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

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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

Day 103: I got mad, mad love

This past week, I felt immensely grateful for all the work coming our way. We had multiple meetings, an unusually high number of leads land open up out of the blue, and a fun and satisfying shoot on hand.

I am so grateful for the luxury of being our own bosses, reporting to nobody but ourselves, planning our days the way we want, doing the work we love most days. And I’m so thankful for the clarity and for being on the same page about the value of time we both need off. And the ability and privilege to take it when required.

I’m grateful for the shift in my definition of being busy/productive and for new clarity, new boundaries and new realisations in this respect.

I’m very, very grateful for my family. Especially my mother who keeps the “normal” going when I hit these busy spurts. I’m thankful for the hot home-cooked meals, her concern for how we may be overworking ourselves, and for her comforting company when I am chilling at home. And my sister for her endless love, warmth, entertainment, and ability to make me laugh and cook a darn good meal.

I’m so thankful for VC for having taken the professional calls he has these past few months. It’s not always immediately apparent, but I love when things slowly work out for the best. Being in that spot watching it unfurl is lovely.

I’m thankful for coffee. It’s been such a booster every morning this week.

I’m thankful for the beer and dinner with S, despite threats of being unavailable to meet me before June. And the unbelievably fantabulous (non-alcoholic and veggie) dinner she and I managed to catch with the other S. Burma Burma, if you’re interested to know.

I’m grateful for the connections that were rekindled quite unexpectedly this past week.

I’m thankful for N and our sporadic intense conversations. I love the ease with which we can take to whatsapp with our bouts of verbal diarrhoea and unburden/unload, knowing fully well that we may not get immediate responses, but when we do they will be conscious, heartfelt and thought-through. In these days of limited engagement, and wanting to only really talktalktalk about a handful of things, I am grateful for this channel being always open.

I’m grateful for my kindle.

Two years ago: Day 103: Lucid

Day 102: And I’m feeling so bohemian like you

This week:

  1. My house turned into a makeshift studio. Which is to say it was turned upside down entirely. We papered over our living room windows with black chart, cleared out the flood seating, dragged a heavy-ass carpet over from my folks’, set up lights and a tripod (which one set can’t be moved until the shoot is entirely done). It’s been four days and counting. No sign of finish yet.
  2. My house hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned like it usually is every day. Because we’re unable to move this very elaborate set up out/around to allow said cleaning. I’m happy to report, I did not lose my shit.
  3. I added hand model and stop-motion art direction intern to my list of roles/responsibilities at Something Filmy. That would be in addition to my existing titles and roles as co-founder, partner, co-director, friend, foe, confidant, general errand person and master of all resources.
  4. My fridge turned into a restaurant fridge with four kinds of plated meals and a gazillion sides being piled in there, for the shoot.
  5. My freezer turned into a cold stone ice cream shop and my living room console has enough toppings and cones and waffles stashed to open up a little pop-up.
  6. We knocked off a major part of an edit for a stop-motion film we were asked to make. It was challenging, because we had such a steep learning curve, figuring things out on the go, realising it was much more physically taxing than we anticipated, and yet thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying.
  7. I got an extra workout every day from all the physical labour that stop-motion filming demands, and I’m hurting in places I usually only hurt when I lift weights after a break.
  8. Despite good intentions and great ideas every single day, I have been unable to turn my laptop on and post on here. For obvious reasons. My hands have been busy elsewhere (read point #3), and my brain too (read point #4). So I’ve been doing a lot of lazy posting off the phone which always leaves so much to be desired. But the shoot involved a lot of good food, dessert and ice cream. So it took priority. These things happen.
  9. When I haven’t been working, I’ve been either completely relaxing — there have been naps on some days, hangs with the sister (who is all healed and well now!) lazy meals (mostly cooked by amma or Niyu) with the fam on others, plenty reading — or letting my (non-existent)hair down with friends.
    Is this what work-life balance is? Because I fucking love it.
  10. I crossed two major milestones and couldn’t get around to writing what I really wanted to, to mark them. But. Good food, dessert and ice cream took priority. These things happen.

Two years ago: Day 102: Mondays like this

Day 95: A life of stranger things

Brain worms for a Tired.Thursday

There’s this one thing about living and working in Bangalore, that I’m still grappling with, unable to come to terms with. The prevalent sense of time-keeping. Actually, I mean the general accepted levels of tardiness. In the beginning, I thought I was encountering stray cases, when everyone from the plumber to my landlady wouldn’t show up at a time even remotely close to the one committed to. There’s also the ever-prevalent time-sucking blackhole — unpredictable traffic — that is a legitimate reason for delays. I know and understand that sometimes even when you take traffic into consideration and leave early, there can be unexpected delays. That’s just how unpredictable it is. And yet, having said that, in the many, many months that we’ve been here, I have come to realise that it’s not just about arriving late, but about a general sense of time expanding and stretching as per convenience. Appointments aren’t kept with a start time in mind, they’re scheduled within a window of time. Or at least that’s the unsaid understanding, I think. Because if I had a rupee for the number of times I’ve arrived for a meeting and had to wait upwards of fifteen minutes (which is my standard grace time), I could have probably avoided opting for EMIs when I bought a new phone last month. Yesterday, I waited for 45 minutes for the person I was scheduled to meet. And this is after they had given me the time. I’m really beginning to think this casual tardiness is a cultural shift, rather than an outcome of circumstance.

***

What’s you opinion on the kind of passive aggression subtweeting allows? Have you ever been the butt of someones subtweeted (is that the right way to put it)? I’m a bit confused, and don’t know what to make of it. I ask because a couple of days ago, it came to my notice that I was the subject of a subtweet. I’m always flummoxed and amused when this happens, but I’m downright baffled when I am become the subject of a subtweet made by someone I don’t even know. I wish I could go into details and dissect it the way I am in my head right now, but I don’t want to name names (primarily because I don’t even know this person personally, but also because it would just be pointlessly passive aggressive. Not to mention, rude.) and then I’d also just be subtweeting right? So, no.

***

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a strangely high number of instances of minor injuries to my hands. A paper cut one day, a smashed finger the next, a hangnail, a kitchen-peeler incident, a scraped knuckle, a pinched pinkie — I’d probably have not even noticed if it weren’t all so focused around my hands and fingers. Also, they’ve all been seemingly small injuries, with disproportionately large inconveniences. The paper cut, like all paper cuts are known to be made it super awkward to get through the day without wincing every time the finger was stretched or bent. The smashed finger had me seeing white spots for five seconds and profusely bawling like a baby.  The pinched pinkie made it really hard to hold pretty much anything for the next three days, let me not tell you what it did to my driving and other essential activities.

***

And then, there was this cat in my basement last night.

I returned after a long day and noticed it in the basement, wailing in loud and long complains as I approached it, fully expecting it to dart and shoot off into the dark as cats are known to do. But no, she approached me fearlessly, accosted my feet, stepping all over them, digging her paws in, outstretched limbs, curved back. And then she proceeded to trace infinity signs, winding and worming her way around and between my feet, rubbing the entire length of her body, chin and face all over my ankles and shins. I could have so easily just picked her up and taken her home, but resisted temptation. I also thought she was just there to get her evening fix of love and then run off to spend the rest of her evening. But no, she followed me into the lift and made loud protests about not being allowed in.

Two years ago: Day 95: March

Day 94: Because everything is never as it seems

I’m grateful for medicine, the hospital and how quickly Niyu was able to spring back from her illness. I’m grateful for reiki. For D and K, and my in laws who pitched in with the healing.

I’m thankful for my mother, who is easily the best kind of mother in any crisis. She just knows how to put everything on hold and channel her entire being towards where it is most needed. I’m grateful for what I see and admire in her.

I’m grateful for idlis. Bangalore’s best, just outside the hospital, no less.

I’m thankful for having made it to the gym three days in a row. No questions, no expectations. Just getting up, getting going and moving.

I’m thankful for my body. For its cooperation, kindness and agility.

I’m thankful for the music that keeps me going as I make yet another attempt, this time with my focus shifted, resolve renewed. I’m thankful for the 180 degree turn in my head, and for what feels like going back to things the way they used to be — as far as exercise goes. I’m thankful for having waited this out to get where I am today, rather than rushing to find a quick-fix.

I’m thankful for R who has the best playlists. And for how he always has a smashing recommendation. Or three. Like so:

I’m thankful for the work that’s coming our way. For the possibilities that are opening up. For the gumption and courage not to compromise on what we want to do and where we want to be. I’m super grateful for the timely and reliable partners. For the few good clients that are such an incredibly rare breed in a sea of mostly assholes.

I’m grateful for the current ease around friendship. I’m thankful for those who have come and gone, for the purpose they served, for the lessons they brought. I’m very aware of and thankful for those who have stayed. And some time I’m humbled to find reminders of genuine friendship in people who I am least expecting it.

I’m grateful for the patience an the stillness. I’m grateful for the awareness. I’m thankful for the slow absorption that continues to happen.

I’m grateful for the relief of summer showers. I’m thankful for the respite from the heat and the dryness. I’m grateful for coconut oil from our farm. I’m grateful for breakfast mangoes.

Day 86: Love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves

Today, I’m grateful for the trying-so-hard-to-be-wild party I got to witness from the sidelines this past weekend. Because just when my eyes were about to glaze over from utter and complete boredom, the DJ played this tune that I had somehow all but forgotten. And it hit me like a bolt out of the blue. In the nicest way possible.

I’m glad for the reminder. I’m glad for the chance to sing out loud. I’m glad for the absolutely smack-on lyrics that are simple, but really cut straight to the heart of things.

 

I’m grateful for the music.

And I’m grateful for the champagne. And the wine.

Day 81: Somebody holds the key

So, for a while now I’ve been sitting with a discomfort with the idea that a lot of channels of popular media and culture in India tend to use their wokeness as a convenient route to popularity or make big bucks. With influential people, social media stars, and everyone from sportspeople to movie-stars and Indian comics picking up issues of social relevance on which to create content, whether movies, webseries or even music, I’ve begun to wonder how much of their backing or feeling deeply about these issues peters beyond the purpose of creating popular content.

Does it ever translate into action beyond the obvious? Or are we settling for the easy access to hot-button topics to further our reach by creating content around issues that are highly shareable? Even as this content is being created, how much of it digs deeper by way of going a step further from the very convenient to reach superficial understanding that already exists.

Recently, this came to light in some form, with this video that called out AIB on how they “use” Feminism. It makes some really strong and hard-to-argue-with points about how the collective raises important feminist issues, but also does very little to truly represent women in a relevant and useful way, outside the boundaries of the very gendered stereotypes that already exist in popular media and culture.

And it’s not AIB alone. I have this issue with so many Indian movies. And I’m so aware of how accepting we are of it, and how that too perpetuates the cycle. Several times, I’ve debated whose responsibility it is to raise that bar, to create that one change that can take things to the next level. And if celebrities in positions of power don’t own their influence and use it even in some form, are we ever going to get beyond this?

I wrote about the #PadManChallenge that infuriated me in the weeks before the release of the movie. By then I was off social media entirely, and even then I couldn’t escape the mugshots of celebrities, wasting sanitary napkins for their photo-ops and endorsement of the movie. The entire exercise seemed tone-deaf, insensitive and irritated me enough to not want to watch the movie. I know I’m in a huge minority for having this reaction, but I had to have it out somewhere.

I was about to shoot off a rant about it on here, but decided to turn it into a story instead, and decided to shop around to place it. I’m happy to report, I cracked a publication that has been on my wish-list for nearly one year now, and it was such a pleasure working with the editor on this one. This is one fo those “big wins” for me as far as my writing is concerned, and it was reassuring and a huge validation for my new approach to work. Something is afoot, you guys. This is working, and I’m so excited to see where it will take me.

My essay is now live on A Beautiful Perspective, if you’d like to see. Or keep scrolling to read it here.

In India, fighting menstruation taboos that silence women

A Bollywood movie put periods on the big screen, but battling widespread myths and superstitions around menstruation is much harder.

Shrouded in myths and taboos, menstruation is a difficult subject in India. Studies suggest that 200 million women lack awareness of menstrual hygiene, and many don’t have access to toilets during their periods, let alone sanitary products like pads or tampons. In some areas, even discussing menstruation is anathema, silencing an entire gender into shame.

So, when I heard that Pad Man, a biopic celebrating the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who sparked a minor revolution in menstrual hygiene, was coming to mainstream cinema, it seemed like an enormous step. The movie would tell his story, I read. It would talk about what led him to invent a machine to mass-produce affordable sanitary pads in rural India, and in doing so, it would talk about menstruation openly, in a raw, unsophisticated manner, without resorting to shabby innuendo or weak euphemism.

But as the release date drew near, the #PadManChallenge began to crop up online. This trending hashtag saw celebrities holding up sanitary pads alongside glib captions denouncing the shame attached to menstruation, hygiene products and women’s periods in general. They would then go on to vouch for the movie and its commitment to talk about menstruation unabashedly.Full marks for good intentions, but none for sensitivity or nuance. On the one hand, celebrities (men and women alike) were using their positions of influence to push the dialogue around women’s issues into mainstream channels of communication. But as the hashtag grew to enormous numbers and spread to include movie stars, industrialists, professional athletes and socialites, the exercise also resulted ina colossal waste of sanitary napkins. In marketing the movie and promoting this message, they’d completely missed the point of the film itself.

For Arunachalam Muruganantham, India’s real Pad Man, his moment of awakening occurred with the simple act of buying his wife a packet of sanitary napkins in an effort to impress her. Shanthi was on her period, shamefully hiding a piece of menstrual cloth (that she would fold many times over and use to line her underwear) from her husband, when he questioned her about it.

“We’ll have to cut our milk budget, if I have to use sanitary napkins,” she said, revealing the bleak reality that she and other women in the family were forced to choose between buying food and sanitary products.

Fifty-seven percent of menstruating women in India, face similar choices and have to get by without access to sanitary pads. Some studies report that as many as 200 million Indian women lack awareness of menstrual hygiene, and 39 percent of girls don’t have access to soap for washing their menstrual cloth. In some areas, even cloth is hard to come by, and women resort to using hay, dry leaves or unhygienic plastic. Wateraid’s Menstrual Hygiene Matters report states that 20 percent of women lack access to a clean toilet during their periods.

If those numbers are staggering, the effects are even more so: Twenty-three percent of Indian girls between ages 12-18 drop out of school entirely when they begin menstruating, and some data shows gender disparities are exacerbated with the onset of puberty, as millions of women without access to comfortable and dignified menstrual hygiene management are forced to skip opportunities to work or pursue further education. Perhaps this has contributed to declining female participation in labor force in rural India, year over year.

These numbers point to a crucial need to build awareness around sanitation, menstrual hygiene and women’s reproductive health, and to elevate menstrual hygiene on the government’s priority list.

In 2017, India rolled out the Goods and Service Tax, lauded as a revolutionary shift in the country’s taxation structure that would benefit consumers by providing a singular transparent tax system. Where women are concerned, it exempts products like bindis, kajal and sindoor (used to indicate marriage), but continues to heavily tax essentials like sanitary napkins. Unsurprisingly, the 31-member Goods and Services Tax Council that decided the exemptions doesn’t have a single woman on it.

This is the reality in large parts of India where pioneers like Arunachalam Muruganantham and others operate, an India far removed from the one occupied by the privileged, elitist movie industry.

However, there are several organizations trying to take the spirit of Murguanantham’s work forward, provide workable solutions and empower women to take control of their menstrual health, including Aakar Innovations, Goonj (Not Just A Piece of Cloth), Azadi and the Desai Foundation.

The Desai Foundation calls itself a “public and programmatic organization” and works in the areas of health and livelihood as a means to empower women and children in India and the U.S. Asani,meaning Ease, is their sanitary pad program, currently run in 52 rural communities in the western state of Gujarat. The program is committed to destigmatizing menstruation, improving access to sanitary pads and enabling women to take charge of their own health and hygiene.

Megha Desai, president of the Desai Foundation, touches on the aspect of dignity a central to the work that they do. “Our channels are essentially health and employment, but the currency we work with is dignity. Elevating communities in terms of their dignity is key, and women are crucial to this effort because when they thrive, their communities do too.”

The foundation provides access to machinery to manufacture low-cost, almost fully-biodegradable sanitary napkins and creates rural social entrepreneurship that centers around women as employees and managers.

“We want women to really feel empowered through and through, and helping them build this as a part of their community, as a service being provided for and by them does that,” says Desai.

Taking on the traditional patriarchal family, where men have the power to bring about or withhold change, Asani employs women in their factories, not only providing avenues for income growth and independence for women, but allowing them to reclaim control over their bodies, their health and their choices. The program also conducts regular health camps and seminars where women talk about sex, reproductive management and menstrual protection, thereby fighting regressive beliefs and challenging deep-rooted cultural taboos and superstitions associated with menstruation. Bringing women and men together to openly talk about menstruation goes a long way in breaking the taboo around the topic, too.

Speaking about the Pad Man film and accompanying social media challenge, Desai is optimistic. “I am so thrilled that there is so much energy around this movie. I think any conversation around menstrual health helps to break the cloud of silence. So I was happy to see the campaign where celebrities were coming together and showing that they aren’t ashamed to talk about periods. It makes me hopeful that people are starting to see this as a basic human right. I hope that the energy and support for this issues continues long after the movie.”

That lasting change is also part of Desai’s goals for her foundation’s work. “Our long-term vision is to get the system to be sustainable, so it can run on its own. We want the women to take it on, so we can bow out. They’re capable of such greatness, but they don’t know it. It’s about showing them what they can do.”

(This essay first appeared on A Beautiful Perspective.)

Two years ago: Day 81: Giving thanks

Day 61: Hit the road, Jack

Things I love about working with VC:

  1. Being on our own time, bending weekends and weekdays to suit ourselves. The agility and ability to get up and go whenever a project demands it.
  2. The opportunity to hit the road and travel to places I wouldn’t otherwise go to on my own. Salem it was, this time. Road tripping with VC is always fuss-free and easy, and I love this chance to make work and play blend.
  3. Going really local, wherever we go. Last night we hit a super local mess and sampled some of the most amazing biryani, and assortment of meat specialties — essentially a lot of mutton and naati kozhi so goodthat made us declare, for the first time ever, that the chicken outshined every mutton dish on the table. There were spicy gravies mopped up with egg dosais, and stories of breakfasts of steaming idlis and meat curries that I really wished we were staying back for.
  4. Learning on the go, things I wouldn’t have even attempted to try in any other “job” set up
  5. Being our own bosses.

One year ago: Kitchen soup for my homesick soul
Two years ago: Day 61: Just go with it