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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Lessons from Blog Stalking

A quirky blog post title can sometimes grab your attention. I chanced upon one of these quirky titles a while ago on Twitter, visited the blog and got hooked. Hooked? Hell, I fell in love! The language, the stories she told, all of it. What’s more interesting is that the particular post title which introduced me to the blog was related to pregnancy – not a subject I would usually read about on blogs (or anywhere, for that matter).

It took me two or three days and I had read through all of her posts, written over a span of a few years. I read it with the enthusiasm I usually reserve for the best of books. I laughed and cried and gasped with her. What struck me most was her raw honesty. It was not about writing with “utter fearlessness” (maybe it was that too; wait I’ll get to that in a minute*), it was about how her soul, all her emotions were laid bare on paper. The blog had a heartbeat, or so it seemed. I’ve not seen that kind of honesty in a lot of blogs. She was writing for herself, like she did not care if there was an audience, and yet, she addressed her readers directly whenever she could. In *one of her posts, she called out the bullshit of one of the most despicable Indian bloggers I’ve had the displeasure of knowing. Called him out, and how! Of course, he didn’t mend his ways or anything, but felt good seeing someone showing that douchebag his place (something that I could only do passive aggressively till date).

I felt a kinship with her, like if she and I came across each other in real life, we could be good friends.

Unfortunately, she does not blog so often these days.

Recently, I decided to look for more blogs like hers. Personal blogs, life stories. Since this year, I’m going through some… “stuff”, my obvious choice was to find stories similar to mine.

I had little success.

So I went to my next obvious choice – personal bloggers whom I know/have heard of/have read at least and who write well (life’s too short to go through archives of bad grammar).

With more success than the previous attempt, and yet…

The reason I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for was because most bloggers lacked the complete and utter honesty of the first one, and the authenticity that comes with it. Not that they weren’t being true, but the extent to which they were true – it felt like something was holding them back – how I sometimes feel about my own writing. I get it though; not everyone wants their innermost thoughts plastered out, coating walls like that, which is perfectly understandable.

So I categorized personal bloggers into:

1) Those who speak about themselves, their thoughts, their lives (and if you’re like the first blogger – friends, family, frenemies, neighbors, dogs, whathaveyou)
2) Those who write one sentence about themselves and then weave generic scenarios around it. They write about everything from the traffic to the weather to vacations, and while the idea, the thought may be their own, they’re catering to someone else.

Type 2 is invariably more popular than Type 1, because they are writing stuff that a wider group can *relate* to, topics that *resonate* with so many people etc., etc.

Type 1 writes about more specific topics. I prefer Type 1.

When I first started blogging, there was this one blog I used to read. I didn’t add it to my list (like I did with Hyperbole and a Half) because she used to write only once in a year or so. I used to visit it intermittently before. Because she was a Type 1, or used to be from what little I remember, I visited her blog during my above-described quest. The post on the top, written sometime last year, started with “I’m not a feminist because I don’t believe we should ask for equal rights.” I was taken aback – this was not someone who had misunderstood the concept – she knew this was about equal rights, and she voluntarily chose to not want them, which is… puzzling. This was a deal breaker for me, and I said, “Girl, bye.”

In the end, I found quite a few good blogs to go through. Blog stalking is a strangely enriching experience. You see their writing evolve through the years, you see their lives changing, their thoughts changing. You see them contradicting themselves – turning their beliefs around by a 180. Learning. You see them learning. In turn teaching you.
You also notice the silly things – how they adored certain things when they were young, but now love to bash those very same things because that’s what the rest of us are doing.
You see their pain. Their losses.
You see their struggles.
You see them fall in love, fall out of love. You see them move on.
You see them set goals. Achieve them. Or not.
It’s like this time capsule – so much of them captured in their archives.

Eventually, I reached those points in time where I had first come across their blogs. I called it the present, even though it could have been a few years ago (my version of the present is always a little ways behind everyone else – the past two years have been an unfortunate, unmemorable blur for me). I tried to remember where the blogger and I were in our respective lives during those timelines. I skipped the posts I had read when they were originally written. Newer posts hit me like a jolt. For instance, someone had written about Demonetization, and I thought, “Whoa, wait, this is so recent.” Like I said, my version of the present is just a little bit old, so something that recent is basically the future for me (does that even make sense?)

There was one blog which surprised me a bit. I’d never heard of the blogger before, but when I checked the blog out, it became obvious that she had certainly visited mine at least once. I changed my blog layout when I returned from my break. In the old one, I had a Blog Roll on the sidebar – links to blogs I read. Some of those blogs are those of my friends who neither write often nor have their blogs listed on any communities. Like the blog of my friend Wii (who was, incidentally, the inspiration behind one of the two main characters in this story (I hope he never reads this post)). Some are the findings of a “blog-hunting exercise” I carried out some time ago. Interestingly, her blog roll was an identical copy of mine – the exact same blogs that I follow (including this one blog that only the blogger and I know of and hasn’t been updated since 2015 with a total of about 3 posts!)

At first, this made me think that if someone went through my archives, I’d be mortified. I’m more embarrassed by my old posts than anything that happened to me in real life. There have been times when I felt there’s too much of “me” in my posts, as if all my vulnerabilities and weaknesses are out there. (And typos; let’s not forget typos.) But then, I went back to all the good lessons I learned and thought, who do I want to be? The honest writer, or the one that deletes the un-pretty posts once they start looking stale?

PS: While they were all fantastic, I won’t be linking to any of the blogs because a) it’s not stalking if you spell it out, is it? b) I don’t want them to feel I’m flattering them or whatever c) they should not feel obligated to link back. Hence, it is best to keep it all anonymous.

What I Learned From My Garden About Loss and New Beginnings

Some of my earliest memories are those of hiding in the little kitchen garden in our house. What I remember most vividly are the hibiscuses and the roses. Roses of that deep magenta color, the color of sirens and wine. Hibiscuses, I think there were red, pale pink, and peach. There were a whole lot of other plants that I can no longer recollect, but I remember they were all roughly as tall as I was, so the setup was, to me, quite a jungle! In all of my photographs from that era, I have two braids on either side with a rose pinned to each, and a neat bindi in the centre of my forehead – like the “good” south Indian girl my mother desperately wanted me to become. There was one particular photograph of me smiling away among the hibiscus pots; it was a particular favourite of mine, and is now with an old classmate who liked collecting childhood photographs of her friends. I wonder if she still has it.

This was while we were living in Goa. When I turned four, we moved to New Delhi, and I think the saddest part of that move for me was to lose my mini jungle. In our new flat, there was a balcony twice the size, but perhaps the loss of the old garden hit my mother hard, and she was not motivated enough to start a new one, knowing even this residence was temporary. Nevertheless, she planted a money-plant. A low maintenance little thing that you find everywhere, from office corridors to desks to nearly every Indian home. She put it in the corner of the balcony where it got a lot of light, and the rest of the balcony remained bare. Boring. Like a desert. Un-homey. Like New Delhi.

To this day, I hate money-plants.

Now that I’m all grown up and nearly the age my mother was when the events described above occurred, I decided to start a small garden of my own. I don’t know the first thing about gardening, and I would not have gone ahead at all, but at my last job, I had a lot (way too much) free time, and I stumbled upon a kitchen garden website. As I read, all those long ago memories, buried like shadows, resurfaced and I just wanted to do SOMETHING. I have three balconies, and they’re all bare, and they reflect the hot sun like steel and concrete. Like deserts. Like New Delhi.

I went to a nearby nursery and picked up two plants. My son made friends with the owner’s puppy and that’s a story in itself, but for another day. And bit by bit, I got one side of my balcony lined up. I have a creeper that grows on the grilles and the leaves are the richest shade of green I’ve ever seen.

Last week, one of my plants died without a warning. It seemed healthy the day before but was all wilted the next. That was the first plant in my care that died. The thud in my heart was painful, and strange as it may seem, but I’m sure I could see the cloud over my head. I did not have the heart to throw it out. I’m trying to revive it, but I don’t think it’s working.

Ever since I’ve set up the mini garden, the balcony is the first place I go to as soon as I return from work. I examine each of my plants, ask them how they’re doing, if it’s all good, if I could get them anything else, some water or a pair of scissors to prune them perhaps? Like a good waiter who wants a good tip. I see each new leaf, healthy, waxy, and so beautifully tiny come out the parent branch and each time I’m filled with renewed wonder. I spend several minutes just staring at them – too afraid to touch – like it’s a miracle happening right in front of my eyes.

On the day the plant died, in a neighboring pot, I saw a new shoot come up. I had planted seeds the week before, and I’ve heard from people that seeds you get in the market never germinate, which is why you should always go for saplings. I have to say I was shocked when I saw the shoot raise its head in the sun. It was so beautiful, so fragile.

And the day after, there were more shoots.

There is a certain joy that comes from seeing something that you least expected. Dramatic misty-eyed-ness aside, it’s the surprise that fills you up to the brim.

Yesterday it rained here in Bangalore, and the raindrops rested on the leaves of my creeper. I was mesmerized by it. It was like a love affair in itself – the stormy clouds, the heavy rain, and a gentle flutter of the leaves letting the raindrops rest on them.

I still don’t know much about gardening. I still haven’t gotten over the death of the plant. (Or even the loss of the mini garden from childhood, for that matter). But I talk to these plants, and sometimes, they smile back to me. They know I’m there, and I can feel it. And little by little, they grow like a wonder.

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What Went Wrong…

Oh, hello! Don’t mind me, I am just sitting here with my hypothetical pipe in my mouth, musing about things. Again. Trying to make sense of a few things.

Again.

You know, I wrote a short story when I was 12 – it was a murder mystery, and the main theme was jealousy. About two years later, I wrote a story about how mankind was the worst thing to have happened to the universe since the big bang – told from the POV of a cockroach that survived a nuclear holocaust. There were a bunch of stories in between with a lot of blood and gore; mostly fluff pieces written to shock the reader. My English teacher enjoyed the stories tremendously – the cockroach one was a favourite of hers, I remember. The point of this little narrative is that – I was always enticed by the darker side of human emotion. Happy endings never appealed to me, joy never appealed to me – someone was always dead in my stories.

Why then have I stopped exploring it now?

You see, stories of that genre come naturally to me. My rationale is simple – every writer glorifies their protagonists – flawless and irreproachable heroes and heroines. Would any writer, through the characters, or otherwise, admit to their own faults? After all, most heroes and heroines are a superior alter ego of their creators. Through my characters, am I pushing my own flaws on to paper? Not exactly – jealousy isn’t an emotion I feel, nor have I ever murdered anyone. But I can tell you about a flaw that I do have – I am easily influenced. I have my own opinions (of course) but you tell me something quite a few times, I will start thinking like you. And that’s a horrible, horrible trait in a human being.

In retrospect, I have come to realize when and how I stopped writing fiction, where the darkness has gone. I don’t want this to be a name-and-blame sort of post, mainly because whoever it was who said whatever it was that they said to me, ultimately, the fault is my own – my head is bloody easy to get into!

I have made excuses for it – I thought I had writer’s block (I don’t), I thought I was distracted (not really), I thought I was reading too many books and that was killing my imagination (I partially do still believe  this, but there’s more to it). How did I realize that I have killed my own darkness? In the past, the stories I have written deal with some kinda deep rooted fear we all have within us – or so I’d like to think. It is not just about the ghosts – I have written about a man who derives joy from seeing a child die, I have written about depression and suicide caused by the world’s opinion of you, I have written about a criminally insane father – the darkest corners. I don’t claim to be Palahniuk or someone like that, but my exploratory path has been on those lines. Then why is it that, when a few months ago, I was about to write a story about a handicapped man’s death, I was horrified by my own thoughts? I could not believe that my mind could conceive such a ruthless, tragic thing, and I reprimanded myself for being a bad human being. But why? Isn’t that what I had always been writing about?

Because I had been led to believe that my stories would be my destruction.

A sensible writer would hear something as dramatic as this and wave a smug “tah-tah” and send those words upon the breeze, never to be bothered by them again. I, however, am not as sensible as I wanna be – it is way too easy “perform inception” on my mind. Suddenly, I grew afraid. The thought had been sown – the darker my stories, the unhappier my life would be. However much I wanted to believe it hadn’t, it had. And little by little, it was corroding my brain, eating up my imagination, forcing me to not ever write a piece of fiction where there was any kind of darkness whatsoever.

Holy fuck.

Fear is the one enemy of the writer. And I am terribly afraid. I have my own self to blame for having such a pliable, thought-plantable, stupid head. Sure, I wrote two stories even after the incident, but both are not as “dark” as my stories usually are. Not half as disturbing. Not “me”.

All I’ve done until now is not let myself admit to this. But I have to. If I want to go back to who I was, I need to admit that this is a problem.

Now to find the solution – uproot that thought and throw it off.