See me.

My feed is full of travel pictures, of people exploring new places or relaxing on holiday. And I am one part envy.

Have you felt envy? It starts out as a small bubble somewhere near my diaphragm. The more I scroll and like, the larger it gets, billowing outwards, filling up more of my chest cavity until I cannot breathe. My eyes stand out in my head, full of unexplainable tears.

I am one part envy but also one part reason. Reason tells me that I can travel too, book a holiday, feed my fernweh.

Have you felt reason? It’s thin, sharp, pointed, like a gleaming needle. It starts as a prickle on the back of my head, making me shake like a dog to get rid of it. My envy shifts and tries to settle as reason leaves pin pricks all over. It whooshes out slowly, a poor dying thing, and I am left with a hollow where it used to be. I draw shallow breaths and begin to dream.

I am one part reason but also one part fear. Fear grips me at the prospect of planning for a future that I have no idea will come.

Have you felt fear? It’s a vacuum, a sensory deprivation room, a chloroformed handkerchief to my nose. In fear, I freeze. My limbs are cold but that’s all I feel. The clock ticks but nothing changes. I drift but don’t know if I’m moving. I float but can’t tell if I’m still.

The future has no face, the pandemic has stolen that from me.

Kintsukuroi: the art of fixing things

Last month, SR and I completed 11 years of marriage. Unusually, I had the urge to share things about us. Over several attempts, I typed hundreds of words. But they all felt inadequate, rambling.

Yesterday, I finally found the right words.

Kintsukuroi or kintsugi is an old Japanese craft: a way of mending broken pottery by filling the cracks with silver or gold dust in lacquer. Shining the light on the cracks, not hiding them. And because the fillings are gold and silver, the pottery becomes valuable again. I don’t know if this is a real Japanese legacy or one more beautiful idea that we’re appropriating and misinterpreting, like hygge and ikigai. But the thought is beautiful and it lends itself as a metaphor for our relationship.

SR and I met on a warm evening the Independence Day of 2008. We started chatting that night on GTalk and fourteen years later, haven’t stopped.

We’ve lost hair and gained weight. We’ve had more sickness than health. We’ve had money in the bank, yet panicked over finances. Had nothing at all, yet emptied out accounts to travel. Been unemployed at the same time for two 3-month periods. Threw up jobs to do our own thing. Done crazy shit and never been caught. And almost arrested when we were doing nothing at all.

We’ve been inseparable for years, yet gone through phases when we could barely stand seeing each other. We’ve been broken without even realising it and happy without ever appreciating it. We’ve hit patches so rough, it felt like we’d never be able to recover. We’ve been heartbroken and thought we’d never be able to live without each other. We’ve found out that we can, just that we don’t want to.

A counselor once said, “Your wedding happened once. But your marriage happens everyday.” So we did that like the Japanese fix pottery, filling in the cracks with lacquered gold and holding the pieces gently together until they healed and became whole again. Now when I look back, this relationship is more beautiful than it’s ever been, the gold lines a reminder of the work we’ve put in because we saw something underneath that was worth saving.

Oft-traveled paths

Oft-traveled paths

As an angst-ridden teenager in Trivandrum many years ago, I used to get out of the house and walk around aimlessly in the evenings. My feet seemed to lead the way while my eyes and mind wandered. I always came back home feeling lighter, freer.

Since 2020, I’ve rediscovered the joy of walking. SR and I have roamed around Bangalore, going up and down any lane that caught our eye. Tracing grids and trying to beat self-set walking goals. We stopped when summer peaked. We readied our raincoats in the hope of monsoon walks but the past few weeks, we’ve taken turns to fall sick.

But yesterday, I got out on my own. My workload was stifling. My brain was on fire. I needed to breathe and even the bougainvillea on my balcony couldn’t lift my spirits.

I didn’t give myself time to think. Bra, socks, shoes, mask. I put them on rapidly and exited the house. Stopped to pet Arrow and Quiver on the way. Then disappeared into the chaos of Whitefield traffic. It was amazing how freeing this felt. Around me were buses and cars, engines revving, horns bleeping. The deafening noise from the Metro construction. People speaking loudly at each other and into their phones. I walked through them, past them.

Can I spot ten beautiful things? I wondered, side-stepping mud, thankful to my trusty old shoes. Then I started counting every dog I saw, quickly reaching 12. So I set a new rule: ten beautiful things that are not dogs.

Gulmohur trees in a blaze of orange.

Dusky pink bougainvillea a day or two away from drying.

Silver-grey streaks across the sky. Rains: will they, won’t they?

Strings of kanakambaram on ladies’ plaits.

A shiny carmine sari with golden prints, the kind my aunt might have worn in 1999.

The light, woolly sweaters of office-goers.

Glossy, heart-shaped leaves on a fig tree.

The coppery shine on a tea boiler.

The long, repetitive calls of a cuckoo hidden among the leaves.

Delicious wafts from a bread pakoda vendor’s cart.

The deep grey of newly tarred roads washed by rain.

Stiff grass brooms on a long, wooden frame and the scratching sound they make.

The last of the mangoes, pale yellow, and a tad forlorn.

Is that ten? When I was walking, I lost count and now, I don’t want to scroll up and check. But I saw other things too that made me wonder.

Two young girls with their hair braids doubled up and fixed with loopy white ribbons. Still in their school uniforms but carefully lifting the kadai off a streetcart and getting ready to scrub it, their uniform dupattas tied around their waist. Right, school’s over and we’re back to business, the dupatta seemed to say. I felt sadness and respect.

A huge white apartment, the kind that promises to be an “oasis of privacy with easy access to everything”. It had large balconies and, I am sure, plenty of light and air on sunny days. But alas, concreted to every last inch. No trees, no lawn, no garden. Not even a little column of soil against the walls to support ornamental plants.

Large industrial companies with surprisingly green campuses. I imagined machines whirring and slamming inside as workers step out for a break. Women spreading their tiffin boxes onto checked towels laid out on benches under the trees, swapping dishes and giggles. Gardeners squatting on wet ground, raising a cigarette to their lips as chimneys belch smoke behind them.

A painfully thin young man heaving his auto around, in place on the queue outside the mall. I wonder if he is the kind to actually take rides. Most Bangalore autos don’t allow themselves to be hired. It’s a question of dignity. Around him, dozens of people glued to their phones, checking their ride hailing apps obsessively.

Did Siddhartha ever see as much sickness and despair as we do today? Not just around us but on our TVs and phones where news about the world going to hell in a handbasket is delivered to us in bite-sized pieces, relentlessly, endlessly. Sometimes, I block it all, stay indoors, filtering only good things, casual things, beautiful things into my phone feed.

But sometimes, I go on walks that make me oscillate between joy and despair.

There is pollution and litter. But there are also tall trees and flowers growing from wall crevices. There is mud and plastic squelching under my feet. But the skies are streaked with silver. And perhaps, at least on some days, that is enough.

The Wisdom of Women

The Wisdom of Women

Last week, I discovered Lauren Martin’s wonderful effort to curate the wisdom and grace of women through the ages – Words of Women. And it got me thinking about the women in my own life whose words have made me pause to think. Whose words I remember even today as life-altering in however small a way, perhaps even far from the original context.

What better end-of-the-year ritual than to reflect on these and see what I can carry forward into 2022!

“Things have a way of untangling themselves.”

My mother-in-law keeps a beautiful home and one of the things you’ll immediately notice are the bead curtains that frame every doorway. Some are made of glass globules. Others are of long wooden beads and macrame. They are very pretty – but also have a habit of getting tangled up if you brush past them roughly. 

One warm afternoon, I was sitting on the little balcony that is Amma’s work corner (and my favourite spot in the house) trying to untangle the bead curtain that framed the door into it. I had been at it for over fifteen minutes, trying to coax the bead strings to loosen their death-grip around each other, and getting increasingly impatient. It seemed the more I tried, the more knots they tied themselves up in. 

I was just considering cutting off the shorter end of one of the strings when Amma came in. “This isn’t working,” I told her, frustrated. 

“Let them be,” she said, taking the strings between her fingers and calmly, gently, shaking them. “Things have a way of untangling themselves.”

And almost magically, I saw the bead strings unravel and slip back into their positions, swinging merrily. I don’t know if Amma meant anything more metaphorical but I read all kinds of meaning into her words. 

Even today when I find myself thrashing about in a seemingly impossible situation, I remember what she said. I take a deep breath and tell myself, things will sort themselves out. I just have to let them be.

“Then do it.”

This happened some years ago. I was looking down the barrel of an insanely busy week. Everywhere I turned, it seemed there were only chores to be done and tasks to be completed. Work deadlines, house maintenance, personal goals, life admin. 

I felt the weight of living press against me. And that night when I called my mother, I started telling her how stressed I was. I have to do this, then that, then the next, then something else after. It’s just too much. It’s never-ending. It’s a LOT.

I think she listened for about fifteen minutes. And she said, “Then do it.”

Cut off mid-sentence, I paused. “What?”

“You’re saying you have so much work, right? Then do it.”

I was struck dumb. What a simple solution! When you have a list of things to do, thinking, talking, planning – none of it will help until you actually start doing them. And I seemed to have forgotten that basic fact.

I still have such weeks of to-dos as long as my leg. But whenever I catch myself fretting about them, I get up and do one thing. The smallest. The easiest. Somehow, it becomes simpler from there and before I know it, I am in the swing of things. And it is rarely as hard as I imagine.

“See people as assets.”

My mother, my sister-in-law, and I had visited a relative’s house. I had walked there and they had come on a scooter. By the time we left after saying goodbye, it was past 9pm. 

I was about to set off on the walk back when my sister-in-law said she’d join me. “It’s okay,” I told her, “Go with Ammai. I’ll walk home quickly.” But she insisted. So my mother drove home and the two of us walked back. 

On the way, I explained to her why I preferred to walk by myself. “See, it’s dark. What if something nasty happens? If I’m on my own, I can take care of myself. When you’re with me, I feel responsible for you and have to figure out how to keep you safe. That’s why I asked you and Ammai to go on ahead.”

“Oh,” she said, “I feel just the opposite. If there are two of us, isn’t it better than being alone, especially if something nasty happens?”

We walked on quietly but her words brought me a powerful realization.

Perhaps I was seeing people as liabilities, not assets. I was always trying to take care of others and protect them when they could be – and often were – my allies and support system. 

Rarely are relationships one-way and I feel all the better for being reminded of that. These days when I have the urge to be a lone warrior, I remind myself to ask for help.

“You can always laugh about it.”

My cousin lives in another country and has little family nearby. She has a lot of responsibilities at work and home. And in the past few years, the family has had more than their fair share of health crises, both big and small. With the lockdown, she hasn’t been able to come and see her parents for over 2 years.There are always fires to put out at work. Her kids are young and have many needs. 

Yet, she is the first in the family to dress up and celebrate every occasion. Every festival, every birthday, every anniversary. She wishes us, reminds us, shares photos, and goes over and above to give everyone a good time. 

Every time I speak to her, she is laughing. Last week, she was sharing a pretty serious medical diagnosis with me – making jokes all the while and telling me a wisecrack she made to her young, fit physiotherapist. 

“I’m glad to see you are taking it well,” I told her. And she said, “Well, I can’t change how things are. All I can do is laugh about it.”

I’ve been taking her cue and trying this laugh therapy myself. Last week, a coconut fell on our new car and I was able to laugh about it. And when I did, a thought came suddenly, “Thank goodness it didn’t fall on someone!” 

A client did a complete U-turn on a project after days of effort. I was irritated but then decided to laugh it off. And when I did, my mind cleared and I texted him calmly saying I’d have to charge him a kill fee for the original effort. Sure, no problem, he texted back. I almost couldn’t believe it! If I had been fuming, I couldn’t have come up with such a rational solution.

I look forward to trying this a lot more in 2022.

“Do it for you.”

This is a story about another cousin. One who discovered the joy of running in her mid-30s. She used to be a pretty athletic person in her college days but somehow, like many of us, fell out of the habit for a long, long time. 

Then she caught a second wind. She began to carve out time for herself – early in the morning, late in the evening, in between her kids’ classes and her husband’s work hours – to go for a run. She started small but she kept at it. In spite of changing houses and cities, traveling to and from families, the pandemic that kept us all indoors, and crazy schedules, she stuck to it. If she had to stop for a few weeks, she restarted when she could.

Today, she has been running for over 3 years. She does 10K most days, I think. Perhaps more.  In our cousins’ group where we share tidbits about life, I was telling her about my fledgling attempts to eat mindfully and work out regularly. “I want to lose about 10kgs in 6 months. I like running – the feel of the wind in my face. Still, it feels like a chore to do it.”

“Do it for you.” she said. “Don’t do it to lose weight. Or with some number or goal in mind. Just do it for yourself because you like it.”

So that’s what I do these days. I walk or run or do yoga whenever I can. But I don’t obsessively check my weight or mark it on my tracking app. I say no to food indulgences as much as I can – and when I fail to resist temptation, I don’t beat myself up. Because now I know I will say no next time. Because now I know this is a lifestyle I have chosen – not a temporary campaign that ends in X weeks or months. Now I know that I am doing it for myself.

“Your body will tell you.”

The other day, I was struggling to make a decision about a new project. The work was interesting. The money was good. Everything seemed okay, yet a part of me was resisting signing the contract. And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. 

So I turned to a friend of mine who’s an old hand at independent consulting. She’s been running a successful business for 6+ years now and is a certified coach too. I went over the conversations I had with the client, the emails, the project terms, the negotiation. Theoretically, everything seemed fine – yet, why was I reluctant to pick this up? Was I being lazy? Or choosy?

“Imagine,” she said, “that this client texts you on a Friday afternoon. How would you feel? Don’t ask your brain – think about how you feel physically.”

As I imagined the situation, I felt my body tensing, my jaw clenching. I was dreading it, that conversation.

“Why?” she asked. “What do you think will happen?”

And it came to me in a rush – all the non-verbal clues I had picked up during my interactions with the client. I felt in my bones that this client would be pushy, disrespectful of my time and boundaries. He was the kind to try to get “maximum bang for his buck” and I didn’t want that sort of negative energy for the next few months till the project ended.

As I thanked her, my friend said, “Most of the time, our bodies know the answer. Even when our mind is confused.” She couldn’t be more right.

Gut feelings. Chills up the spine. Goosebumps. Shaking. Clenched fists. Tight jaws. All these are ways in which our body tells us when something is not okay. And it pays to pay attention to these cues.

How has your year been? What words of wisdom are carrying you into 2022? I’d love to know.

Introspecting with a Proust questionnaire

Introspecting with a Proust questionnaire

When I was in high school, slam book fever was raging. And in 2006, when I started blogging, it was almost customary to answer long questionnaires about yourself and tag fellow bloggers to do the same.

It was not just good fun but really made you reflect on questions that you aren’t normally asked in the course of everyday life. So you ponder. You answer impulsively. You are curious to see what other people answer to the same question. You get to know each other a little better. And years later, you come back and read what you once wrote and marvel at the person you once were.

But then at some point, blogging itself became passé although the practice of  ‘tagging someone’ continues in a superficial form on Instagram and Facebook giveaways run by brands trying to drum up followers.

A couple of years ago, a creative collective I am a part of asked me to answer a few questions from the Proust questionnaire to make up an interesting bio for their website. I was intrigued. Turns out Marcel Proust popularized this parlour game by answering a  personal questionnaire in a confession album sometime in 1885-86 (confession albums appear to be the predecessors of slam books).

I am always trying to get back to writing regularly and what better way than with a readymade questionnaire! 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Stillness. I am lying on grass. The sun is warm on my face. The sky above is a brilliant blue. My mind and body are both perfectly still. Not thinking, not feeling. Just…there. 

What is your greatest extravagance?

Time. I while away hours, often days, reading, flipping through pages, scrolling online. Even when I have work and to-dos. Even when none of what I do can be justified as productive. But I like throwing caution to the wind, using up this limited, precious resource of time to devour words.

What talent would you like to have?

A talent for joy, for excitement. The kind that makes people jump out of bed in the morning, throw open the curtains and say, “What a beautiful day!”

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would that be?

A crow. I am not endangered or persecuted by humans. I can eat almost anything. I can thrive in any climate. And most importantly, I can fly, fly, fly, and see the world.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

To live on after your child is dead. The death of parents, of partners — you are primed for the possibility that these will happen in your lifetime. But to watch someone you nurtured go and still continue to live: that is the lowest depth of misery.

What is your motto?

These lines spoken by Tiffany Aching, the young witch in Terry Pratchett’s novels. “This, I choose to do. If there is a price, that I choose to pay. I choose. This, I choose to do.” I never want to blame anyone else for what goes wrong in my life. I don’t want to hand over the steering wheel or the dice to someone else. I want to be able to make my own choices inasmuch as a choice is possible. And if there is a price to pay for the decisions I make, I choose to pay that.

What do you consider a most overrated virtue?

Mercy. If you have done wrong, you must pay for it — a fair price, a just punishment — but one that comes eventually. No mercy for wickedness.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

Treating a woman as an equal, with the same regard and respect he would show to another man. No fawning courteousness in the name of playing a gentleman. No treating her as someone helpless. No talking over her as though she were stupid.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Kindness. Not all women are nurturers but a woman who is warm, kind, and considerate is a joy to be around.

How would you like to die?

Under a bougainvillea tree, with the petals falling on my face as I leave, all goodbyes said, to a world where my dogs wait for me.

Promoting your new book on social media: advice for new authors from someone who’s not one.

Promoting your new book on social media: advice for new authors from someone who’s not one.

When I quit my job two years ago, everyone thought I was going to write a book. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t. 

I began working as a freelancer. But somehow, people had difficulty wrapping their head around the fact that freelance work was still…work. Perhaps they thought work was something freelancers did between their decoupage classes, workouts with celebrities and meetings of the local chapter of the Sourdough Starters Society. 

Relatives would call to chat in the middle of the day and I’d have to tell them I was working. “Really?” they’d ask, disbelief dripping from their voice like the fillings from a burger. Ex-colleagues would ping and ask ‘hows the book going?’, right after ‘hows u?’ Well-meaning friends would send me links to insanely expensive writing retreats in the Himalayas and words of encouragement: “Bro, bestselling author X is so crappy; you can write much better!” I am not referring to Preethi Shenoy. Well, not just her anyway.

In the early days — when I still had writerly dreams — I used to be pleased that other people cared that I was writing a book. It didn’t matter that if I ever did, most of them were the kind that would ask me to send them a copy or wait for it to be listed free on Kindle Unlimited. But I am pretty sure that at least half of them would reshare my Instagram Stories with captions like “My friend’s an amazing writer and she’s just written A BOOK!!! Go read.” 

Here is the real reason why I am not writing a book: It. Is. So. Hard. 

No, not the writing part. That’s alright. It’s what comes after any new author gets published.

For the first few weeks, grit your teeth and do some self-conscious self-promotion. (Hashtags: humblebrag, authorsofinstagram). The enthusiasm of friends and family will be inversely proportionate to the number of posts you make about the book, but never mind. Tell yourself that while acquaintances might unfollow you, true friends will just mute you for a bit.

With pressure from your publisher to ‘build more discoverability’, you’ll have to start posting pictures of yourself holding the book, nudge friends and family to share pictures of them holding the book, and do live online readings for the 4 people who join the session. Giveaways are another good way to get visibility, although like the proverbial horse, you can’t make any of the winners actually read the book.

In a pre-corona world, there would have been literature festivals and reading events. What kind of writer would you be if you didn’t show up at these dressed in your casually glamorous best and spam everyone’s feeds with live updates? After skulking around the festival bookstall, moving a pile of your books to a more prominent position and waiting endlessly for someone to pick up one of them, you can buy an overpriced, underwhelming latte, exchange contacts with the dozen or so other obscure newbie authors, and return home. 

Over the months, the chatter around your book, however feeble it may have been, will die down. But ‘Writer’ will now be a part of your established identity and the onus is on you to remind the world of that. A popular approach is to post pictures of your notebook (hashtag: #writerlylife). Make sure it has cream-coloured pages and a fabric cover with illustrations that a real writer would call ‘whimsical’. After all, which self-respecting writer would write a novel in a single-ruled Classmate notebook?

I recently saw such a post: a well-known writer lying on the grassy lawn in front of her hill station home. Flyaway hair, pen in hand, surrounded by loose sheets of paper and a cup of tea, her dog dozing next to her. My questions are (in order of how badly I want to know):

  • If it’s that windy, why aren’t the papers flying away?
  • How are you writing on grass, without a table or a writing pad?
  • Isn’t your chai getting cold?
  • Who uses fountain pens anymore?
  • Also, who is taking these pictures?

My guess is she has either a devoted husband who is handy with a camera or a very enthusiastic social media intern. If you’re going down this path, make sure you have at least one of these.

All writers, we are told, are readers. So you are morally obligated to post photos of the books you’re currently reading; well, the ones with the most grammable covers anyway. Posting a photo of your Kindle is not cool, unless you can create the right ambience. Delicately crumpled bed linen (that’s right, ‘linen’, not sheet), a wooden serving board with a single muffin and cherries strewn around, a pair of glasses laid next to it. No matter that you’d then be too blind to read. If you choose to quote other authors, let it be Murakami or Atwood. Depending on how hipster you want to be perceived as, you may or may not call them ‘bae’. 

Photo by Jasmin Whiscy on Unsplash

After a few months, it is completely okay, even expected, to say you’re struggling with writer’s block. Rant about how difficult the writerly life is and how the road to book signings and panel discussions is long and weary and paved with more tubs of ice cream and self-loathing than you’d imagine. Pro tip: post a photo of the cursor blinking wretchedly on a blank document or the Hemingway quote on how writing is akin to bleeding at a typewriter. Wait for people to send you virtual hugs and tell you ‘You’ve got this!’ Once you feel sufficiently validated, open Swiggy and order your next tub of ice cream.

Oh, I nearly forgot throwback photos. Ironic, I know. If it’s been more than a year since the book got released, repost old pictures of the launch, friends posing with your book in hand, and the 5-star reviews they’ve left for you on Amazon. Good old nostalgia is a great way to plug in the fact that the book is now at 80% off on Amazon, in case anyone has *still* not read it.

The truth is, your job does not end with writing a book. You now need to become a master marketer (“Aarti didn’t like the first chapter of my book. But she ended up giving me 5 stars. Find out why!”), pyramid scheme sales person (“Tag 3 people who’d like to get my book and ask each of them to tag 3 more”) and social media personality. 

Are you prepared for all of this? I wasn’t. That’s why I haven’t written one yet.

Besides, between sourcing the best scoby to brew my kombucha and doing chakra meditation with Shilpa Shetty, where would I have the time?

Between the tracks.

Between the tracks.

What is it that makes train journeys so magical? It cannot be just the romance of seeing new places, snatched glimpses of other people’s lives. To me, they are also a period of limbo, where time hangs suspended.

Inside a train, I lose my anchor. There’s nothing to tie me to the places I speed past. I belong nowhere and everywhere. Ideas that have been sloshing about in my head for weeks suddenly stand still, showing me their forms with startling clarity. And I rummage feverishly in my bag for a notebook and pen.

Inside a train, I sit for hours with my Kindle on my lap. But I don’t read more than a few pages. I linger on each line, wondering about the words and their meaning. My mind keeps straying, yet my senses are heightened. I notice the beauty of a sunset, an old woman lighting the evening lamp in her verandah, even the shape of a tree.

I pick up snatches of conversation from adjoining coupes and the approaching cry of the chai vendor. The reverberating chachak-chachak of the wheels on the tracks is soothing, hypnotic.  My nose is tickled by the oily scent of masala vadas, a whiff of heady perfume as a traveler brushes past, the soapy scent of cleaning fluid that the cleaning staff spray. Everything smells stronger, starker.

I look out of the window and see another day come to a close in a spectacular display of colours. I point my phone and try to capture the image, but again and again, its beauty evades me. And slowly, I realize that this is another world. One caught between two dimensions. One that exists, but only briefly.

I occupy this space for now, but soon I will exit without leaving a trace, like everything else around me.

Looking back, looking forward

Looking back, looking forward

There are people who go to naadi astrologers to know about their past lives and what the future holds for them. I could never do this.

Like 2019 for instance. If I had known in January last year what I know now, I simply could not have gone through. I would have been paralyzed with fear and hopelessness.

The next time I see a meme about life throwing a curveball or springing a nasty surprise, I am going to be thankful for my lack of foresight.

2019 has been a year of many milestones: good, bad, and ugly.

I finished one complete year of self-employment. It has been amazing in terms of flexibility, freedom, variety, and money. And not a week goes by when I don’t thank the impulse that made me unusually risk-averse and decide to make the switch from full-time to freelancing.

I rebuilt my relationship with my mother. Never in all my life, until now, had I realized how important she is to me. All through the year, I have been spending time listening to her, knowing more about her life, and talking every day. I have been terrible at this in the past but I am glad, glad, glad that I changed this.

I tried many things for the first time.

For the first time in forever, I let people into my life, shared my emotions and vulnerabilities with them, and I am so thankful that they rallied around for me in all the ways they could. I have never felt so included, so supported, by anyone who is not family. V, S, M: thank you for being there.

For the first time in forever, I went on a holiday by myself. I spent a week writing, walking around, listening to music, reading, and thinking, with no agenda whatsoever. It was liberating and I know I will do it again when life crowds me too much.

For the first time in forever, I learned some lessons in self-reliance. In not looking outwards for happiness or contentment or entertainment. I realized that no matter where I go, I take myself along. So I need to enjoy being by myself, figuring life out in every way from small to big, making my own decisions, taking my own risks.

It was so hard to do (in spite of my having always considered myself good company!) especially on the days when I was also struggling with depression. When you spend a lot of time introspecting, you will not like everything you find. This year, I learned to accept it and take things one hour at a time, one day at a time. I am not there yet, but I am on my way.

This year, we were there for our families on multiple occasions. Suddenly, you realize that your parents and grandparents and all other parental figures you’ve relied on over the years aren’t permanent. That they need help and support now. And that you still need them, no matter what you thought in your twenties. This is one of those saddening realizations that come to you in your thirties but thankfully by then, you have learned to accept it with grace.

Now for the good stuff.

This year, I think I was a better mother to B and S than I have been so far. Somewhere during the year, I resolved not to lose my cool with the boys, no matter how provoked I felt; no raised voices, no threatening body language, no punishments, no guilt-tripping. I tried to see myself through their eyes and suddenly realized how much at my mercy they are: for food, games, walks, even peeing and pooping. And I suddenly felt like a monster. If you bring pets into your life, you take responsibility not just for their physical wellbeing but also their mental and emotional health. I am glad I realized this early in the year.

This year, I discovered that I enjoy some forms of physical exercise (I had struggled with this for years and nearly written myself off as ‘not an active-lifestyle person’) The first is running. In 2019, I realized that I enjoy running. The scenery whipping past, the wind in my face, even my heart beating in my cheeks. The second is dancing. Not in a class, not on stage, but simply putting on some of the worst dappan kuthu or Bollywood item songs and thumping away to abandon.

This year, I learned that I love lipsticks and I may as well add here that I built up a small, cruelty-free collection of them. I used to think the shape of my lips was weird: now I have realized that I simply had the wrong colours and the wrong technique.

I often tell people I have a long history of starting things and not following through on them. But in 2019, I am glad I stuck (well enough if not perfectly) to my resolution of not ordering food that comes packed in single-use plastic. This had the unfortunate side effect of me eating too many burgers and vada pavs just because they were wrapped in paper. BUT I am still glad I didn’t accumulate those terrible plastic containers no one knows what to do with.

This year, we also made some progress on reducing our plastic consumption: carrying shopping bags everywhere, using metal straws and spoons, saying no to single-use plastic, switching to biodegradable menstrual pads, trying a cup (haven’t learned it fully yet but I hope to do so soon), and taking more public transport than ever.

In 2019, we managed a few holidays: one to Bombay where SR’s parents took us around to all the places they had lived in in the 70s; it was nostalgic and poignant and such a bonding experience for all of us. Another holiday was to the UK (the second time in three years, something I could never have imagined) and if possible, we enjoyed it even more than the first. Sometimes I suspect we may never holiday in any other country again. The third was OMO and it was bliss.

I suppose every year is full of ups and downs, events and experiences, heartache and hope. This year certainly was and it tested me more than I have ever been tested. What does 2020 hold?

I think I am old enough to not hope or to want to know. Let’s take each day as it comes.

Happy new year!

My mom was here

My mom was here.

And now she’s gone.

I see the scratch on the wall

Where her suitcase scraped.

And there’s a scratchiness in my throat

Strangely similar in shape.


My mom was here

And now she’s left.

Her bathroom slippers are by the door,

a little looser for me than they were for her.

And there’s a drumming in my ears

that sounds just like them slapping against the floor.


My mom was here.

But now she’s left.

After telling me I was putting

too little water in the rice cooker.

and too much salt in my koottu.

She said a grinder would make better batter

than my mixie and that

I hunch my shoulders when I walk.


But I gave her a massage

Where she said her back hurts

And she told me it felt like a spa.

I slept in a bed with her,

My legs draped over hers like before

and listened to her snore.

I held her hand in the crowd at the temple

and bought her flowers from a cart outside.


I packed a plastic box with curd rice

And pressed a piece of pickle into it.

I put in a spoonful of brinjal stir-fry.

And four broken potato chip pieces.

Maybe I was crying, I don’t know.


She washed her face and plaited her hair.

Filled her bottle and packed her bag.

Reminded me to add more water in my batter.

Promised to send me a forward about the

perils of too much salt.

Peed again to be doubly sure.

Said “I love you” to my living room wall.

And suddenly left, leaving

her bathroom slippers by the door.


My mom was here.

And now she’s left.

I listen to my dogs whimper.

Maybe they’re hungry.

Maybe they’re bored.

Maybe they miss her,

Nobody knows.

The right attitude to weather

The right attitude to weather

[This post has been lying in my drafts folder since April, when summer was at its peak. Today, as I type this foreword, I am sitting in a cafe on a green, green street, taking sips of ginger lemon tea. It’s only July but it looks like winter is here early this year. The air is deliciously cool, heavy with unshed raindrops. In my mind though, the conflicts and the questions are still the same.  I re-read this draft today and felt that the thoughts still resonate though the weather has changed. So here goes.]

One of the most frustrating things in life is to feel that you are not in control, that you have no choice over what is happening. As a freelancer, I don’t have control over the kind of potential clients who approach me or the type of project they offer. Of course, I have the choice to say no to things that do not interest me or which I feel are not worth my time. Motivational posters and pages tell you that you always have a choice. You can choose how to feel, how to respond, how to act, no matter what the situation. But when there are bills to pay, I make certain choices that make me feel I had no choice at all in the first place.

All of last week, the weather reports kept predicting a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal area and we were all expecting Bangalore to cool down. Yesterday had very English weather. The skies were a dull, brooding grey. We kept expecting rain, kept watching for it, even went on a long drive in anticipation of it. But we were cheated. And today is a very hot day. Probably 32 or 33 degrees Celsius. It is so bright outside at 9AM that I cannot stand in my balcony for longer than ten minutes without sweat running down my face and body.

Could I have predicted today’s skies to be this hot, bright white? Absolutely not. But here it is.

And funnily enough, I don’t mind.

The weather is the one thing we have no control over, but which we rarely resent.  We might whinge a little about how hot or wet or cold it is, but we just make adjustments to our day’s plans, our routine, our meals, and our clothing to suit the weather outside. Because we can’t change the weather, we have a favourite summer drink and a favourite winter drink. We have cotton dresses for the summer and woolens for the winter. We have hats and shades, but also sweaters and mufflers. We have umbrellas and rubber-soled slippers, but also sneakers and sandals.

In a nutshell, we don’t question the weather. We just prepare ourselves for it.

What if we applied the same attitude to everything else in life? In my case, the kind of projects I get offered. Sometimes, the work is creative and fun, or easy and pays well. But sometimes, it’s tough, tedious, time-consuming, or a combination of these. Whatever it is, I can just tackle it with the right equipment (attitude, approach) and move on, instead of feeling angry and frustrated.

It’s a thought.