The dog on the doormat

The dog on the doormat

I spotted this dog while having lunch at a restaurant today. He was sleeping on a red doormat right outside the main entrance of the restaurant.

Every time someone wanted to come in, they had to step over or around him. There were people who were scared of him and who would hesitate, shuffling around for a bit before hunger and common sense took over, and they scurried past him. Each time, the heavy glass door would be pulled open and it would squeak shut behind them.

All in all, it wasn’t a great spot to catch a nap.

Ten minutes later, I looked up and noticed that he had moved to the side, behind a standee. Now he was sleeping on the cold cement floor. Obviously less comfortable than the red doormat. But he was finally fast asleep. Completely at peace, oblivious to the world around him.

And it suddenly struck me how similar the two of us were.

Until four months ago, I had a full-time job with a regular paycheck and an impressive designation. I had a schedule and a holiday list and the comfort of knowing what tomorrow would bring. The doormat I was lying on was indeed soft. But there were disturbances all around: I was chasing other people’s goals. I was jogging on a treadmill that someone else controlled. My time simply wasn’t my own.

So, like this wise little chap, I decided to step aside.

I gave up the spot upfront on the red doormat and found myself a quiet corner behind a standee. The floor is indeed cold, but I am sleeping a lot better.

 

Gratitude

Gratitude

I was not born a dog lover. In fact, until 2 years ago, I was ambivalent towards dogs, perhaps even a little scared of them. On one fateful trip to Sakleshpur, I met Shunti, the dog belonging to the home stay where we stayed. She made me fall in love with dogs. Six months later, we brought home Buttons, a 2 weeks old Indie pup someone had tied up in a garbage bag and left to die. He turned my life upside down.

Before we brought him home, we were plagued with doubt. Our financial situation was not particularly bright. Butto needed a lot of time and attention, being so young, which we weren’t sure we could give. We would no longer be able to travel as often… Despite the nagging doubts, we brought him home anyway.

And gave him up for adoption 2 months later. Believing that it was for his best. The 3 weeks that he was away from us was the darkest, bleakest period of our lives. We looked at each other, speechless, our life empty. The patter of his little feet echoed around us. It took us a 3 week battle to get him back, and each day of it only made us surer that we needed him to survive.

SR and I are both staunch believers, and we know that it was God who gave Buttons back to us. We will forever be grateful for that second chance.

In the past year that I’ve had Butto, I’ve swung between frustration and delight, felt my heart swell with love, felt crazily happy in the bleakest of times… I have cried into his furry little body, and laughed as he licked my tears away with his worried expression… I have scolded him and cuddled him. Kissed him and held him. I have died many times in between when he fell sick.

As I write this, Buttons is sprawled on my lap. Running my fingers through his soft fur and listening to his quiet, even breathing is more calming and relaxing than any yoga maneuver I could attempt.

Butto has changed the two of us forever. SR and I are now far more patient, more relaxed, more appreciative of the truly priceless things in life. He has taught us to love unconditionally and believe without questioning. We’re still learning though.

Someone once told me that my dog is very lucky. That’s bullshit.

It is we who are lucky, blessed, to have him in our lives. Because a world without our little fellow is not one worth living in.

This post is not just a tribute to Buttons. It is also a call for action. If any of you is considering adopting a dog, but holding yourself back because you are not sure how he will fit into your life, do remember that all it takes is commitment.

A promise you make to a dog that you will love and protect him for the rest of your life or his, whichever is longer. Once you make that promise, everything else will fall in place. Work, travel, money… there will be workarounds to everything, if you commit.

What you will get in return is indescribable. But I promise, it will be heaven.

New beginnings.

New beginnings.

I feel as though it’s New Year all over again.

Over the next few weeks, I am shifting jobs. moving to a new house in a different locality, learning driving, and starting to write a book.

The new house:

It’s weird to be excited about moving from your own place to a rented one – it’s usually the other way round for most people! But I am, I am!

I used to commute about 1.5 hours each way when I was in my first ever job. I used to make breakfast, but have lunch at the office cafeteria and eat out for dinner almost every night. Unless SR had actually started dinner prep by the time I got back home. One of the biggest attractions my second job had was that the office was just 2kms away from our home, a real blessing in a city like Bangalore. I developed some good habits because of this – I started cooking both breakfast and lunch, and even dinner on at least 3 week nights. That was a definite improvement. However, I soon started spending the extra time I had saved (on commuting) at my office working (the thought that you can get home in under 15 mins does keep you late at the office!)

Now this one – my third job – is far, far away from our home. It will take me at least 2 hours each way if I were to commute. So as soon as I accepted the offer, I started looking for a new place to stay. Since SR can conduct his business from anywhere, he was also up for it. The only catch was that having lived rent-free for 4 years, paying rent would now take out a huge chunk of our income. But sigh, you can’t have it all! J

The house-hunting – online and offline – went on for a week, and after many frustrating attempts, we finally found a place that both of us liked, would allow us to keep Buttons in the style of living he is used to (!!!) and is just 3kms from my office. I am keeping my fingers crossed until we move!

Moving can be nightmarish, but I am determined to do it with as little fuss and frustration as possible. I don’t want to waste a lot of time doing this, but approach the whole process systematically, starting with what items we intend to move and pre-deciding what pieces of furniture will go where in the new place.

A bigger task is deciding what items to sell or give away. There’s this blog on minimalism that I read regularly – but I have not yet been able to shake myself free of the pleasures of shopping for things I don’t really need. The least I can do is to give away what I already have but don’t need!

The new job:

I am really excited about this company, the people and the role. I believe it is going to be a great opportunity to work with some interesting and talented folks, make a dent in the universe, and of course, learn a lot of new stuff along the way. But every now and then, I get a twinge of nervousness – will I be able to deliver? Will I be able to blow away expectations? Just coping has never been enough – I would be miserable being an average performer in any team.

I always feel that a new job is a great way to reset a lot of things about yourself – a new opportunity to make friends, set a new routine, cultivate new habits and create a new impression. In my previous job, I had gotten into the bad habit of going in late (often by 11 or 11.30) and staying back late (until at least 8.30); this left with me with absolutely no time to do anything either in the morning (because I would inevitably wake up late since I didn’t have to go to work early) or the evening (because all I would be fit for after getting home was to eat and sleep). In the new role, I’d like to start work early, say by 9.30 and get out early so that I don’t have to live for the weekends, but actually enjoy weekday evenings.

And oh, the new apartment has a lovely French window that leads to a balcony with a view – this is a long cherished dream of ours. I am really looking forward to enjoying non-TV dinners!

The decision to learn driving:

I used to ride around on a scooter when I was in engineering college. But before I got around to getting my driving license, I met SR – and all of a sudden, I became that lazy, comfortable creature: the pillion rider! I lost all inclination to get my license or even to learn to drive a car.

Every Vijaydasami for the past 3 years, SR has been making me start the car, drive a few meters, reverse and stop, in the hope that I would take up driving. But I never felt the need to do so.  I would either coax SR to drop me off wherever I want to go, or take the bus or get a cab or an auto.

But recently, we took a 15-hour road trip to Kerala, and I felt terrible that he had to drive all the way! In the weeks since then, a very busy husband, unavailable Ola cabs, disdainful auto drivers and inconvenient buses have reminded me how much I am at their mercy, and how this situation is less than desirable.

For some reason, I feel more comfortable driving a car – a scooter makes me feel exposed and nervous. SR being the ultimate safety advocate wholeheartedly agrees. (Plus, I suspect he has no faith in my reaction time or presence of mind!) So, in May, I am going to learn how to drive a car.

Gulp.

The book:

When SR’s debut novel got published a few months ago, I was very flattered to have three-four friends and relatives ask me when mine was coming out. Well, I have not yet started writing any books, but I finally have an idea that really excites me. A story that I want to write without thinking about the money I will make or the awards I will get. I think the bug’s finally bitten, and I am not going to let my inherent lethargy let the idea fizzle out.

I don’t know where I am going with this or when I will complete it or what I will do with it afterwards – but this is a project of love that I will certainly enjoy working on!

Here’s to new beginnings – and hopefully, happy endings. Cheers. 🙂

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PS: When I started writing this blog post, I had no idea what I was going to say or how I would end it. Rusty after so many months of not writing a word, I struggled to complete this. I am trying to not be too critical of this attempt and cut myself some slack. So, up goes this post!

Nobody died.

Nobody died.

I was away from the internet for 10 days. I went away leaving behind some unfinished assignments and projects. My job hunt was paused midway. The emails I had composed to various people still lay in my Drafts folder, waiting for final touches. I needed to get back to some old clients who had written to me.

But, I dropped everything and went away.

The familiar sensation of dread – the feeling of having bitten down on a piece of metal – left me after a few hours. I had not packed my laptop and I do not have internet on my phone. (Here’s why) I locked the door behind me and walked away, blocking all thoughts of ‘pending work’ – fighting my obsessive need for closure.

All through these 10 days, my phone lay somewhere in the entrails of my rucksack, silent and forgotten. Except for a couple of twinges of memory, uneasy thoughts did not haunt me.

I walked for miles up and down hills, into forests and inside caves. I traveled by plane, train, bus, car, jeep, ferry, motorbike and even an elephant. I saw the sun set over the Brahmaputra, like golden honey spread over water. I saw the full moon rise at 5.30pm over the largest river island in the world. I watched the clouds float over brilliant blue skies over a sleepy hillside town. I took a languorous afternoon bus ride through narrow roads flanked by paddy fields and tea gardens. I sat watching cows and pigs graze on yellow-green meadows and rode through a countryside where the twittering of birds could be heard over the dull roar of the bike…

It was another world. Another life.

Even as the plane landed, I found myself wondering about what was awaiting me at home. Emails, to-do lists, chores… I snapped at SR, made sarcastic remarks, lost my temper with airline attendants who were too slow and felt that the taxi driver was fleecing me of hard-earned money.

I was back.

Ready to tackle the demons waiting for me hungrily.

But the funny thing was that nobody had died.

Nothing had broken down because I was away. People had not collapsed all over the country because I had not written back to them soon enough. On the whole, it seemed that except for various banking institutions and online shopping websites, nobody else had missed me terribly.

In the larger scheme of things, the frenetic flapping of my wings did not matter. I did not have to throw myself against the windows, thrash about to get out and get things moving. I did not have to launch myself again and again into the flames.

It is a good realization.

I am going to sit back in my armchair and think about that world. That other world of magic and contentment. Having lived and breathed there once, for however short a period of time, I can perhaps go back to it again.

Or perhaps, I can re-create it – right here, in my head…

The fittest time for festal cheer!

The fittest time for festal cheer!

SR and I had made grand plans of sitting on the terrace on New Year’s eve, watching the fireworks light up the sky. We intended to begin 2015 by waking up early, working out, making scrumptious food and getting started on all the projects we have at hand. The New Year has been here for 15 hours so far, and here’s what we have done:

  • Missed the fireworks last night because we fell asleep early
  • Woke up late (as usual) and immediately felt cranky & depressed because 6AM on 1st Jan 2015 was now a distant & hazy memory
  • Watched ‘The Holiday’ for the umpteenth time (at least, I did, while SR argued politics with random people on Facebook)
  • Boiled vegetables for Buttons and tried to get him to eat them. (he did not)
  • Considered showering & getting dressed up in order to feel fresh; then decided not to since I wasn’t going out anyway.

Need I continue?

When I was making my list of resolutions for the New Year, SR had warned me that it would all come to naught. He is not a list-maker. “You have to want to do stuff…  not just keep buying new diaries and making lists in different colored inks.”

I know you don’t need lists to get things done. I know promises for change can be made any time during the year, not necessarily on New Year’s. But what the new year offers is the hope that you have a new beginning in front of you. Another chance to start again, to explore new things and change the course of life.

It’s mere symbolism, I agree. But it works for me.

When I scroll up and read what I have “accomplished” in the first 15 hours of 2015, I don’t feel depressed. I don’t think I have failed already. Because I am sitting here in front of my laptop penning a blog post on the 1st day of a new year. I am thinking ahead of the possibilities and plans I have for this year and imagining the exciting things in store for me. And I am glad for that – I may not be knocking things off my list, but I am doing things that matter!

I want to put down my goals for 2015 out here – I want to see them written. In the days and weeks to come, I want to read them over and over again, and strike them off one by one. And on another day, a year from now, I want to write another post that is hopefully happy, triumphant and self-congratulatory. 🙂

So, here goes the list:

  1. Write: Whenever I am asked to describe myself, I say without qualms that I am a writer. But when I look back at 2014 and ask myself, how much have I written, the answer is “Not enough.” 10 personal blog posts and 3 short stories. That’s all. The good part is that I just re-read the posts and the stories, and I didn’t think any of them was ridiculous or terrible. I’ve always believed that you cannot “become” a writer – you are either a writer or you are not. In 2015, I want to live up to this image I have of myself. By writing a lot lot more frequently. Not for anyone else, but for myself.
  2. Get off my ass: I want to shake things up in 2015 – for quite some time now, I have been in my comfort zone. “Take control, show action” is a piece of writing advice that I give all my clients – in 2015, I want to do that myself. I have a long list of things I’ve wanted to try out, but never got around to doing. This year, I want to stop procrastinating or over-analyzing, and just get out there and do them!
  3. Relax: A lot of people have told me that I seem to have everything under control. I appear to be someone who is on top of things. But I tell you – conscientiousness is a curse in my case! I worry about things and cannot stop bringing work home. The boundaries between “excellence” and “perfection” fade in my case and I end up nervous and stressed-out and ill. If I have learned one thing this past year, it is that my work-life balance depends more on my own attitude and ability to manage my time and work, than on the policies of the organization I work for or the nature of my boss or colleagues. In the coming year, I’d like to manage my projects better, be happier with my lot, and actually enjoy the things I do, irrespective of whether I have everything under control.
  4. Get fit: I am a ‘fads’ person – one week, I am super-committed to healthy eating and feed SR ragi and flax seed and stop him from eating chips; the next week, I am PMSing or stressed out at work and throw the rules to the winds, gorging on chips and Kurkure myself. Sometimes it is Rujuta Diwekar. At others, it is Leo Babuta or a random Chicken Soup author who catches my fancy. This year, I don’t want to keep sliding the baseline. The baseline is that I am 10kgs overweight and totally unfit for anything more than climbing 3 dozen stairs, and therefore, I want to get back in shape. Period (Pun intended. Boy, am I clever!)

That’s it – those are my goals or 2015.  Last year, I wanted to travel more, paint more, read more… this year, I am not spelling anything out. I am not breaking up my goals into SMART mini-goals. I don’t have to – as SR said, these goals are in my mind. I really want to achieve them. 

So, here’s raising a toast to a brand new year – may this be the best year yet!

Source: Kanako Kuno
Source: Kanako Kuno

Why You Should (Re) Read the Harry Potter Series

When I was thirteen, Book 4 of the Harry Potter series, The Goblet of Fire, had just hit the shelves in India. I sneaked a copy to school, feigned illness to skip school assembly so that I could stay back and read, and read it furtively under the desk during my classes, during lunch break, and back home in the bus. Such was the allure of the book. In subsequent years, I waited eagerly for the last three books of the series to hit the shelves, working myself up into a frenzy of excitement, and once I got my hands on them, devoured them hungrily.

As a child, I was fascinated by the story itself, the magic of that magical world. In the past decade, I have re-read each book at least six or seven times, and each time, I am blown away by the sheer magnificence of the plot and the way every small detail from Book 1 to Book 7 ties together seamlessly. But more importantly, I have realized that these books have influenced my thinking and beliefs, and I owe to them a great deal of who I am today.

Everyone must re-read the Harry Potter books. They can teach you many life lessons – without pontificating or taking the high moral ground. Without you even realizing that you are being influenced, transformed.

Here are the 7 most inspiring bytes of learning I have garnered from Harry Potter over the years, one from each book.

#1: It takes great courage to stand up to your enemies, but even greater to stand up to your friends.

– Albus Dumbledore, The Philosopher’s Stone.

When Harry, Ron and Hermione try to sneak out of the Gryffindor common room after lights out, Neville Longbottom tries to stop them because he knows that more house points will be lost if they get caught.

Painfully shy and diffident about his own abilities, Neville must have found this very hard. Standing up to friends, possibly ones more talented than him. Yet, he does it, declaring that he would fight them if need be.

His attempt at this fails when Hermione jinxes him, although regretfully, and the trio go on their way. But at the end of the year school feast, Dumbledore praises Neville’s courage and rewards him the ten points that result in Gryffindor winning the House Cup.

What Neville did that day is what each of us must be unafraid to do – have the courage to stand up against wrongdoing, irrespective of who is doing it.

#2: It is your choices, rather than your abilities, that determine who you are.

– Albus Dumbledore, The Chamber of Secrets.

On his first day at Hogwarts, the Sorting Hat sees Slytherin qualities in Harry and tries to encourage him to be in Slytherin. (“You could be great, you know, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that.”) But Harry desperately begs the Hat to be put in any house except Slytherin – so the Hat puts him in Gryffindor.

However, the fact that he may possess some Slytherin qualities torments Harry. He tells Dumbledore miserably, “[The Hat] only put me in Gryffindor because I asked not to go to Slytherin!” He starts doubting whether he is indeed a true Gryffindor. That is when Dumbledore puts these fears to rest by telling him that one’s choices – rather than one’s abilities – determine who he or she is.

Every day, I see around myself, people unafraid to dream. People chucking their regular jobs to chase their dreams. People who studied and trained for one thing, but decided to do something else that they loved, forgetting money and security. My own husband is an example of such courage. These folks personify Dumbledore’s words – choices trump ability and skills. They could have spent years of their lives coding. But they chose to stop coding and start cooking. Or clicking. Or writing.

We can all be whatever we want to be. Let us believe in the beauty of our dreams, and start dreaming today. Let us all dare to be square pegs – holes are probably not going to be round much longer!

#3: What you fear most is fear itself – very wise.

– Remus Lupin, The Prisoner of Azkaban.

When Professor Lupin asks Harry to think of what he fears the most, Harry thinks, not of Voldemort, his nemesis, but of Dementors, foul creatures that sweep the world sucking the happiness and vitality out of human beings.

When we take risks in life, we encounter fear. That is only natural. But it should never be the fear of failure. We must not fear poor grades or loss of money or embarrassment.

Instead, let us be afraid of losing our selves, our identities, our freedom and our passions. Let us be afraid of losing our souls and our happiness.

Only then will we be moved enough to stand up and fight.

#4: Play to your strengths. Think now – what are you best at?

– Mad-Eye Moody, The Goblet of Fire.

Well, this one’s slightly ironic because it was said to Harry by a Death Eater impersonating Mad-Eye Moody. But it makes a lot of sense, so I’m putting it here anyway.

In Book 4 of the HP series, Harry does not attempt to learn and perform advanced magic as do the other contestants of the Triwizard Tournament. Instead, he chooses to fly – something he is extremely good at. In fact, one of his competitors, Viktor Krum, an international Quidditch player who’s also a great flyer, does not even think of flying! Needless to say, Harry wins this round.

There is so much talk about improving on your weaknesses. We are taught, right from our schooldays, to identify what we are weak at, and work extra hard to catch up. I’ve had to take up remedial classes for math in my tenth and twelfth classes, so I know how much of a struggle this can be.

No doubt there is a benefit to this approach. But even as we struggle with what pulls us down, can we also look at playing to our strengths? This is, in fact, the basis of Clifton’s StrengthsFinder assessment. His premise is that if everyone identifies his or her own strengths and chooses to work in roles where these can be leveraged to the fullest, each person will become a super achiever, and attain satisfaction. Interesting thought!

#5: If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at the way he treats his inferiors.

– Sirius Black, The Order of the Phoenix.

Okay, I am cheating a little here. These lines were spoken by Sirius Black in Book 4, not Book 5. But the real lesson from these words comes in Book 5, when Sirius is himself betrayed by his house elf Kreacher, whom he never treated well. Though Sirius was not a cruel man and, in general, treated house elves with kindness, he paid for his continued mistreatment of Kreacher.

It is very easy to be polite and courteous to one’s social or professional equals. But to extend the same to those not at our level shows true strength of character. This could be something as simple as thanking someone for his or her services, or as big as going out of your way to help someone else, man or animal. All it takes is a little mindfulness and a lot of respect.

#6: The difference between being dragged into an arena to fight a battle to death, and walking into the arena with your head held high.

– Harry Potter, The Half-Blood Prince.

In Book 6, Harry finally understands what Dumbledore has been trying to tell him all along. The fact that it made no difference whether a prophecy existed. Voldemort was evil, and he existed. And irrespective of a prophecy or anything else, Harry would fight him. Bravely, willingly.

I used to anticipate issues at work – pending projects, imminent deadlines, difficult clients (and sometimes, bosses!). I would watch these looming closer and closer, dreading every day that passed, feeling sick with misery… but not doing one single thing about it.

It was during a recent re-read of Book 6 that something clicked in my mind. I needed to shake myself loose of the lethargy, get up and act. Because I would have to face the music anyway. I might as well turn it on myself instead of waiting to jump out of my skin when someone else switched it on!

Let this be a wakeup call for us. To get up and act. Today. Now.

#7: Perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. – Albus Dumbledore, The Deathly Hallows.

In Book 7, Dumbledore confesses that Harry is a better man than he, worthier of the Deathly Hallows precisely because he does not covet power, but only seeks to do what he believes is right.

 

Ambition is good. It makes you dream and work towards that dream. But getting caught up with the outcome and becoming blind to the journey, pushing yourself too hard or chasing a paper dream can actually backfire, leaving you burned-out and bitter.

So do the things you love, the things you have to do. Spend your time wisely in ways that you do not regret. But don’t do it for the returns. Do it for the love of it.

And it will pay. Every time.

Where angels fear to tread…

Where angels fear to tread…

“Look at this lunch box!” SR exclaims.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, pointedly ignoring the smudges of Vim around its edges.

“This is intolerable. You have to tell Vasantha to wash the dishes properly,” he complains.

I agree meekly, the very thought making my stomach churn. I have tried giving her constructive feedback only once before. It did not go well.

“Vasantha,” I had said naively, “You haven’t cleaned the bedroom properly – just look at the quantity of dust under the cot!”

Her eyes widened. Without a word, she turned around, got the mop and duster and barged into the bedroom. (SR, who was changing, yelped and rushed for cover.) She lifted the mattress and tried moving the cot onto its side single-handedly.

“What are you doing? Let me help…” I tried to intervene.

“Vendamma, venda… naane panren…” she wouldn’t let me.

In the next one hour, she tipped most of our furniture onto its side, raised a perfect hell storm of dust, emptied buckets and buckets of water onto the bathroom floor, and scrubbed all the kitchen utensils we had, including three sets of unpacked dinnerware we had got as a wedding gift. She spurned every offer of help.

All the while, she muttered steadily under her breath. Every now and then, we would hear snatches of how it wouldn’t matter even if she worked herself to death, because no one – not even the man she had been looking after for thirty years – would care, and how she would probably collapse on her way down to the car porch. SR and I sat mortified in the living room.

nervous-woman-cartoon-902x1024

I was young then, foolish.

All night, I lie awake, trying to frame diplomatic ways of presenting the matter. The following morning, as we are having coffee, I mutter nervously under my breath,

“Vasantha, this here lunch box, you see… perhaps you could oblige me by looking at it? If you don’t mind, could you please consider…”

The doorbell rings. I quail in my seat. SR looks exasperated.

Vasantha enters. She is a small, dark woman with the long, mournful face of a Basset hound.  A couple of months ago, while we were taking a long break, I told her she needn’t come to work for two weeks; essentially, paid leave. She looked as though I had given her a very poor quote for both her kidneys.

Today, she handed me a packet of sweets and said sorrowfully, “En payyanukku kalyanam fix aaydchu!” My son’s wedding has been fixed.

“Oh… er, very nice.” I say. She smiles sadly and disappears into the kitchen.

SR hisses, “That’s no excuse! She has been doing a half-baked job for months now! You tell her to do her work properly – show her who’s boss!”

“Okay!”

I settle into the living room couch, pretending to look busy while glancing surreptitiously at her every few minutes. I am waiting for an opportune moment. She swishes the dust from one corner of the room to the other. Half of it rises and settles back down. She ignores it – along with the cobwebs dangling just before her eyes. I debate whether I should draw her attention to it; then decide against it. Focus, I tell myself firmly. Focus on one thing.

A few minutes later, I hear the clanging of pots and pans in the kitchen. I summon up courage, walk up to her holding out the offending lunch box, clear my throat and begin,

“Vasantha… this… this lunch box…  if you look at its rim, you can see…”

She turns around then, wringing her hands and nearly weeping, a picture of abject misery.

“What’s the matter?” I ask, distracted.

She looks as though she can hardly speak. Her lips tremble.

I imagine a death in the family. Cancer. Bankruptcy.

“Tell me, whatever it is!” I urge her.

She gathers courage and says, “Vim kaaliyayduthumma…”

We are out of Vim.

I say desperately, “No, no… I have an extra bar!”

I search for it frantically. As each second passes, Vasantha seems to shrink. I finally find it and thrust it into her hand in relief. “Please don’t cry!” I nearly add.

She smiles weakly and gets back to work.

I am shaken, reminded once again of the Bedroom Dusting Fiasco of 2011.

I return to the living room.

“Did you tell her?” SR asks suspiciously.

“Yes, the problem will be solved.” I say with dignity.

I plan to wash it myself, later.

Envious Casca

I am on Facebook and I look at the pictures and updates by friends and schoolmates.

And I am envious of them all.

Those who are still in Trivandrum – going shopping with their moms to Pothys, taking part in Attukal pongala, taking a walk along Shangumugham beach…

And those who are far, far away – vacationing in Europe and Australia and Canada, posing beside wax figures of famous people, or smiling into the camera, surrounded by white cherry blossoms…

Those who have gently swelling pregnant bellies and a husband’s arm around their waist, or an album full of baby photographs or a Wall full of clever things their child said…

And those who make clever, sarcastic remarks about marriage or share FB posters about women and freedom and no kids…

Those who are very successful in their high-flying careers, getting promoted or being sent to New York or Melbourne…

And those who quit their jobs to take up photography or quilling or baking or silhouette painting…

I am envious of them all, without exception.

Every other life glitters with the stuff of dreams or glows in the warmth of candlelight. The stars over their heads shine brighter. The music in the background, a little smoother. (Kenny G, perhaps?) The colors warmer, fuller.

I am tempted.

But not quite.

Perhaps there is someone scrolling through my Wall, even as I type this, burning with the same green flame.

Taking Stock of 2013

I’ve been blogging on and off since 2006, but never once have I had an end-of-the-year post. I have often penned down my New Year resolutions, but I haven’t really looked back at the bygone year and sized up the triumphs and disappointments. I am surprised at this realization, because if you’d asked me, I would have said that understanding what you have done right and wrong is the first step towards growth.

So what has our 2013 been about?

  • Work:

I began the year with a major vote of confidence from my boss. I was only 4 months into my new job, but he told me that I had hit the ground running and that he was expecting great things from me. I began on this high note, and was also promoted mid-year, but it hasn’t been a smooth ride all along.

What has gone well:

  • I handle quite a bit of work independently – I make important decisions, and plan and drive projects on my own.
  • I have managed to set and meet high quality standards in all the work that I am responsible for. Something I never want to compromise on.

What I’d like to do better in 2014:

  • Think like a Product Head – long term vision, scalability, sustainability and profitability.
  • Transform from an independent contributor to a team leader. Being an introvert, I have struggled with this quite a bit. In 2014, I’d like to see myself as a leader who is on top of things (without micromanaging) and who attracts the respect and trust of her team. Working towards this goal. 🙂

SR had to make some major decisions this year – in July, he quit his job with a two-pronged agenda: complete his first novel, and pursue a business idea. The decision was not easy by any stretch of imagination. But he’s been successful on the first count, and hopefully, the second will also see some traction in the coming months.

What I’d like to see in 2014: Our venture taking root, serving at least 5 major clients, and becoming profitable.

  • Writing:

My writing career has seen some successes this year:

But the biggest success of 2013 belongs to SR. We were thrilled when two publishing biggies, Random House and Westland, expressed interest in picking up his first novel –  ‘Kalyug’, a political thriller. We finally went with Westland – more about that in upcoming weeks.

But kudos to you darling, for your focus, courage and perseverance in writing this book – I know how much work it was, and how much effort it required from you. Proud to be Kalyug’s editor!

Which brings me to a minor success on my side. Earlier in 2013, I had expressed a wish to explore book editing as a career option. Today, that is a reality. Both SR and I are editorial consultants with a leading literary agency in India. We work on manuscript assessments, critiques and rework notes, language edits and many more exciting assignments. I think the best thing about this work is that we are now reading a lot of varied literature, even genres we would never have explored otherwise – from self-help and good living to fantasy and thrillers, biographies to exposes.

What I’d like to do in 2014: The ride is just beginning, and we hope that 2014 has a lot more in store for us. We want to write more, review more, and even move onto conducting creative/professional writing workshops.

  • Travel

This year saw us make our first trip abroad – to Singapore. Planning every little part of the trip and hunting for deals online was every bit as awesome as the trip itself. And we managed to complete the 10-day trip on a shoestring budget – glad to help anyone who wants to plan a trip there.

We also traveled to Devarayanadurga, Masinagudi, Sakleshpur, Srirangapatnam and Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, but on the whole, 2013 was not as much of a success on the travel front as we had hoped. Our resolution to go somewhere new every month – even if for a day trip – did not really materialize.

Sakleshpur
Sakleshpur
Masinagudi
Masinagudi
Ranganathittu
Ranganathittu
Singapore
Singapore

What I’d like to do in 2014: At least 4 road trips, 3  weekend getaways and 2 big vacations. The first big  vacation is to Gujarat at the end of this month for a dear  friend’s wedding and exploring the Rann of Kutch. 🙂

  •  Health: 

I can’t not write about health as it is a major contributor to general well-being and happiness. But the report on this front is mixed.

The good part is that (a) since I moved to my new office space in Jan 2013, located at a place with hardly any good vegetarian dining options, I’ve carried a packed lunch to work; as a result, SR has also been getting home-cooked lunch every day. (b) every time we slipped on our food plan or exercise plan (and we slipped many many times! 😦 ), we pulled ourselves up and went back to it.

What I want in 2014: SR and I need to lose 20 kilos between the two of us to go down to our optimum weights. I want us to be more focused and committed towards eating and exercising this year: reach our ideal levels of weight and fitness by March, and maintain those afterwards.

  • Self-development:

Okay, who am I kidding? This is actually the “Miscellaneous” section with some observations and resolutions that I couldn’t fit in anywhere else. 🙂

  • I started painting again in 2013, and this has given me many hours of pleasure. And turning the pages of my drawing book, I realize that I’ve actually become better. So far, I’ve been learning techniques from YouTube videos or other online tutorials, but in 2014, I’d like to attend painting workshops or classes.

    One of my better works!
    One of my better works!
  • We recently visited a cousin’s apartment. She is around my age and has been married as long as I have been. She has a job that’s as demanding as mine. Yet, her house was so pristine, organized and beautiful that I felt ashamed. Yes – I take great pains to ensure that our house – especially the kitchen and the bathrooms – is scrupulously clean. But it is quite messy – there are books and other odds and ends on every possible surface. (‘dirty’ is different from ‘messy’, thank you.) This is something I want to change in 2014 – I want to become a super duper housekeeper. Wow, that rhymes! 🙂
  • We managed to watch quite a few movies last year – the really memorable ones would be Special 26, TDKR, Iron Man 3, North 24 Katham, Punyalan Agabattis and ABCD. Major letdowns would be Ice Age 4, Akam and Despicable Me 2. In 2014, I’d like to see many more awesome Malayalam movies.
  • I love dancing – no, not salsa or tango or anything else that has a name. I just like to put on music and go nuts when no one’s watching. Everyone should try it – it gives you such a liberated, exhilarating feeling. But I haven’t done this enough – in 2014, I want to dance a lot more often.
  • Okay, now I’m running out of patience. So other stuff I want to do in 2014:
    • Star gaze on the terrace every few days.
    • Visit Cubbon Park or Sankey Tank (I love greens and water) every week. CAM00361CAM00346
    • Go to my 3 favorite temples more often – going there makes me feel so peaceful and good that I can never remember why I balked before going.
    • Shop on Commercial Street more often (No, SR – I wasn’t kidding.)
    • Walk back home at least once a week (my office is just 1.5kms away from my house, and I still get SR to pick me up. Shameful, isn’t it?)
    • Play more board games with SR – our building blocks, Monopoly board and pack of cards have given us so much laughter and fun. Nothing beats a good indoor game on a rainy/chilly evening.

I think I will stop here for now.

Not because I have run out of words – I can write so much more.

It took me 3 days to write this blog. And the process of writing this made me think back on an entire year. Three hundred and sixty five days of my life. The decisions I have taken.

And I realize now that I have written only the good things, though I keep mentioning the downs – I have not talked about how Appa was sick for an entire month and we were all scared. Nor the minor but really annoying health issues that Ammai and Amma also went through. Neither the worry and the fear that overwhelmed us while thinking about the risks we were taking professionally and otherwise, nor the moments of discouragement and frustration.

I have written only about the good things  – this wasn’t deliberate. When I took stock of our life in the past year, none of the bad things loomed large. Not because they weren’t there – but because the blessings were bigger and better.

“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.” Ransom Riggs.

And that is something I want to carry forward to the next year too. No regrets, no worries. Only hopes and dreams.

Here’s wishing each and every one of you a wonderful 2014 – a year like never before. Full of good health, happiness and contentment. God bless!

If this ain’t love, baby…

“How do you know it’s love?”

This is a question I’d been pondering over since I was fifteen – how do I recognize the Real Thing when it happens?

I had a simple test. Anytime I liked someone, and I wasn’t sure where it was heading, I would close my eyes and imagine seeing him every day, day and night, for the rest of my life. Wake up next to him, have breakfast together, see him again at night, sleep with him, wake up again next to him, and so on and on for sixty years. That was usually enough to turn me off big time.

Until I met SR. For the first time in life, I felt it wouldn’t be so bad seeing this guy for the rest of my life. I even felt it might be fun. And boy, has it been fun!

This post is dedicated to you, SR. For being my sunshine. The anchor of my sanity. The very air I breathe.

10 things that tell me I am loved.

  1. The way I magically wake up in my bed every morning tucked under my comforter, no matter where I fall asleep the night before – on the couch, the armchair or the floor. I still don’t know when or how you manage to move 65 kilos of solid flesh across two rooms without the said body even stirring.
  2. The way you take the long way home just so that I can finish listening to a favorite song that’s playing on the car radio without it shutting off midway. And the way you listen to my vociferous, ungrateful rants about wasting petrol.
  3. The way you keep re-filling my hot water bottle and making me comfort food at all times of the day and night when I am sick, without ever registering protest through word, deed or expression.
  4. The way you quietly do all the little chores I hate without me having to ask – filling up the water purifier and stocking bottles and containers with provisions top the list. And yet, if I actually ask you to do a chore, the way you put it off as long as you possibly can…
  5. The way you never ever say no to anything I want – whether it was going all the way back to the Big Bazaar just to get me the top I liked but regretted not buying; or making the Archies store owner reopen his shutters at 10 in the night to get me the smiley doll. And letting me name him (the doll) Appy Hippie. Mallu fans of Boban & Molly comics would know this character quite well.
  6. The way you told me, “I can’t let you watch it alone if it’s the first time you’re watching it” and watched Valentine’s Day with me on Friday night. And hating it every minute. But not fiddling with your mobile even once.
  7. The way you listen to me repeat every anecdote from Agatha Christie’s autobiography without interrupting, even though you’ve heard it all a million times already. And how you buy me every book about Christie that anyone ever wrote.
  8. The way you always make me a “kutti dosai”; And a smiley face with ketchup and cheese spread on my omelet plate. And the way you bring it to me, eyes shining with pleasure.
  9. The way you set up elaborate Treasure Hunts and riddle games and send me chasing all around the building in search of clues. You can give Raj Koothrapalli a run for his money any day.
  10. The way you swear I am the most beautiful woman in the world, even when I know I look like something the cat dragged in. What points you lose for honesty you gain for loyalty.

I could go on and on, and never stop. That’s why I titled this list before I even started. Let me close by borrowing from the Bard of Avon.

Of all my loves this is the first and last
That in the autumn of my years has grown,
A secret fern, a violet in the grass,
A final leaf where all the rest are gone.

You are my sun and stars, my night, my day,
My autumn song, the altar at which I pray.
My seasons, summer, winter, my sweet spring, 

My land and ocean, and all that the earth can bring.

Would that I could give all and more, my life,
My love – eternal, endless and true…
Of glory and of sustenance, all that is divine,
My world and my thoughts, and all that was ever mine.

That’s enough mush for a Saturday afternoon. 🙂

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