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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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.

 

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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

Done

Last night, after much humming and hawing and even more relentless ranting, I finally deactivated my Facebook and Twitter just to get away from the din for a bit and calm myself down.

You know the turf wars of social media since 2014? Yup, the one that is going increasingly down the drain with each passing day? I may have got over-involved in it recently. And why not? Considering I had practically taken it upon myself to call everyone’s bluff! Yup, everyone. Not only the liberals or the bhakts, no sir. Not only the misogynists or the rural Americans or the free spirited ones. Oh no.  And what started as some strong opinions over NDTV ban and moved on to the currency debate with bits and pieces of US elections escalated quickly. Not abusive. Well, a little abusive. But when you’re called a “fake liberal intellectual hypocritical desi unpatriotic” and “bhakt” within a span of one week, you do start to wonder if the problem lies with you and your need to voice all opinions, no matter how odd, how contradictory, how quickly changing. How full of angst, at practically everyone.

First came the Fawad Khan and NDTV bans. And yes, in a country as free spirited and democratic as the desh I know, there were still people who totally stood by it. Because.. You know.. Jawaans. Then of course came the demonetisation. Which was by and large appreciated by everyone except a few. They didn’t stop to hear about or even see the implementation or what steps had been taken, both in the past and now, to take care of those without bank accounts. No, we all jumped the gun. Some of us in praise, some of us full of rants. Of course when the implementation was horrid, to say the least, op-eds after op-eds came about, some repeating rhetorics, some just blatantly fear mongering. And obviously, bankers started to feel like jawans on national duty, claiming their share of waah-waahi, which really became the breaking point for me. Especially after my own experience with HDFC and some power-trippy stories I heard and experienced in banks. Seeing the exact same behaviour that I had foolishly assumed the move would solve, was not a happy feeling. I’d forgotten who we really are as a population. I have been an agency slave and I have known corporate slaves. Hell my father has been a PSU-slave for over 15 years now (yup, they exist). So working, willingly or unwillingly, after work hours doesn’t exactly define “national duty” in my world. But oh the self-righteousness of bankers claiming to be the new jawans because they worked extra hours following a GOVERNMENT directive, was a new low. And I was done.

A few words that have stayed with me after seeing live how social media drama really unfolds following any major government decision in our country – turf wars, self-righteousness, hero-worship/ rebels without a cause, confirmation bias. And it is all so bloody sickening, I wonder if there is a way to filter out all social and political commentary (if only to avoid enraging or engaging), bad grammar, and other such polarising things on social media without the extensive and often, grossly politically incorrect task of unfriending, unfollowing, and starting afresh. I wonder if there is a way to retain only happy smiley greens, awesome travel feeds, and jokes. Or do I just have to stay away from all of it except Instagram. Or if there is a way to have everything go on as it is but not get so involved that it ends in blocking, unfriending or worse, deactivating.

Yes, social media and popular opinion does tend to take up an inordinate amount of mindshare from me and maybe, that is the problem. How does one stop being a news junkie? How does one stop getting so damn affected? How does one consistently and relentlessly remember that everyone has their reasons? Or  stop wondering if they really do?

In other words, do I need a therapist?

(Not all of it has been bad. I had an amazing few days back in Patna, seeing all over again the things that make me who I am, the things I escaped, and finding incredible evolution in the most unexpected places. I want to write all about it but in a way that does justice to it. So first, I need to space out for a while. Even if just to decompress if nothing else. Mountains are calling, and I am hoping that everything will fall in place as soon as I see the Himalayas. I will be back. Soon.)

Posted in i judge, India, rant alert, social networking | Leave a comment

आज कुछ नया करते हैं

For a few months now, since the end of 2015 to be specific, there has been a pretty big shift in how I have been looking at life, work and career. Suddenly, I felt the goal posts were shifting in ways I never thought  they would. I am perhaps coming across as incredibly indecisive on this blog alone, but that’s what crossroads, especially ones at my age, are meant to do. The churn and grind of separating the wheat from the chaff. The least I can do is to be honest about it.

It’s been an overwhelming year. One that unfolded somewhat like this, starting January –

  • Get an itch
  • Have a small-ish big idea, nurture it, plan for it, reach for the ready line all pumped up and excited and ready to kill it
  • Then That Guy Up There decides to fulfill an old wish instead
  • Live THAT dream – andhra meals and filter coffee and earthy long drives and everything, go with the flow
  • Get a little intimidated by your own plans and the amount of uncertainty they present while loving everything else about the fulfilling of this dream
  • Decide to put yourself in the same career box that you were trying to get out of a few months ago
  • Come face to face with everything that is so awesome about staying in the box – fun people, decent and more importantly, regular pay cheque, 4 pm coffee, small wins
  • Get over-enthusiastic till you realize that only the box has changed, the heartburns are probably worse. You knew ALL ABOUT THEM but more importantly, you knew what it does to a person like you
  • It shouldn’t be a vicious circle but it can be, for someone who feels as strongly about things as I do, someone who can be idealistic or worse, has a slightly odd perspective on work, life, ambition, and achievement. A perspective that neither fits in the world of “winners” nor “losers”. Someone who has spent a lifetime feeling like a square peg in a round hole. And someone who knows they could deal with all of the heartburns and trade offs at any other point in life except this one.

I wish I could go into the details but I can’t. Definitely not without what might seem like wallowing in self pity. So we will leave it at that.

In the middle of all this, I am mostly just annoyed with myself for just not being able to make up my mind up until that one defining moment. For appearing to be indecisive. And the line I have been in for a better part of the decade, appearances matter.

You would think that on the wrong side of the 30s, I’d know exactly what I wanted out of my career or worse, I’d have achieved it already. Tell you what. For all practical purposes, I have “achieved” what needed to be “achieved” in all these years, in the most old school sense of the word. A resume that looks good, choices that are all mine, client endorsements, timely promotions and enough money to feel like the “strong headed but very cool agency slave” I (sometimes) pretend to be. But something has been amiss. At least right now. It could be temporary, a fork stuck in the road, a version of me that this part of my life needs me to be. And I know that my special box of pay cheques and review cycles will not get close to scratching this particular itch.

In my mind, I know what will. But it needs me to be brave. To not just settle for the comfort, 4 pm coffees, camaraderie and trade offs (the many, many trade offs) of my box. I thought I got over the need to do this, to question myself and my life goals. But clearly, I haven’t. And tell you what, despite what it makes me appear to be, I am thanking my stars for giving me the flexibility that lets me do this.

It’s time. This time around, I hope I will have the balls to stay still and figure out what I had set out to. Hopefully I will have the foolhardiness to do it, if that’s what it takes. To find that sweet spot of doing what I am good at and achieving a little more than reviews, small, insignificant wins, and incremental edits on the pay cheque out of it. I will ward off the slow days and boredom with all the new (old, really) avenues that have opened up since we moved homes – family and responsibilities, old old friends, earthy cafes, a bit of travel, and bus rides to the hills. I will write all about it. And I will not let minor changes in life direction come in the way of doing all the things my heart says I need to in this next one year. Watch this space.

Posted in adult life, choice, freedom, learn-unlearn, life, Sabbatical diaries | Leave a comment

Disjointed thoughts

It’s one of those days. After a longish bout of flu and other routine madness, my brain’s finally on an overdrive. One that’s full of really random thoughts. Thoughts that are bordering on epiphanies but aren’t really there.

For instance, this over-involvement that I am prone to these days – this is me in India. I remember feeling extremely disturbed by how I used to only go through the motions in my life in KL. Just senseless structure, predictability and such. In India? Oh, no. It really is like a movie playing out all the time. This is not just chaos. It is an assault on all your senses including your mental faculties. But no, assault is not the right word. Because you don’t really mind it. It gets you thinking, feeling so much more. There are opinions and perspectives. And you’d be a fool to choose a side and stick to it. Because nowhere else more than India do you feel like the blacks and whites don’t exist. No one side is all correct or all wrong. In a lot of ways, I missed feeling like this. I missed the fact that things, relationships were too simple. They were either there or they weren’t and that was that. I was born in India and I am conditioned to feeling like my mental faculties are being challenged enough only when I am dealing with so many uncertainty and opinions. It makes me want to think of things like mindfulness again. It makes me think. And that, I am thankful for. But it can be exhausting sometimes, this tight rope walk when you are trying to learn from the opinions without really taken in by any one side, one team. But it is doable and that’s what I am aiming for.

I also realised that I spent the last few years trying not to stand out too much. I was not trying to fit in. I was trying not to stand out enough that it draws too much attention to me. Back home, I am comfortable with standing out, as I usually do. Because how different can I possibly be, here?

Etc. Not a coherent train of thoughts, not a coherent post.

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Misfit

Bang in the middle of thinking about all the developments in the last few weeks, I was struck by this slightly scary, slightly awesome thought. That if I were to have an epitaph, it would practically read “ignored all sane advice till some of it turned out wrong”. It’s been a recurring theme on my many blogs, first out of rebellion, then out of knowing that fitting myself in a box of any kind will never really work for me.

I have also realised that for all my love for desh, my inability to really “fit in” gets far more pronounced here in India or among desi communities outside. I don’t know if it is because I give a longer rope to non-Indians and don’t really expect to fit in or it’s because we’re just a whole lot more boxed in our approach to life. But I have never really been part of a conventional, accepted way of life. And the times when I try, I fail miserably. So many instances, all now unnecessary/ unimportant failures for most part.

While I will not really get into the details of my personal life that make me a bit of a misfit (one look at me in my elements explains half of it), professionally this is the most pronounced it will ever get. I have nothing but gratitude for where nine years of walking my own weird path has landed me. But I cannot forget that I started out knowing fully well all I wanted was to have fun and earn some money while I was at it.  Just knowing that my life did not depend on it. That’s what lets me do whatever-the-F-I-feel-like at work. And it works! The fact that I learned enough to have a career in a specific discipline was just an added advantage. The fact that it pays for many flights of fancy, makes my dad proud (I made sure I set the bar really low), and brings me incessant but insignificant wins – they are all just recent developments and not things I ever aimed for. But boy they make this life hard to quit. Or try something new. Or stick with sabbatical decisions because my sanity practically depends on it right now. For someone with non-existent lifestyle aspirations but extremely high motivation to just have fun, this should be an easy bet. But any sane person would tell me that all I need is to put my head down and stay at it because who thinks of opting out when the going is this good?

And that’s why it is time to tune out sane advice. On personal life and professional. If all this sane advice turns out wrong, nothing really changes. If it doesn’t (and there’s a very small chance that that might happen too), और भी ग़म हैं ज़माने में..

Watch this space.

Posted in agency life, life | Leave a comment