Up and about

Im wired and totally buzzed on a high energy, productive day spent out and about. Getting shit done, talking endlessly and thrashing out ideas and discussing ways to see them to fruition. I haven’t had this sort of an upswing in an outward moving energy, in years. It’s been two since I have slowly and gradually petered the freelance writing to the back burner. I’ve been in shifting-gears mode for so long now, not quite sure which lane to pick and which stream to find my flow in. But suddenly, after what feels like way too long spent thinking about things alone, I am making moves towards seeing new dreams to reality. And today, that energy was palpable.

Zipping thru the city, I realised this is in some measure what I missed towards the end of my days in Goa. This palpable feeling of swimming in a fully flowing stream of getting shit done. I have so so so missed this feeling, this distinct sense of satisfaction.

S and I ate a massive Vietnamese lunch to celebrate the excellent good beginnings and quick progress. And because she’s superstitious like that, we will follow it up with a consecutive day of work tomorrow.

I am so thrilled to be back in work mode. But in an entirely new way from anything I have ever done before. Not just in the nature of the work but the manner in which I am having to function and the way in which this will put me out in the world.

I am so excited for what the new year will bring.

One year ago: Abiding faith and peace of mind

Finding flow

I had a deeply moving and powerful experience practicing with S yesterday. It was stormy out, and we almost didn’t make it. Until we actually did, and after cups of chai and much quiet talking, when we finally got down to it, something came over me.

I’m noticing how different I am in the presence of people with whom I have a level of comfort that uplifts and energises me. I see how my pace and flow changes and how my demeanour is different. I have a feel of what it is to tune in, but let go. To be present, but not control that in any manner. To hold space, to facilitate the healing.

And that was a powerful experience for me. I felt moved just doing the work with and for S.

The session left me thinking so much about how the burdens and traumas of the past, of past generations, of women who came before and laid down the path for us, is still so present in us. This, even as we are the generation that is significantly challenging so much of the old, and so determined to figure out an all new way. We’re the ones really pushing the boundaries, even while we have so much of us so steeped and conditioned by what we’ve grown up with.

I see this in how I am exploring redefining what work, ambition and success is to me. I’m finding I need to find a new measure and means to what excellence is to me. VC and I are constantly, sometimes unconsciously, re-evaluating the shifting equations in our marriage. I am still steadfastly convinced about going childfree.

S called us the twilight generation. An apt term, I thought, for us lot with one foot in deeply held by all the conditioning we’ve come from, so aware of how it has helped us get this far, but also simultaneously ready to question the status quo, push back at tradition, find new balance and meaning in a way that seems fit for where we are now and what we want from the world the way it is today.

I slept like a log last night. So sound and deep, unbroken, that I almost missed gym today. But I pushed through and came out at the other side better for it. Deep sleep seems to be my reaction to any kind of intensity these days. I seem to be processing things in a much quieter, restful way than the active, restless way that I used to not too long ago. And I woke up hyper aware of my privilege. To be in a place and have the kind of life that is facilitating this. To have the opportunity to allow for this deep rest when I need it.

I thought back to the practice session, and realised how much of it was me at work, and how much of it was something more, something beyond. That inexplicable flow that comes from an inner connectedness that is fleeting and completely not in my control at the moment. When all the right things align, for a brief time I experience the flow and that complete syncing of inner and outer worlds. It is blissful and so powerful. And then it is gone.

I was at a screening of an excellent documentary made by Premjit Ramachandran along with his architect brother Bijoy Ramachandran, on the life and philosophies of Architect BV Doshi, last week. And there was a brief presentation at the start of it, which featured this handwritten letter Doshi once wrote to Bijoy.

It speaks of flow. It speaks of that something beyond that takes over when there is flow. And it spoke to me again of how we are mere vessels, and our job is to find connection — with ourselves first — and the through, out in the world. No matter what the nature of our work, this is the only way to find meaning.

He talks of architecture and the act of designing a building, but it spoke to me like it could very well have been about the work of life itself. In fact, it spoke to me of grace and divinity, and their place in our lives.

The building itself is as integrated as a human being or an animal or an insect or a plant etc

What one needs to do is to understand the flow

To know the flow, you have to be in contact with YOURSELF and the material which is used as a medium

I have days when I wonder why I ever embarked on this totally consuming journey. I wonder if I have lost balance. Then there are days like the day I watched this film, or like yesterday when I had that impactful experience practicing with S. And there are flashes where the lightbulbs come on, when fleetingly, I have a moment of clarity about what this deep and burning need to get to know myself is fuelled by.

One year ago: Walk with me for a while (Amsterdam. Day 2.)
Two years ago: On letting go of what is meant-to-be, and enjoying what-is
Three years ago: I am eager

Stillness

It’s so great to be in a learning environment again. While I’ve really enjoyed and felt the need for the time of processing in the months between level 1 ending and level 2 beginning, I have also missed staying in touch with the work and being in an environment that nurtures and makes me feel like a learner. Just two days of it and I’m thrilled, my heart brimming over with joy.

Last year, there was a decided pause I had made in my life to make space for this learning. This year it feels like I’m going with the flow. To be in a classroom again, without a plan, without a focused specific outcome and without any inkling where this learning is going to take me is like flirting with the unknown at another degree. To go with the flow even as I remind myself to go one step at a time, one day at a time is exciting. To lean in and make myself available to any way in which this journey may unfold and take me is feeling as much a part of the learning process as the course itself.

I’m glad to be able to give myself this opportunity and to be in this process minus the regular anxiety about performance and outcomes that I am known to experience, is refreshingly new. And it feels like a shift within me.

When I began this journey, this exploration of learning last year, it felt like a sabbatical. There was a concious putting off and away of all other preoccupations. It has been interesting to see how much more has peeled away in the months after, how much more continues to strip away even to this day, and how I am being guided to really focus on this without much effort on my part. Without a plan. Without any preconceived ideas. Without expectations.

My life looks nothing like it did one year ago. It looks nothing like I thought it would either. And I have been having Ong a strong feeling that I have to let go of the very idea of what “my life should look like”. Earlier this month when I had thoughts about work and which way to go, there were vestiges of a past life creeping in, which though I invited and explored, didn’t stay very long. So I’ve been feeling for a while now, with a growing sense of confidence every day, that perhaps this isn’t a sabbatical anymore, and just a new kind of life itself. The end of one way of living and making space for an entirely new one.

This exploratory, flowy way of living through my days has a special kind of slowness that now sits beneath my skin. I find myself reluctant to have days that are packed full of activity or that require me to run helter skelter. I am.unabke to function in that way. There is a slowness that has pervaded my very being, shifted and rewired some very fundamental building block in me.

It’s like an internal clock resetting, a rewiring of my system. And maybe I need to stop looking at this as a temporary set up, or a stop gap, but just a very new way of life itself.

One year ago: One day, we’ll be old and think of all the stories we could have told
Three years ago: Thoughts on a girly holiday

These days

I’ve only been back in Bangalore a week, but the settledness that comes with returning home makes it feel like it’s been a while. Longer. Only thoughts of my plants give me a pang for the wonderful summer I had this year, not so long ago. But for the most part, life here has resumed in full swing. The weather has turned here with thunderstorm-y nights and grey, overcast days. Summer feels long gone.

There is the new development of not having work at all, something that otherwise grounds my days, giving me tangible milestones to work towards. I’m also mostly still eating all meals at amma’s, because ammama is visiting, so my kitchen hasn’t found a burst of activity as it usually does when I return. The only thing I’m doing (and by doing I mean expending physical energy) with utmost dedication an enthusiasm, is hitting the gym every single day. As much as this is a luxury that I love and appreciate, it has meant my days are rather floaty, like an extended holiday of sorts. Except I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t a holiday, this is now life itself. A phase of life without work, a life with abundant help and generosity from my mother. It is here for the taking — with freewheeling days to do as I please — and I must step up and take it for what it is, without diminishing its (or my) value with my sometimes problematic notions of what is “okay” to receive, and what is an unnecessary indulgence.

This seriously still disorients me — the floaty days, and the internal tussle I go through before I can enjoy them — but the uncanny and deliberate way in which events aligned to land me in this place this time around feels like a fresh call to just stay with it for a change. Do not rush to fill it with busyness, Re.

Even though I am getting better at it, it still takes a lot of effort to put myself in the headspace to go with it and enjoy it, to believe I am not “slacking off” for not being “productive”, to quit equating my usefulness to professional work alone. There is a sense of urgency I feel in getting to work, that I haven’t had in a while. The comfort of a steady gig, a steady income had kept that at bay, I suppose. The emptiness left by it now has brought old demons I’d somewhat put to rest, back up again. I’ve done my share of overthinking it silently in my head. And I keep coming back to asking myself this — what is your rush? What are you in looking to fill, ignore, move your eyes away from? Are you looking for work to numb the discomfiting silence that comes from extreme stillness? What is so scary about emptiness that you are trying avert it so urgently?

While I figure this out, I’m casting the net out again. Feebly. I’ve been out of the game for so long that I feel inept and a bit at sea about where to begin. So I must remember to take it slow, telling myself as many times as it takes to remember, I didn’t get to this stage of funemployment overnight, that sheer providence has sent a steady flow of work my way even in phases when I wasn’t really looking for it, that I am probably not going to go back to a state of steady work overnight. This is the natural order of things now. That it is okay. That there are gifts in here, even in the sometimes uncomfortably empty days, in the laziness that forces itself on me, in the wealth of time that is opening up for me. Is work really the only thing I want to fill it with?

At this point, I don’t know.

One year ago: Life has a funny way of helping you out
Three years ago: Period story and writing lessons

Loud

Today, I had what I thought was a perfectly normal, if slightly loud, conversation that one has with a client. It started off as a clarification of miscommunication from both sides, but very quickly turned into a shouting match that took an unnecessarily emotional turn. I used to be someone who would get very worked up by confrontation of this sort, but I now much prefer having things out in the interest of a better outcome (even if that outcome is that I lose a client). But today, somewhere in the midst of decibel levels rising and emotions flaring, I realised that what was playing out was a story, a script. Something I have been a part of before — conversations with clients/colleagues where there is an unmistakeable undertone of a power equation threatening to be toppled simple because one party decided to come clean and ask the tough questions.

I used to be afraid of this kind of confrontation, no matter which side of the argument I have been in. I am not a fan of ruffling feathers (and losing a good thing) nor have I been a fan of being at the receiving end of a confrontation. But today, I initiated it. I didn’t even realise how naturally this had come to me today, even as I was doing it. And suddenly, in that moment when I realised what was actually at play, I had the blinding clarity that I refuse to play a part in this repetitive script in my life again.

It was suddenly no longer about missed deadlines, miscommunication, ironing out wrinkles so we can work it out going forward. It was about reclaiming my power from a person who was hell bent on irrationally taking it away. I have never been surer of how right I am in an engagement with a client. And today, I really had it out.

The conversation was difficult. It touched a very raw nerve, gave me a headache and tested me emotionally so much, I burst into tears when I hung up, even as I was so relived to have ended that contract. Now that I think of it, I think they were also tears of relief. But when the call was done, my temples were pounding, I needed a tall drink of water and immediately took myself to my air conditioned bedroom to cool off.

There’s suddenly so much happening with me, in this area of power, space and boundaries. It comes in waves with such intensity and is revealing itself in little and big situations, inspiring a host of different actions and reactions on an everyday basis. It is making me do things every single day that surprise me, push me, elate me, exhaust me.

This situation, this conversation and this outcome (ending a contract on a telephone call) would be so very unlike me. Except it doesn’t feel unlike me anymore. The more these situations present themselves, the more I am pushed to see this side of me that also exists, that has been lying locked up, that needs to be seen, the more I am forced to see what I really am. I’m a mix of it all. I am as aggressive and can fight loud and aggressively for what’s right, as much as I can be compassionate and let you have your way on a day when I feel kinder.

Today I may have shaken myself up a bit. This probably the first time I really stood up to a client who was being a bully. It’s the first time I really made myself heard, without relenting in the moment and saving up all my pent up aggression for a politely worded email sent much later when enough deep breaths were taken.

This new side, I find aggressive, loud, shrill, even hostile sometimes. But, I realise how much of this is conditioning. Conditioning that makes me believe these qualities must be hushed up. That I must be coy and cooperative as far as possible. That I must sometimes relent in the interest of work, and money. But I am so much more than that.

I am sometimes angry. Fierce. Unreasonable. I am all of this too.

When did anger get such a bad rap? Why is it looked down upon so much? I see now that anger and rage, when expressed, are clues to dig deeper. And invariably, when I do, I am compelled to change something towards a better outcome. Anger maybe a trigger emotion, but it’s certainly a catalyst for change. So when and why have we become so comfortable with pushing it away?

I feel loud and large today. It is like stepping into a side of me that has been a long time coming. But on the flip side, I feel emotionally very vulnerable and fragile. And yet, kind of empowered. I feel new.

One year ago: All the small things
Three years ago: Essay aftermath

Day 347: Yes we all need a room of our own

Not very long after coming back to Bangalore and being on my own here, I realised just how much I have missed having a workspace of my own. It seems ultra-rich to have arrived at this awareness of the lack of it, at a time when I am actually surrounded by nothing but my own solitude, and I have the entire house to myself. It’s odd, and a bit upside- down, I’m aware. But I have found myself thinking fondly back to the time I had an actual room — a dedicated space in which to retreat for all things workAnd not travel around with my laptop from dining table to bed. It’s more than just a desk-space I long for, but a space to fuel my energy. I imagine it to be a room with a desk, yes. But more, a place where I can have a vision board up, have all my books and cards within easy reach (given how I’m currently thumbing through many books for many different purposes), a little altar for a newfound calling, and also space to chill where I can think, read, ruminate, work, take calls, practice tarot and anything else that I might fancy.

It’s a bit ironic that I have a whole extra bedroom in this home (in addition to the rest of the house to myself) but it’s not once I can use for much at the moment. With our collective life currently split between Goa and here, I don’t feel inclined to put in time, money or effort into turning it into anything either. But, there is this longing for that space as I see it in my head. Some part of me also knows that this space as I see it isn’t in the now, but a space in the future. A space that is still in the making, if that makes any sense at all.

Yes, yes, I know this reeks of bratty privilege. Such a first-world problem this, to have a whole home to call my own, and still want another room. The thing is, I have been enjoying being in my cocoon at home so much that I very quickly resort to lying in bed. Even when I’m working, I find myself working out of my bed. And you know how that goes right? It very quickly devolves into a Netflix binge that leads to inevitable sleep. I am at my productive best when I am at my folks’, and the instances when I had A and S separately, over for “work dates”. This is a strange place I find myself in. On the one hand, I am allowing myself the luxury of this non-rigid existence, enjoying the mid-morning Netflix binge as much as I am working late into Sunday night. There is space for both, right from the cozy environs of my bed. Yet, on the other, I find that the distinct feeling of wanting to get into action towards new areas of interest are also beginning stir quite vigorously. And that calls for a totally different kind of space. Outside of my head. Outside of my bed. And in a room of my own.

Title and current mood inspired by:

One year ago: I shake off all that no longer serves me
Two years ago: Day 347: 6 am essentials

Day 332: Shoot high, break low

So. I was published! In a Canadian anthology featuring stories and essays about menstruation from around the world. I was first notified in an email from one of the editors, Tanis, who wrote to me last year, about my essay being picked. I’m not quite sure why, but I wasn’t terribly excited then. It’s been a long time in the works since then, and I had actually even forgotten about it. Until I came back from Auroville last week, to a heavy package waiting in the mail for me.

From Canada? That’s unexpected, I thought, only to open it and discover two copies of this formidable anthology.

Opening up Gush: Menstrual Manifestos For Our Times, edited by Roasanna Deerchild, Ariel Gordon and Tanis MacDonald, though, I felt that familiar thrill creep in again. No matter how many times I see my name in print, the excitement never gets old.

One of the first instances of experiencing that feeling was when I was first published in a community newsletter when I was 12-13. My grandfather had insisted I submit some of my poetry to them, and when published, he neatly cut out strips of my published poems form the newsletter, stuck them on a letter and posted them to me in Bangalore for keeps.

It was probably one of the first instances of realising that I could be a writer. That this business of word-soup was actually fun and gratifying.

That same thrill has oft-repeated since then. Every time that I see my name and a byline in a newspaper or magazine, I remember that day where it kind of all began. And now I am in a book.

In a year that saw relatively less professional work (and aspirations, even) on my part, this felt good.

I was telling N in a long voice note last week that even though I knew I was slowing down with work this year, I didn’t know I was going to reach a point where everything “work-related” would completely take a backseat. For once in my life, I have allowed other kinds of work to take precedence. What little writing work I’ve done, I’ve done on occasion, only when I was particularly inspired or compelled to voice an opinion. I’ve had a steady, low hum of assignments that I took to keep me going, and my writing muscle in good use. But it’s extremely low-key and very, very basic compared to the kind of writing I was used to doing last year and before. However, it’s given me a few busy spikes and the income is always welcome. But this? This felt delightful at an all new level.

I’m now slowly going through the rest of the essays in the book and finding I’m in some fine company. If you’d like to read the essay, it’s a mildly edited version of this one I wrote for The Establishment on World Menstrual Health Day a few years ago.

Second, now that I can talk about this, I was one of the many judges for the Conde Nast Traveller India’s Top Restaurant Awards. I won’t be making it to the shiny awards ceremony in Mumbai next month, but I look forward to eating at some of these winning restaurants over the next few months.

Day 284: September

Heaven, let your light shine down

I’ve thought long and hard about how I can sum up September. I’ve written, re-written and written again, this post collating all that happened in the month, and yet the right way to put it together has eluded me. Continues to elude me. It’s odd because so much happened in September. I was busy, the days were long, I was out and about, and then I went away on what can easily be called one of the best holidays of the last decade for me. Somehow, I’ve been lost for words.

This morning, I realised that perhaps it’s okay. That perhaps I must post this anyway, without neatly tying everything up with a bow. September was over-stimulating. September was snappy and brisk. And yet, September has left me silent. September has made me sit down and be still again.

For far too long now I have been seeking this stillness within. The sort of stillness that steadies me even in the midst of bustling action. Suddenly I realise, September was all about that kind of stillness deep within. Stillness that anchors, steadiness that fills a space. Somewhere, unbeknownst to me, that steadiness has crept in making space for a quiet assuredness that makes it possible to rest without my fingers fidgeting to hold something, to flow from one thing to the next without always knowing how or what or why, to be busy on the outside and calm within all at once, and to let go of the answers knowing that I can sit still with the questions swimming within.

Uncertainty, quietude, surrender, unsettling — there has never been a time in my life that I have enjoyed any of this. And somehow, here I am today doing exactly that. So here goes.

***

I had a shit ton of work last month, and the added pressure of finishing it all before I went away. And in classic fashion, I procrastinated a helluva lot before I eventually got it done.

Despite that, there’s been that stillness I mentioned. Peaceful, easy days with emotions running high, thoughts astir.
I feel a deep sense of contentment for where I am right now and all that life has brought for me, especially this past year.
I pondered about inclusion and what it means to evolve and think back wistfully, to older versions of myself.
On distraction and my relationship with screens.
Thoughts on social media, as a result of unrestricted screen-time I had.
Writing every single day this year has been not just exceedingly joyful, but also beneficial.
I’ve also found a new dimension of friendship that fuels me.

HAPPY days of love in September included the Supreme Court decriminalizing homosexuality in India. And our tenth wedding anniversary.

I spent a large chunk of the month in Europe and I posted every single day. Sometimes with words, sometimes without.
Enroute: Day 0
Paris: Day 1: Hello Paris, day 2: walking about, day 3: more aimless wandering, day 4: in love with the city of love
Brugges: Day 5: rainy welcome, day 6: all is forgiven, day 7: lessons in uncertainty
Amsterdam: Day 8: sensory overload, day 9: catching sunrise and sunset, day 10: last day reflections

Gratitude, as always.
For choosing the slow, flexible life that supports my inner being.
For the abundance that has come my way in recent times.
For love: in strong friendship that has grown unexpectedly, for family that comes through against all odds.
For friendship across continents, timezones and life spaces.

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***

One month ago: Day 246: August
Two months ago: Day 219: July
Three months ago: Day 184: June

Four months ago: Day 152: May
Five months ago: Day 134: April
Six months ago: Day 92: March
Seven months ago: Day 60: February
Eight months ago: Day 32: January

One year ago: Things change
Two years ago: Day 284: Escape

Day 261: Some things will never change

On the weekend, I had every intention to finish all my work submissions, so I had Monday to plan packing, and Tuesday to actually pack and tend to odds and ends like emptying out the fridge, doing the dishes and cleaning the dishes before we leave at midnight, tonight.

But the weekend got away in a haze of laziness mixed with some stress that had me paralysed even as I sat before my computer for the most part. I even cancelled Sunday evening plans that I was really keen to make. By Sunday night, I vociferously declared that even though I hadn’t met my weekend goal, I’d definitely finish my work by Monday afternoon. So with that in mind, we made plans to meet N and PK for breakfast on Tuesday (today) and I confidently messaged them about how I was “on track” to finishing everything off by Monday so I could really chill on Tuesday.

It’s not like thinking about packing and packing and shutting up a house require entire days. But I’ve been such a last-minute-leela about packing for the last many trips I’ve made that I’ve invariably either packed badly, or felt very overwhelmed and stressed in pushing everything to the very nth hour, that this time I wanted so badly, for it to be different. With work submissions in the mix, I just didn’t want to be in the same situation again. But my wants often don’t coincide with reality and last night, ie Monday, I found myself still 3 small submissions away from finishing my work, and with no packing done.

But nothing can get in the way of plans to eat masala dosas at CTR, so things proceeded to plan. The four of us caught a quick breakfast and came back home to have chai and chit-chat for a bit. In entirely predictable fashion, we chatted and chatted and I got so engrossed and was so relaxed that before I knew it, it was past 12 and I might have continued to sit and jabber if N and PK didn’t have to leave.

Anyhow, so we began at about 1 and somewhere between then and now I have packed twice over, finished two more submissions, had lunch, had coffee, hung out with my sister, the in laws and S’s mum who came over to pass on some goodies for us to take to him.

Meanwhile, VC has spent a larger part of the day chilling in his beanbag. Post breakfast and packing his suitcase, he has continued to binge-watch House, drink his beers, catch a nap and go back to binge-watching.

I, on the other hand, am predictably down to the wire. Just the spot I have been avoiding for a week now. I have one more submission to go, if I am to make it to holiday leaving my laptop behind and not have any unfinished business to come back to. Despite all my intentions and well-laid plans, here I am typing away madly, desperate to finish. And somehow, I didn’t stop to think twice about interrupting to come post this.

Some things will never change *shrug*.

 

One year ago: Back to base

Day 254: Not yet lost all our graces

For a bunch of reasons, some self-made some circumstantial, I’ve been so busy since the start of the month. Work has picked up suddenly, and I’m trying to get it done before I take off on holiday again for the last ten days of this month.

On the home front too, things have caught up with me. Rather, I’ve caught up with the home by sheer dint of being around. Since my mum and dad left, and with no sister in close proximity to go to (boohoo!) I’ve been having a regular life again. Waking up in my home, cooking myself proper, full meals, planning my work around things that need to be done, having a routine that includes some chores and some delegation and overseeing too.

And I’m trying to stay on top of it without losing out on having a life too. So in between all of this there have been outings to catch up with friends, working at coffeeshops, an anniversary dinner and watching Hamlet The Clown Prince.

Things have peaked, and despite the overwhelming busyness of it all, it has been such a good time. But, it’s been six days since I picked up my kindle, I realised. Instead, the pockets of time I’d otherwise dedicate to reading have been spent staying on my phone for inordinately longer than usual, and watching a lot of Netflix*. I have genuinely not had much time for TV this year, sticking to only my absolute must watches, like OITNB and waiting for This Is Us. I did watch the odd thing like Wild Wild Country, She’s Gotta Have It and Nanette, when the hype around it made it impossible to miss. But for the most part I’ve missed out on a lot of TV.

My whatsapp DND time has also gone out of whack with all the travelling, when I go easy on the self-imposed time out. I haven’t been strict enough with myself to enforce it again once we returned. More recently though, with my mum in the states, I find it easier to just stay available during the hours she’s awake.

This has meant a lot more screen time than I’ve been used to these past 10 months. So, it was natural and only a matter of time before I noticed that it was not a mere coincidence that a natural spike in my busyness saw a spike in screen time.

This is probably my pattern. When my brain is over-stretched, few things help me numb it out than mindless screen time. And no matter what the nature of what I am watching, or how scintillating the conversation on whatsapp is, I know that I turn to screens mostly to shut my brain out.

Here’s the thing though, it feels like a numbing mechanism, but it is anything but. If anything, it activates my already spread-too-thin brain some more. And instead of stripping down the number of thoughts, adds to them, thereby contributing to an overall restless feeling. Which is all very well for a weekend or a few days here and there, I suppose. I like a good mindless binge-watch every now and then, but last weekend, I suddenly realised I was missing the quiet in my head. The silence that that made it possible to put my phone down and actually forget all about it for hours on end because the book I was reading had me rapt. The silence that encourages me to read, even when I am tired because it soothes. I realised this when even though I had finished my tasks for the day, sent out my work, met my deadlines, my mind wouldn’t stop racing. I didn’t have anything else left to do, I could have picked up my kindle, but instead time after time, I turned to my phone. Or laptop.

Shit hit the fan when VC took this picture of me on our anniversary. I’m not one for big, outlandish celebrations, but I would certainly have liked to keep my face our a screen. And I’d have liked to spend the entire day, and not just the evening, really together, minus laptops and phones.

In a flash, it reminded me so much of my years spent in long hours at work. TV was mostly the only thing I could manage to do to unwind then. The idea that my brain had been occupied for 10 hours a day at work, almost warranted the binge-watch before bed, to just stop my brain from thinking thoughts.

I’ve come a long, long, long way from there, so to slip back momentarily and have those same feelings of restlessness and chatter in the brain surface was a bit unsettling.

The other non-coincidence was that the week of extreme phone usage happened to be the week I re-entered Instagram after nine whole months. I went in to retrieve some images and writing from last year that are locked away on the app. But the cheeky little thing that Instagram is, it wont let you deactivate immediately anymore. One needs to now wait a week between deactivations. It’s a tactic to make you stay and lure you in, I’m sure. And let me tell you, it works, for the most part. I didn’t get lured back in, but in the knowledge that I had a weeks worth of access, and once the literal anxiety and breathlessness I felt to see the feed (and how much it has changed, in form and content) had passed on day 1, I was back watching and watching and watching and watching. Till I could watch no more.

I’ll say it again, it’s not the app. It is entire me. Us. And the way we allow the apps to draw us in, but there is an undeniable link between the quality of the way I spend my time, the state of peace and calm in my head, and being on or off social media (Instagram and Whatsapp, in my case).

It was eye-opening to notice the difference. But it also makes it easier to acknowledge a pattern and reconcile with slowly slipping back to normalcy. I’m trying to wrap up my work at a sane hour rather than let it slip into the evening and night, just because I have the luxury to do that. This is another interesting space to test boundaries and reclaim space for myself, and so I’m trying it out.

Reflecting on the whole experience the other day, wondering about what drew me in, even though I know and have lived a whole, full life and realised that I’m absolutely not missing even the good stuff I thought was keeping on Instagram, outside of it. It’s the very nature of the application. And in some way, maybe it is  in fact a reflection of the nature of the world itself. Aptly described in this quote from Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive that I read earlier this year.

THE WORLD IS increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.

*What I watched:

  1. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (Netflix): it was so sweet and light and lovely. Perfect for a Friday night.
  2. Bareilly ki Barfi (Netflix): was really, surprisingly good. I’m a blind supporter and fan of all of Rajkumar Rao’s work, and even though he isn’t the central protagonist here, he steals the show. Ably supported by excellent work by Ayushmann Khurana and Kirti Sanon who I had hitherto dismissed as just a pretty face.
  3. PadMan (Netflix): was terrible. Lazy, convenient, disastrous way to tell an important story about a real man, and turn it into an outrageous story that doesn’t even so much as acknowledge the man whose life inspired the movie. Again, maybe I’m not the audience, but the way in which everything was dumbed down I wonder if it even did the trick for the audience it was aimed at. Also made me wonder when Sonam Kapoor will figure she cant act and that she should probably try production or something.
  4. Sierra Burgess Is a Loser (Netflix): light, simple kiddie rom-com, worth a watch even though it was problematic in parts and gave me a lot of thoughtssss.

Day 248: You shoot the moon, and miss completely

The panic has subsided. I woke up calm and composed today. Almost zen, despite having written off yesterday to period cramps that rendered the entire day spent in bed, binge-watching youtube videos* (everything from political interviews to ScoopWhoop townhalls and F1 recap videos for the year), instead of getting started on that really long list of deliverables I have to work my way through.

I’ll just wake up and begin, I told myself at midnight when I eventually turned my laptop off.

And I did. I have worked through today. Quite systematically. Ably aided by Apple Music. After lunch, I took myself to a newly opened Third Wave Coffee Roasters near home (the nearness of which is causing me serious heartache about moving away from Bangalore!), from where I told myself I would not leave until I have worked through the 6 essays I have to submit for my course. Tonight.

At the start of the course I knew I’d have to write these. I was prematurely excited about it. I’ve been rather disciplined about chronicling the year-long developments and my journey in a journal as we’ve been asked to. This was meant to make the writing easy. My study buddies and I have met three times in the last month to discuss said assignments. Each meeting had me excitedly bursting with things to say, discuss. I’ve been so clear about what I have to share for a while now.

And yet, here I am. Waiting for the nth hour. Waiting for last minute panic to strike.

(It hasn’t as yet, in case you’re wondering.)

I spent three hours at Third Wave. Three very productive hours spent writing non stop. The only glitch is I’ve been writing work things, not my essays. A large chunk of work things that are in no pressing rush to be addressed. Work things I have to submit across the month.

Does this happen to anyone else? A critical deadline looming large, and all you want to do is literally everything else? So you go about it all with alacrity and urgency, full of purpose and efficiency that could be directed to the most imminent deadline instead?

It’s the equivalent of sitting down to put on a face before running out of a house on fire.

I had a hot coffee. A cold coffee. And I stress ate a pain au chocolat. In anticipation of last-minute panic.

It hasn’t arrived as yet.

Somewhere in between nervously nibbling at my pain au chocolat and typing away furiously (at those things that aren’t due for a long while) I made an accidental glance at the calendar on my laptop. And I realised in a moment of fright and joy that my mental calendar is running 24 hours ahead of time.

Which means I have a whole day — twenty four full hours — left before my submission day ends.

MY ESSAYS ARE DUE TOMORROW.

I could cry with relief and joy right now.

Because it means I can shut my laptop down for now and begin this afresh tomorrow.
Because all the work I’ve done ahead of time today means I can peacefully focus on nothing else but my essays tomorrow.
Because my efficiency and productivity won’t be in vain.
Because I can go eat anther croissant or something to celebrate.
Because finally, I know why lat minute panic hasn’t struck as yet.

***

*Recommendations from yesterdays binge-watch:

  1. Trevor Noah’s entire goddamn Behind The Scenes playlist. If there’s anything funnier than his actual show, it is this. It had me laughing out so loud, VC had to come check in on me a couple of times during the day.
  2. Kunal Kamra’s chat with Kavita Krishnan gave me new love for Kunal Kamra, and a very welcome perspective on Left Politics which I have never given a thought to.
  3. Karan Thapar’s interview with Arun Shourie is a scathing, brutally honest, logical, extremely articulate review of the current political regime and state of affairs in the country. I’m petrified for 2019, but watching this gave me a few clues on what I can do as a worried citizen.
  4. Radhika Apte has all my love anyway, but this interview sealed the deal.

Day 247: Not invited but I’m glad I made it

August was such a whirlwind of a month. Even though it was busy in a good way, so much happened, much fun was had, the last week or so, I’ve been feeling tired and like I’m running to keep up. More than the actual state of being busy than usual itself, I feel overwhelmed by the dread of slipping back to an old pattern where I would bite off much more than I could chew and then struggle to keep pace.

Today, just four days into this month, one day into this week, I woke up with a huge sense of lethargy. At the back of my mind a to-do list was unfolding, on loop.

It took a minute of stepping back, a cup of tea and a chat with VC, some cards he picked for me, some I did for me, some for him. And I had an adequate reminder to focus, but slow down.

I don’t know why having a lot to do automatically makes me think I have to do it all fast. I so easily forget this basic little truth. It’s not the growing to-do list I should fear (because times like this will come often) but reminding myself that slow and steady has always worked better for me. The pattern I fear isn’t in the quantum of things to be done, but in how I approach the quality of the getting it done. It’s the sense of flow and mindful every day living that I want to conserve and protect.

At times like this, I’m grateful for this flexible, freelance life. I often joke about how I don’t just freelance with work, but I freelance at life itself. I enjoy, and take advantage of, the ability to straddle work and play, so, so much. I have indulged this so often, for myself. But today, when our morning tea extended into an hour-long conversation and the luxury of pulling cards and chatting about them, that VC decided to stay home from work, I felt grateful that VC has had this opportunity too. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: it’s the little, seemingly insignificant things like this that have made a huge impact on our lives and the quality of our relationship this past year.

I say seemingly insignificant because when we chose this life, made the decision to go solo and move to Bangalore, the luxury of working from home was not at all a top priority or a deciding criteria. But it has been a happy by-product. And it’s always the by-products that make me realise how even conscious decision-making, unconsciously brings the best life forward.

***

And because I just re-discovered this on carpool karaoke (what a fabulous episode this was!), today, I’m also happily suffering this ear-worm. Also where the title for this post comes from.

Day 234: It’s been a hard days night

I have a half written post I started this morning, before we began shooting for the day. But my brain is too fried to finish it. Or make much sense otherwise.

But on the upside, we’ve decided to stay an extra day to recover from the hectic shoot we’ve had. Which means I get another day with these (and a third one who will only sometimes allow a pet or a belly rub too fleeting to photograph) runts.

Day 115: Today I don’t feel like doing anything

I’ve been going over my blog posts from last year, and the ones from April 2017 particularly with a sort of fascination, like I can’t believe it’s stuff I wrote myself. I shouldn’t be surprised, really, because in those very words, I see the seeds of threads of my existence that sprung to life, bloomed and thrived into full, lush breathing organisms in the months after.

But, when I think back to the time, all my conscious mind remembers is the confusion. And the efforts to stay with the confusion and move through it rather than avoid it all and busy myself with easy distractions. With enough distance, restrospect is a wonderful thing. I feel oddly satisfied to see now, that I’ve been on the right track, steadfastly stuck to listening to the cues, simply going deeper, and on my way.

It’s a refreshing change from the many years before, when I flitted from this thing to that, one thing to the next, restlessly, anxiously in search of some consistency.

One post in particular really stands out. This one — that I titled Serendipity for some reason — and wrote just one day after I landed in Bangalore (clueless that I was going to in fact have to move back here).

In the essay I linked to and talked about one of my all time favourite essays — The Snarling Girl, by Elisa Albert. Notes on—and against—ambition. So much of it still speaks to me much the same, with as much intensity, if not more. But it’s nice to see how entirely different segments of it pop out at me today, 12 months after I first read it.

Same fantastic essay. Same essential thread of continuity in my life. The same thing I’ve talked about only so many, many times. Same idea, different expressions. Different times, different quotes to remember.

Same excellent essay. Give it a read, and maybe like me, you’ll find yourself going back to it so many, many times in any given year. And yet, find something entirely new and different speak to you every time.

Sample this:

The work, not the hearts and likes and dings and dongs. And maybe I can float the possibility that the work is best when it’s done nowhere near the hearts and likes and dings and dongs. Maybe I can suggest that there is plenty of time for hearts and likes and dings and dongs once the work is done, and done well. Maybe I can ever so gently point out that a lot of people seem rather addicted to the hearts and likes and dings and dongs, and seem to talk about and around writing a hell of a lot more than they actually do it. Maybe we can even talk about how some self-promote so extensively and shamelessly and heedlessly and artlessly that their very names become shorthand for hownot to be.

No prizes for guessing why that spoke to me.

On the solitary-ness of figuring out The Happy.

Nobody can tell you how to be happy because being happy is one of those things you figure out by figuring it out, no shortcuts. Or maybe you don’t figure it out, maybe you never figure it out, but that’s on you. Everything worthwhile is a sort of secret, anyway, not to be bought or sold, just rooted out painstakingly in whatever darkness you call home.

On the dangers of generalising “ambition”.

And isn’t everything we do, everything we reach for, everything we grab at, each of us in turn, a way of struggling onto that ledge, that mythical resting place on which no one can fuck with us? Don’t Fuck With Me seems as good a feminist anthem for the 21st century as any.

But the mythical resting place is … mythical. And trying to generalize about ambition is like comparing apples and oranges and bananas and flowers and weeds and dirt and compost and kiwi and kumquat and squash blossoms and tomatoes and annuals and perennials and sunshine and worms. Wanting to be first in your class is and is not like wanting a Ferrari is and is not like being the first in your family to go to college is and is not like wanting to get into Harvard/Iowa/Yaddo is and is not like wanting to summer on Martha’s Vineyard is and is not like wanting to rub elbows with fancy folk is and is not like wanting to shatter a glass ceiling is and is not like wanting to write a lasting work of genius with which no one can quibble. Our contexts are not the same, our struggles are not the same, and so our rebellions and complacencies and conformities and compromises cannot be compared. But the fact remains: whatever impresses you illuminates your ambition.

On finding rhythm, contentment and possibly ambition too, in the everydayness of life. On rejecting the glorification of striving.

Taking care of myself and my loved ones feels like meaningful work to me, see? I care about care. And I don’t care if I’m socialized to feel this way, because in point of fact I do feel this way. So! I am unavailable for striving today. I’m suuuuuper busy.

On the difference between what I call what-I-want-versus-what-I-want-to-feel.

What I would like to say (so that I might be forced to align myself) is that there is nothing material or finite that I will allow myself to rest on wanting. Okay, so dresses and clogs and art and peonies float my boat. But fool myself into thinking that these things constitute an end point, or that their acquisition will make me whole, or that people who are impressed by these things are my friends? Nope. No way. Not for a minute. (Well, FINE, maybe for a minute. But certainly not for two.)

On external validation. Possibly a la social media.

Sixty thousand shares is not a win, see; it’s a random, synchronistic event. The number of eyeballs on a given piece of writing does not confer nobility or excellence upon said piece of writing. If the number of eyeballs on a piece of writing excites and impresses people around me, that’s great, in that it makes possible more of the work I want to do. But it doesn’t make said work any easier! And I’m going to do said work regardless, so… what?

So What? Let’s add it to our list of proposed feminist anthems: So The Fuck What?

AMEN SISTER! If I had a penny for every time that someone told me I was wasting my talent by not pursuing my writing more seriously and sitting around at home, I’d be RICHHHHH.

I mean, writing is liberation. And for some of us who can afford to keep it that way, it is enough.

I don’t write because I “want to be a writer.” I don’t want to be famous and I don’t need my ego inflated. I write to make sense of things, to make order from chaos, to make something from nothing, to examine my own thinking. Because what I have found in the writing of others sustains me. Because while I am struggling to live, the writing—a kind of parallel life—helps me along. Because language is my jam. Because I never learned to play the guitar and no one ever asked me to sing in a band.

I mean, writing is liberation!

On the problematic assumptions around which ambition is conventionally defined.

Here’s what bothers me about conventional ambition, the assumption that we all aspire to the top, the winner’s circle, the biggest brightest bestest, the blah blah blah, and that we will run around and around and around our little hamster wheels to get there: most of these goals are standardized. Cartoonish. Cliché. Beware anything standardized, that’s what I would teach my daughter.

Try to be vulnerable so you’ll come acrossbetter?

Yeah, I need to tell myself this every time I have the passing thought about a blog post that I really need to write (because it’s my way of making sense of the jumble in my head) comes out feeling like “it’s not good enough,” or like “I’m so self-indulgent”.

“Try to be more vulnerable,” he said. “You’ll come across better.”

Come across? I don’t have time to orchestrate how I come across, dude. My job is to write shit down. More vulnerable? I feel like I’m walking around without skin most of the time, hello. Anyway, my vulnerability is not for goddamn sale. I’d rather suck a thousand dicks. I was overcome with weariness, and I thought: Fuck it, I give up. But no, that’s not true, either. Nope. Not at all. The snarling girl is still out there, in here, flailing, desperate, and who’s going to throw her a rope? I will. Onward.

It’s probably hard to believe that I haven’t pasted the essay in entirety down here, but really, I haven’t. These are just a few of the gems in there. So do yourself a favour and read it. Even more so if you often toss up ideas of ambition, success, productivity and find yourself struggling to choose what your heart really wants because you’ve been taught by your family, society, people in general that it isn’t enough — read it.

One year ago: I get by with a lot of help from my friends
Two years ago: Day 115: Mean things I want to say out loud, but can’t

Day 109: The times they are a-changing

There’s something that has been swimming around in my brain for a long time now. and I’ve talked about it sporadically here, here, here and here. I just sent out a newsletter putting together some bits of these posts, and more thoughts that I’ve been able to dwell on, now that I’ve had some time to mull over it all.

There’s still so much more to be said where this came from, and maybe I’ll get down to it some day. But for now, here’s the newsletter that just went out.

If you’d like to subscribe to it, please head here:  https://tinyletter.com/HaathiTime/

***

I don’t know when the appropriate response to “How are you?” has switched to “So busy!” from the good old “I’m fine/Just so-so/Doing good, thank you!” (or whatever other version of this you might prefer), but of late, I find myself bored with this turn of conversation.

Like all epiphanies, the startling truth usually sparks only when it hits so close to home that there’s no looking away from it. This one was no different. It was some weeks ago, when I uttered the words “I don’t know if I’m going or coming” with extreme discomfort, that I realised this is just the sort of feeling I have carefully steered myself away from these past months. And yet somehow the tyranny of busy had briefly re-entered my life.

This is a syndrome — this addiction to busyness — afflicting us all. I do find it is far more pronounced and in-my-face in Bangalore, than I did in Goa. Is this a big city thing? Or does talking about how busy we are make us feel purposeful/productive/like our lives have meaning?

It’s true, work has been a little manic over the last month. But the welcome change has been how much my inner-self steadfastly resists getting caught in the undertow of that mania. To be able to ride the highs, give myself wholly to work when it demands it, but also being conscious of how much, and stopping just short of being completely consumed in what inevitably feels like a mindless chaos, is the joy I strive for.

The joy is in being mindful and present. And exercising that ability to make that choice as many times, and as often as possible. Busy times have a place, I know, but I’m becoming acutely aware of the price I pay every time I hit a particularly busy patch. I say price because I in 8/10 conversations about busyness, I sense that hint of regret, frustration and tussle at not having as much time on hand, as we’d like. Why is that delicate, precarious balance constantly just out of reach?

The only way I am able to have some handle on it has come down to being vigilant, aware and very, very deliberate about what I’m doing, and why. By consistently and tediously questioning my motivations, I’ve found the answers, though sometimes difficult to accept and digest, have freed up not just time and space, but a lot of wrongly held ideas in my mind.

The notion of extreme productivity to mark my days, for example. It left little room for rest and recharging my batteries, which is lethal for a creative person. Or the idea that our dreams and desires can only be fuelled by bone-breaking hard work. It’s nonsense. If the hard work comes at the cost of my sanity, health an joy, and I can get help to achieve those same dreams instead, I’ll take it. It’s been immensely freeing to shed the unnecessary glory attached working hard, or my own twisted ideas of self-worth that were entangled with ambition, ability to earn money and be “independent”. Most of this, when I began to inspect it closely, I’ve appropriated from external sources — whether my middle-class upbringing and values, my parents as role models, cultural messages that are constantly screaming hashtags and labels dictating what kind of women we ought to be. And in the bargain, I’d moved so far away from listening to the messages my own inner-self was giving me time and time again.

So now, when things get uncontrollably busy, the first step I take is to realistically, and (brutally)honestly examine my motivation — the whys behind all the actions/tasks that fill up my days and bring in The Busy. Step two is to then drastically realign and cull that accumulation of to-dos, making time for that which I most want to do (and this, after I’m convinced about why).

That’s it. There is no step three.

The whys are crucial for me. And the more I lean in to them, the more I find I am able to simplify my life, not just in terms of resisting spreading myself too thin, but getting to the heart of what it is I really, really want and chasing only that which uplifts me and brings me joy, the more I realise that life slows down.

I’ve had it all wrong all this while.

For a greater part of my adulthood, I’ve chased the “ideal” life based on what I want — money, travel, a nice home, lots of books, the flexibility to spend my money whenever/wherever I want to. But this has really gotten me nowhere. And in fact left me exhausted, physically and emotionally, and with frequent periods of feeling scarcity and inadequacy.

More and more, I find turning in and allowing myself to be guided by what I want to feel — secure, alive, content, healthy, at peace — brings me far more joy. Joy that lingers over weeks and months, rather than rushes in and out like a gale storm. It comes in sprinkles and healthy doses, a little bit everyday, goes a long, long way. It brings an ease, an un-rushed energy with it. And since it isn’t tied to stuff, it stays.

The more I allow myself to be guided by what I feel, I find myself making choices that feel like serendipity and I find myself in situations that seem like they found me, rather than the other way around. Conversely, I find myself moving away from situations that go against the grain of this truth that is fast becoming a cornerstone in the way I approach life itself.

It takes little or no time at all, to tune out of conversations revolving around The Busy, because personally, I am finally, actively moving towards that elusive balanceI don’t mean “work-life balance” because the term is too tied to tangible things, and is woefully inadequate.

My life today is quite unlike it has ever been for me. I am aware of and very grateful for the incredible privilege that it is, to take things slow and at my own pace, having complete faith and trust in knowing that I am looked after and well provided for. Where all my needs are met with barely any room for inadequacy. I’m fortunate to finally be in a place where I can actively resist the The Busy for the most part.

However, I don’t talk often enough about the journey to getting here. Nor nearly enough about the fact that this is a choice I make every single day. That it is not without it’s moments of doubt and worry. That this commitment has become a way of life. And a large part of the reason I cannot give in to being Busy anymore is because it will mean letting that commitment go. Leaving me with not having enough time to notice the signs, take the cues, examine my motivations and steer myself forward for the right reasons (for me). And the price to pay for that, is just too goddamned high.

It’s been a long and bumpy road (and maybe that’s the stuff of several other posts) to really accepting deep in my bones and to the depths of my very soul, that my worth is not tied to how much I work or how much I earn, rather how I feel when I do the things I do to work or make money. I resist The Busy because I finally accept how wonderful it is to take help, be looked after, and choose to build a life in connection and sync with the forces that work to make things happen for me.

Two years ago: Day 109: Essay aftermath