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

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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

Day 54: All my sweat, my blood runs weak

What coming home feels like: Sometimes, like a giant cauldron of regret

Yesterday was a super frustrating day. And it came on the back of a rather tiresome few weeks. Work has been testing our limits, our patience, resilience and everything in between. It’s the kind of situation where we’re having to work really, really hard (not just at the work-work itself, but the driving around town, the hustling to schedule meetings, the constant pimping, the follow-ups to get people to fucking respond that adds to the work) for the smallest wins. At this point, I’ll take it. And I’m grateful for every little bit of movement. But, on some days like today, it takes a toll.

Yesterday was one of those days where I fully and completely regretted moving to Bangalore. The reality of it hit me when we were out to run a single, really simple errand, not too far away from home. But after wading through impossible traffic for over two hours, we had to return home errand unfinished. This completely unnecessary wild goose chase included obstacles such as one HDFC ATM with a dead server, three HDFC ATMs in the vicinity that only existed on Google Maps, but not in reality, and a mindbogglingly circuitous route home. There are few things worse than having to brave evening traffic in Bangalore when you’re all set to get shit done, and you have to inevitable return without accomplishing the only thing you set out to do.

This, at the end of a hard few weeks where I’ve kept my head down and patiently tolerated everything this city has thrown my way, broke me a little. This month, I’ve seen the worst of Bangalore’s traffic, road rage, Metro construction, white topping, the beginnings of flyovers and steel bridges we know won’t do jack, road rage, traffic jams, aggression and road rage. Did I say road rage already? I’ve been to Whitefield (twice!), Jayanagar, Koramangala (thrice!), Hosur Road, Kengeri. And I’m pretty sure I’m leaving something out.

These past three weeks, I’ve witnessed the extent to which this city has exploded physically, at very close quarters. I’ve seen how the semblance of order that is not visible in the CBD area, fades as one move outwards, and is non existent in the external, ever-expanding limits of the city. Basically, Bangalore feels like one gigantic construction site, with no sense of logic or planning in sight.

From the moment I entered Whitefield, we were in gnarling traffic jams of the worst, worst kind, and for the most part, we were squeezed into single lane traffic. The temperatures are definitely a few degrees higher there than everywhere else, owning to the rampant and thoughtless construction. Clouds of dust, people zipping around either angrily, or with vacant expressions, zombified and totally sapped of energy. It was nothing short of a dystopic image. For a newcomer, it feels like Whitefield has no more space to give. No more space, no semblance of order, no peace, no air, no energy. I kept asking VC, who would want to live in a place like this? The energy was just reeking of negativity. Also, where’s the space? But the irony of it all was we were headed to a meeting with a property developer at a property fair in Whitefield. Evidently the big Bangalore property dream is still alive and kicking. The idea that you can build yourself a fancy home, high up in the skies, walled in to a self-contained layout, is a great way to keep the festering shitfest of a city out. It doesn’t matter that the minute one leaves ones multiple-crore home in said fancy self-contained enclave, you hit areas with no roads to speak of.

How is this appealing? Are people sleep-walking through their life here? How is this the “quality” of life is being sold to hapless citizens of this city? And how are they buying into it? When will it stop?

But that’s not all. I also had a deep, deep sense of regret because it was the kind of day that makes it seem like nothing is really working in my favour. The kind of day where you feel responsible for making it all work, yet want to just throw your hands up and resign. The kind of day where you want a shoulder to cry on, but the only shoulder you have wants none of it. The kind of day where you want to poke holes in your castles in the air, and let those demons out, but your cohabitant wants none of it.

By far the worst feeling of it all, was to realise that my life is once again down to this — getting around this maddening city, trying to do work that doesn’t want to get done easily, and feeling very, very tired every single day. I’m so frustrated that I get so little done, and yet I’m busy all the time, and it just makes me so very, very tired, with nothing to show for it. It’s not that content, satisfied kind of fatigue, but the exhausted, empty sort of tiredness.

This, in a nutshell, was why I left Bangalore in 2010. And somehow, I’ve signed up for it all over again.

Yesterday, I felt trapped, backed into a corner, with no options or way out.

Yesterday, my frustration with Bangalore peaked, and I longed for the simplicity that was life in Goa.

Yesterday, I realised once again, what I am and am not wired for.

I know this too will pass, and I’ll go back to focusing on the silver linings, with the surety and confidence that I came with, that has currently left the building. But until then, let it be known that February has been rather brutal, and it is taking it all out of me to try and focus on the good bits.

Meanwhile, the trees on my street have shed their leaves overnight.

I woke up one morning to find the streets laden with brown, dead leaves. It’s a sign of new beginnings. Of summer. Of the end of a cycle. And I hope some of that freshness translates into my life too.

One year ago: Ten reasons why I love the girls I’m in long distance relationships with
Two years ago: Day 54: Working better

Day 52: I hope you’re not lonely without me

The Thing that Drew Me to Social Media Also Led Me to Quit It

Two months ago, I was deep in the throes of a supposedly philosophical discussion about the simultaneous usefulness and futility of Instagram, about how the platform has turned into a marketplace to display our excesses, when I had an epiphany.

I’d been through this sequence of events so many times before — opening Instagram, scrolling on till I found something that I thought was utterly ridiculous, snapshotting it, sharing it with a group of friends, popping over to WhatsApp to discuss, giggle, and mock said post. But that day, despite having initiated the conversation, I was suddenly overcome with disgust at how judgmental I was being, and about someone who was essentially a stranger.

It wasn’t the people I follow. It wasn’t the amount of effort I put into pruning my feed.

It was me.

***

Ranting about the evils and downside of technology and social media is a recurring pattern. Hating social media even as we continue to exist on all platforms and master the trendy tricks of judgmental snark (legitimised by hashtags like #sorrynotsorry), is so normal.

Why the compulsion to look through people’s lives, believe everything is a lie, rip through their posts and poke holes in their beliefs? I consider myself largely self-assured, content and confident. But on an off-day, when I am low, dissatisfied or even just bored, I’d sometimes catch myself looking at every post in a very different light. Pictures of perfect gym-bodies contorting in ways I will never manage to, plates of perfectly cooked, balanced meals that I don’t have the inclination to put together, people going on holiday after holiday, immaculately curated homes, beautifully articulate opinions and thoughts, gorgeous clothes worn with casual ease, effortless and unselfconscious selfies – I’d slip into a gnawing sense that my life is perhaps not all that good enough. That it is somewhat lacking in one way or another.

That the app is preying and manipulating this insecurity is no secret. In this recent article in The Globe and Mail, Matt Mayberry of Dopamine Labs says the app withholds notifications and releases them in a staggered fashion, to keep users compulsively coming back for more.

“They’re tying in to your greatest insecurities,” Mayberry says.

Sean Parker, ex-president of Facebook, recently confirmed that the site was made to exploit human vulnerability, by creating a social-validation feedback loop that gives users a hit of dopamine with every notification. Ultimately, the success of an app is in how much it is used. In this Guardian article, which draws a bleak picture of the future as a smartphone dystopia, Chris Marcellino (one of the architects of iPhone’s push notification feature) reveals smartphone technology aims to tap into the same neurological pathways that influence gambling and drug use.

According to a 2015 study by British psychologists, quoted in the article in The Globe and Mail, “Average users look at their phones about 150 times a day,…and about twice as often as they think they do…These companies have persuaded us to give over so much of our lives by exploiting a handful of human frailties. One of them is called novelty bias. It means our brains are suckers for the new.”

It also means our brains are suckers for donning a thick judgmental attitude. Social media makes you feel like a star, but actually keeps you in the audience, where your only worth is your response. It forces you to react. To take a stance, pick a side. To create a chatter. To decide — at once — if you like or dislike something. If you love or hate it. If it was pretty, or not. If it was realistic, or not.

Could it be that we’ve confused exhibitionism for vulnerability and strength? Was I swapping staying in touch for staying up to date? Had the quest for self-improvement and been replaced by self-validation?

In this alarming think piece, Andrew Sullivan talks about how technology, social media (and by extension, capitalism) are diminishing the place and value of real connections, community and the experience of being with and around people. Similarly, it is extinguishing the deep contentment and satisfaction that comes from the workmanship and tedium essential for human growth, by making everything accessible, instant and efficient.

“By rapidly substituting virtual reality for reality, we are diminishing the scope of this interaction even as we multiply the number of people with whom we interact…We reduce them to some outlines — a Facebook “friend,” an Instagram photo, a text message — in a controlled and sequestered world that exists largely free of the sudden eruptions or encumbrances of actual human interaction. We become each other’s “contacts,” efficient shadows of ourselves” —Andrew Sullivan

The resulting despair seems to be a theme of our time. It is coupled with an inability to stay with anything we begin to pursue, whether a relationship or a hobby. The ability to watch everything from a distance, retaining the right to dip in and out, dispensing judgment without every really getting involved, has petered into the very way in which we live life. And in the end, it has contributed to the nameless restlessness and angst, fragile and fraught relationships and widespread boredom that washes over my generation. We scroll, mindless, with casual and helpless nonchalance, even as we know the damage it is doing to us.

The decision to remove myself from social media. while impulsive was sufficiently fuelled by a growing kind of loneliness and dissonance that had slipped into my life.

I was increasingly uncomfortable accepting the truth that the more connected I was virtually, the more disconnected I felt in real life.

***

Within seconds of ending that conversation, I had deactivated my Instagram account. Facebook and Twitter followed the day after. One month later, I introduced a 10-hour WhatsApp-free window to my day.

It was only in the absence of access that I fully registered the colossal amount of time I was channelling towards virtual reality.

Off the grid, plenty of life’s answers come slowly. They’re not usually packaged in neat little bytes of information that one can simply, thoughtlessly scroll through. They require marinating in experience, immersing ourselves in the tedium of routine, reveling in the smallness of everyday life.

Stepping away from an immediate, judgmental and curated kind of existence has helped turn down the chatter in my head, making me acutely aware that what I am seeking is authenticity. And what I need the most right now, is to satisfy the basic human needs – to seek joy in experiences, find connection in relationships; to listen to the voice within, not the chorus without; to act, not react. So much of this requires me to just put my phone down and get out – physically, mentally and emotionally.

It might be the platform. It might be a whole generation. But, at the end of it all — It’s me.

(A slightly-edited version of this essay appeared on The Swaddle.)

***

That’s enough about the whys and what happened before I unplugged, now. Maybe when enough time has passed, and I am feeling the words brimming over again, I will share an insight into the after.

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

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