More from the “Social Media, WTF?” series

It has been a year since I got active again and started to get drowned in the noise of opinions and judgments on desi social media. I remember writing this in my first few months in KL, when I, for the first time in my life, discovered a place under the rock. Blissfully uninformed, void of opinions, extremely unlike my general opinionated self. That bliss didn’t last long because I soon got tired of being void of opinions and started to take active interest in Malaysian politics instead. As a friend commented the day I was going berserk refreshing the Malaysian election result browser tab a good four years ago, “you can take a girl out of Bihar but you can’t take Bihar out of a girl.” I love the drama of politics, who am I kidding! I can’t help getting involved (the angst was missing of course. Now though… Heh).

Here’s what I don’t love though – the unnecessary, incessant exaggeration that has come about since people like me, with their half baked but super strong opinions – started commenting on all things politics, culture, climate, economy and more. In the last one year, I have closely observed (hell, actively participated in) the opinionated junkyard that is social media. And if I were to believe all that is being said there, here is what the past year – and my reaction to all the quick judgments – looked like.

  • India has dropped secularism from its constitution. We are an unabashedly Hindu state now – bleh
  • No cash available anywhere, we are all going to die or go 100% digital, depending on which “wing” you follow more closely online – bleh
  • The summer in Bangalore got over after ONE rain – bleh
  • Bangalore has died and is burning. It’s that hot – bleh
  • We became a certain kind of thingamajing after Yogi’s appointment as CM – BLLLLEHHHH (I am guilty of this, btw)
  • The Indian army only has oppressors and rapists among them – ha
  • The Indian army can be used to shut every argument in its tracks – I am a human eyeroll as far as this one is concerned
  • RW hardliners with egg DPs and Sehwag’s personal opinion fall in the same category of trolls
  • Degrees matter, Modi’s in this case, or mine even – MEH
  • Freedom of speech is done and dusted in India – erm, Modi gets his share of brickbats on most news channels and at least half of Twitter, Varun Grover (who I love, btw) gets away with saying all that he does. Chetan Bhagat is still writing books. I say we need to do away with some freedom of speech. I don’t believe that but seriously, if this is what lack of freedom of speech looks like, I can live with it
  • Women no longer venture out on the roads – I don’t even know where to start with this one. Of course we are a historically oppressed lot, but things are improving, slowly and surely. Maybe go out and see for yourself sometime?

This list is not even close to comprehensive by a long shot and it didn’t even take any significant analysis. These are things that real people said, quickly jumping to the worst possible conclusion after every little development, shamelessly exaggerating like they exaggerate their LinkedIn profiles and job descriptions. I have been one of these quickly-jumping-to-horrible-conclusions people for the longest time, but if I have learned one thing over the years, it is that you’ve got to let things unfold. And till they do, as they say, मुँह बंद काम चालू, Twitterati. Y u so dumb?

Posted in i judge, social networking | Leave a comment

On minimalism

I just finished watching this documentary called Minimalism. And I loved how it put into words all my random, incoherent thoughts on living light, my uneasiness with unconscious consumption and spending that I kept dismissing as some sort of mid life crisis.

I was brought up with close to no reward system at home. I mean the maximum I could expect out of a good report card was good chocolate. But my parent teachers meetings were always a mixed bag, good report cards but TERRIBLE feedback about my behaviour in general. I was a handful, so I usually had to settle for a Morton or Kismi Toffee Bar or something close. As was the norm in those days, we got new clothes for birthdays and festivals. Anything more was dismissed as unnecessary fluff. Even when I started working for the first time in Bombay where I lived with my parents, I remember being incessantly judged for the sheer number of Kolhapuri Chappals I had. I collected too many books, I had far too many CDs. But the bottom line always was that that stuff meant something to me, so I never really judged myself.

When I moved in with my husband, our home was barely furnished for a home of fully functional adults. Pretty cane chairs and a coffee table that made up the living and dining rooms, a couple of mattresses and cushions, a bed – that’s all. The only places we went a little overboard was in speakers, books, and plants. Which is why when it was time to move to KL, we fit everything we owned in six suitcases and never looked back.

And then, in hindsight, the sheer emptiness of NRI life hit me like no tomorrow. Over the first couple of years in KL, we collected six devices that all did pretty much the same thing. I started to notice car brands for the first time in life because of the sheer amount of conversation that happened about them – fortunately not enough for me to give up my disgust for luxury cars that nobody seems to agree with me on. I discovered malls and cute clothes. And for someone who was never exactly interested in clothes, boy did I go on a buying spree!

For the next three years, I worked, I travelled, I bought, I accumulated, unconsciously making up for the emptiness I felt being away from the chaos and drama of home. Until 2015, when I woke up one morning to realise that I hated the way I was living. Unconsciously collecting junk in my body, never stopping to think about how I was spending my money or the crappy food I was subjecting my body to. I had enough experiences and warmth in my life to need this clutter – so why did I not just stop. And ever since, I have been struggling to find a semblance of balance between having just enough to live a good, convenient, content life and accumulating things just because they are “cute”.

I have also become extremely uncomfortable about making a lot of money, not because I don’t like money (because who doesn’t, right?) but because I find that nothing ties you down like abundance. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to walk away for the sake of sanity or contentment because money seems like the only acceptable parameter to judge success. Now that I have started to put things into words, I am also starting to realise that in some ways, this entire “opting out” episode I am on at the moment, that promises to pay me in just enough money but a whole lot of flexibility and bandwidth, is a balancing act that I can’t detail here except saying that nothing scares me more than the idea of getting used to too much money.

This is not to say that I don’t want the experiences that money can buy. Travel tops the list. In fact, there is no list. Travel is the only thing on that list, apart from the bare necessities and buying things for people I love. In fact, as an after effect of the documentary, I asked R what are the top five ways in which he wanted to use his money. He also came up with just those three. I am glad we agree. And more than that, I am glad that this is not a mid-life crisis. It is probably only about retracing the old tracks, the one where we studied and aced exams or worked, but not because we expected to be rewarded by things that would make our lives better, but because that’s what we were supposed to do. I am glad that this endeavour I am on, has more to do with my relationship with freedom and money and how the two impact each other than some higher cause that I find pretentious or oppressive or don’t relate with at all. This is an exercise reminding myself that just enough is more than enough, an exercise in being not only conscious of how I spend and how unconscious spending is a habit that is hard to get rid of but also making sure that we, R and I as a unit, have things more than paycheques and increments and promotions to look forward to. An exercise in making sure that we only collect clutter that holds some value and is not as transient as the glee of wearing a new pair of jeans.

Finally, I know.

Posted in adult life, growing up, work life balance | Leave a comment

All that I learned by striking out on my own

This weekend, R and I complete a whole year of our relocation. And my entire digital presence is testimony to the crests and troughs I have had through this relocation madness. I am not going to repeat myself except just some closing thoughts on it – India makes me braver, crazier, more judgmental, more creative, more restless, more introspective, wayyyyy more emotionally involved in things that matter little in my everyday life, more compassionate but also more angry. And guess what, in spite and because of all of this, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. After much doubting and wondering and knowing, losing and finding faith but most importantly, losing it at customer service folks for a whole year, this is a really good place to be in. I am glad I am finally here.

But this post is about the things I have learned after finally, whole-heartedly giving in to the itch of never having a boss again after fearfully letting it fester at the back of my mind for more than a year. Why today? Because, and I say this very sheepishly, I have finally crossed a monetary landmark sooner than I expected. It was not really one of my top goals when I started out, but it has happened. While I am not one to need or use much of the money given my zero lifestyle aspirations (as opposed to convenience aspirations), I am shit proud of myself because this really was the last thing I expected.

Here is all that I have learned about myself in particular and this space in general, in just over three months. When it changes – and it will because that is who I am – you will find out. Even if you don’t want to : )

I run on solar energy

Because still can’t do shit after sun down. Just that now, I can choose what time I start and when I end : )

Financial independence is reallyyyy important to me

For all the itch I have to do something new every few years, and all the “kindness” of my fellow traveller (hehe), not making money is not something I can wrap my head around. How else do you pay the bills for things you use too? I don’t know if it is ego or my mother’s rigorous conditioning over the years, but I don’t believe in freebies. I don’t expect them and I sure as hell don’t give them away.

Everyone should work in an agency at least once in their lifetime

Whether it is about putting a premium on your time, juggling 50 deliverables in a day (my maximum has been 27), time management, people management, idiot-proofing, faffing (because everyone has to at some point, ok?) or recognising trade offs for what they are, agency life teaches you more survival skills than any other place in my experience. And I am talking normal jobs here, not the important ones like defence or, you know, the ones Jack Bauer had.

I don’t know anyone who is more disciplined than me

Sounds conceited? Well, I deserve it. In the absence of any dependency, whether the work is dirty or awesome, I haven’t missed a single deadline, personal and professional. Not that I did earlier, but that was always a struggle for the Type A control freak in me. Oh and the motivation! I need no feel good emails or pats on the back to get going or to keep at it. I haven’t had a single day when I had work to do and I didn’t feel like doing it. Of course I gave myself time off as and when I liked, but not at the cost of anything. And I am going to reward myself with some dessert this weekend for being the amazing robot that I am.

Freedom of choice has a lot to do with high moral standards

I don’t know if it is because of the regular, forced ethics trainings in my last job that I found really unnecessary at the time or it’s just growing up, but I have been brutally honest to myself and to people around me. Earlier, I made no bones about fake calling-in-sick when I worked full time because organisations that I worked for practiced zero flexibility no matter what they said in their HR inductions and interviews. In fact, when R refused to do it every time I asked him to, I found him too uptight. But it is truly refreshing to not have to resort to something like that, especially if you are someone who values your freedom and will grab it with both hands, no matter what the cost. Also, in this independent line, you truly come across all sorts. I have had some strange requests. Give a LinkedIn communications plan for a brand in order to “compete” for an influencer marketing campaign that I was “invited” to or a long rant about “entitled writers” from someone who was willing to pay me more than peanuts for some “copyscape proof rewriting”, for instance. I have heard PR agencies gloat about their “ability” to do Wikipedia edits (because rocket science amirite?). And clients are willing to pay for it too, almost always because of lack of awareness and not moral standards. But it is not the kind of trade off I need and it is good to have this clarity and independence for once. Saying no like never before – hell yeah!

The perception of availability is a struggle you just have to learn to deal with

I am in touch with people a lot more, and there is this strange notion that goes around that if you work from home, you must be available for middle of the week lunching and movies, rant and gossip, and such. In fact in the first couple of weeks, my own perception of flexibility was rather warped when I kept giving myself two hour Gilmore Girls lunch breaks. But I remembered soon enough that I am a creature of habit and structure and like I said, I run on solar energy. So it needed some doing and undoing. But finally, I think I am there.

Working from home is an incredibly lonely job

Even if you as asocial AF on weekdays. I have written all about it here.

But it’s the best thing I have ever done for myself

Because what can possibly be better than waking up each morning and wondering what amazing story, word, sentence, thought, memory or inspiration your brain will throw up today! It’s been lovely and I can’t wait to find out what more is in store. Go me!

Posted in work, work life balance, writing | Leave a comment

To making words matter

Working from home, in complete isolation for most part, allows me to get away from the unnecessary clutter of words around me, in meetings, by the coffee machine, in the lift, early in the morning. I have not been one for small talk for over a decade now, taking more than or even just my share of voice in a meetings or social engagements. Because it felt pointless for most part. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like to talk. Boy do I love to talk, but rarely about things that don’t matter much, not to me any way. It was a constant struggle for me to not walk out of meetings the minute conversations got unnecessary. And suddenly, I don’t have to deal with them anymore. Suddenly, I have so much more bandwidth to just create things, dig deep into ideas I had forgotten about over the last ten years in the theatre of extroverted conversationalists, draw inspiration from sources I didn’t realize held so much potential, to just work. And for that, I am grateful.

But the best part about working from home is also by far the worst part. In the absence of people around me, every little 10 minute break during the day comes sprinkled with opinions on social media. Now, I love opinions. But the way we throw them around these days, in 140 characters, in tiny comment boxes, full of quick judgments and labels. The number of times I have fallen prey to exactly what I have been complaining about in the last few months is scary, bordering on hypocritical even. I deactivated my profiles once to get away but it is no longer a feasible option for me.

I have given in to the fact that for someone as opinionated as me, this need to voice every opinion, with no fear of judgment or looking stupid, is never going to really go away. My words, they fly. Sometimes in judgment, sometimes in reaction, sometimes in rage. They build themselves up but fall with a thud. Or they hang in the air like a hot, humid afternoon. They tumble out, unannounced, sometimes they shine, sometimes they look so bitter that they are beyond redemption. But the worst part? They sound meaningless to me when the moment has passed.

For the longest time, I remember being all about long form. I probably still am. I don’t see a lot of Facebook status updates that are as long as mine. But there is something about instant gratification of having said what I needed to and feedback too quick, too simplistic to really matter, that has started to trouble me even as I go on and on, unhinged. Long form on the other hand, lets me think, form my words in ways that make sense, check my own privilege and quick reactions to benign conditioning. It is time I got back to doing this more often for myself in an effort to understand the sum total of where my reactions are coming from and whether they make sense or not in the larger scheme of things.

Over the last few months, I have realised over and over again that all I really have are words. In 2000 words or 140 characters, blog posts or WhatsApp, rarely perfect, sometimes harsh. The least I can do is make them matter. Or at least try to.

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The year so far

Once again, my best laid plans to document my life and opinions regularly here on the blog have taken a back seat. Because 2017 is turning out to be a whirlwind of a year. In a very, very good way.

There has been some good news in my family, something that is taking a whole lot of my happy time planning and designing and chatting and getting giddy with excitement!

The house, the one we acquired over two years ago, is coming together and feels more tangible. We have finally figured where the coveted library will go, a bachpan ka sapna that I had almost forgotten till we got down to the nuts and bolts of what it will eventually look like. And suddenly, I am over the lack of an extra balcony and large windows that had been a sore point these last couple of years.

Home and chores, errands and family commitments have finally fallen in place like clockwork. Exactly how I like them.

I have had a lot of free time too, most of January. Almost as soon as 2016 ended at a secluded beach down south in Kerala, the unpleasant madness did too (touchwood). I had originally planned to spend this little patch of unadulterated freedom staying a little away from social media and doing more writing than I had these last few years. But Netflix  and Amazon Video practically took over my life. Gilmore Girls, Mad Men, a little inspiration, a little feel good warmth of a lovely small town, a little warm and fuzzy rose tinted nostalgia for agency life – I was living in parallel universe for at least eight hours a day and I am not complaining at all! This was the holiday my brain really needed!

But a decade of agency life means nothing if you can’t discipline yourself. Which is exactly what I did in the second half of January. When I got on to this figuring-out-life-and-other-stories journey late last year, R had a brilliant suggestion for me. It went, “think of or do ten things but don’t settle before the 11th”. I figured I first needed to get steadfast about just spending a few hours at my desk with zero distractions to even start the process of figuring things out. So that is what I did. And unexpected things happened! I landed an assignment where I get published multiple times a month on one of India’s most read portals. For the discerning judgmental fuck in me, it is not much. But for someone who has spent years ghost writing for other people, this was big. I hope to give it more personality over the next few months but in its current form too, it has takers. Likes, loves, shares and tags. If it is relatable to even one person trying to figure out work life, it means something (to me). And for now, I am getting that validation in bits and pieces. And I am counting my blessings. Truly.

There is another piece of feel good work that is in the works that I can’t talk about but I can say this – that it is more than what I had expected from myself and I am amazed and humbled, all at the same time. It is something I truly care about and I hope to write all about it as soon as I can.

Seven paragraphs down, I am finally down to what I really want to talk about. I have been in a really remote part of Gujarat these last couple of days, on a planning offsite of sorts. It has been a sweet spot of the love of places, love of the road, love of all-heart people willing to put their soul into an idea that I relate with. Also something I can’t talk about yet but I will say this – it is an opportunity of a lifetime and I didn’t think something like this would come by this soon. It is going to be hard work but I got it partly because of my ability to be 100% myself – loud, a little jumpy (those who like me call it energetic, I suppose), a little vague, but very very enthusiastic about stories, places, food, and the long and open road. This has never happened before and I can’t wait to discover all that is ahead of me.

It’s all uncertain, there is no promise of an annual review and an incremental edit on the paycheque. None of the good things about everything I have left behind (for now) but not a speck of the bad things either. I realised in the course of several conversations these last couple of days is that I am no longer looking for bigger purpose or fame/ awards from the work part of my life. I no longer want to be possessed by it at all times but there is no way I am going to take something up if it is not fun. Not satisfying, does not come with any real rewards. And is not just plain old fun. A decade of agency life taught me the need to put a premium on my time even as I find my fun, and for that I am grateful.

In many ways, 2017 is turning out to be the year my career aspirations come a full circle. That includes the kind of people I want around me, the form(s) of work I want to pursue, and all that I am really looking for. That feeling of being an odd sort of rockstar is back. It is all very real and tangible, there are the proverbial signatures on dotted lines. And me? I seem to be headed for things that promise to add dimensions to my life that I didn’t know were possible. And just like that, I feel like the queen of my own destiny (hence the picture :p). And now I know that that was what was really amiss these last few years. Counting my blessings? Hell YES. Touchwood.

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Posted in change, life, work | Leave a comment

The good, the bad, and the awesome

I have been putting off this 2016 memoir of sorts for weeks now. Because somehow, I am edging towards the belief that counting your life in years – both age and year – is probably the most pointless thing we have been taught to do. Like most things you’re taught to do, this plays on your self esteem sometimes because some things that you go through are inevitable. Some delays, some failures, some change of plans. And the only thing that really comes in the way of happily going with the flow is measuring achievements in days and years. Which is why one of the things I hate most about corporate jobs of our day and age is the annual review cycle. Not because it makes me feel like a failure (oh never! I usually have a good one and it is either because I am really good or the person on the other side of the table is just afraid of what I might do if I don’t like what I hear. Could be either one, really) but because growing and learning is an ongoing process. Putting it into 1 year size boxes is pretty pointless. But I digress. The point I was trying to make is that even as I try to move away from measuring myself in months and years, 2016 has been one hell of a year. It’s been the kind of year that truly needs documenting. More so because it felt like I have come a full circle. In more ways than one.

Most of this year had a recurring theme. The big move back. The excitement, the madness, the getting overwhelmed, the little bits of disappointment. The homecoming. The full circle.

Living away had me romanticising about home a whole lot more than I was used to when I lived here. In the middle of some of the conversations I had and some of things I heard, I was astounded with the sheer amount of disappointment I felt. When the hell did gender, colour, nationality become so important in my world? Why didn’t I remember it? Or does nostalgia really come with rose-tinted glasses? And yet, it was always easy to find reassurance. A conversation here, a tweet there, a road trip somewhere else. That is just as easy to find here at home. You just know where to look.

And that is pretty much the end of the bad part of 2016 :)

In the good parts, I wrote more than I had in the last few years. Because. The feels. I read a whole lot more. I moved to e-books late last year. And suddenly, in the absence of the middle man (bookstore), there was just so MUCH to read. I literally flowed from fiction to business to memoirs to everything else. Very few blogs though. Strangely refreshing.

I also travelled a lot. Let us see. 3 countries. 3 islands. 16 cities/ towns. 3 road trips. 4 buses. 11 flights. And with one last road trip and one more town left to go. Also, 3 temporary and 3 somewhat permanent homes. It’s truly been a year of being on the road. Of seeing things I didn’t expect to see in the places I did. Of meat chawal in the mountains. Of riding motorcycle in the Himalayas and feeling the cliched wind in my hair and crossing borders in a car in South East Asia. Of rediscovering Coorg. And adding a little Coonoor to the mix.  Of even crossing the story high seas on a wooden boat. Of many, many trips home. To parents, baby sister, friends. To cousins, nieces and a lone nephew. It was a year of reconnecting, rediscovering, taking it all in. It was a year of finding my roots AND my wings – both at the same time.

It was also the year of finding my restlessness, my game again. It was about moving on, more than once. It was about knowing the perfect time and the perfect state of mind to really move on in the hunt for something new, something fresh, something good. It was the year of remembering that restlessness is what defines me. The more I run away from it, the more it takes me in. And it was, in many many ways, about accepting it along with the borderline neurosis it can cause me.

And while a lot of this year has been about being overwhelmed by the constant din of discontent and questions that we didn’t know we’d need to ask – both close home and places far far away – most of it also ended in a tiny sliver of hope. Of a little clarity just seeping through the haze and flurry I had surrounded myself with all of this year.

I can definitely say that 2016 was probably the year I achieved (?) practically nothing useful and what I did “achieve”, in the traditional sense of the word (you know.. Career and work wise) didn’t have much use for me anymore. And yet, I was brave. And sometimes, that’s all you really need to be.

I had missed posts that read the way this one does as much as I had missed feeling like I was on to something new. On to something not as easy or comfortable as predictability but something that seems to me a whole lot better right now.

Yet again, 2016 was the year of  wondering and wandering. More than ever before. It was the year of moving forward and yet, retracing some of those old tracks. And finding out, eventually, that this didn’t mean I was moving backwards. It just meant I was coming a full circle. That life was coming a full circle. And it has. And if I have learned one thing in my 30+ years of seeing life turn out the way it always does, it is knowing when to be grateful. Or full of hope. And December this year has been all about that.

So here you go – thank you, 2016.

 

Posted in adult life, change, got meme'd | Leave a comment

A little rain and a lot of mountains

No creativity there in the title. I just returned from the mountains and suddenly,  the rain came pouring down in Bangalore and now is a good time as any to write. Also because I am feeling inordinately upbeat about 2016 as opposed to how things were, the last time I blogged.

This year has truly been overwhelming. So much that I have a year end blog post that started at some point last month and I am not even close to done. When you spend a whole year transitioning between homes and states of mind after almost half a decade of cold stillness (because that is what it seems like, in retrospect), being uncharacteristically overwhelmed is only natural. And that is pretty much what defined the year for me. But more on that later.

For now, I am just thankful. Grateful for all that this year has been, all the lessons, the perspectives, the change, the travels, the newfound ability to see and hear the other side when I could and clamp down when it became unproductive – all of that. The mountains sealed it for me, in their own freezing, quiet, adventurous, gorgeous way.

In the unusual quiet that I found in immense movement these last few days, I have had that one perfect moment. The one that told me that 2016 was meant to lead me here. To this specific place in the world and this specific space in my head. Details may or may not follow but for now, I will leave you with a picture that, at least in my head, says everything my words won’t let me. The sun is shining, the road wide open if just a little hard, and I think I am on to something. And just like that, I am ok :)

Posted in adult life, growing up, learn-unlearn, life, serendipity, travel | Leave a comment