A Mid Year Review of the 2017 Plan

In the month of April, I was involved in a minor accident, that resulted in a knee injury and a badly cracked phone screen. It was an oddly proud moment for me.

I see you going, “Huh?” Allow me to explain.

Growing up, I didn’t fall down much. I had one big fall in ’92 (hurt my nose, shin, and foot), and another big fall in ’07 (fractured my elbow). Smaller, forgettable injuries may have taken place, who knows? This injury-free childhood and adolescence is a result of a life lived with extreme caution. When you live over-cautiously, you rarely make mistakes. Nothing, of course, is a bigger mistake than not ever making mistakes.

By this, I mean actions you perform out of your own volition. There were plenty of things that happened to me that I see as mistakes, but ones that I always found someone else to pin the blame on. There’s only so much anger and resentment you can live with before you start suspecting if you’ve developed a victim complex or if you’re simply so unlucky that you’re always at the wrong place at the wrong time. Both of these explanations were unacceptable to me. I had reached my threshold.

The accident I mentioned happened on a trip I took. I’ve written in multiple birthday-resolution posts about how I pine to take trips but life does not allow me to. Taking off on my own was a big deal for me. Getting injured, therefore, was an indication of reduced caution. Reduced caution was an indication of being open to more risks, being open to finally making mistakes. Being open to finally learning from them. Being open to finally taking ownership of my life. There is something so liberating about being to look in the mirror and say, “I am the reason I’ve hurt my knee and broken my phone. Me. No one else, but me.”

I started this year with some major stocktaking and a desire to go back to the root of what caused my depression and fix it. I even decided to document my journey, with the hope that it may benefit someone. What I didn’t mention (explicitly) was I had decided to go back to college to earn a Master’s degree – that had been my big plan at the start of the year. That didn’t work out (for this year) because the Uni I really wanted to go to rejected my application, and my second choice, where I got accepted, was asking for the kind of tuition I couldn’t afford even with student loans.

I have a tattoo on my right wrist – a tribute to two books I like – that, roughly translated, means to accept whatever happens in life because it has all been written beforehand. A rather fatalistic view that, at the beginning of this year, I forced myself to reject and take action to affect the outcome that I wanted. It is true that I once believed in fatalism (hence the tattoo). But such a world view makes us complacent. You wade through life, accepting your lot, believing, hey, this is all predetermined anyway. 

For this reason, I’m glad that I did something this year: applied to college, returned to writing, took three trips (so far), became more accepting of things I cannot change, and more that I will speak about when the time is right. Whatever the result may have been, I can’t say I sat idly by, watching life unfold. From here on, whatever mistakes I make will be my own, and my scars will make me as proud as my accomplishments will.

While I’m no longer the kind of fatalist I started out as, I do still believe there’s a plan in the cosmic scheme of things that we cannot see. However, that is no reason for us to be lazy. Good things come to those who, instead of waiting for miracles to happen, get off their asses and make miracles happen.


Linking to #ChattyBlogs

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There She Goes Again, With Her Dancing Shoes

It was in the third grade (or second, or fourth, I forget) that they decided to split the dance and gymnastics classes at my school. At first, all the students of a class would attend both. After the split, girls attended dance and boys attended gymnastics. If you had a written note from your parents, you could attend gymnastics even if you were a girl. Boys either did not want to attend dance (or their parents did not want them to), or were not given the option. I’m inclined to believe the former. This was the 90s and schools just casually propagated certain stereotypes this way.

We had been learning kathak until then. That year they made us switch to bharatnatyam. We were asked to wear a frilly skirt over our school uniforms. The new dance teacher was a formidable looking woman who wore a teardrop bindi that started between her eyebrows and touched her hairline.

Every year, I looked forward to the day we got new books and other supplies from school. This included a new pair of ghungru – for dancing. But then I was a skinny, awkward little thing whose ghungru came loose and slowly got dragged across the dance floor, held by an almost undone knot around my ankles. Add to it that bharatnatyam and I didn’t get along as well as kathak and I did. I thought I wanted to switch to gymnastics then, and chop my hair off like the other girls who chose that route.

My mother, an accomplished bharatnatyam dancer from a time in her life pre-marriage/pre-kids, took this as a personal affront (which is weird, because I was never enrolled in lessons outside of what was offered in school, but we’ll get to that). She had her waterworks and emotional blackmail at the ready. To which my father, when I thrust a pen and paper under his nose to write the note, said, “You broke your mother’s heart. You can even stop going to school from tomorrow.” Yup, my family is the overreacting kind.

Anyway, ghunghrus trailed, the elastic band of the skirt pinched, and a deadly looking teardrop bindi made me wanna pee my pants every time it looked my way. Then we moved, as we did every time, and the dancing stopped. Flash forward to a stranger asking my mother why I, the daughter of a once-famous (or so I hear) dancer, never learned it myself. She giggled in that schoolgirl way and left it at that. Later that day, I repeated the question to her. She had her reasons. I had my minor resentments.

I danced anyway, for school functions and such. I knew my limitations as a dancer, but I also knew I had fun while dancing. That’s all that mattered. And my teachers had enough confidence that I would not mess up on stage.

Flash forward to me as a 25 year old, dancing (if you could call it that) with a bunch of my friends atop a platform to steps that had nothing to do with the slow sad song that was playing (I think the DJ was going through a rough patch. You’d guess the same if you knew which songs he played). Best day of my life. Until…

Flash forward to me as a 27 year old. My friend B was teaching me some sick moves, which I was copying with my two left feet and some mustered grace. At some point, I tried to show her that step from Timber, slipped, and landed on my ass. Several hands shot out to help me up. I’d never laughed that hard before. Best day of my life! (So far)

Last year B asked me to join dance classes with her, to which I replied, “Uhhh, I don’t think so!” What followed was that she joined the classes and I went off to Pondicherry. And you all know how that turned out.

Then it started gnawing at me and I wondered, Should I? After all, the best days in my life have seen me dancing. And by dancing, I mean, looking like someone drowning calling for help, but whatever. After toying with the question for a bit, I decided, Yeah, I should.

It… did not go very well.

Joining the dance class was like going back to the skinny, awkward little thing that I was (minus the skinniness). I realized I cannot keep count in my head, you know, of the 1, 2, 3, step, 5, 6, 7, step variety. Dancing while completely sober is not that fun, and dancing with strangers (not to mention more graceful and with more practice) will make you feel more like a misfit than you already do most of the time. (Also, some other shit happened that day that I may talk about during the A to Z Challenge. Or not. I’m not sure yet, just keep your eyes peeled, yeah?)

So I left, thinking, Ok, so what’s new, I always quit everything, boohoo. And then I told myself, This is why we never wanted to learn dance in the first place. It’s ok. (Sour grapes, I tell ya)

Flash forward to a few days ago when another friend told me about yet another place from where he is taking dance lessons. Another form of dance. One which I wanted to learn a long time ago, but never did because I’m a graceless two-left-feeter.

And now it’s begun to gnaw again. Should I give myself another chance to learn? Or just accept that any form of real dancing isn’t for me?

PS: I write some of my posts in advance and schedule them, including this one, so it’s possible that by the time you’re reading this, I have already joined said lessons. I’m impulsive like that.

Changes, Self-Indulgence, and The Four Year Cycle

Of late, this rough little slimy rope has been growing around my mind telling me I sound overly self indulgent, a la Elizabeth Gilbert from what I assume to be a pre-Eat Pray Love era. I have criticized the book in the past because I felt it was the work of a privileged person who had the means to indulge if she so wished. But I stand here corrected, because unless we’ve been on the edge of chaos and confusion, I don’t think we are in a position to judge. So humor me while I too find my footing like she did.

While I do not have the resources to take a year off work and go eating in Italy or cycling in Bali, I do know that I’m going to move out of my comfortable box. For two whole years now, I have been caught in this conflict between stagnancy and listlessness. This is partly because I’m used to things changing – change, as the saying goes, has been the only constant in my life.

Growing up, we changed cities every four years (give or take one year). Which meant every four years, I had to leave behind friends, houses, familiar settings. Which means, even now, while I am surprisingly loyal to my friends, I remain a tad detached out of fear of being eventually uprooted from their lives. This is my normal.

This paved the way for the identity issues I’ve spoken about before. This also paved the way for the what bothers me most: the lack of a place I can call home. I’m perpetually homesick for a place I do not even know for sure exists. (And I’ve written so many times about this subject, I sound repetitive even to myself).

This year, I will complete eight years in Bangalore. That’s double of what I’m used to. This February, I will have lived in my current residence for four years. Those who know me know that every part of me rejected this house since the day I moved in. The reasons why I have my name on the contract, the forceful ways I’m tied to it – all of it only caused me to reject it more. You cannot turn a house into a home if you’re so busy disconnecting from it. Did I give it a try? Yes, because as I mentioned above, it’s a house that’s been forced on me, so goddammit, I tried to make it work. But eventually you reach a breaking point. One where the dissonance around you shakes everything you know and you’re willing to let go of it all. Why now and not before? That’s a story for another day.

The next part of my grand 2017-figure life out plan/idea is that I’ve decided to move to a different city. Which city? I don’t know. Am I jinxing it by speaking too soon about it? Maybe. Is the world a hostile place right now (quite possibly on the brink of war)? I do believe it. But eight years ago also the world was a shaky place and I still quit a cozy job to move cities for my own reasons – a move which was unanimously labeled “hasty and stupid” by family and friends. I still like to think I made it, professionally at least. Only back then, I knew where to move and what I wanted to do. Elizabeth Gilbert knew where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do. Right now, I do not know either.

Who’s got advice for me?

Decisions at a (Metaphorical) Gun Point

I had life all figured out as a six year old. There was nothing to it – you grew up, became an adult, and then everything would be at your fingertips. Quite simple.

It was as I grew older that I felt I was losing fragments of my grand plan, and that things weren’t as transparent as they seemed. This led to maturity giving way to immaturity. Like I’m Benjamin Button, but on the inside. Frankly, I was at the peak of my maturity and ambition at age six.

How did I get here?

There’s a reason why we are told to make decisions with a cool head. The reason being, the decisions we make at a metaphorical gun point are often terrible.

Depression does not allow you to have a cool head. It is a permanent gun pointed at you when you have it. Your actions seem mechanical and you feel you’re just going through the motions. At the same time, there’s an incessant restlessness in you, a tingling in your feet that tells you to run away, do something reckless just so that something happens and you feel something. Anything to forget what’s hurting you; anything to feel anything else.

In December, I made some poor choices out of the desperation that comes from being there – I got back in touch with a group of people I had broken ties with because I intensely dislike their hypocritical and negative outlook towards life [it drains your energy right out], just so I could have someone to talk to. I was so terrified of the fact that if someone did not tie me up, I might harm myself, and my future looked so blank and bleak (mostly blank) that I just wanted someone from the future to come and tell me everything was going to be OK. Reassurance. I wanted to take a trip, just to get away from everything. I wanted to relocate to a different city, because I felt claustrophobic over here all of a sudden.

I held myself back.  For once I let lessons learnt in the past rule me. While I did reconnect with the people I mentioned above, and also may have said/done some borderline imbecilic things, I did not let myself make any decisions that would in the long run have severe repercussions. I decided to give myself a month to “calm down” so to speak.

A month later, the immediate restlessness had subsided and I collected my follies from the previous month. Whatever hurt me then was still hurting, but not in a slice-your-heart-open way. I was definitely calmer, could sleep better, and while I still desperately wanted to see a therapist and get help, I was stopped by the doubts I have on the competencies of Indian therapists, given some less than satisfactory experiences I had had in the past [If anyone reading this has a recommendation, I would surely welcome it]. I considered a career change, and when nothing came to light, and I began to feel restless and directionless again. I did the only thing that I could think of then – call up my oldest friend in the middle of the night and cry (this is not alarming – she’s used to it by now, I think).

My friend and I look alike; everyone tells us so. When my son was a year old, he met her and was confused as hell. It is because of this that when I look at her, I think of her as me in a parallel universe – a universe where I have not made the mistakes I’ve made. I always looked up to her for her independence and her levelheadedness. She never bowed down to parental pressure (yet another gun point of sorts) and has so far made a good path for herself. So imagine my shock when I was crying that night about how lost I was feeling and she replied with, “Dude, we’re all lost.” Of course, I insisted I was more lost, and that at least she had a plan. Turns out she also did not have a plan. No one has a plan.

In any case, having a plan negates everything I believe in. But I had assumed as a six year old that by now, I would be thirty and thriving. Instead I’m thirty and confused. Which is frightening, because a decade ago, I was twenty and confused. I have said it before that nearly every mistake I’ve made in the past twelve years can be traced back to one great mistake. So while I still do not have a plan, contrary to what I had hoped for at the end of my previous post, and may never have one, what I do have is an idea: to retrace my steps to that one great mistake, and start over.

Let’s see where this goes.

The Errors of the Super-Specific Vertical Goal-Oriented Way of Living

Right before my high school boards, my aunt took my cousins and me to a temple. After the overnight journey, we little ones, of course, just wanted some sleep. But my aunt was having none of it. She wanted us up and ready by an ungodly (pun unintended) hour because the belief went that if you prayed at a certain time, all your prayers would be heard by the great Gods above. So, after a dip in the freezing 4 am waters of the holy lake, we marched (barefoot) to the temple. And when my aunt ordered “Now!”, we prayed for that high score in board exams that would soar through rooftops and put our neighbors to shame (cos it’s always about one-upping the neighbors).

In most Indian families, children aren’t taught to aim very high. Or – let me rephrase – we are taught to aim high, but not far. Aim vertical, not horizontal. We are taught to “pray” for high marks, but aren’t allowed or encouraged to explore our options beyond that. It wasn’t until my first job interview, when the interviewer asked me, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” that I realized, damn, I never thought that far ahead. I’ve been, just, winging it all this while.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the specific score that I had prayed for (and mind you, it was specific – I didn’t want a multiple of 5 and I didn’t like odd numbers, so goddamn, it was specific). Here’s why – God, if he/she exists, is different from a genie. Fundamentally speaking, a genie says “Your wish is my command.” God, on the other hand, says, “Dude, IDGAF.” God isn’t obliged to give you anything you ask for, even if you take all the dips in the holy lake as you like and die of pneumonia. Not his/her problem.

I have struggled with spirituality and belief for a while now. I cannot blindly accept an all-omni-blah being, like most people of faith do. It conflicts with this other thing I have called rational thought. On the other hand, sometimes, it’s comforting to have a parent-like figure to think about. I don’t pray (or make wishes) anymore, even if I’m sometimes forced to go to temples by the family. And the whole charade of lighting lamps and offering flowers is to me just that – a charade, one I refuse to participate in. But there’s always someone telling you certain places of worship just “work” (see, that alone is in contrast to the all-powerful theory – why do some places “work” and others don’t?). On top of that, there are now certain places that work for certain things – like a government office and its departments.

So I rolled my eyes when our tour guide in Kodaikanal said he was taking us to a church where you could ask for anything you wanted, and all your desires would be fulfilled, etc., etc. Not this again. At least, it isn’t 4 am.

So, with half a belief system, I marched, armed with yet another super-specific vertical goal. It wasn’t even half a belief. On a scale of Miracles Happen to Haha Yeah Right, I was at Muffled Laughter, But Filled With Doubt.

I was almost at the altar when I changed my mind. I didn’t care about my super-specific vertical goal (SSVG) anymore. I realized having SSVG fulfilled would mean yet another halt in bigger and better plans that I may someday have. For the first time in almost a decade, I realized the true significance of “Where do you see yourself in five years?” And SSVG would get in the way of that. I was done waiting. I was done pushing aside one big thing for fifty smaller ones. So, as I stood there in front of the altar, SSVG lying discarded somewhere on a bench, I just said this, “Tell me what is the one big thing. It’s about time.”

And that’s the story of the “sort-of-revelation” I mentioned in my previous post. More on this later.

Epiphanies and Second Chances

The knuckles have been cracked. A neck rotation stretch has been done. But the writing is still a little rusty – beginning with sentences in the passive voice. But write we must, and here’s why.

After a terrible few months, I think I had an epiphany of sorts. Make that two epiphanies. No, correction: one epiphany and one sort-of-revelation. You’d think an epiphany would be a grand event that shakes the ground beneath your feet, tears the sky open like a curtain, lightning would strike and thunder would roar, and lions would fall from the sky. But, like nearly everything of importance that happens in a person’s lifetime, epiphanies strike without fanfare. Silently. A simple thought that seems to clear a lot of the fog.

We’ve been taught since childhood that we must not let go of that which we love and that which loves us. I love to write, and on some days, the good days, writing loves me back. It would be foolish to waste that for the reasons I had. My reasons included plagiarism, the terrible state of literature, the terrible state of the world, the terrible state of my life, the rampant back-scratching and reciprocation in the blogging community, the lack of audience, false friends and more. If you think about it, really think about it, I think I did not give up writing for myself, but I gave it up for others. Which is… mind-numbingly stupid.

I may not be as great a writer as my dad thinks I am. But I’m not as bad as my colleague thinks I am. I may not be as good as a certain writer, I may not be as bad as another certain writer. But I’m a writer in my own right, irrespective of where I stand on a scale that someone constructed. And that’s true for anyone who is or wants to be a writer – it doesn’t matter where you stand or who reads you – you have a gift, don’t give that up. We don’t give up on gifts; so few have them, and even fewer have the chance to use them.

So while I sat, wallowing in misery and self pity, and doubts about my ability as a writer, fears about my ability to even carry on with life, a voice whispered, “You don’t get second chances. Don’t give up on writing; that’s the one thing you have that’s entirely your own. Don’t give that up. If you do, you’ll never turn the clock back and get back to it.” I think it was the voice of rational thought. Or, for the spiritually inclined, maybe it was the voice of God? Or maybe my role models speaking to me from the beyond? Whatever it was, it made me realize that I have to do this – I can’t protect my work from being stolen, I can’t force people to read me, and I can’t control what happens in life or who I meet or how they treat me – writing is something I must do. Anything else I say, anything I say to not write, is an excuse, feeble at best. Granted, to reach this conclusion (or epiphany, as I like to believe it is), to understand that you don’t get second chances, to get it through my head that you don’t let go of what’s important, I had to go through the worst pain I’ve known – something, which, at the time, I believed, it would be impossible to recover from – but it’s taught me so much. It’s taught me what’s truly important, and made me realize I was about to throw that away out of pettiness. And I’m recovering. If you had met me this time last month, I would have told you that’s never gonna happen. But to heal is a choice I must make for myself. And that’s what I’m gonna do.

And I’m gonna keep writing till I can. Cos that’s what writers do.

Everything Must Go

First it was goodreads.

Well, obviously. What else could it be, knowing me. It’s cluttered with nearly everything everyone’s ever recommended. Friends, acquaintances, even enemies. Even the site’s own recommendations based on what you’ve already read. Which is a good thing; it isn’t annoying like Facebook’s People You May Know. Even a bad book, after all, trumps human beings. I had even added books based on my mood or ideology – I went through a phase where I added a bunch of Christopher Hitchens and Dawkins and whatnot.

All the books I own are enshrined in a lovely oak wood shelf in my room, placed in a way that it’s the first thing I see when I wake up. Creepy, perhaps, but better than mirrors or photographs of lovers. Never one to willingly give in to egotism or sentimentality. There was no way anything was going to happen to those books, so it was goodreads that took it. For really, an ideology is for yourself. If I am an atheist or a feminist, I already know that that is what I am without having to read a book about it. I don’t need other authors to validate what I already know. When you realize that, you suddenly wonder why there are books on the subject on your TBR shelf. They may be interesting, but why read over and over what you already know. So out they all went, books I had added in the spur of the moment, knowing for sure I would never read.

A relative’s solution to all of the world’s problems is to clean. Pick up a mop, scrub or duster, and clean. every surface, wood, marble, glass; clean. I never believed in that wisdom, because it is but a distraction, the newly shined house, much like a new haircut, or new clothes. A distraction, not a solution.

A distraction of the kind that would explain the mountains and mountains of clothes piled up in my wardrobe. My old roommate would often complain to her friends about how I had too many clothes that took up precious shared closet space. I didn’t have a fraction back then as I do now. Or did, until recently. The depression led to more and more being bought and brought in, until they piled on, piled on and on like garbage, like vomit, like the blackness in my mind threatening to swallow me whole, like the wooden doors of my wardrobe were an obese stomach about to burst through the shirt that tried to hold it in. I couldn’t take it anymore. They disgusted me, once what were my favourite colours and shades. So they went next, after the many books on virtual goodreads shelves. Eight large bags. Why in hell did I have so many clothes? Why do I still have so many that I can go on for months without having to repeat. Why, really? I have no paparazzi hounding me waiting to smear me the moment I was seen in the same outfit twice. Why then do I have this ridiculous number of clothes and shoes? They went next, the shoes. Even looking at my little indulgences made me sick to my stomach, like a bug from mayonnaise gone bad.

Having gotten rid of these little materialistic things, I let go of friends, both false and true. So many of the former, so few of the latter. The ones that mattered and the ones that didn’t. And strange how quickly they scattered, for what was I but a speck of dust in their minds, swatted away with the lightest gush of breeze. The shock of it, as if they were waiting for me to say goodbye so they could finally leave. The surprise at the support from unknown, unexpected quarters. I bade them all goodbye for who they were friends
with once wasn’t who I had turned into; they deserved none of it, none of
my burdens, no matter how obligated they felt to shoulder it. I couldn’t figure out myself who I had turned into.

Then the connections to them – the internet, for who makes phone calls
anymore. Does anyone? If someone does, I don’t answer; so much easier to not
let anyone hear my voice, worried that they may ask what truly happened and worried that my voice might crack and shatter like the mirror I refuse to look at.

Then went the music. The new phone is a stupid piece of junk. It has the storage memory that could as well have been a small single digit number and the stupid thing doesn’t even come with an external memory slot. So out went the music, the favourites, the ones that
made me cry and smile and reminisce. But I’m only pinning blame because I am pushing off admitting that music had been on its way out since the past couple of years. Why have I, whose life and emotions were so inextricably tied with music, denied myself this simple, but necessary pleasure? Why tear off a part of my soul like the skin off my palms? I can’t say, I don’t know, except that all the roots begin at one place.

I do not wish to give up writing. I don’t think I could. But who am I fooling, I couldn’t write well if my life depended on it. I do it cos it gives me something to do, somewhere to vent. And in all honesty, I wish for once someone would give me something more than empty words. I waited and waited some more; I wrote and I wrote some more. But I can’t. Not anymore.

I’m exhausted.

tl;dr: hiatus.