Learning ordinariness

It’s been four months into 2019 and I am living the most ordinary life that an upper middle person in India does. Immediately after a glorious two weeks in Spain – full of colours, and light, and wide eyed wonder, I felt like I had walked into a minefield in January. The kind of minefield where you care a whole lot about pointless things that only the privileged and annoying bunch like ours can afford to. And that pretty much seems to have set the tone of this year. Am I complaining? Na, not really. I had a similar transformation in my late 20s, making peace with the privilege of having office politics to grapple with. The life themes I am grappling with now may have changed entirely but it remains in my nature to worry and crib and rant and call out BS when I see it. Far from complaining, really. On most days I find myself extremely kicked about most of this.

Work’s going fine. All’s good with the fam bam. I am feeling more social than I have in years. I am not complaining about too many people and opinions around me all the damn time. I wake up in the morning, sit in my corner and work. I take breaks for minor dissent – against the ruling party in ghar and in desh. I write big words for work and swing between heart emojis and cutting critique for ordinary things that happen in my ordinary life. On most days, I feel close to no strong feelings about much of this. For someone who is relentlessly tired of her own strong feelings that refuse to leave space for anything else, this insouciance deep in my heart is a welcome break.

Maybe, just maybe, 2019 is the year of ordinariness. The year of turning to information overload like I always do, but consciously choosing the information I truly care about. It’s a fair amount of work, this consciousness. It means constant mindfulness. It’s the art of taking everything with a pinch of salt, taking a deep breath. And Letting. It. Go. Maybe 2019 is the year I get to learn how to apply this work life lesson to community and personal life. Maybe this letting things go will make space for more productivity, more joy, and less angst. Maybe learning to consciously make space for joy while the world around you goes batshit crazy is what the 30s really are about. I hope to find out over the next few months.

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2018: The legend

2018 will go down in history. It was the year of hyperactivity, and yet the balance had me wondering what I was doing right. It was the year of fulfilment. It was the year of overcoming my own negativity, anxieties, opening up and drawing boundaries – all at the same time. It was the year of being overwhelmed but not without a spring in my step. It was the year when I went to a therapist after the dark hole that was 2017. 2018 was MY year!

Work wise, it was the year of balance and boundaries. Even as my billings increase, in part of depreciating currency, in part to bigger and better projects, and in part to saying no to potentially dangerous slash chindi clients. This last year, I did fewer, better things and while the type A agency person constantly worried about having less to do, the increasingly normal person found fulfilment in quality work and the unpaid labour of being part of a community and being an adult! Speaking agency-ese, I saw a 41% increase in earnings since last year. I didn’t just write articles this year. I wrote coffee table books, research papers, white papers, communications toolkits and more. I cracked the world’s largest company, an ICO launch project, and even a VC. Hopefully, at least two out of these will see long term value.

I registered my company, did my taxes without unpaid help, and became a little better at this independent life by drawing boundaries – once again – between work and life. I said no to projects and I said no to people. And no, it did not kill me or break my bank balance or make my less loved like I had thought it would!

2018 was the year I also made a house a home. I called myself “cooler than GKD” and for good reason! 2018 taught me the difference between MDF and plywood and wood and veneer and white and warm white and ivory and 5 mm and 10 mm and more such erstwhile adult/ type A things.

This year, I spent humongous amounts of time and mindspace becoming part of a community that puts the “society” in society. And learned how to survive – even thrive – in it.

I spent a pretty large part of the year in an erstwhile uneasy place where boorish builders, “society”, politicians, city governance officials, and media come together. And I survived unscathed! They came out unscathed too, which honestly was the bigger victory for me. I led a 360 degree pro bono communications campaign to make sure that the country’s most incompetent city municipality stopped their garbage and their incompetence at the doorstep of our community. And we succeeded!

I saw my parents 5 times this year, helped them moved homes, and breathed more in their company just like I let them breathe more in my own. I spent more time amidst extended families than I have in nearly two decades, and found it in myself to exercise forgiveness/ indifference and exercise empathy and acceptance more than judgment despite the latter being my most natural first reaction.

2018 will be the year when my blog went private and my Twitter, deactivated. I haven’t felt the need to reverse either decision (yet) – all because I knew I had to channel the good vibes and draw boundaries in what and how much I wanted to let on about me as an adult who was part of a community. WTF is happening to me!? Might pleased, if I may add.

2018 was the year I got back on the road. Two south indian beach towns, Spiti off the bucket list and one more epic travel in the offing. 2018 was also the year I made two new friends, one who needs and respects her own boundaries as much as she does mine and the other who drops by with chicken and chhole and forces me to overcome my own inertia. Can’t complain!

In other news, 2018 was the year I scored a bengali cook and hosted a diwali open house for the first time in my life. Successfully, if I may add.

2018. It was the year of balance. The balance I had hoped for when I gave up full-time employment is finally finding its way into my life, with meaningful connections, conversations, engagements, good vibes and more.

2019, you have truly big shoes to fill! Please keep the warmth and light coming. Be kind! As will I!

 

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How soon is too soon to write year end posts?

I can’t believe September is half done! Time is literally flying. I suppose when your heart is full and your hands are busy, the passing of time doesn’t seem like the burden it did through most of last year.

And what a year I am having!

I kicked Spiti off my bucket list. And what a trip it was. Some of the things I thought I knew about myself, being extraordinarily hardy for example, came crumbling down. I got tired, I got a little scared. I felt small and lost in the endless gorgeousness that is that valley. I realised what social isolation really meant and how far, far away my life was from real isolation. And how much of my perceived isolation was just me figuring out the whole self employment bit after a decade of having people around me throughout work hours. Spiti was the holiday my heart really needed after the madness and confusion and self doubts of the last two years. It was hard, but it was just what my soul needed.

I have been part of a citizens’ protest twice – and I played my role rather well in it. I put my money where my mouth was, I stopped complaining, and I acted on my values, on things I hold close to my heart. I used my professional skills for something far, far more productive than what I had been using it for all these years. In the process, I saw the system fail over and over again. And then I saw it come back up again, even if just a little. I saw a community come together, despite all the conflicts and drama and differences. I exchanged messages with bureaucrats – tens of them in a day. I went from using their first names and hurting their fragile egos to saying “Sir” 5 times in one message, all because you gotta do what you gotta do! I have had long chats with politicians – exchanging WhatsApp messages with them too. These are all things I never thought I’d do, having conditioned myself over the years into maintaining safe distance from all things famously dirty. What I did not know what that I wasn’t maintaining a distance if I was ranting about it anyway. I also realised that community work is a landslide. You get swept in, usually because of the commitment and energy of the people around you. You are in the thick of things before you know it, there is no getting away. Not even when things really are down and dirty. And I could not be more grateful – for being part of a thriving if slightly crazy community even as I characteristically try and maintain one-arm distance from much of the drama in it.

I am slightly clearer on my own politics, thanks to the experiences these last few weeks. Far clearer than I was last year. I needed to find out, and I did.

Since the last time I posted here, I helped my parents move homes. I set them up in the new place, just like they did when I left home. Life comes a full circle – I have realised this over and over again in my conversations with my parents these last few months. We have switched roles quite easily. Now, I send them pictures of medicines and superfoods they need to buy and they send me WhatsApp jokes :)

Amidst all of this good madness of my own making, I also felt an endless wave of relief and even pride after the most recent turn on 377. I did not know how strongly I felt about it. In the last two years of trying to grapple with whether or not coming back to India was a smart decision, this one verdict made all the difference. That night, I slept my heart full. Of love for the motherland. I had forgotten how that felt. That night, I felt the most settled I have in the two years I have been back home.

Since the last time I posted here, I have all my holidays planned for this year all the way down to the first week of January. And my life, it just feels fuller and rounder and normal again.

Full, round, and normal – that’s pretty much been my life theme ever since I can remember. That is all I have ever strived for. That, and freedom. I am glad to have rediscovered this feeling.

Upwards, onwards, and all that.

 

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Healing – a day at a time

There is a lot I want to write about Spiti, about living in apartment society and much else. But haven’t been able to find time.

But this one, I really want to put down for posterity. Today, for the first time ever, I told one of my favourite cousins – now a staunch BJP supporter – that I don’t want to discuss religion and politics with him because it triggers my anxiety. This is peak self-care and it’s two things I haven’t done before. Allowing someone to retain their political beliefs without causing it destroy our relationship or feeling the need to “correct” someone’s belief because apparently, I know better. And two, I was able to pin point exactly what triggers my anxiousness and make a conscious move away from it instead of letting it take over my life or at the very least, my evening.

This is a huge step forward for me compared to last year. If this is what healing feels like, I can live with it :)

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We’re 9!

For nine years, I have waxed eloquent on this blog about how different R and I are and how beautifully this yin and yang works out. That’s been an ongoing theme of my wedded life, a life that I sometimes don’t know what I did to deserve.

This year though, I have something else to say, something about R I’d love to emulate but I am not sure if I can. And it’s something that I think about every single day these days. Sample this. It is 2018. And R has not even for one minute felt any need whatsoever to post a meal, an opinion, a selfie, or a life or career development on social media. That’s right. He follows exactly six people on Twitter – Dhoni, Tendulkar, Harsha Bhogle, Sidin, and me. I am in august company, in more ways than one. Not that he is very bothered about any of our performative activism, politics, sports, or comedy there. He hasn’t logged in since that one hazy night in 2011 when he made that handle. He doesn’t have a Facebook app on his phone and for 9 years in a row, I have fulfilled my own people pleasing tendencies by responding to birthday greetings on his wall. He is not on Instagram, and doesn’t have any need whatsoever to click pictures of clouds outside the window because come on, they are not that new.

It is 2018 and I am married to a man who still reads news, doesn’t froth at the mouth looking at an endless scroll of 280 characters about news. He spends his time not in the dead sea of Instagram stories because apparently, Mac Rumours is better. He still has time to think and feel deeply about real, physical things around him. He is usually in the moment, looking at people in the eye when he talks to them. He usually doesn’t check a single WhatsApp forward that makes its way to his inbox, not till I read or play the ones in our common groups for him.

It is 2018 and I am married to the only person I know below 70 who rejects social media without considering it an act of rebellion or putting on a show about how “different” he is. He does it not because he isn’t interested but because the performance isn’t necessary in his world.  What’s amazing is that he still stays in touch with people he cares about. But without any obsessive need to complete cycles of pointless small talk, to please people, or to be funny and likeable from across a screen.

It is 2018 and I am married to a man who knows what’s going on in the world without flash, inconsiderate opinions about any of it. I have known him to be deeply, madly in love with his homeland, secretly shedding a tear now and then over songs about desh in another lifetime. He came down to cast his vote in 2014 and took air force exams in another lifetime. What he didn’t do was to make a performance of his desh prem on social media.

It is 2018 and I am married to the most authentic person I know. And it has taken me a good 9 years to admit that I don’t just love him for it or find it endearing. I have insane amounts of respect for him for showing me that it is indeed possible to reject pop culture and peer pressure without feeling superior about it. And that performative funniness, intelligence, cleverness, niceness are still not necessary, not even in 2018. For showing me that lives, careers, and relationships can exist, even grow from strength to strength without all of this recent unnecessary fluff that I deem so important in the name of career, activism, staying in touch and being informed.

Happy 9, R! I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t married to you and couldn’t see you live the way you do. I will probably never fully understand it or be able to do it myself, so thank you for balancing my extremes every single day, in every single way. Love.

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On sorely missing a 3 am friend

For most of last year, I often wondered why I haven’t had a 3 am friend for ages now. I mean I have friends I have managed to reconnect with and I talk to them pretty often but usually from the other side of a screen. I have close acquaintances in town but they don’t (and won’t) know my deepest, darkest secrets. I didn’t feel the need to share deep dark secrets with anymore people than I already do, but having a close friend in the same city as me, at least once in this lifetime, would have been nice. I realised that these friends then go on to become 3 am friends simply because you see them all the time and they are 100% aware of your context at all times. I realised I didn’t have that with anyone in the same city and I thought I “should” have it. This newfound desire troubled me a lot. It made me feel lonely too, not an emotion I am very familiar with. The worst of it came after I stopped working in an office full time and could feel the missing human connection for 8-10 hours everyday. This was before I started getting out to work, or proactively building a network of self-employed folks as I do now. What was basically just a sudden drop in relatable face to face conversations with people who were in the same boat work and life-stage wise became – in my head – a gap, a personality flaw, a disadvantage.

I attributed it to how much I have moved around these last 16 years. College, years in college, work, cities – I haven’t been in a place long enough – mentally, emotionally, and physically – to grow roots, know anything for sure and have 3 am friends who are not my husband. It is not even easy to keep track of or constantly talk to and stay in touch with friends that are not in the same city, thanks to constantly changing lives and priorities, careers and locations, mine and theirs. All that moving around and change were – in the erstwhile frame of mind – a personal disadvantage. Meri toh kismet hi kharaab hai etc. Yes, I can be very dramatic in my dark phases.

But nature has a way of reminding you, making you aware of exactly what you need to know. You just need to be open enough to see it. I did, just a couple of weeks ago. We have had a plant for over two years, one that shoots up like a tree in the balcony. Well, other people’s balconies. A few months ago, it stopped growing. Then it started yellowing. Its trunk was thick and alive, we watered it regularly, but nothing changed. We considered throwing it away when we moved homes. But didn’t, fortunately. We called a gardener to help, amateur as we are with plants that have been with us for upwards of two years. The gardener told us the plant’s roots were too big, too messy, too entangled in the space it had, for it to grow. He changed the soil, the planter, cut away the fluff and the plant looks fresh as new again. And it’s shooting up! What was really just a home improvement exercise became an epiphany of sorts for me. Growing too many roots – not such a great thing after all! I am also glad that it came to me at a time when I wasn’t feeling restless, raring to go. I was comfortable, it was the kind of comfort I could get used to. So the epiphany was both a bit of comfort what I feel I was lacking and  a jolt should I get too comfortable in the new space, the new frame of mind.

If not having 3 am friends is the trade off for all the discoveries, the experiences, the personal and professional growth, the agony and excitement of change, and the relief and peace of stillness after all the movement, I guess I can live with it. I can even enjoy it because I know for sure now that it is not a disadvantage or a personality flaw. It just is. And that’s all.

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Almost scared. Almost.

Like I said, I have spent the last two years in a bit of a limbo, a state of confusion, disappointment, anxiety worry hanging in the air all the time.

And now that I have some perspective, I am almost afraid. I find myself reaching for the closest piece of wood all the time these days, so I can touch it and drive the jinxes away. Because I have been so, so grateful these last few weeks.

Grateful for the interesting turns my work has taken and the metaphoric congratulations these turns have brought along since I upped and left a job that was everything comfortable and certain and most of all, reasonably well-paying.

Grateful for this happy place I am in right now, work-wise, family-wise, head-wise. Grateful for finding it in me to find closure on things that seemed to matter a whole lot but didn’t, not really. Grateful for the rock solid support and encouragement in R. Grateful for his companionship and how my heart fills with joy when he walks through the door after a long day. I have been told that this is a shocker after almost 9 years of being married. Oh well, I was never one for cliches, so..

I am grateful for rediscovering the friendship I have had with my mum ever since I can remember, a friendship I was beginning to forget under the many layers of should-do’s, the fear of disappointing her and other forms of unnecessary baggage. I am grateful for having shed that baggage.

I am grateful for the chance to once again, spot random tit-bits about places, plan travels based on cultural trivia, and know in my heart that the emptiness of travel plans is now over and done with.

I am grateful for being on the road again. Starting next month.

I am so, so grateful that I am afraid I will jinx all of it. I really hope not. TOUCHWOOD, DEAR GOD! And thank you :)

PS: Haathitime reminded me that all that I have been feeling these days? It has a name. It’s called gratitude :)

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