Day 257: One breath leads to another

Why I write every single day

I started writing this year, to have a daily ritual that helps me connect with myself, and one that engages me entirely. It started as a habit I wanted to cultivate, but over this year it’s become that pocket of stillness that completes the day. Most days, this is an unhurried activity, almost like a daily meditation. It makes me stop, reflect, use my head and heart, use my hands and create.

I used to write to get out of my head earlier. And it’s helped escape monotonous phases in my life, get through sleepy days at work, distract me from things in my real life that would be insurmountable issues in my head. But I find that has changed and now I write to get in my head. To distill the jumble and get to the heart of it.

This has definitely meant I have slowly cultivated what it is to just be with me and my thoughts. The good and unsavoury ones.Without a necessary outcome as I used to know it. It’s helped me stay. It’s helped me be still.

It’s also helped me break my obsession with perfection in my writing. I write here, with a very specific objective to not curb, edit or filter my words. Purely because of the purpose of this blog as a journal, a notebook to mark my days as they develop.

I write to acknowledge and internalise the goodness in my life, and to record gratitude so it isn’t a mere passing thought, but a deliberate feeling.

Writing everyday is a tool for the constant work of going back to being me, the most honest version of me that I know, or can get to know, through this process. Words are the tool and writing is a bloody good exercise for it.

I write to record memories of instances when I felt things shift. This has 100% contributed to my sense of confidence in the way I carry myself. I suppose this is one of the crucial side effects of any daily ritual — do anything long enough, with enough involvement and it becomes you. Seeing, tracking, writing and reading about the changes I’ve experienced has trickled out from the innards of this journal, into my real life. It’s given me a solidity to my being, and a strong and renewed coherence to my inner monologue, the language of me.

One year ago: Go Goa Gone: End of My Sunshine Dream
Two years ago: Day 257: Down and up again

Advertisements

Day 155: I wrote a letter to my love

Confession: It took me a whole month to write the birthday letter I had promised to write myself.

Every day, since my birthday (when I decided I’d do this) I have thought about getting my ass down to doing it, but I just faced such an enormous resistance from within. I didn’t understand why, because I actually, really, really wanted to begin doing this for myself. But much like the general fog that hung around me, I put it down to the inexplicable forces that I must not attempt to fight. Tomorrow, I’d tell myself. Every day. Until the whole month had passed and nada. Noting. Zilch.

Everything felt like it took extra effort, and yet nothing really held me in what can only be described a high-activity few weeks where my mental and emotional energies have rendered mush. However, in all the chaos, there have been internal signs and cues — just the need to write that letter, the desire to get out for breakfast by myself — that my mind has been silently giving me, continuously.

I discovered the joys of solitude very early in life, and in recent time the pursuit of pockets of time with myself has been selfishly high on my agenda. The rapid shifts I’ve been experiencing within my being has left me silent for the most part of last month, because there was just too much happening within for me to process and share, and begin to live and experience. I have really felt the need to cocoon myself and be alone, quiet. Inevitably though, that feeling comes with a little guilt.

Just how small, narrow and selfish am I being?
self-serving am I making my life?
Is my desire to be by myself causing others around me hurt, worry, rejection?

So in addition to actually wanting to be by myself (and managing to do it a fair bit) I have had an inner tussle these thoughts, I realised, as I sat by myself the other day.

There is also a matter of space. One of the things I’ve felt a little sad about in Bangalore, is not having a room of my own. When we moved to Bangalore, I had already mentally started winding down my personal writing practice, and our current home doesn’t allow for desk space  or a work room (like I had in Goa) for me to work, or just sit and ponder. In Goa, it was my room to retreat to for the most part of any given day. It kept me grounded and centred in more ways that I realised. Until I came here, and have been without a room of my own for over a year.

I’ve been longing for space too, I suppose. In some form or another. A room of my own. A date with myself. A walk in Cubbon Park. Something to make a ritual of.

On June 1st something definitely changed. I woke up early and joined the yoga class I’ve been meaning to for months now. The same one I’ve been unable to because waking up has been so damn hard. I cooked! Willingly, enthusiastically. Looking up long-bookmarked recipes from my favourite cookbook, and really enjoying the cooking, rather than cooking to just get a chore done. And I finally got the letter written.

From the moment I woke up, the will to actually finally put pen to was palpable. I felt upbeat and like I had emerged from a grey cloud to suddenly see the light.

S and I had plans to meet for lunch one afternoon, and when I was all set to leave home and get my cab, she cancelled. I was already in the flow of things, my cab was on it’s way, and I was looking forward to some time out. So, I decided to go anyway. I changed my destination and took myself to Koshy’s — my favourite place to have a table for one, and where I usually go to spend time writing or reading alone, when I just need to be with myself for a bit.

As a last minute thought, I carried my letter pad with me. And lo and behold, almost as soon as I got there, ordered and opened up my pad, the thoughts just bubbled over. And they would. not. stop.

I wrote five whole pages, over three hours. Over two unhurried iced teas, one omelette with a plate of toast, and since the sky had suddenly turned overcast, let out a loud crack and crashed down on us with a massive downpour, a tall glass of chai to end it all.

Originally, I’d wanted to walk down to Blossom’s, but I was just so content from having let the words that have been stifled in me for the last four week come out, I really didn’t need anything more to top the day.

I’m glad I finally managed to cut the chatter and go get it. Because it was nice to just decompress and put my thoughts out, and see them for what they are. Freeing and unburdening.

It was nice to have that sense of space about me again. I’ve been longing for some room. Some room in the clutter of my mind. A room of my own. But sometimes just a table, a pen and some paper will do.

Two years ago: Day 155: Sairat

Day 150: Days when I couldn’t live my life without you

I began blogging in May, twelve whole years ago. And on this day seven years ago, I moved to WordPress. I’ve said it before: for all the inconsistencies in my life, the inability to stay with anything long enough, this blog and how consistently I’ve kept at it, how it has been the constant through so much in my life, counts for a lot.

The blog itself has morphed a lot from where it started. And it’s morphed many times over. But I look at the move to WordPress as quite the milestone, where my writing really significantly changed and moved from mere journaling of daily occurences to a more reflective sort of writing about things I was thinking and feeling.

Two years ago I wrote a post about what the blog has seen me though and how it stands testimony to so much I have experienced. It chronicles journeys taken, and records so many details that don’t always remain in my mind.

This year though, the blog has changed yet again. I’m woefully aware that this stint, the form the blog is in today, is the least interesting one for an audience. But I cannot overstate the joy it brings me everyday to have a space to turn to every single day, where I can ramble on unencumbered, where I have no expectations (of me or of this activity). There is no agenda or point to any of this really. At this point, it is merely a journal to recount the things I am going through.

I’m so glad to have made a habit of it because it’s been such a handy tool in noting the changes, the fluxes and the inflection points. The small victories, the setbacks and the in betweens alike.

I’ll go back yet again to my favourite quote from my favourite book on writing. Because it still sums up so accurately how I feel about writing, and why I continue to do it, even when it apparently has no bigger purpose:

Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.

Writing this blog, more than many other kinds of writing I’ve dirtied my hands with, fills me up in ways I cannot even explain. And sometimes when I think about it, it feels like such a luxury to have the ability to express myself. In words. In sentences. In rambling stories. Here on this blog. Because more than anything it allows me to come back and drink up, yet again. Even years later.

And that’s a mighty empowering, freeing feeling.

Two years ago: Day 150: Ten

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 59: Pretend like there’s no world outside

In 2016, I started a newsletter. It was a very impulsive, inspired decision. I’ll pat myself on my back for how I didn’t overthink it, just dived in and went with it. Because that was so uncharacteristic of me then. But maybe I didn’t give it quite enough thought as I should have. And it died a swift death, almost as swiftly as it was brought to life.Bringing it back has been on my mind ever since. But between moving, dealing with 2017, and letting the pursuit of perfection (and some definite imposter syndrome) stop me in my tracks every time I was ready to take the plunge, it didn’t happen.

The thing is, when I started it back in 2016, I went to great lengths to try and not let it be an overlap of the blog. I was already writing a post a day, how much more did I have to drone on about, I wondered. But I went through with it anyway. I’d figure it out on the go, I thought.

I had grand plans. What to do with the newsletter, things I’d write about, feature, explore. People I’d interview. Places I’ll go with this grand new tool. What I wanted this newsletter to become, basically. But if I’ve learned anything at all in the great flux that has been these last 18 months, it is to have a plan, but only enough to spur you to action. Never let the plan get so big and serious, or be so wedded to it, that it paralyses you.

Like it did me, with this newsletter. Back in 2016. And again early this year.

Eventually, I said I’d resume it in January this year. Along with all other fresh beginnings. But that didn’t happen either. The ideas kept swelling, but I just didn’t know where to make a crack at it.

So I did the next best thing I could. Decided to stop overthinking it. This is me diving in and going with it. Once again. This time with only a smidgen of an idea, some guiding lights to where I will go with it. No plans for how frequently I will post, what I will say or when.

For a start, I may have to overlap it a bit with the blog, until I gain some momentum and find a rhythm with giving it an identity of it’s own. But we’ll get there eventually.

If you’re not too bored of this daily drivel already, and want moooooaaar, you’ll find a separate page on top, right next to my About and Contact links. You’ll also find a subscription field somewhere in the side bar. And if you don’t find either of them, you can visit this link and subscribe: https://tinyletter.com/HaathiTime/

While we’re here, and still talking, want to tell me if there’s something specific you’ve always wanted to ask, or know about this blog? Want to chip in and suggest things I could write about? Want to tell me what you’d like to hear that isn’t already here on the blog?

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 45: We’ve gotta hold on to what we’ve got

For about a week now, I’ve been pondering about why I continue to keep this blog — especially in the form it has taken this year. I’ve watched it morph from a frequent account of things that happened to me, to a ton of tangential and severely self-indulgent navel-gazing, to a place to document pictures of things I’ve seen, done and enjoyed, or that I simply want to remember.

This year I find myself writing as a means to therapy and healing. It is the lens through which I take in the self-awareness piece of this puzzle. I write to feel and internalise gratitude. But like I said here, I’m also growing very aware that this isn’t the kind of writing that got this blog its audience. This isn’t the kind of writing that even warrants an audience.

The idea of “an audience” has also been top of mind this week, as I just submitted an essay about why I got off all social media late last year, and why this time it doesn’t feel like an experiment, or a detox period with an end date, but more like a natural movement in line with the general direction and growth in which I find myself moving.

After I worked hard at the essay, two rounds of edits and finally sent off a shiny almost-final draft this morning, it suddenly dawned on me. I continue to write because this is a now a journal. A place for me to record these changes, the events that precede them, the thoughts that come after, and everything that happens in between. This is a means for me to examine the transformation. This is a way for me to move closer to my truth. To push myself to be vulnerable in ways I don’t always allow myself to be. To voice things I don’t have the courage to speak, but I manage to write about. To distill every experience, threadbare, down to the essence of what it has to offer me, to record it and use that awareness as a gift to move ahead.

With a head swirling with all these thoughts — about social media, and if this blog is an extension of that same curated/performative life online or not, about how we are all forced to be an audience, about judgment, about self-awareness and growth — I stumbled on a beautiful essay about Joan Didion’s essay: On Keeping A Notebook, in which she says:

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.

[…]

It is a good idea, then, to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.

Suddenly, I know exactly why I am drawn to writing about myself. To keep this notebook. This has been the best way to stay in touch with myself. Every version, every iteration, every layer shed or donned.

And so this morning, I considered shutting down the blog to public. It feels drastic, so I am going to mull over this one for a bit.

Day 25: Gravity is working against me

I’ve been beating myself up about a couple of things of late. I’d like to stop. Not so much put and end to the completely unproductive self-flagellation itself, but also gently remind myself that there are no mistakes. Just missteps that serve as lessons. On the flip side of the opportunity to learn something.

It’s okay to have made a wrong call with a certain work assignment. It’s okay to acknowledge that I didn’t see the signs, the writing on the wall, right from the start. There was enough evidence staring me in the face. I had a hunch right from the get go. That the editor wasn’t being upfront, clear and transparent. And that I was selling myself short. But I chose to ignore the signs and go for it anyway. Because I thought I was at a loose end, and I needed something to bind me down to a work routine again. I am a long way off from seeing the end of this, but I need to stop beating myself up about it, get the job done and just move on.

I’ve really, really had an ongoing tug-o-war in my head as far as the whole fitness debate goes. The more I think about it, the more clear it is, how much of confidence, positivity, clarity and true liberation I have lost to what I now see as a completely unfounded need to experiment with my fitness. Last week, I finally admitted to myself that I was fine even before I went on the six week plan, and that in retrospect, I now no longer understand why I had to do it. Fixing this place in my head, and regaining this conviction is taking a lot more time and effort that I am willing to give it. I want to snap back, but the truth is I have to take the long, painful route. And it is testing me.

Then again, nobody said it would be easy. The rewards however, are happy-making beyond compare. So I’ll take it. Even though it isn’t always a pretty picture, or a perfect progression of linear, ever-progressive movements forward. I’ll take it, for that crushing sort of all-pervasive relief in finally learning to forgive myself, let it go. And just get on.

Two years ago: Day 25: Love

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

Day 11: I have my books and my poetry to protect me

Most days, I write because I have so much to say and I want to be heard. Contrary to popular belief, being articulate in writing doesn’t always mean a writer is articulate in speaking. I’m not very good with those words, so I choose these.

Most days, I write because it’s the fuel that keeps me going. Thoughts turn to words, words turn to thoughts and on and on and on.

Some days I write to silence the voices in my head. Some days, to give the meek whimper struggling to stay alive, a breath of fresh air, and a mouthpiece.

Some days, I write because I feel like I’m a part of a tribe of likeminded people. Writers. Women. What have you. Some days, it’s to remind myself that even at my loneliest, there are people who will read my words and some times write to say they could relate. Or that they’ve been there too. Or that they liked what they read.

I could go on and on.

These days though, I write as a means to conserving my emotional and mental energy. I write as a means to finish every thought that I kindle. I write so I can journal all that I’m figuring out, fully, before I make heedless utterances. I write to jot the stops and starts on this path that I’m on. I write to mark the milestones, the small victories and the dips that define it. I write because at the moment, I am selfishly committed to looking inwards — writing helps me converse with myself.

I write because it is a very good way to sit still and be present with everything that I think, feel and process. I write because it helps me make sense of this fascinating process. I write so I can journal it in long-form. I write because this is for me. I write because I’ve only just tasted the sheer pleasure of this intensely personal experience. I write because I’ve woken up very late, to the bliss of going this way alone. I write because I choose not to snap a picture for Instagram every time, or shoot out an update on Whatsapp, to make a declaration, every time I arrive at a noteworthy moment. I write because it makes me slow down and savour every memory better, twice over.

I write because it is the only way I know how to record my truth. I write, so I can look back someday and ponder over how far I’ve come (or not). I write as a means to drop crumbs along the way, so others can follow if they find themselves in the same place. I write because words speak, connect and bridge distances. I write so my mind can go the distance and arrive at the destination I’m headed to, even before the rest of me can.

Two years ago: Day 11: This and that

Go Goa Gone: End of My Sunshine Dream

I moved to Goa restlessly in search of a new turf. I’d always dreamt of a life full of travel. But after eight years, Bangalore is the home I have chosen to return to.

The rain has always reminded me of Goa. In all the years that I was there, I steadfastly maintained that it was best experienced in the monsoon. So sitting in my home in bone-dry Bangalore – where I have just returned after eight long years in the sunshine state – watching my Facebook and Instagram feed replete with images of liquid skies, has made the bittersweet nature of my decision suddenly very apparent.

The street outside my bedroom window is packed with people, quite like an inescapable matrix. The chaos is palpable, the diametric opposite of the silence in my study in Goa, where the large French windows were the perfect lookout for the rain. I spent the bulk of my time there, mostly alone, with just my words for company: a simple, still, and satisfying existence. In fact, it was finding a room of my own, complete with a sturdy writer’s desk right beside a day bed and a view that really made Goa my home. And yet, Bangalore is the home I have chosen to return to.

Home. The word has such a sense of finality attached to it. Finding home, coming home, returning home – they all seem like such swift movements in a single direction. It has always evoked a sense of having to choose something, one way or another. A city, a house, a place to forever swear allegiance to.

I came to Goa restlessly in search of a new turf. I’d always dreamt of a life full of travel. Drunk on the idea of independence, charting my own trajectory, being forever unbound… coming to Goa was a ticket to escaping a reality I didn’t want to make my own.

Moving there eight years ago was my massive “fuck you” to city life. I wanted out from the endless cacophony of big-city noises, a hectic life consumed by work and commuting to work, that left me with no mind space to do the things I really wanted to. I was earning well, but constantly fighting to create time and space to enjoy the rewards of the hustle. Twenty-four years was too soon to be plagued by questions that define a quarter-life crisis – shouldn’t there be more to this life? Is wanting a simpler, smaller, quieter life really such a bad thing?

Quitting seemed like the best answer at the time. As a city, Panjim was refreshingly different. Everything about it felt wonderfully welcoming and I found a balm for every single painful sore memory that had driven me away from Bangalore. And then there was the monsoon – four full months of it.

Never, not even in my wildest dreams, did I imagine I’d give it up to go back to the bustle of Bangalore.

Quitting city life at 25 to go live in a beach town wasn’t all idyllic and romantic. It meant being the trailing spouse. It meant stepping out of the corporate race entirely, a choice that had life-changing consequences for me. It meant opening myself up to the unexpected and unpredictable ways of a small town. And I was going to have to embrace a domestic life I had no experience with. The introvert in me was going to have to start finding new friends.

Having never lived outside of Bangalore, and knowing absolutely nobody in Goa, I tasted a kind of anonymity I’d never known. Free and far away from social, familial, and professional commitments gave me large doses of alone time. All that quiet meant that I had to learn to befriend solitude, embrace it, and pretty soon I learned to love it. I began to write for myself, testing waters in a new craft. I started reading entire books again. I even did what I thought was unthinkable and discovered a love for cooking.

I became a homebody, feeling like I’d finally found my feet, grown into myself. I’d found the safety of a home that allowed me to be me. And it sparked the start of many good things. A hermitic existence, ensconced in peace and quiet, close to nature, away from the disorderly rat race, Goa was home because it’s where I began to thrive.

I dug my heels in and bound myself tightly to the new-found belonging. In its fixed, firm foundations I found myself anchored. Over eight long years, the gentle ebb and flow of creating the life I wanted not only helped me find myself, but also redefine what home really is.

And yet, as soon as the transition was complete, I found myself wanting to pick up and go again.

I realise now that my sense of home is rooted in specific things, rather than a city or place. Home is any safe space in my head. Sometimes it is a process – like it was for me, a period of transformation.

Sometimes it is the satisfaction of tasting freedom, of leaping into the unknown. Sometimes it is the acknowledgement of my privilege, the security of knowing that I can to lead a life based on my own choices. Sometimes it’s in accepting that home is just a word. It isn’t a single place wrapped in the foreverness we attach to it. Home doesn’t have to be an end.

Home is – as I realised when I craved a change of pace again – very often just a means to an end. It needn’t be weighted down by the heaviness of roots. Sometimes, it has the lightness of agility.

Home is a state of mind. And it can be anywhere or any place you want it to be. Home needs space, to grow, to spread itself out and open its doors to newness. Homecoming then is not about going somewhere you necessarily want to be. It is going somewhere you need to be.

And so, I did the unthinkable. I left the near-perfect simple life of Goa, to dive straight into the chaos. I came back to the Bangalore. It’s overwhelming, it’s grotesque, it’s oppressive. And yet, I’ve once again made it my own. I am at ease.

(This essay first appeared on Arre)

Same time, last year: Day 258: This morning

Bangalore: a graphic novel

I don’t know the first thing about graphic novels, but I feel like getting myself down to the launch of the Bangalore graphic novel, where I got to watch and listen to some of the good folk who contributed to it makes for a decent start into the genre.

The only artists I was already familiar with are Appupen and Prashant Miranda, because I’ve followed their work in some measure these past few years.

Also present were some of the younger contributors, for some of whom this was the first time being published in print. Their excitement was so relatable. I was particularly inspired by Ramya Ramakrishnan who spoke simply and cheerfully about her process and how the story came to be. When someone asked if she was open to freelancing, she ended with a little fist bump, proudly declaring “I’m a full-time freelancer!”
*Sigh*

It was my first time visiting Goobe Book Republic which is not as serious and officious as the book republic bit of he name makes it out to be. For a tiny, seemingly non descript hole in a basement on Church Street (that currently can only be accessed by crossing over a mini canyon) it has a whole lot of heart and good, good energy.

It helped that despite the god awful rain and feeling mildly marooned on Church Street (it had turned into a literal river) by the end of the evening I even got to eat the Andhra meal had my heart set on. And I came away with some choice book recommendations too.

A few weeks ago I complained to more than one person about how I feel there’s nothing to do in Bangslore except eat and drink. I’m slowly eating my words. For now. I have since joined a reading club, stumbled on this book launch (and actually made it to watch) I’m off to a cookbook club potluck lunch this afternoon. There are good intentions to watch a stand up act next week and take a weekend trip away some time in the next month too.

It’s tricky managing the balance between retaining and reclaiming time I want for myself and also making the effort to get out there and do some of the things I actually want to. It’s far easier to slip into hermit mode, specially once getting out in Bangalore has been quite overwhelming on more than one occasion. But for a select few things and with the right company, I hope to be able to push myself a little bit every time an event or performance or something catches my eye.

Back to the book — Bangalore, A Graphic Novel — it’s independently published, has a really good selection of contributors from Appupen and Prashant Miranda to Zac O’Yeah and several other comic book creators, illustrators and artists that I hadn’t heard of but am so happy to be introduced to.

It’s the second production by Every City is a Story, a city-centric story telling initiative. They already have a Hyderabad graphic novel out there and a Goa one in the works!

Same time, last year: Day 211: Interwebzy things

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