Two weeks ago, I quit my job. As I went around saying goodbye to the people I had worked with for over 3 years, most of them asked. “Where are you joining next?” It seemed natural in this age of job-hopping and I took pleasure in saying that I wasn’t joining anywhere.
“So what will you do next?” they asked. I said I didn’t know. Somehow, nobody seemed to find this easy to believe.
Are you planning to start a family, wink-wink?
Tell me really, where are you joining? Why is it a secret?
I’m sure I will see you updating your LinkedIn status in a few weeks!
Are you being let go? Was there anything wrong at work?
Are you going to do something amazing? Like travel the world or save the whales or write a book?
All good ideas, but unfortunately, not one is mine. I quit my job with stars in my eyes and a million questions teeming in my head. What do I want to do with my life? Do I have a calling? What will it take for me to find happiness and fulfillment?
When I walked out of the office fifteen days ago, I felt liberated. Because I had done something simultaneously brave and stupid. While on an upward career trajectory, I had given it all up. My time was suddenly my own and the days seemed to be stretching out ahead of me, brimming with possibilities.
But I also felt something follow me out—the shadow of all those questions. It loomed over me in everything I did in the next few days.
I hummed to myself, chopping away red bell peppers and broccoli and tossing garlic and chilli flakes in olive oil. But just as I lifted a forkful of spaghetti to my mouth, I froze: should I have taken a picture first for Instagram?
I sat at my dining table, my fingers poised over the keyboard, about to write, and suddenly, I remembered all the people who would be reading it and thinking: G’s first piece of writing after she went on her break; would this be her best work yet?
Friends texted, asking what I was up to. Nothing, I started to type, then changed my mind. I wrote in brightly coloured words about long, lazy days with my dogs and the short holiday I had taken. Satisfied, they told me how they envied my freedom, how they wanted to get out of it all themselves and were just summoning up the courage to do it.
My mother called every night, asking me if I was feeling better, whether I had any regrets, and what I had been doing the whole day. Nothing, I told her in my head. And steered the conversation gently to my upcoming trip home and my brother’s wedding preps.
Why did I feel this sense of shame, this fear, in admitting that I was doing nothing? That I was, somehow, wasting precious hours in mindless pursuits and sometimes, none at all? Great things were expected of me. I had to prove through my pictures and my words that I was making the most of this time. That my decision was justified because I was getting equal or more value in return through my experiences.
Once upon a time, I had thought that I would use my break to sign up for belly dancing and driving. Learn to swim and speak Kannada (not necessarily at the same time). Walk around Bangalore, discovering new localities and eateries and unexplored spots. Travel solo across the country.
Instead, what have I done?
Slept and woken up when my body felt ready. Cooked when I felt like and ordered in when I didn’t. Watched entire seasons of The Middle without guilt, until I purged it out of my system. Put on face masks in the middle of the day and forgotten to take them off while caught up in a book. Watched obscure biopics on YouTube. Eaten tubs of ice cream at midnight…
As I write this, I realize for the first time, that I have not been doing nothing. I have been doing everything.
Everything I really wanted.
There may be no glory in lounging around in one’s pajamas—but there is definitely pleasure. Nothing great about reading and re-reading, except the indescribable joy of finding new worlds. Nothing to post on social media but a stitch in my side from laughing.
Perhaps there will come a day when I feel the urge to take up water colour painting or take the metro to VV Puram’s famous food street, and I will do it. Until then, I’m just going to enjoy the biggest freedom of them all—doing just what I want to do, without having to prove anything to the world.
We met Jo six months ago on a trip to the UK. She was our host in Teign Valley, Devon. Today, when I got on Airbnb again to plan another trip, I suddenly remembered Jo and Lorenzo and their lovely cat Frodo. And felt a surge of shame at how I had never bothered to stay in touch.
I typed out a long, long email with abject apologies and a recipe for pulao that I had promised to share after spying some spices and long grained rice in her kitchen. After the message was sent, I made a startling discovery: that listing no longer exists.
I furiously googled ‘The Old Barn, Dry Lane, Teign Valley’ and came up with this Stags listing. The house had been put up for sale some time ago and for all I know, is already sold by now. That means Jo’s quaint, lovely barn-home is not just not on Airbnb, but is also no longer hers.
I remember the day we drove up Dry Lane, counting the houses after the Post Office and turning at the Church. It was late evening and the shadows were deepening. As we parked in the shared driveway, Jo came out of the house to welcome us in. She seemed a little apologetic about how small the house was and somewhat anxious about how we would react to it.
But to us, everything seemed delightful–the low roof held up by wooden beams, the narrow stairs we thumped up to our room on the first floor, the teeny, yet utterly cosy bedroom, the shelves and shelves of books Jo had lined up against the walls, and the lovely cats: Frodo the Golden and the shy tabby whose name I forget.
We seemed to hit it off really well and sat in her kitchen talking late into the night, swapping stories about everything from food fads in India and England to contract teaching in England, her years in South America, the problems faced by working mothers, and the twisted logic of picking up (biodegradable!) dog poop in plastic bags in the name of eco-sensitivity. Together, we pored over a map of Dartmoor National Park and Jo marked out for us the best route to take and the key zones to explore, given our limited time in the area.
There was a teary moment that night for me when Jo’s eight-year-old son Lorenzo brought out his piggybank of savings and offered it to us “for the elephants in India”.
“Come to India,” I told him, “The elephants would love to have you feed them the bananas!” And his face lit up at the prospect. I could see the pride in Jo’s face as she hugged him and later, she told us Lorenzo’s father was half-Pakistani and he was thus one-quarter Asian.
That night, I borrowed The Wind In The Willows from Jo’s shelf and read it through the night. I acquainted myself with Rat and Mole and Mr. Toad, their adventures on the River all the more real and delightful because I’d just walked by the Thames in Oxford a few days ago, along the very paths and under the same trees that they had lived out their fabled lives in.
The following day, our foray into Dartmoor, culminating with a hike up to Bellever Tor, was sheer delight, mainly because of the tips Jo had shared. We came home exhausted, yet exhilarated, only to find that things were in a bit of a tizzy. Lorenzo had had another nosebleed and Jo had gotten her mother to pick him up from school and she had an interview the following day for a teaching role that could be more permanent. “I hope I get it,” she said and we saw a flash of anxiety flit across her face.
To cheer her up, we made instant noodles out of the packets we’d brought with us from India and got her to taste some of it, while Lorenzo rested on the couch with tissues to mop up his nosebleeds. That was our last evening together. By the time we came downstairs the next day, she had left for her interview leaving behind a cheery little note. We made breakfast as Frodo looked on with interest, cleaned things up, and left her our card with our contact details on the dining table.
As we lugged our bags down the stairs, the driveway, and into the car, the cats followed us, as though to say goodbye, and I felt a little pang. “We’ll come back again,” SR said cheerfully, “We should explore Dartmoor so much more!”
Afterwards, she left us a review on our Airbnb profile:
It was an absolute pleasure to host Sreeram and Gowri. They were a delight to have around and two of the most considerate guests we’ve had to date. We enjoyed great conversation and a taster session of Indian (fast) food! I can’t recommend them highly enough, and only wish they could have stayed longer 🙂
Today, as I sit here writing this, I am not even sure if Jo will see my Airbnb message. She is still registered as a host, so I hope she gets my message. But if she is no longer active, she may not see it at all. And with that, I would lose someone who could have been a friend.
We read so much about how travel expands our horizons and lets us meet new people and experience new things. But Jo was one of the few people I’ve met during our travels who wasn’t a caricature. She was real–vulnerable, yet strong, an amazingly interesting person, and a very, very kind host.
I mentioned this in my message to her, the one I don’t know if she will ever see, and I will say it again: she and Lorenzo and Frodo will forever remain in our hearts and our prayers. I hope wherever she goes, she finds happiness.
It’s Saturday morning and we’ve all woken up uncharacteristically early.
It’s all SR’s fault. He has woken up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and wants the entire household to follow suit. He takes first S and then B for a walk. He gives them their breakfast and gets them settled down. Then he finishes some stuff for work. And then starts sorting out a drawer full of old bills.
All before I’ve even finished my morning coffee.
I want to feel useful myself. So I look around for something easy to do. Clean the fans? But we have no step ladder. Laundry? Already done. Take the clothes for ironing? It’s too hot to get out – I can do that in the evening. Prep for lunch? I don’t even have an excuse for this one.
So I drift into the bedroom and pull open my accessories drawer. I’ve been meaning to sort things out here for ages. Now is as good a time as any.
One of my prized possessions is my earring box. It’s an old plastic Ferrero Rocher tray that I have repurposed to keep my earrings sorted into pairs. But over time, they’ve gotten all mixed up. I empty everything out on the bed and start sifting through. B jumps up at once–he loves everything shiny–and S follows suit. I tell B sternly not to put anything in his mouth and then cave and give him an old cloth purse to chew on. S, the angel child he is, needs no such sop. He watches with interest for a couple of minutes, then lies down on his side and drifts off happily. No doubt dreaming of chicken legs.
I set the earrings out in pairs and and all of a sudden, it’s like sifting through a box of old memories.
There are the long, glassy green drops with gold accents that ammai bought for me from someone at the bank. Turquoise blue raindrop-loops a friend got me from Amsterdam. A pair of flat, jimikki-shaped earrings with white stones–the first of many pairs that amma has gifted me over the years. Violet twine hoops that I bought from Brigade Road to replace a similar pair I’d lost on a flight back from Singapore. Every piece seems to trigger a memory, a reminder of happy times.
There are even four mismatched presses that hold the earrings in place. I keep them aside as backups, in case I lose the originals.
I’m nearly done putting everything in place, when I come across them. A pair of pink and silver studs that I have worn perhaps thrice in my life. It’s the very first present SR bought for me, over 9 years ago. It’s not the prettiest of earrings and I remember him telling me he’d bought them from a Coimbatore street-side vendor for thirty rupees when he went to write the CAT exam. They’ve been with me all these years, but I’ve seldom worn them because I have prettier, bigger, longer pink earrings. Multiple pairs, in fact.
They’re slightly dusty and I wipe them with a soft cloth. As I hold them in my palm, I realize they look just as good as new. The stones haven’t fallen off. The silver hasn’t blackened. I’m suddenly reminded of all the good memories from our years together. The houses we’ve moved. The journeys we’ve taken. The food we’ve shared.
Like every other couple, we too have our share of ups and downs, disagreements and frustrations. But somehow, in the face of this little token from a long time ago, those seem small and unimportant.
I put them on, wondering if SR would notice or remember. I know it’s highly unlikely that he would–but I’ll still wear them through the day. As a reminder to be grateful for what we have, something precious not in value, but for what it stands for.
I have been interested in a sustainable, cruelty-free lifestyle long enough for me to be convinced that it is more than a passing fad. What started as idle curiosity turned rapidly into horror when I came across articles/initiatives that exposed the atrocities that go on silently around us. One was a Yourstory expose on the nightmarish practices of the dairy farming in India. The other was the Freagle project that focuses on rescuing and rehabilitating beagles extensively used in laboratory testing and then euthanized.
Both of these were happening right here, in India. Not somewhere halfway around the world like the sweatshops of China or Bangladesh or the refugees in the middle-east. I think that, to me, was what whipped the rose-coloured glasses right off my face.
Experiments with veganism
My first reaction was to have an impassioned outburst on Facebook and decide to turn vegan by the end of this year. I even joined a couple of vegan groups, talked to vegans, and started researching vegan alternatives to dairy. Since I was an eggetarian to begin with, I thought this would be easy.
We stopped consuming all “non-essential” dairy products right away; non-essential to us meant all the products we could live without. This list included butter, ghee, cheese, paneer, khoya, and – we thought – milk. We stopped getting our usual packet of Nandini milk at once and tried to switch to green tea. However, even after a month, our caffeine cravings did not go away. We started cheating by having “just one coffee” at cafes or in the office cafeteria. Vegan alternatives to milk that were available locally or online were made of soy, peanuts, or almonds, but they were far too expensive for us to try on a regular basis. In our hearts, we knew this was not a change we could hold onto.
But waking up to a milk-free, and therefore, coffee-less morning every day ensured that I was constantly reading more on the subject. The more I read, the more I realized that my problem was not fundamentally with consuming animal products or eating meat. Feeling sorry for eating an animal is the adult version of feeling sorry for the deer that’s pounced upon by the cheetah. But what about the cheetah? Nature designed it as a carnivore and this is its only way of sustenance. It’s how the food chain works.
So what really was disturbing me? I asked myself – if I had a cow in my backyard who I looked after lovingly every day, would it bother me to take her milk, whatever is left over after her calf feeds? The answer was no. Would it bother me if the cow belonged to someone else, who treated her right, took care of her, and did not use her as a milk machine? The answer, again, was no.
That is when I realized that the mass-production of dairy, meat, and other animal products and the evil machinery that such industries run on was what was really disturbing me. This was a turning point in my journey.
In pursuit of a cruelty-free life
My focus turned then to what constitutes cruelty and the definition that made most sense was this: preventing an animal from leading a life that is not as close as possible to what nature intended is cruelty. The deer, up until the moment the cheetah springs on her, has led a normal life in her natural habitat. A cow grazing freely on grass and nursing her young is leading a normal domesticated life, even if she is being milked.
I do not think that the entire world turning vegetarian is a sustainable – or even a necessary – option. (Here is why). Free range farming and quick, painless slaughtering seem to me perfectly acceptable solutions. The problem today is the shocking increase in the careless and cruel mass-production of meat because of increasing consumption.
When I was in school, my non-vegetarian friends used to bring fish or meat for lunch once or twice a week – it was a special treat, a little luxury, and of course, an extra dose of protein. In fact, I remember just one classmate, the son of a very famous and successful cardiologist, bringing chicken fry and parottas for lunch every day, rousing amazement and envy in the others. Fast-forward to today, when meat consumption has become extremely high in India (the trends are less easy to spot in the West). I have deliberately referred to a 2013 article here so as to avoid any bias emanating from the recent ‘beef ban’ crisis.
Cruelty-free farming practices is a novel concept for most of the world, with only Australia, New Zealand, and UK having made any kind of progress on this front. I found Compassion In World Farming to be a very enlightening and balanced source of information and action on the subject. This is an organization that was founded in 1967 by Peter and Anna Roberts, British farmers who became disturbed by the increasing disconnect between modern farming practices and the well-being of farm animals. According to their website, this is their goal:
By working in partnership with inspirational supporters, progressive policy makers and visionary companies, we are mobilising a movement for far reaching change in our farming that can feed the world and will improve the quality of life for billions of farm animals worldwide.
It is one that I agree with and one which has spurred me to choose free range, cruelty-free products in my everyday life.
From cosmetics to household cleaning products, cruelty is built into practically every lifestyle product we use today. While I have not managed to replace all of these, I am constantly researching alternatives. Here is a list I have compiled and which I will keep adding to as I experiment with and review products.
Milk – we have switched to buying Europaea free range, grass fed farm milk, available online on Amazon and Bigbasket, and offline at Foodhall, VR Mall. We also like the fact that it is associated with the sustainability farming program Origin Green and takes measures towards sustainable farming practices. As this is a product imported from Ireland, it costs Rs.115/litre as opposed to about Rs.40/litre for Nandini.
Some more alternatives that seem to be available in Bangalore and which I am planning to explore include:
- Vrindavan milk – I like their principle of ahimsa milk. According to their FAQs section,
Our cows are treated with love and care. We don’t stress them to produce more milk. We also maintain our cows even after their milking years are over to avoid cow slaughtering.
- Indus milk – They again mention that their desi zebu cows are free-grazing and the calves are allowed to feed first before milking happens.
- The Right Moo – Free-range cows, although foreign breeds, and fed on organic grass.
Cosmetics – Apart from a few expensive niche brands, most cosmetics brands available in India have parent companies that test on animals somewhere in the world. Don’t be fooled by their corporate websites that say they are “against animal testing” or “we do not test our products on animals”. This could mean – as it does in heart-breakingly large number of cases – that they buy animal test reports from other agencies (essentially outsourcing this bit) or test the individual ingredients (not the ‘products’) on animals.
Look for the leaping bunny logo on the products or an explicit disclaimer that they do not test on animals on the product label before you buy. Brands I rely on are:
- Lotus herbals
- Cholayil pharmaceuticals (Medimix and Cuticura are their most famous brands)
- Vicco (I swear by their toothpaste – I’ve been using it for years!)
- Plum Goodness (I’ve been using their day/night creams for over a year and they are fantastic. Not only cruelty-free, but also free of SLEs, parabens, and the like).
- Arvind Laboratories (good old Eyetex and Dazzler, which have been around for years. I wrote to their corporate office and they have written back confirming that neither their products nor the ingredients are tested on animals.)
- A2Naturals.in has a whole host of home and personal care products that are not mass-produced, cruelty-free, but not vegan.
Floor cleaner: We switched to Gou Ganga about a year ago and have never looked at any other cleaner since. The product has a mild fragrance and cleans our balcony (where our dogs pee, let me add) like a breeze.
Washing powder – I have switched to natural soap nuts for my washing machine instead of using detergents that not only maybe tested on animals but which are also harmful to the environment. I was initially skeptical about whether these would get rid of the used smell on the clothes and boy, they have worked wonders! Highly recommended as they are also very, very cheap.
For those who prefer powders, here are some alternatives I found (not tried):
Both these websites also have a wide range of personal, pet, and garden care products that are chemicals-free, sustainable, and cruelty-free. Please research each before buying as I have not tried out all of them. For a list of brands that DO test on animals, see here.
A vision for 2017
The more obvious choices were made easily – SR exchanged his leather wallet for this cool, washable, durable canvas one from Wildcraft. But there are so many more changes to be made, from dish wash soap to cleaning liquids and I hope that by the end of this year, we will be able to reduce our cruelty footprint to nothing.
Have you thought about these issues? I’d love to know – do comment below. 🙂
It is usually halfway into Saturday that the urge to escape, get away to someplace quiet, grips SR and me. We spend hours looking for places, changing our plans every few minutes from night drive to trek to lazy holiday resort to an Airbnb with a view. In most cases, we end up not going anywhere at all.
Recently, we discovered that we have a getaway that’s right here. A place that few others seem to visit. A place with water and a lovely view.
Our swimming pool on the roof.
It’s been open for over six months but shamefully, we’ve started using it only now. With the rains starting a little earlier than expected, Bangalore weather has become balmy again during the day, even if for only a few hours. That is the time we get the key and go upstairs to the pool.
We’ve never yet encountered anyone else at these times, and since it’s on the roof, there is a beautiful view of the cityscape all around. And complete privacy. I can’t swim but I love playing in the water – floating, staying underwater longer and longer, and working out inside the water (it burns more calories and reduces the risk of muscle injury too.)
We’ve resolved to spend at least an hour every weekend in the pool and make the most of it while we’re here.
There was a time when I used to dread my daily commute to work. I felt it was a drain on my time, precious hours spent doing nothing. But somewhere along the way, I made my peace with it. After all, the choice to live in a metro does come with its own share of compromises.
But this morning, after over 6 years of negotiating Bangalore’s crazy traffic morning and evening, I discovered that I actually enjoy my commute.
It is time I get to spend away from distractions, alone with myself. Some days, I put down a to-do list. On others, I think up ideas for work. But most of the time, I look around me – at the people, the places I pass through. I take the same route every single day and some sights are so familiar, my eyes glaze over them. But any little change, any sight unseen as yet, makes me sit up and think – why the brown and grey dog who sleeps in front of the mall isn’t there today, a new billboard that’s come up near the flyover, a dum biryani shop that’s not open at its usual time…
Looking out of the cab window, I remember RL Stevenson’s poem From A Railway Carriage. Though the element of speed is missing (again, namma trafficku!) the similarities are not lost on me.
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!
Looking out of the cab window feels like looking through a bioscope. I see fascinating snatches of the lives of strangers and trees, but never the full picture. And as the cab moves on, I am left to imagine the story so far and what could lie ahead.
A little boy with a large, oddly-shaped piece of thermocol board, possibly from the packaging of a washing machine or TV, waiting to cross the road. He tries once, twice, falls back, hops on one foot in impatience. A man on a scooter slows down for him and he runs lithely across, and in one swift motion, hits his friend on the head with the thermocol piece. The friend spins around and I see that he has his own weapon in hand, a 2-litre soft drink PET bottle. And there by the roadside wages a war so ferocious, the earth shakes under the heroes’ feet.
On the steps in front of an appliance repair shop lie the Four Musketeers. Four brown dogs so identical, they must be from the same litter. Every day, they lie in a row, each one’s head resting against the next one’s bum. Four little curled-up balls, sticking together against the world.
A married couple in their thirties quarreling loudly. She says something to him and tuns away. I cannot make out the words, but I gather that it is a variation on “Go to hell!” As she walks away, he runs after her, swings her around and kisses her on the cheek. She is confused, embarrassed, delighted, all at the same time. As he grins at her cheekily and walks away, she shouts after him. Once again, I can make out that the words say “Go to hell!”. But this time, they mean something else.
A tenement of makeshift houses with roofs made of tin and tarpaulin. Men, women, children, goats, and dogs live together happily, tripping over each other, shouting across the walkways raucously. The women squat by the roadside, washing their clothes and chatting. An old man sleeps on a wooden plank supported on granite planks. A dog is stretched out near him. A toddler wearing no underwear stands near the dog, knocking him on the head with a plastic bottle. For a second, I wonder if it’s safe. What if the dog is hurt and he hurts the child? Before I can decide, the toddler stops. And the dog sits up and extends his paw towards him, as if to say, “Hey, why did you stop! Let’s play!” and I realize they are brothers.
A banyan tree near a temple, its branches spreading luxuriously, benevolently across the road. A makeshift bench beneath it, on which sit two old men in white shirts and mundus. One of them has a towel around his forehead. The other wears a turban. One of them has no teeth, his cheeks are sunken. The other is weatherbeaten, his cheeks reddish brown from too much sun. One’s moustaches are long and drooping, framing his lips on either side. The other chews paan constantly. They sit there next to each other in companionable silence, two of a kind from afar. I wonder when I grow old, how many banyan trees there will be left in Bangalore.
A man near a petty shop urging a black and white dog to eat the dozen biscuits he has put down in front of her. The dog is clearly not hungry – she wags her tail happily and sits there, staring up at him. In an injured tone, he complains to his companions about her lack of gratitude.
Life, so beautiful, so magical, teeming all around me. And I marvel at what I would have missed if not for my daily commute.