Day 47: There’s still time to change the road you’re on

I can’t believe how quickly this week has gotten ahead of me. It was busy, with meetings every single day (which would explain my rant), shoots on three days (including a full day shoot that had us on our feet from 9 am to 5 pm, straight), lots of battling gnarly crawly traffic and generally being up and about and on the move.

And that’s just the work I do for VC. On my side, I worked on an essay, worked on edits and submitted it, placed another one and began researching it. If I’d squeezed in the interview and a movie watch it requires I’d have been able to start the week banging the story out.

There was also beers with R, dinner with VC at Nagarjuna and the gas running out at home.

It’s been an eventful week. I was out so much and even though I didn’t clock too many hours “at work” at my desk, it’s been productive and meaningful in many ways.

Next week, I hope to kick-start gym time again. So help me God.

Two years ago: Day 47: Cloudless skies

Advertisements

Day 46: All the feckless men that queue to be the next

It’s been such an enlightening few months working with VC. It’s a role and a kind of work I’ve never officially ever thought to undertake before. Because it involves dealing with a lot of people. Trying to understand what might make them tick, being a little cunning, persuasive, and learning the tricks that will elicit the responses I want to hear. Which means it’s a lot of taking changes, it’s a lot of thinking on the go, it’s a lot of being ignored, it’s a lot of feeling helpless and lost, it’s a lot of confusion about peoples’ behaviour. It’s a lot of disappointment. It’s a lot of growing a thicker skin, laughing off the idiocy and the unnecessary way in which people tend to complicate the simplest communication, and picking oneself up to move on quickly.

Most of all, it also rather thankless, at this stage in a new business.

I’m learning slowly, though, never to count my chickens before they’re really hatched. To never take an expression of intent as anything more than just that — an expression of intent. It doesn’t prompt action in 9 out of 10 instances.

I’m learning to make believing nobody my default, so much so that when suddenly I encounter a sane, normal person in this sea of idiots I’ve been dealing with, I am pleasantly surprised.

I’m learning that sometimes even the nicest, most polite people in person, can be the rudest assholes in communication.

I’m learning that the people you think you’ll vibe with, can also turnaround and be obnoxious in the most surprising and unexpected way.

I’m learning that people will go through the most complicated communicational acrobatics, just to avoid confronting a really simple question that can so easily be answered with a yes or a no.

I’m learning to read the signs. A full room of attentive people is a good sign. A meeting of tired faces who just want to get this over with is a sign that they’re just doing me a favour. Thanks, but no thanks.

I’m learning to keep my hopes up, even when things look really hopeless. I’m learning what it is to keep getting knocked down, even when I feel like I have so much going for me.

I’m learning, most of all, to just keep swimming.

Thankfully, every now and then, my travels around the city, meeting feckless people, are peppered with stopovers with people I love, with whom I can enjoy a laugh, and share a beer.

As we did yesterday. In an unexpected turn of events, we found ourselves at the other end of town, in parts we would no venture to if our lives depended on it.

So we reached out to R, and we grabbed a few beers, stuffed our faces with pakodas, and it was just the refresher I needed after a meeting with someone who seemed intent on making me feel like I would never be able to achieve their sophisticated level of aesthetic, right from the get go.

Which made me wonder, so why did we bother coming this far?

The answer to that one is another one of the things I’ve learned: People just don’t know how to say no. So they will keep saying yes, and pretending like they really would like to meet you, and believe that they’re being very convincing about it. Even as they continue to tow that fine line between being responsive enough to lead you on, but also being a touch non-committal so as to never put a date to it.

One year ago: Pointless post
Two years ago: Day 46: Morning views

Day 18: Afterglow

Today was a really good day. For no special or momentous reason. Just many little seemingly insignificant things strung together. And I just want to remember it while I’m steeping in the afterglow.

Bunking gym and sleeping in.

Early morning reading even before I got out of bed and surfaced for the day.

Placing an essay that would have otherwise been just a blogpost.

Talking to S about hypno-therapy and social media.

Afternoon reading that lulled me to sleep.

Meeting P and having pasta for dinner for the first time in months.

Turning in early and tucking myself into bed with a book.

Two years ago: Day 18: End of day

More Goa postcards: walking through Mapusa Market

Easily one of my most favourite things to do in Goa was visiting the Friday market in Mapusa. Few things invigorate me like a market full of fresh produce can. And our visit to this one churned up all kinds of nostalgic and mixed emotions about how far away I am from the simplicity and luxury of this: going to a market this abundant, lush and thriving, where I can buy things straight from the makers/growers themselves.

Le sigh.

Filed under #youwinsomeyoulosesome

Goa mornings like way I like them: chai <3
Goa mornings the way I like them: letting my nose guide me through the piles of produce on a Friday at Mapusa market
Goa mornings the way I like them: bathed in a crisp, blindingly bright October light

Same time, last year: Day 305: Light and life

More Goa postcards: yellow

Walking through Fontainhas always gives me a sense of stillness. Like time stopped for a bit, and then picked up again, but the effects of that lag, those missed moments linger on indefinitely. Casting a cliche old-world hue, not just on the way the place looks, but energy it carries. I always feel like I can feel right to my bones, the yars and years of lives, histories and experiences that these buildings, little streets, tiny shuttered windows opening on to groaning balconies must have witnessed.

If I had one word to describe the afternoon we spent back in Fontainhas, it would have to be S T I L L.

And then there’s the beach of course. It doesn’t get more Goa than this. Peachy sun-kissed sunsets, a lilt in the air, beach dogs befriending you and succeeding effortlessly, and the smell of seafood and tandoori everything in the air as the shacks get set for dinner service.

After this trip, where every dog that passed us made a beeline for VC, and instantly struck a friendship and unreal levels of intimacy with him, I’m convinced he might be a dog whisperer.

Same time, last year: Day 301: Notes to self

More Goa postcards: blue

Assuaging my separation angst and  bittersweet Goa feelings (sadness at some of the things I witnessed and internalised, and happiness to have it as a perpetual part of my life) with an uber-touristy mini series to share the rest of my snaps from Goa. I’m going to be lazy and double post them straight of Instagram, on here.

Beautiful, beautiful, Goa — have I mentioned how wonderful it is to be at this vantage point? Of having enough distance, and time between us to let all the dissatisfaction simmer down, and yet be able to return (as a visitor) to find that same familiarity and intimacy still remains? And better still to now be a return visitor, and find a sense of almost-possessiveness, belonging and near-heartbreaking fury and inability to accept even the slightest change? To know that I can flit between the two states, and still feel at home? To be able to see everything differently. To compare, to open my eyes to perspectives previously unnoticed, to feel that gentle throbbing of my heart that still beats for the life you gave me?

Haiiiii – This is ReRe reporting from homeland! In all my years of living in Goa, I never ventured in to Calangute proper. And somehow, this time around, circumstances ensured that we lived smack in the middle of Calangute for six whole days.
Day 1 opened with serene beginnings. And a string of breakfast buffets that would slowly but surely break me. And the healthy food plan I’ve been on. The only saving grace? A swim here, every evening, after sunset.
On day 2, we set off to catch this church in the golden hour of the AM. But it was shrouded in mist which gave it an eerie atmosphere. Also pictured in here is my favourite partner. In life. And have I mentioned now at work too?!
Day 3 escapades took us to this beach that’s predominantly a fishing village. We’ve cycled here very often and it used to be one of the nicest, beaches in the north, pretty cut off from the humdrum. This time though, it was one giant festering toilet, with human fecal matter covering pretty much every square inch, for as far as the eye can see. It infuriated me to have to dodge shit piles to get out and get our work done, until I realised these fishermen were working there too. Smiles on their faces. Dogs romped and cows lolled about on the shitty sands too. Surely this isn’t a choice for these fishermen, I imagined. Nobody would *choose* it, this is what insurmountable circumstances look like. Nothing bursts my bubble of privilege than a reality check like this. Someone want to take the Chief Minister or Modiji down there for a walk? Not a dustbin or bathroom in sight for miles on end. Pretty sure there’s issues with running water too. 
Back at the beach, at a different time of day on day 4. And the colours in the magic hours between 4.30 and 6 are always all kinds of amazing.
On our last day out, I went to what seemed to be one of the nicest azulejos stores of the many many stores Ive been to. Deceptively small but has a delightful variety of things made from using these tiles creatively, for a very decent price too. Custom name boards etc still take ridiculously long (and I wonder why nobody’s figured out a way to work this out faster) but you’ll find a lot of other things worth taking back from your holiday. Head to Azulejos de Goa on MG Road in Panjim. It’s in a little alley like entrance set back from the main road, right opposite Clube Nacionale.

Same time, last year: Day 300: Three hundred

 

On going solo

On Sunday morning, I read a quote (by Rainbow Rowell, from Attachments) on The Artidote’s instagram post, and it resonated so deeply with me:

So, what if, instead of thinking about solving you whole life, you just think about adding additional good things. One at a time. Just let your pile of good things grow.

I got to Pondicherry late on Sunday afternoon. I will be here for the next weekish, wandering about by myself. And here’s the reason it really spoke to me. This is one of those happy(making) things I have been wanting to do for a while this year: to take a trip, no matter how long or short, no matter where, near or far, by myself.

The last time I truly travelled solo, all by myself, I was 19. And I think back to the time that is clearly tinged with absurdity. I was at an age that comes with a lot of natural casual, carefree naiveté, of course. But my parents too, had only but supported and encouraged my going. Fuelled the pick-up-and-go energy that was ever present. Undeterred by the fact that this was my first long solo journey lasting 8 weeks. No matter that it also happened to be the very first time I’d be travelling outside the country.

I think back to that infectious impulsiveness, that ability to respond to an idea with little reason, because I know it’s what gets watered down with time. And with growing up.

Back then, I don’t remember once stopping to rationalise or reconsider or double-think anything. Literally nothing stopped me. No good reason. The opportunity presented itself, my parents supported me, and I got down to making the trip happen. I’m painfully aware of having lost that essential spontaneity and impulsiveness in recent time. Far too often I find myself thinking and over thinking even my littlest dreams and desires. And often, I brush them aside if I can’t think of a bigger reason than “doing this would make me happy”.

This is something I’ve woken up to recently. There are so many little, doable, realistic, essential things for the doing. For the taking. And I stop myself because better reason gets in the way. I don’t know when being happy has become an insufficient reason. But it’s something I want to try and change.

Combined with the fact that the desire to head out solo has been bubbling up for a while now, I grabbed this opportunity with both hands when it came my way. I didn’t think too much, even when the voice of reason and logic tried to get in the way and raise some potentially crucial points to consider.

I’ll figure it out, I’m sure.

For someone who has done a lot of other solo stuff, and for whom solitude has been such an important piece in recent time, it was alarming to realise I hadn’t travelled alone for over a decade. To be fair, the thought or the desire hasn’t even occurred to me. I’ll put that down to the phase in life that didn’t demand it. I got so much alone time and was on a semi holiday for the most part of my life the past eight years, I didn’t feel the need to get away.

But the thought has raised it’s head multiple times this year. And it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, acknowledging it rather than brushing it aside as something I don’t need or desire. So when the opportunity came out of the blue, in what seemed like unlikely circumstances, I was mildly overwhelmed that all my thinking had probably created it.

Anyhow, this post is to acknowledge this change. And to acknowledge the gratitude I feel to be in the incredibly privileged position that allows me to tune in and listen to these seemingly unnecessary desires. To be able to indulge most of them. To have the choice and the ability to build this life wholly on on the belief that it’s worth it. To allow myself the spontaneity. Even if the reason for it is is nothing more than to add another thing to my pile of happy.

***

So much of growing into myself again this year, has been about acknowledging and honouring myself and my individual needs and dreams, outside of who I am in the many roles I play. To shed the fear, the guilt, the embarrassment and sheepishness that sometimes accompanies owning up to that truth. To free myself from previously held notions of who I am, and allowing myself the flexibility of changing again. Perhaps this too is another piece in the puzzle.

Just the idea of being presented with a chance to take off, with most things worked out, felt so freeing. In the run up to my travel to Pondi, I felt all kinds of excitement and empowerment.

Except, I’m a strong, independent woman. Who is sometimes afraid of the dark.

In my excitement to be travelling alone again, I forgot that I am sometimes quite the scaredy-cat.

My third night here, I found myself in a room with tall wall-to-ceiling glass panes on two sides of the room. The kind that are usually used in boardrooms and conference rooms in offices. Heavy glass doors without frames, that take an arm workout to open and close. Which means they don’t shut nimbly or speedily. Anyhow, I didn’t think too much about it, until after sunset when I had to draw all the drapes, and realised I was in what felt like a tent of heavy drapes. There was an added catch, the room had a bathroom attached, with the shower area open to sky, and a giant window with a ledge right in front of the pot, which had no bars or shutter or anything. It overlooked an indoor courtyard of sorts that nobody was ever likely to go into, beyond which a tallish wall enclosed the loo to allow just enough privacy.

Once the sun had fully set, the nighttime creatures began to make their presence felt through an orchestra of croaks and buzzing sounds, I began to convince myself that someone was going to scale the courtyard wall and very easily make their way into my room. I was convinced that in the face of an intrusion even screaming for help wouldn’t d much because my cottage was tucked away in the corner of the sprawling property.

I had the strangest night, sleeping with the lights and TV on. And when I say sleeping, I mean dozing in and out of sleep from time to time.

A restless eight hours later, I was just so happy when it turned 7 am and I could get out of bed where I was pretending to be asleep, hit the breakfast buffet and get on with my day. Everything seems better and safer in the light of day!

***

I remember that first trip I took to Europe when I was only 19, figuring out the Metro in Paris all by myself. I remember fumbling through, not knowing the language and being stuck on more than one occasion when I couldn’t figure out a map or a sign on the street or a station. I remember taking the last train back at 3 am one morning, and rushing through the underground station, dodging the homeless man who was drunk, singing out loudly who turned and came after me. I remember exiting the city limits my metro card allowed me to and sneaking in thanks to some careful thoroughfare. I remember being on top of the Arc de Triomphe enjoying the view where I was suddenly cornered by two incredibly good looking Algerian men who absolutely insisted I join them for a drink. It was a good ten minutes of conversation before reality and reason dawned on me and I realised I should probably not indulge them. I remember travelling through Brussels, Amsterdam and Brugge all by myself, taking trains at odd hours, walking through strange new towns where I was a stranger. I remember sitting on that pebble beach in Greece towards the end of my trip, when I finally realised I had overstayed my Visa and that I needed a quick plan of action to get home.

Yet, through all of it, I don’t remember too many moments of fear. Yes, there was shock, panic or an adrenalin rush. But never debilitating fear of the sort the stupid open-air bathroom caused last night.

I guess it’s going to take a lot more getting out alone because it’s been so long, I seem to have forgotten that going solo means also bracing myself for the odd situation where I am sometimes afraid. To get rid of some of those fears and remind myself that I am enough.

Same time, last year: Day 298: Weekend snippets

Postcards from Goa

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

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

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

Looking at everything anew sometimes makes all the difference.

Same time, last year: Day 293: Stuff

Things change

You have to know by now that the change theme is likely to be a recurring one in the foreseeable future.

Speaking of change, it has to be recorded that I used to be a homebody. In the last few months before I left Goa, this peaked. I’d pared my life down so much that I really went nowhere. With the exception of the gym and the supermarket and sometimes the odd coffee or drink out, I spent most of my time cooped up at home. Because that was where I felt good. Sane. Safe. It meant also avoiding people. Losing some friends. Missing out on social outings and some work opportunities. But it was all very deliberate. A conscious choice. So I’m not complaining. Merely recollecting how it used to be not so long ago.

And then I moved to Bangalore. And while the homebody in me still exists, I’ve surprised myself with how I’ve turned 180 degrees. Now, I sometimes find myself willing to brave traffic, rain, crowds, people and everything I thought I could never tolerate again, to get to places I want to see, to meet people I want to hang out with and do things I didn’t think I cared much for.

Case in point: I went to Nasi & Me on a day when it rained cats and dogs. Most uncharacteristically, I agreed to drive thru peak hour traffic, all the way across town, because I was told if there’s one Asian food place I absolutely had to try this was it.

***

For a few weeks now I’ve had the feeling that I need to get out of home to get into work mode. Such a swift turnaround from life in Goa where for the most part, writing in my guest room was where things worked best. But never say never and all that, this week, I tested out alternstives. And to my surprise, it worked.

***
Just when I was making peace with the slower, stiller life. Possible new definitions of productivity and the like. Looking at accepting a life less “busy” than the one I knew and the one I thought I was made for, things have happened.

Today I had not one but two meetings. And both took me outside of home, which meant  encountering the worst morning and evening rush hour traffic getting to and back from them meant. I had more work telephone calls today than I have had in a long, long time.

I felt terribly busy all of a sudden.

On a long day like today, when I got home at 8.30 pm and still had to send out e-mails that can’t wait till tomorrow, I stop and ask myself — omg who are you?!

Things change all time. All things. Everything. Us included.

Same time, last year: Day 285: Shifting gears 

What coming home feels like: Revisiting old haunts

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

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

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

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

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

Same time, last year: Day 181: Holiday vibes

Just breathe

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

Because, you’re not working yet.

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

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

Maybe that’s just it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whisky-shisky

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

john-distilleries-34

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

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

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

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

Kitchen Soup for the Homesick Soul

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

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

*****

Kitchen Soup for the Homesick Soul

cooking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(A version of this essay first appeared on Arre)

Same time, last year: Day 63: Shine on

Roads and Kingdoms

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

For now: want to read the pieces I wrote?

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

chilli-feni

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

Same time, last year: Day 53: Playtime

Pointless post

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

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

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

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

Can.not.able.to.do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same time, last year: Day 46: Morning views

Commitment issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

*shudders*

*****

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

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

Where is that, she asked.

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

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

Same time, last year: Day 40: Begin again

Busy times, apparently

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

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

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

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

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

alex4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(This story first appeared on VICE.)

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

Work. But also life.

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

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

Why won’t people respond soon?

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

How long should I wait before I move on?

Maybe I should try something else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same time, last year: Day 19: Hope

Two new pieces

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

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

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

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

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

(I know I’m trying.)

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

Inconsequential posts you really don’t need to read

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

So much for prep.

*****

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

*****

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

So we’re working on that.

Hah.

*****

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

Red ink <3 yellow light. Handwritten.

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

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

Same time, last year: Day 12: R & R