giving up too easily, way too often. I really want to change this. To eork hard in the true sense of the word. Not only when I have a deadline having over my head. I want to taste the sweet success that comes from slow, but persistent consistency. I don’t think I have ever focused on cultivating that with my work.

I was hoping to give this a shot by focusing harder on making a daily habit of pitching. The idea being that in order to do this successfully, I’d have to work on having a lot more ideas in the bank (which would mean having my thinking and working caps on even when I have no assignments on hand) and working doubly hard on turning accepted stories in (assuming they’d convert faster!) on time, to keep the ball rolling.
After one week of what felt like thankless pitching, I was disheartened when I didn’t receive as many responses as I’d expected. Maybe folks were still surfacing from the holidays? Maybe my emails weren’t good enough? Maybe they got lost in the slush-pile? I don’t know what it was. But I got no bites. Just a lot of crickets.

I took the weekend to regroup and decided I need to really, truly just chill out, and for once in my life focus on the process, trusting it wholeheartedly, doing the task at hand with sincerity and intention, without lusting over the results, or obsessing about how fast or slow they are to come.

And that right there was the hardest part. Not the idea generation. Not the writing of numerous LOIs. Not the combing the internet for contacts. Not the actual pitching. Just the pushing aside of all thoughts of why and how, stomping down on that imposter syndrome that is constantly trying to make a comeback, waving away the self doubt and fear. And just. keeping. my. head. down. and doing. it. day. after day.

Several days later, suddenly, smack in the middle of the week, I landed 4 stories in 2 days. Including breaking into another international site that’s been on my wish list for ages, one Indian glossy (it’s a really small piece, but still!), one international print mag, and one essay — and this last one has been the most satisfying conversion of this week. It’s an excerpt from a memoir I attempted to write not so long ago, but gave up on after much deliberation. For a year now I’ve been wanting to pick bits of it to turn it into publishable essays so at least some part of it sees the light of day. It took me one whole year to get cracking believe I can do this. And surprisingly just 2 days to land the story. Remind me again, why I didn’t do this sooner?

I think the hard work that went into keeping calm is what is at play here. I’ve been consciously spending significantly lesser time on all platforms of social media. Well, to be fair, I only use fb and instagram. I’ve returned to meditating and I begin every day with a big dose of affirmation. For this, I have A to thank.

I took up simple bullet journalling to keep track of my pitching, daily todos and wish lists and goals for three month and week.

There’s the gratitude journaL, which I know is making a huge difference to my general state offer mind. I try and consistently stay positive, and be thankful for what I have and where I am and believe that it is enough. Part of this means I’ve further cut down the noise – sticking to my routine, being goddamned adamant about not missing my workout, and meeting only a select few friends in whose company I feel uplifted and happy. It takes a little being selfish, and isn’t always easy. But it pays.

Most importantly, I think it was the deliberate effort to brush aside negative thoughts that spark laziness, self doubt and the inevitable spiral of apathy that makes my motivation turn to a sorry trickle, that boosted my confidence.

I know I’m a creature of habit. I need a vague framework of routine within which to play. I like having a plan most times. And I’ve been a firm believer in daily habits. So, if the mindful and deliberate effort to bring this all back to my life is putting some basics into place, I cannot complain.

Is this what mindfullness really is? I’m not sure.

I have to also say though, it’s not all me. I gather an immense amount of confidence boosting motivation from my virtual writer friends. Even as a silent spectator privy to a host of discussions, being exposed to an amazing variety of work, being a fly on the wall in so many discussions about ethics, professionalism and the right/better way to approach situations I thought were rare, I’ve gained a lot.

Despite the spotty year I had, I was a bit amazed when I realised how much work I’d gotten done. Today too, I realised that from feeling motivated to aim higher, to do better and to expect to be paid more, from learning to deal with rejection to never giving up on my ideas, from going about this in a nice-to-have kind of fashion to turning it into a practice for my daily life, I really couldn’t have done this on my own. So much of my will to keep at this without giving up, comes from the inspiration of others who have surged ahead, and been there and done everything that I am now doing. Their unabashed and absolute generosity to share, with zero insecurity is refreshing. It has taught me to open myself up, offer help even when it isn’t asked for, and basically never hold back if I can help it.

Sometimes I feel like writing is just the medium. What I am working at, what actually gets bigger, better and sweeter in the process, is life.

For all the help I get, I’m so grateful.

Same time, last year: Day 19: Hope

Two new pieces

The work genies have been good to me, and 2017 has started off on a good note. I’ve had two new pieces go live in two weeks, and I’m in talks with multiple folks for work that I’m compulsively trying to fit into my pipeline. Exciting times because I haven’t felt this motivated, positive or content with my work (save for a few snatches last year) in a while. Of course, just when things felt like they were going swell, I had a really slow, procrastinate-y day yesterday. Because, you know, things have to be evened out. If it feels like things are too good to be true, they probably are, and all that. And what good ever came form that kind of consistency, pthooeyy.

Anyhoo, this piece, my first (hopefully of more to come!) for Momentum.Travel: vignettes about my love for tea and buns, weekend breakfast or evening snacks had at local cafes in Panjim. I feel compelled to say that while writing this, I made a couple of trips to these cafes – to look around some more, to tale pictures, and to eat of course. It happened to be right after November 8. And on one particular evening, I have a distinct memory of scraping together all the change we could find between the two of us, so R and I could share one plate of buns and channa. It’s a moment that was telling, for several different reasons. And a moment I won’t forget in a rush.

Then there was this piece that was in the bank for – goodlorrrd – way toooo long. Apart from being a very satisfying story to research and write, it was a big of a win for me because I (sheepishly at first) learned that it’s okay to move a story when you’ve done all you can to see it through, but it’s just sitting on the bench for reasons that aren’t clear, or don’t work for you. Keep looking and find a way to tell the story you want to. After waiting almost seven months to see this story live, I was convinced my efforts were down the tube and that it would never see the light of day with publication A. Until I saw a call for stories from Motherboard, a publication I never thought to pitch, and frankly never imagined I’d ever have something relevant to pitch to! But it happened. And I’m in a science mag. Even waiting seven months for a story to come out has a silver lining, I suppose.

Okay, that’s all. In case you’re keeping track, here’s where you can find it all: shiny, updated portfolio.

Have a good weekend. I’ll see you on the other side. Let’s not get too loony in the aftereffects of the full moon and Friday, 13th.

(I know I’m trying.)

Same time, last year: Day 13: Lessons in letting go

Inconsequential posts you really don’t need to read

You know you’ve been off the grid and out of the work force for far too long when you feel the need to prep for a skype call. I still take my appointments seriously. Half an hour in advance, I decided I needed a cup of tea. I figured ten minutes before the call would be a good time to make it. So I did. And then I made the evening snack choice, grabbing the entire bag as opposed to the usual, taking a small portion in a bowl. It was a new client, and I wasn’t sure how long this call was going to be. I didn’t want to be stick on a call, tethered to my system, snacks just out of my reach. So I set myself up. Snacks within arms reach, mug of tea close at hand, I was ready for the call. Only to realise it was a video call.  And the only thought I had was, fuck the snacks, I need to wear a bra.

So much for prep.

*****

Battle scars. It’s what I call them. The scars I don’t notice. The scars I’ve resigned myself to perpetually bearing. Honestly, it’s because I don’t register them when contact happens, because I’m usually too involved in boomboompowpow to register it happened. But a few hours later, the bruise tells a completely different story. And I only realise something is wrong. Usually when I’m standing in queue at the checkout line in the supermarket and I see the group of aunties behind me staring strangely at my arms. Or when I go waxing and the parlour waali inquires about the bruises that to her shifty eyes look suspiciously like marks of domestic abuse. Or when I go from one class to the next and people ask really what happens in my other class. So I just say, battle scars.

*****

Early this week I felt major pangs of missing my friends. Like proper, tugging-at-my-heart feelings that I’ve felt only for boys I loved. The kind of intensity that has in the past made me abandon everything on the spot and rush to be with them. I think it’s the first time that I can remember it has happened with my friends. I told them as much. I said this feels like we’re all in a long distance relationship, we need to reunite soon.

So we’re working on that.

Hah.

*****

I’ve started a wee little habit. Gratitude journaling. Inspired last year by N, who mentioned it several times, and even did a month long challenge on more than one occasion. Then I did it briefly when I took on a 10 day abundance activity. I found it surprisingly revelatory, because it forced me to really zero in on the tiniest things that I am happy about and grateful for. In a year when I felt a lot of discontent, scarcity and unsettledness, this helped build a solid base of positivity. I now know what it means to operate from a place of abundance. It’s a state of mind that has helped me coast through many a low day. So this year I’m attempting to do it for as long as I can. I considered doing it online, in the name of being accountable. But seeing as how I’m working towards completely stopping all social posting, save for work updates, and this blog, that plan was quickly abandoned. And I went back to a good old journal.

Red ink <3 yellow light. Handwritten.

Twelve days in, I can safely say it’s the best ten minutes of every day. No matter what the day has been like.

Have any of you tried this? Any insights for a noob?

Same time, last year: Day 12: R & R 

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 366: December

It doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines of the impossible levels of drivel I posted at the start of the month, and tell that I’ve been in a slump. My brain has been impossibly foggy for many weeks now, my motivation levels plummeted to lows I didn’t know possible, and it showed in all aspects of my life. If blogging through this year has been a study in the ups and downs of my state of mind, I hit an all new low at the start of December. This kind of unexplained, debilitating, chronic blues has hit hard, several times this year, but last month when I returned from Thailand, I felt myself slip a notch lower. As an otherwise naturally happy, easy going person, it has been particularly difficult to deal with this. For one, I haven’t known this level of dejection and disinterest that seems to have crept into everything. Second, the inability to put a finger on it has meant I’m slow to recover. Third, my usual recovery time to snap out of a lull is a few days, a week, at best. So this one has completely thrown things out of whack.

Finally, I was prompted to dig deeper, and follow through on a hunch that perhaps there was more to this – a physiological reason – than meets the (mind’s)eye. Turns out I was right, and taking this blood test was one of the best things I did this year, making me kick myself for not listening to my gut sooner. Which is not to say the things I’ve felt and gone through this past year were unwarranted or without other reasons. This has been one of the most trying years in recent time, a time of transition, the sort that only makes sense when you look at things in reverse. When you realise that every sucker-punch moment was a set up for what is to come. I’ve felt for a while that all this confusion, unsettledness and restlessness is not without purpose. That it is leading up to something. You may not recall, but I said it at the end of this post too. It really felt like November was a culmination of one phase. Like December was going to be a time of moving into a better, brighter, positive space. I had an inkling about some sense of a transition at the start of 2016, but I didn’t anticipate it would last all year long and make its presence felt as much as it did. But, the reason I reiterate this is because December felt like I was finally over the hurdle. The same one I have been painfully eyeing and struggling to get over all year.

I’m putting a lot of it down to the multivitamins kicking in and altering the chemicals in my body which have put my fatigue to rest, given me sounder sleep than I have had all year, and generally brought the spring back to my step. My motivation levels have shot up, which is to say, they’re back to normal. I feel upbeat, positive and happy. My moods are more evenly tempered and for the first time in a long, long time, I feel like myself again. All the layers of sadness, nostalgia, PMS, PTS, and dejection have lifted and I feel like the aliens have returned me to my place on this planet, just the way I used to be. (Inside joke: I’m beginning to think I was abducted for the most part of 2016 because I couldn’t recognise the person I had become. Yep, this might be your cue to unfollow this crazy lady.) I’ve dropped the oscillations from extreme highs to debilitating lows. And clarity, sweet, sweet clarity that has eluded me, is coming back to life.

Some part of this sudden upward swing was kicked into motion when I was suddenly jolted out of my misery seeing updates from some writers on a group I’m a part of. Nothing like a look back at the year gone by to really put things in perspective, no? It’s so easy to slip into a loop of negativity when you’re feeling shitty because it’s the most convenient thing to do. It’s easy, and getting up and out is unthinkable. But I was forced out of my lethargy and I had a pleasant and rather exhilarating realisation that despite it all, somehow I’ve had a good work year. From where I stand, looking back, I see so many gaps in my work style. I took so many unwanted breaks that put my progress back significantly, I was slowed down by rapidly dipping motivation levels, I was plagued by self doubt and had my confidence crushed by plenty unsavoury experiences. I ended the year knowing fully well that I hadn’t achieved exactly what I had set out to do at the start of the year. Yet, it wasn’t all bad, it seems. And that came as a very, very welcome silver lining.

A mildly altered morning schedule saw me waking up at 6 am every day this month, which while I dreaded, turned out to be a bit of a Godsend. Because it gave me a solid hour everyday to be by myself, at peace, reading. And I was able to really pick up the pace and finish up so many more books because of it.

Somewhere in between, a long-awaited and very special essay — another one about Indian women who have chosen to remain childfree — went live on The Establishment. It was the byproduct of a lot of data I had gathered for another essay, but was unable to use. So tada, I turned it into a whole different essay. Win.

There were more travels of course, the last of it to close the year. I ran away to Bangalore, and then to Coonoor with S, a trip that came about in the most spontaneous and speedy fashion. Four days in the hills, and a road trip up there and back to Bangalore was really the icing on the cake. I spent four days soaking in the mountain sun filtering through the mist, and questioned my love for the seaside. I saw mighty trees that made me feel oh so very small. And I saw a giddying variety of flowers, trees, fruit and vegetation of the kind that only mountain air can bear, and it made my head spin.

It’s been a year of tremendous travel. I may not have gone very far, but with every trip I snatched some lovely cherished moments and experiences, and have found something that my life was missing the past many years: camaraderie with just the right mix of closeness and space all in one. I came home with my heart feeling very full. It put a whole different spin on thoughts of distance, longing to be with friends I love, and the expanses of time between us. I returned to the news of George Michael’s passing, and it put me in a nostalgic, reflective mood.

But I also returned to renewed enthusiasm and a very refreshed, positive outlook. It feels like I’m over the bump. I was able to write so much in the second half of the month, spruce up the home that I have ignored for a better part of the year, stock up the house and I even spent four days getting prepped for the work weak ahead. I had some time to even reflect on what a surprisingly good year of reading it has been.

December marked the end of a shitfest of a year of course, but I’ll remember it as the month my vitamins kicked in and my body and mind began to behave like I owned it again. It’s the month I closed the door on 2016 in more ways than just the passing of 12 long months. I’m so ready for 2017.

Day 349: Indian Women Speak Out About Choosing Not To Have Children

I’m stoked to be finishing the year with a couple of pieces that have been amongst the funnest stories to write, most wonderful and enriching writing experiences, for outlets that have really been an absolute pleasure to work with. The first, is an essay about what it’s like for some childfree Indian women. It also touches heavily on one of the books on the topic that has deeply influenced me. I’m especially happy that I was able to interview my very own tribe of women who have embraced the choice, who I have befriended n the last 5-6 years of my life, who were willing to share their opinions and experiences with me. It’s likely the last of my rambles on the topic. Phew.

The version below is an initial, and longer, edit of the piece that was eventually published on The Establishment.

Selfish, Shallow, And Self-Absorbed? Five Indian Women On Remaining Childfree.

In many Indian homes, the intensely personal decision to have a child is not limited to the space between spouses, and certainly not women alone. I often joke that discussing procreation and being inquisitive about people’s desire to further their progeny is a national pastime.

I’ve had distant relatives  — people I don’t know too well — feel no hesitation to check about my plans to start a family. But it’s not limited to relatives making polite conversation at family gatherings alone. Friends report being grilled about their reproductive choices at staff meetings, conference calls, job interviews, and even first dates. There’s just no winning even with a baby in tow – one-time mothers are often chided about not having a second child, and ones with daughters pressured into having another in the hope that it will be a boy.

Despite my society’s obsession with it, I was initially ambivalent to the prospect of motherhood. Culturally, it’s deeply ingrained as a crucial milestone of adulthood, so I believed that sooner or later I would ‘lean in’ and accept it. Over time,this ambivalence turned to clarity that motherhood was not for me. For one, I never felt the pangs of maternal instincts so many women speak of. Thankfully, the myth that all women want children has been busted. Also, I couldn’t think of a single aspect of my life that I wanted to off-load (even temporarily) to make room for a child. But most of all, I intuitively knew that motherhood just didn’t call out to me.

As an Indian woman, my decision to not have children meant facing a barrage of intrusive questions, fielding off unsolicited advice, steeling myself from unwanted ‘treatments’ and ‘fixes’ – all offered to correct this ‘obvious flaw’. There is a common notion that motherhood “completes” a woman in a way nothing else can, and I felt lonely in my choice.

I was 31 when I stumbled on Megan Daum’s anthology Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision NOT to Have Kids — a book of essays about a range of experiences of writers, men and women of varied sexual orientation, living a childfree life. In this anthology, I found comfort, peace, and a sort of camaraderie that made me feel less isolated about eschewing motherhood.

It was only in my 30s, that I found company in a tribe of Indian women who echoed my sentiment. They listened, without belittling or rushing to offer a solution to alter my thinking.

Having faced their share of meddling questions and conjecture about their reproductive choices, I knew they’d appreciate the essays in Daum’s book as much as I did. I set out to talk candidly with four friends about the book … and gain insight into their own decisions to challenge motherhood – a concept so inextricably linked with my culture’s ideal of the perfect woman.

***

“I don’t hate children. The children of family and friends are much loved and pampered by me,” my friend Chandni starts off. “Just because I don’t want my own, do not assume that I won’t be interested in activities involving children.”

Contrary to the most common assumption about being child-free by choice, like Chandni, I do not hate children. Nor do I hate people who choose to have them. Our inability to acknowledge the possibility that some of us are simply not excited by a life caring for little ones, is dismissive of our agency to find purpose in places and activities outside of motherhood.

Roshni is 40 years old and an accomplished author. She tells me that motherhood didn’t particularly ever appeal to her. She finds the lives of whose with kids, stressful, burdened, and not enviable. But social conditioning runs deep, and she bore some guilt acknowledging a future without motherhood.

On finding solace within Daum’s book, she says: “The book provided some useful reference points to help me begin letting go without feeling unnecessary guilt or attachment to ideas I had been holding on to as a consequence of social conditioning.”

We both agreed that Pam Houston exemplifies this in her essay “The Trouble With Having It All”: “What if I’ve always liked the looks of my own life much better than those of the ones I saw around me?…What if I have become sure that personal, freedom is the thing I hold most dear?”

Accepting what is right for you, even if it means embracing an unpopular choice, requires conviction and courage in a society that has no trouble exerting its opinion on you at every turn.  Often it means going against the grain and shunning motherhood even if it looks like a weakness or selfishness.

***

I would love more well-meaning aunties to read Daum’s  introduction: “It’s about time we stop mistaking self-knowledge for self-absorption.”

The book does a fantastic job of plainly presenting the spectrum of reasons to choose a life without children. My friend Shilpa says it took her upwards of 30 years to really grow into herself as a person, become comfortable with her body and in her own skin. The idea of stepping into motherhood and inevitably unsettling that newfound comfort therefore never appealed to her. Her favourite essay, “Mommy Fearest” by Anna Holmes, states: “These days, as I enter my forties, I find that I am only now beginning to feel comfortable in my own skin, to find the wherewithal to respect my own needs as much as the others’, to know what my emotional and physical limits are, and to confidently, yet kindly, tell others no. Despite (or because of) my single status right now, becoming a mother would feel like a devolution as much as an evolution.”

Even the most self-assured women amongst us, cannot sidestep the painful possibility of waking up to realise that perhaps, we made the wrong choice. In “Beyond Beyond Motherhood” by Jeanne Safer, one of the most relatable pieces for me, she says, “There is no life without regrets. Every important choice has its benefits and its deficits, whether or not people admit it or even recognize the fact: no mother has the radical, lifelong freedom that is essential for my happiness. I will never know the intimacy with, or have the impact on, a child that a mother has. Losses, including the loss of future possibilities, are inevitable in life; nobody has it all.”

***

I sometimes wonder if being selfish about what I want of and for my life is really such a bad thing. More so when I consider the crucial fact that in most Indian families childcare is shouldered almost entirely by women. Even the most hands-on father will never experience pregnancy, childbirth, recovery or breastfeeding, leaving women to be primary caregivers.

In “Maternal Instincts” Laura Kipnis, debunks the idea that society favours parents. “Until there’s a better social deal for women—not just fathers doing more child care but vastly more social resources directed at the situation, including teams of well-paid professionals on standby (not low-wage-earning women with their own children at home)—birthrates will certainly continue to plummet.”

Nisha lives in Chicago, with immediate family across the world. The distance from this support system means she has to carefully consider everything that she will need to give up in order to transition to parenthood. “If it was easier to visualize a life with children I bet more women would choose it. But without help from family or financial resources to hire people to take care of cleaning, babysitting, shopping etc, it’s definitely not an easy choice.”

Increased dialogue around this means we’re also opening ourselves up to the idea that it’s okay to make this choice. We find common ground in circles of likeminded folks. We join Facebook groups for childfree people, we share essays, books, resources, and we engage with others, who like is, acknowledge that parenthood and living a wholesome, meaningful life are not mutually exclusive.

I’m a willing and happy auntie not just through blood ties but through bonds of friendship of my choosing, and I have, at various points, contributed to and been a part of some milestones in parenthood along with my closest friends.

Like Daum says, “These essays have so many people talking about the ways that they do have relationships with kids, nieces or nephews or kids that they mentor. You’ve heard the cliché ‘it takes a village.’ There are so many ways of being a responsible villager,” she says. I couldn’t agree more.

(A version of this story appeared on The Establishment.)

Day 344: Looking back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 340: Happy high

I began the weekend by posting this picture on Instagram because I missed the blue skies, the sunburns skin, the green waves and the unencumbered time to read.

mis

Here’s why. December was to begin with the announcement of the winners of the fellowship I’d applied for. I didn’t win it, un case you’re asking. To be honest, my confidence flagged when I got news that the media house received 5k applications from across the globe. An email I received on 1st December confirmed that I had in fact not won it. What I did get instead, was my domestic help taking off for two months. I haven’t cooked a meal in over 6 months. And neither VC nor I have had to do much by way of heavy lifting around the house in terms of regular chores. The help is just one of those efficient people who has become so used to the way my house functions, and takes ownership of everything she does, often going above and beyond her responsibilities, picking up even when I have slipped or forgotten something. To say my world was falling apart a week bit, would be accurate. Luckily, she found me a substitute. Just to do the cleaning though, so I’m still going to have to cook us our meals. Having two hot cooked meals appear at meal time, without even having to do much thinking has been a luxury and I’m not looking forward to planning meals, stocking up veggies and culling out time from my mornings to cook, dammit. Second, substitute help comes at 6. On. The Dot. It’s been five days, and she’s never been a minute early or late. But, it’s literally still dark out when she arrives. And I’m usually very asleep at 6 am. So to alleviate my paranoia of sleeping through her arrival, my alarm rings at 5 am and I snooze it for an entire hour, neither really sleeping, nor waking up, making it an altogether restless, useless hour in bed, before I wake up when she rings the doorbell on the dot of 6. It’s hard to be complain or grudge her punctuality. I cannot complain. But I was drowsy for the first few hours of every morning last week, which made me miss my morning workouts. I made up for it by going to the evening slot instead, but it’s not the same and I’m just not a fan of so much change in routine at once. Urgh.

You know what else I got? The morning of December 1st began with a battle with a lizard that had entered the study, so when I opened the balcony doors for some morning breeze, it scampered out from behind the curtains, running behind my cupboard, dangerously close to the bed in the room. For someone who’d get paralysed at the sight of a lizard, only to recover long enough to jump on the closest piece of furniture, descending only once the creature had been dealt with by someone, I’ve come a long way. I still shriek. I still get a little stunned. But I am able to gather myself and deal with it on my own – with the help of insecticide to make them drowsy and a long broom to probe and poke them out of the room. Double urgh.

Anyway, last week was not very productive. PMS plus PTS (what I call post therapy syndrome) had rendered me a bit dazed. So I decided to take the weekend seriously. What I did was stay in bed and not leave for practically the entire weekend. I finished one and a half books, ravenously reading and getting out from under the covers only to eat.

All of Saturday, VC was at my service, bringing me beer, food and anything else I demanded, to bed. He even sent me an sms saying “at your service” – giggle. On Sunday, I kind of returned the favour. He’s developed what is now looking like tendonitis on his left wrist which has been acting up every now and then. It flared up early yesterday morning, rendering his left arm pretty useless. Which meant, I was doing the delivery. Aside from that, I stayed in bed reading, while he watched Black Mirror.

In the evening though, I dragged myself out. Cooked some chicken 65, and planned to have dosas and chutney for dinner. R came over with beer, chips and dip, and rasmalai (!), and we watched YJHD together, which I thoroughly enjoyed for some reason. I turned in early, diving right back into my book again before passing out close to midnight, a little frantic about waking up in time for my very timely house help.

This morning, I was up on time, with this song stuck in my head. So after the maid had gone, I turned it on and turned it up. At 7.30 am.

The rest of my day has been ati fantastic. A sudden spurt of productivity has meant I finished three stories I was struggling to make progress with last week. I responded to some enquiries. I even felt empowered enough to take a bit of a ballsy (for me) professional decision that I hope is going to pay off.

Somewhere in between I cooked lunch, picked and dropped off the injured husband, and watched an episode of my current shitty TV guilty pleasure and did some admin stuff I have been avoiding.

I wish there were a day to bottle the good juju from days like this. So I can take sips of it on days when the haze of the sads descends and makes me feel and behave totally useless.

 

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 328: ‘ssupdates

I’m going to launch into a barrage of very quick notes. Chitttting (As Rakhi Sawant calls it) is going to happen. Because I have to make up for the week I lost to a scrambled brain, lack of motivation to do ANYTHING IN LIFE, and spending time with my sister who was visiting and who just left. But seeing as how I’ve become a champ at hustling for work, juggling multiple things and wanting all of it so bad, till eventually some of it come through and paralyses me till it’s too late, forcing me to working at breakneck speeds at the very nth hour, I think I can hustle the life out of this too.

Work updates:

I wrapped up the first phase of my commitments with The Telegraph before I went on holiday, and came back to a flood of published stories. I’m so happy I had the chance to experience this kind of gig. I’ve always been very awkward about working with PR and negotiating FAM trips of this sort, so it was good to do this and realise I’m not all that bad at it. I’m especially chuffed I got to discover some really lovely properties that I hadn’t seen before, and include some of my favourite places to stay in Goa too.

Arco Iris

Birdsong

Shunya Noi Varo

You can see all the rest of my reviews (with several more to be updated in the near future) here.

A few weeks ago, I shared a Roads & Kingdoms piece about Obama’s visit to Vietnam and decided I was going to stop being a perfectionist who is waiting for the perfect meaty feature to break into this publication. Sometimes low hanging fruit is the way to go. Sometimes low hanging fruit is fun, and it gives you a foot in the door. So I went ahead and wrote this little vignette about my love for idlis, my first for this publication that’s been on my wishlist for over a year now. Of course once I did it, I was over come with the why-the-hell-did-I-wait-this-long blues, but it’s here. And it also led me to bag another little story for them, which I’m currently working on. Win, win?

Paste Magazine commissioned two stories in one go a few weeks ago, and I was really excited to do this one: a short list of Indian cookbooks that marry food with a memoir.

December is a day away and though my energy is flagging, I’m mentally planning for 2017. I have some small-big goals, and little steps that I want to take towards getting there. I cannot wait for 2016 to be over already!

Day 308: Reading list

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

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

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

“32,” came the reply.

No, I hadn’t misheard it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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