That thing I rarely talk about now

In just five days, R and I will complete a whole eight years of marriage. Eight days into a month that we are going to mostly spend apart. EIGHT. YEARS. It has been a recurring theme in my mind of late, that I have now lived with R for almost a decade. And boy, what a ride this has been. The reason I don’t write (or even think) much about our marriage anymore because of how much it has become a part of me. How much in sync we have been and how we have both come into our own, he with his waiting before reacting, hearing every side of the story and still not forming a harsh opinion, putting his all into his work, tuning out the cacophony, and evaluating – constantly. Me? I am revelling in the cacophony, forming opinions, changing them, reacting, letting the winds of information, noise, and newfangled ambitions blow me wherever they want before stepping away for a bit and evaluating with a clear head.

These last eight years have been calm, peaceful, easy. And I can claim pretty much no credit for that. On the surface, it all just fits. It flows. Beneath the surface, our parents are ageing, our responsibilities have taken shape. Together, we have made momentous decisions. Just flowing, from one phase to another. Mindfully aware of the consequences of our decisions, even more aware of the camaraderie, the staunch, single minded support that makes the decisions that much easier. They make responsibilities feel like child’s play, even when we are aware of the significance, the landmark nature of each of them.

We have argued, we have weighed each other’s opinions, we have challenged them. I have had my share of heartburn and small victories challenging rules, questioning “the way things are done” – loudly and unabashedly. R has rebelled too, but in his own quiet way, firmly standing his ground, and mostly being sensible. If I don’t take no for an answer from the world, he seems to tell the world he doesn’t really care. And together, our approach to the rules somehow just fit. Like pieces of the puzzle, he the square one – straight, honest, focused, determined and most of all, giving. And me, the amoeba, shifting weight, shifting shape, wondering, wandering, giving. But also taking. Mental bandwidth, questions, indecision, relentless analysing and overanalysing. R? He gives. The bandwidth, the answers, the gentle goading to go out there and do what I need to, the holding back when I go too far in my vague, fantastical parallel universe, wondering, aloud, why the world is not ideal.  He gives ideas. Things to mull over. The reasons why the world isn’t what I want it to be. The reality of conditioning, that often escapes me. I lap it all up and present a whole new question in return. And somehow, the exchange goes on. Fun is made. Questions are held close. Answers, even more so.

The last time I wrote about our anniversary, it was all new. Three years down, all the way back in 2012. We were still learning to live with each other, and we were not entirely adults as far as life experience went. Now that we are, adults with life experience that is, our everydays still don’t feel any different. Our response to life is still as different as chalk and cheese. And yet, our world view has taken a whole new shape, one that is a bit of both of us. The individualistic elements are palpable but the final shape itself – all new. I am just that much more cautious, he just that much more open. And this life we have made for ourselves? All the new developments and responsibilities and work and learning (and some disappointments) have been taking our individual mindshares now more than ever, and yet life never felt easier. Or better.

Many, many, many years ago, I had a quote somewhere on the inside panel of my study table and then, get this, in my first ever email signature. It said “There are too many mediocre things in life. Love shouldn’t be one of them.” I just didn’t know what extraordinary love feels like. It feels ordinary. It feels like something you don’t think or write about. But it’s there. Palpable. In the decisions, the changes. In the jokes. In the laughter. In conversations. In the letting go. In the holding your ground. In the small things.

(Touchwood)

Posted in adult life, growing up, life, marriage | Leave a comment

What is happening to me!?

Picture this – I work from home, without colleagues. R works from office, clocking in 12-13 hours a day (hell yeah, he is clearly changing the world). When he does get home, there is a lot of conversation, some comfortable silences, and diving head first into mangoes. None of the constant, incessant bitching about my bosses, my clients, my colleagues. Those bitching sessions feel like a lifetime ago.

There are some weeks when I don’t see the outdoors five days in a row. It is almost June and apart from a trip back home to Bombay, one to Gujarat on work, and another mini getaway in Wayanad, I haven’t had a proper holiday.

I have spent the last six months (almost), holed up in my house writing my heart out. Well, writing, researching, writing a little more. Reading. Listening to music. Having miles long conversations with old, old friends, about happiness, contentment, life, perspective, lessons, an odd judgments, a ton of jokes, some nostalgia. Some days, I go out and meet people for long, lazy lunches in the middle of the week in the middle of the day. My weekends though, feel no different from what they used to be like some months ago, except I no longer feel the need to drown my angst against authority and unnecessary, outdated rules in scotch, sometimes beer.

The TV is rarely switched on unless there is something very compelling I have been meaning to watch.

On some rare days, I cook. Even more rarely, I bake. Even more rarely, I do some yoga.

In a previous lifetime, I’d have lost my mind by now but barring some PMS-y episodes, I’ve been walking around with a spring in my step. Of course it took a fair bit of consciously ignoring the news sharers and arguers and trolls and troublemakers and the social media feminists who just won’t stop talking about their first world problems, with zero perspective on what real repression looks like but shitloads of privilege. It was only so I could make up my own mind about things. I am far from it, still. But at least the projected angst against this unjust world has disappeared.

The good part about this lack of real, flesh and blood people around me constantly is that I am excitedly looking forward to two family dos coming up in the next 20 days or so. The old certainty that vacations where the extended family has any role to play are a waste of time, is now old news! In spite of all the heartburn one of them promises to be, with its regressive opinions, insensitive jokes and the special kind of scorching heat the Great East has been blessed with. Because hey, the food’s going to be great, the conditioning runs deep, and sometimes, between being warm, kind, and content and being correct, being warm, kind, and content is not such a bad thing.

And just like that, I seem to have made my peace with stillness. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME!?

 

Posted in growing up, work life balance | 2 Comments

We’ll be ok

India. You know that place that infuriates me but I can’t stop loving it? Somewhere between the relocation madness that lasted longer than I imagined (and that is all me and my inability to not feel feel feel strongly strongly strongly) and dealing with truly desi jugaad nonsense that I find funny and deeply enterprising all at the same time, I was beginning to cross over to a particular “wing” on social media. I was filled with annoyance with the government suddenly, mainly because I was having to pay taxes now. And I was rather irritated with the Hindutva messages that just wouldn’t stop coming into my inbox each day. I didn’t see the reasons for their anger (yes, it exists and the things they have done out of it is not justified but there’s ALWAYS a reason for mass hysteria, even if you and I don’t agree with it). At the same time, I didn’t exactly see the reasons for the mass hysteria among the liberals either. And here is what I have figured out from a little silent, slightly more objective but deeply unscientific study of the Twitterati in general.

RW trolls – nothing to say that I haven’t already said.

LW angries – The small irony is that we are letting some really strange kind of people shape this side’s narrative on social media, just because they often do it in impeccable English. These are people with daddy issues who can’t/ won’t address them with daddy, will continuously fall into the SAME loser Tinder loop with the same kind of people, career issues that they won’t do shit about resolving or taking charge. Expecting adult problems to solve themselves while they rant away, often anonymously on social media is rather, I don’t know, entitled and childish? Their solution to Pakistan and Kashmir likely is Modi sly tweeting Pakistan government. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work like that.

Add to that the fact that there’s traffic, annoyingly unplanned infrastructure in spite of all the taxes everyone has to pay, and the grey areas at work and home that can only be set right with reasonably steely balls, often unrealistic because outside of Twitter, we are generally nice and want to get through life with as little confrontation as possible. I can’t blame them.

Twitter outrage is just that. It is the angst of normal, everyday people dealing with normal, everyday shit. Unfortunately now, they are shaping narratives and opinions. I was wrong in believing that Twitter (or social media) runs parallel to real life now. It doesn’t. It is far, far removed. In real life, my Muslim neighbour with his large Urdu/ Arabic board on the door and me with the lakshmi feet I haven’t taken off since Diwali, coexist peacefully. The bazaars with their bade kebabs and their mandirs still exist. And I, for one, can conclude things only on the basis of what I see and experience. Not on the basis of a publicity hungry woman who tweeted that women in UP got raped because they ate beef. Yes, that happened.

Women in general are still an oppressed lot, sure. But when you see hordes of them on their bikes each morning, dupattas and scarves flying in the air, off to take their rightful place in the economy, you know we will be alright. We have come a long way. For a country as large, diverse, populated as ours, change takes longer than usual. But slowly, painfully we will get there. I wish we could do it “single-mindedly” too, but I have realised that single-mindedness is not possible here in desh. We have been too free and too, too diverse for far too long (and that is a good thing) for any change to be single-minded and 100% inclusive in all ways, on all days. Not going to happen, unfortunately. Being able to see that is just common sense, if you hold on to your inflexible value systems for just a minute and see things from the perspective of sheer practicality. The government, I think, is dealing with the cards it has been dealt out. Just like the rest of us. Of course I’d like them to do better and do it fast, but I think I am willing to wait it out too. The worst that will happen is that nothing will really change. I am good with that, honestly.

In general my feeling is that we are still fine. Nothing is as bad as it seems at the hands of keyboard warriors. The country is bigger than opinions, left or right. It is bigger than one hardly there PM, if that is what he is. I don’t know. I am neither trained nor impulsive enough to decide how good or bad he will be for the country, right now. We are STILL dealing with the good and bad of Nehruvian politics, it is hard to conclude that a five year regime with Modi will change the fabric of the country – in good ways or bad. If only we had the patience to wait and watch, criticise without trolling when necessary, and just bloody WAIT for five minutes before concluding matters that have way too many layers for any Twitter and social media pontification to really solve.

But till then, the outrage in a parallel universe, goes on unhinged. Maybe there are reasons for it, maybe not. Maybe this outrage is what will eventually save us, maybe it will just die down like Orkut did. Whatever happens, I know one thing for sure – there is always more to things than what meets the eye. And there are always 100 sides to every story. I just need to remember it more often.

 

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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?

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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.

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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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