The Day After

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Photo by Thiago Barletta on Unsplash

 

Today is the day after the catastrophe ended.

I Google to check for pandemic-related stats out of habit first thing in the morning. Zero cases, zero deaths. Good. The newspapers are brimming with stories about life coming back to normalcy.

Normalcy—I wonder what that is.

I dress up for work after what feels like forever and head out. The watchman uncle greets me with a high-pitched “Good morning”. I know it’s coming from his heart, I can see. There’s no mask on his face this time. I carry one in my bag; just in case. I say “Good morning, chacha!”, and ask him how he and his family have been. He says they’re doing fine with a contented smile.

I struggle for a moment in my head. I’m not completely convinced about riding the bus. I think I should take a cab. But I see a bunch of people waiting at the bus stop just like they did weeks ago. I’ll be honest—I’ve missed travelling with complete strangers in a crowded bus. I shrug my fear and start walking towards the bus stop.

I see my colleagues, not on the Zoom interface, for the first time in over two months. I smile at the receptionist for a little longer today. Watching my team members smile widely at me as I take my seat fills me with warmth. The office cafeteria—how I have missed sitting here! I make myself a cup of coffee, and gorge on some Pringles (like I always do). I hope I have too many meetings today; I can’t wait to see everyone.

My phone has been buzzing with messages from friends who have been making plans with a lot of heart since the time we were cooped away in our homes. Only this time, we don’t wait for the weekend to catch up.

We have now seen the invisible price tag that comes along with taking people, time, and plans for granted.

We decide to meet today, post work. 

The bar is overcrowded today. I think a lot of people are afraid to cancel plans now. For the first time in so long, I see people sitting close to each other, sharing food, hugs, kisses, and holding hands. Precious little things we always took for granted. I start reading the menu, even though I know it by heart by now. After going through all of the twelve pages, I order the item I’d always order during each one of my visits. Life may be too short to order the same things over and over, but today is dedicated to wrapping ourselves in the sweet sense of familiarity. Trying new cuisines can wait for now.

The bar has announced happy hours, apparently. We order one too many drinks because God knows how much we’ve missed the kick! The owner is present at the bar. Each one of the staff members is overjoyed to watch the space fill with customers; a lot of them are regular faces.

Today is not about the business—it’s about the many reunions that were long overdue.

We leave a fat tip after we’re done. We want to make up for all the appreciation we failed to give in all this time.

Mom has been calling incessantly because it’s late and I’m still not home. This time, I’m not tensed about going home to her fully-rehearsed lecture.

It’s funny how I’ve missed being scolded for not getting back home in time.

I get home, overstuffed with all the drinks and food, yet ask mom to serve me a little bit of whatever she has cooked. She’s the one who ran the house like a boss when supplies were limited. Now that things are back to normal, I want to respect every bit of the morsel that she puts on our plates unfailingly.

Things feel normal now, or do they? 

The stars in the sky are suddenly scanty tonight. Have they disappeared or have we screwed up our pollution game already? Stray dogs were hiding behind the bushes because a bunch of teenagers thought that bursting crackers was the perfect way to celebrate their freedom. Motorcycles are roaring on the streets left, right, and center. I pass by a group of aunties who are discussing a certain family who lost a member to the pandemic. They’re blaming the deceased person’s wife for not being careful enough. Umm…what happened to all the empathy and oneness that we were talking about throughout the quarantine period? 

It took us a pandemic to understand the power dynamic between humans and nature.

But once again, we’re consumed with abusing our environment, abusing the way we pollute the very air we need for breathing, abusing the way we discuss people and their loss. 

I guess general disregard is our normal.

It has always been; it will always be.

You Bring Out the Mumbaiwali in Me*

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Photo by Yash Bhardwaj on Unsplash

 

Your half-open mouth when you’re half asleep,

Your messed up hair from the rickshaw ride,

Your hand on my shoulder,

that slyly sneaks to my waist,

All of that is mine; all of it is me.

 

I am the sharpness of your extra teekhi chutney,

I am also the wholeness of your cutting chai,

I am the sweetness of your last sip of coffee,

I am the chaashni and malai.

I am your unfinished whiskey by the bedside,

I am the warm yellow from the fairy lights,

I am the cool breeze on a boiling May afternoon,

I am the disappointing Mumbai winter, sometimes.

I will calm your demons by singing them lullabies,

I will fill you with my stories, wise and otherwise.

I will tell a hundred lies to the world,

only so that I can see you for a while.

 

You bring out the Mumbaiwali in me,

The abey and the oye in me,

The rust and the robustness of the kaali-peeli in me,

The shameless kisses in the rickshaws in me,

The missed sunsets at Marine Drive in me,

The fourth seat in the train in me,

The wrath of a delayed Virar local in me,

The casual bhai and the bantaai in me,

The angry, reluctant smile after our fight in me,

The meethi chutney on the sukha puri in me,

The “cheap Chinese” dinner dates in me,

The ritually losing the umbrella in me,

The rare finding of a window seat in me,

The bright red of the BEST in me,

The muddy browns of the floods in me,

You bring out the Mumbaiwali in me.

Yes, you do; you really do.

 

You bring out the serial bomb blasts in me,

The bullets and cries from the Taj in me,

The wretched 7/11 in me,

The pointless ‘Mumbai Bandhs’ in me,

The losing homes to floods in me,

The poverty of the slums in me,

The affluence of Bollywood in me,

The chor, the bazaar, and the Chor Bazaar in me,

The dhol-tasha of Ganeshotsav in me,

The sultry, impious Nav-ratris in me,

You bring out the “Spirit of Mumbai” in me.

 

You bring out the fearless Radha in me,

The staunchly devout Meera in me,

The emptiness of the day that follows Diwali in me,

And all of my nine Durgas in me.

You bring out the sweet pain of unrequited love in me,

The strongest lust for your flesh in me,

The unrealistic expectations of our future in me,

And our inevitable separation in me.

 

You bring out the six-yards and the dupattas in me,

The skinny jeans and the salwars in me,

The laaj, lajja and also the besharmi in me,

The “nahi, pehle meri baat sunn” in me,

The “sab theek ho jayega, yaar” in me,

The “aisa hota, toh kaisa hota?” in me,

The “arre samaaj ko maaro goli” in me,

The “I’m good; but not good enough for you” in me.

 

They say my name means ‘love’;

You bring out my name in me.

 

*This particular one is my (very rueful) adaptation of  Sandra Cisneros’s ‘You bring out the Mexican in me‘. Easily and non-exaggeratedly, this has been the most fun piece I’ve written in my entire life!

I’m getting there; almost

I'm getting there; almost

 

Everything happens for a reason.

I’ve spent the last three years telling myself that. Since I’m writing this in the last few hours of 2019, I can’t help but indulge in some retrospection. Life’s not been my friend every single day of the last decade, especially the last year. It was a full spectrum consisting of my highest highs and my lowest lows.

This decade gave me my first kiss, and also my first, devastating heartbreak. It gave me my first job, and then a second one. I made my life’s most expensive Android and Apple purchases (so far) and paid for it in full. Having spoken about these retail indulgences, I am also proud to say that I learned about and started practicing slow living.

I looked at things more closely and for longer, and saw things that we can only see when we slow down.

I learned about stillness. Being still is magical—it can take you to places within you and show you what sits at the root of your emotions. 

2019 was also a year of finding out what my real support-system looked like. When everything else failed, they cushioned me against the blows.

2019 was the year when I saw parts of me that only my current, beaten up version could see.

Travel did not happen to me this year, but a journey inwards did happen. I met with my best and my worst parts, and I accepted myself with every bit of myself.

I realised that having my two-year-old neighbour around was my therapy during times when I struggled to keep my spirits up. Now, I can clearly identify my emotional triggers and know exactly what I need to do to not make my demons feel unwelcomed. 2019 was a year of realising that I am the kind of person who lives in the extremes—one of those with-all-my-heart kinds.

I care, love, and also stop loving with all my heart.

2019 was a year of less reading and even lesser writing. But it was also a year of journaling. I got myself a five-year memory journal and I journaled daily. Even on days when life seemed as dull as an overcast sky, I’d pour myself dry on the pages of my journal.

2019 was also replete with emotionally, intellectually and politically stimulating conversations. It’s funny how steadily and profoundly I got sucked into understanding the nuances of fascism, communism, feminism, social privilege, and the lack of it. I even signed up for a Master’s program in Political Sciences.

2019 was a year of brunches and house parties. I’ve made peace with the fact that even though I’m 25, I feel too old to be “chilling” in overcrowded and painfully noisy clubs. If I can’t hear what the person across my table is speaking, I’m already regretting my decision of being at that terrible place.

2019 was the year of finally washing the taste of his name off my lips.

It was also the year of watching him get married and watch my friends go through heartbreaks. It was about hearing them out patiently and letting them grieve. It was about helping them without really helping them—by simply being by their side, by being completely present whenever they needed me. While some heartbreaks happened, 2019 also gave some of my friends their companions for life! 

2019 was the year when my parents barely bothered me with the big M word—marriage (thank God for that!). It was also the year when I decided that I really don’t care about it, and what I do care about is pursuing the one dream that keeps me hopeful and sane. It was also the year I noticed my parents grow old. The occasional blood tests, waking up in the middle of the night because the pain in their joints was unbearable, buying medicines for them—the tables have turned now.

2019 was also a year of muting certain noises. It was about setting and prioritizing boundaries. It was a year of realising that some social media influencers are less of influencers and more of influenza viruses, causing damage by attacking the minds of the masses. I learned that having a louder voice doesn’t really mean anything if you’re not saying things that need to be said.

I also learned that we need to think and question everything before we learn it—choose our heroes wisely and consciously select every piece of content we consume.

2019 was a year of taking action. I took four major decisions this year that forced me out of my comfort zone. It was a year of unlearning things and unf*cking myself—of going back to who I was before certain experiences happened to me. 

As the new decade begins, the answer to “what do I want to do with my life?” seems to be closer to me than ever before. I’ve decided that 2020 is going to be a year of being selfish—of putting my mental peace, my opinions, my dreams, and my plans before anybody else’s idea of what I should be doing at 26.

I discovered that my greatest strength is endurance, and my greatest fear is to be forgotten by those who are important to me.

You know what else I realised? I wouldn’t be the person that I am today if it wasn’t for the cumulative impact of everything that happened to me, the good and the bad, in all this time. I know that everything happens for a reason, and I have the strength to face it no matter how hard it gets.

Teatime with My Demons

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Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I sit here taking the last few sips that are left of my tea, wondering whether stagnancy in life should be embraced or treated as a red sign that needs to be acted upon. The bottom of my mug leaves a brown ring on the tablecloth as I place it down. 

Why do stains like staying back until they’re forced to leave, I wonder.

Pleasant memories from not very long ago flood the moment, making it unable to pass swiftly. They stay there, the memories, all of them happy and warm yet making me feel utterly cold on the inside. I can’t blame them for my misery though; they are here because I summoned them.

They flow from the spaces between the doors that I’d left half-open on purpose. Masochism feels like a warm blanket on a cold night when it comes to recalling the time I spent with you.

We had a great time together, didn’t we? It was all good while it lasted. But then you left. Like a nomad making his home in a village this second and then abandoning it for another in the next. Zero regrets, zero loose ends. I wish I’d signed up for the course where they gave lessons on detaching seamlessly.

The bitter taste of your absence hasn’t left my mouth ever since.

I roll it on my tongue and even savour it shamelessly every once in a while. What I learned then was that absence is the heaviest thing to carry.

Do you know what happened to me after you were gone? Did you care to find out? Oh, never mind. I’m still the same—in the same place, fixed in the same spot just like the hands of a dysfunctional clock. Broken things don’t move, no? 

I’d go about my day as if nothing had happened.

“Hey, what’s up?”, they’d ask.

“Same old, same old”, I’d say. 

What else do you tell people who can’t think of a better question to ask you when they see you? I never wanted them to know actually. I don’t want others to have the pleasure of thinking, “Thank God, it’s not happening to me!”.

Oh wow, these memories are stubborn and how! Come on, leave now! I’ve replayed all of you in my head; you’ve outlived your time. 

But they stay. They stare at me with a smirk on their faces. I hold them by their collar and pull them closer so that I suffer a little more. 

I don’t cry, no, won’t shed another tear for the one that willingly chose to leave. I stop every sigh of despair that tries to escape my mouth. I want these memories to know that they cannot do shit to me, even though I’m going down like a pack of dominos on the inside. So I stay quiet.

Quiet things are harder to break. 

I simply stare at those memories in the eye. I wear a smile while I do that because I want to let them know that I’m tough. They hear what I have to say.

After getting tired of provoking my demons, they give up and finally leave me alone. 

Me = 1; memories = 0!

I now understand that not getting what you want can at times be a blessing in disguise. I smile, this time without any pretense. 

I take the last sip of my tea which is utterly cold by now but is also the sweetest. At least this particular ending was sweet!

This is why I choose to be selfish

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

My day begins at 9:00 AM in the morning with me doing nothing substantial post waking up. I am not one of those super-enthu-cutlets who jumps out of the bed and begins with the day with indefinite amounts of horse-power.

I like tossing in the bed for a couple of minutes after I have woken up.

I do that primarily to prepare myself for the work-day that lies ahead of me. Maybe also so that I can test my abilities to scale new heights of shamelessness – the kind of heights that only a person who chooses to laze around even when she is running late can reach.

I fold my blanket and put that in place along with the pillows. I think I do that because at some point I was convinced by an article that spoke about how making your bed first thing in the morning sets you up for increased productivity throughout the day. Not sure how much of that matters, but I do it anyway.

I then go to work, I’m back home by 11:00 PM and I spend the rest of my time mindlessly scrolling through Instagram and stuffing my face with chips and/or roasted peanuts till I start feeling sick. That has been my schedule for the last 4 years i.e. since I started working full-time. Not much has changed in all this time, really.

I’ve never wanted to be famous, or rich, or powerful; I’ve always wanted to be happy. I’ve wanted to feel genuine gratitude for everything that there is and isn’t in my life. How hard could that be?

Have I been able to achieve that? Yes, and no. But the answer also largely depends on how I define happiness, no? My definition of happy has evolved over the years – it has gone from ‘I want my parents to feel proud of me’ to ‘I want to feel proud of myself’. Sounds selfish? It is.

Selfishness has grown up with a bad reputation and I don’t understand why.

The one quality that is constantly expected out of all of us is selflessness – be it through the ever-so-obedient daughter-in-law from mediocre TV series, or the Bollywood protagonist who leaves his wealthy family to obey his father (high five to those who got the Sooryavansham reference!). They want us to give more than you can and expect nothing in return. Why, because that makes one a better person.

Well, fine, it sounds like a good philosophy but is it healthy to keep giving all of you all the time?

I’ve grown to believe that it’s essential for one to be selfish. The “good” kind of selfishness is quite an esoteric idea and I know that most of you, by now, are already starting to dislike me for saying what I just said. So I’m chugging a cup of adrak wali chai before I proceed.

Selfishness has bad connotations attached to it. There are two types of selfishness –

  1. The “I’m going to say that I’m not hungry but I’ll eat 4 bites each from everyone’s plates” type,
  2. The “I’ll have my dinner with everyone, but save my gulab jamun and have it when everyone has left” type

You don’t want to be no. 1, you want to be no. 2! (even no. 2 has bad connotations attached to it. Hehe.)

Pardon the analogies AND the sad toilet joke.

But the point that I’m trying to make is that being selfish should not be about benefiting yourself at the cost of someone else’s happiness. It is about maintaining the right balance between making others happy as well as your own self.

Choosing to stay indoors over meeting your friends on a weekend because you want to be by yourself is selfish.

Treating yourself with a cheat meal after a month of restricting yourself to “healthy food” is selfish.

Cutting off toxic people to protect your sanity is selfish.

Do these things sound wrong to you? No, right? So you see what I mean – we have been blessed with this beautiful gift, that is life.

We’ve only got so much time and it’s imperative that we make the most of it. You can’t be enjoying your life if you keep deprioritizing yourself.

I am 25, and I’m still not a millionaire! But in hindsight, I realize that ever since I started doing things that made me happy, I’ve truly been in a better headspace, even without the moolah!

Putting myself above everyone else has prevented me from living my life on autopilot. I do things that are not always expected of me, but I do them anyway because they are harmless and they make me happy. Imagine how boring our world would’ve been had all the great scientists, and philosophers, and artists, and writers, who walked this earth, wouldn’t have done what they once wanted to do with all their heart and soul!

I treat myself because I want to, I say yes because I want to, I say no because I want to, and I say goodbyes…well not because I (always) want to but because I know that some sights are prettier when viewed from a distance.

I think I’ve made my point. It’s time to make my bed now, and I will make it. Not “because I want to”, but because it gives mom one less reason to scold me. Being selfish doesn’t always work; sometimes you have to be wise (especially with mothers).

Cold and Comfortable

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Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash
 

It’s starting to get colder.

I’ve always been one of those who will carry a jacket in her bag while going to a cinema hall. For some unknown reason, those people at the cinemas know no temperature that does not meet the Arctic standards.

My palms are bearing the brunt of the cold. My fingers, they are starting to get numb. I feel a chill run down my spine followed by a ghastly sense of loss.

It’s not the temperature; it can’t be.

Am I the only one who is cold? Everyone else seems to be unaffected by it. They look like bright and shiny people, totally slaying their day. “Hustle”, that’s what they call it these days.

Working around the clock to make more money so that you can spend more money is supposed to be the “cool” thing to do these days.

Anyone achieving less than the standard expectation is slapped with a label of mediocrity. But is being mediocre really a bad thing? Isn’t greatness a choice? Why is the opposite of that looked down upon then?

When everyone else seems to be moving at the speed of light, why am I still stuck? Or could it be that everyone else is trying their best to drag themselves too and what seems to be a great speed is just an illusion? Just like the trees that speed crazily past us while we’re seated inside the train, unmoved from our seat.

Should I make a phone call? Nope; bad idea. What if they don’t answer? Or worse, what if they think that my concern is not even a legit concern in the first place? I’m not making any phone calls! There’s nothing worse than having your feelings invalidated by those whom you count on. I know that feeling. When was the last time that happened?

Was it when you said that my questions weren’t important for you and that you didn’t owe me any answers?

Nevermind. No calling.

It’s getting colder. I’m starting to feel cold on the inside now. What is this nonsense? Which 24-year old gets stuck in a rut so bad that that place starts to feel strangely comfortable; like a home?

My life is a joke!

Since when did comfort zones start feeling cold? Weren’t they supposed to be warm and cosy places?

But I think that I have made some progress, or at least I’d like to believe that I have. I’ve come a long way from digging deeper into the good memories and mourning their death, to focussing on the unpleasant ones and declaring to myself that what has happened to me is for the best.

Optimism has never been my friend, so this is how I cope.

There’s a cuckoo singing outside. She does have a sweet voice. She’s been singing for too long for me to find her song melodious. It’s really starting to get annoying now. She’s definitely singing it for someone specific, probably calling out to someone she held very close to her heart? Oh god, someone please ask her to stop! Whoever that one is, he’s not coming back! Do you hear it, annoying cuckoo? He’s not coming back!

If he wanted to, he would have done so already.

I shut the window to block her cries out completely.

In case she does manage to reunite with whoever it is that she has lost, I don’t want to see it.

I don’t want to sink another two feet deeper into my rut knowing that it’s just me who is always going to have to live with the loss.

I think I should just wear the damn jacket. The cold doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon, so I may as well make my peace with it.

 

 

Postcards from McLeodganj

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Life has always surprised me with nuclear bombs when I was praying for some pretty fireworks.

I have always thought of myself as a “mountain-person” due to my tendency of getting bored of the beaches too soon and too easily. Ever since I discovered McLeodganj through Instagram, I have waited impatiently to gather the best company that I could and head over to the land that’s fondly called the ‘Little Lhasa of India’.  

Now McLeodganj is a good 10 hours away from Delhi if you’re taking the road. Add to it another 2 hours in the flight and 2 hours of waiting at the airport.

Now imagine doing all this on the second day of your period.

That’s right – just the day before my flight, aunt flo decided to pay a visit.

Last-minute disappointments in my life are just as regular as corporate slaves stabbing their keyboards in a Starbucks outlet.

Periods make me emotional with my hormones doing their own crazy dance and I didn’t want to be sullen and peevish while I was finally taking the trip that I’d been looking forward to for years now. After accepting the fact that there was nothing I could do about the situation, I prepped myself mentally and packed a good 30% of my luggage case with sanitary napkins.

Thankfully, the bus ride was extremely comfortable and things stayed in place without making me “go red” in shame (or horror).

I caught my first glimpse of the mountains at around 6:30 AM when a sharp turn of our bus woke me up while we were a couple minutes away from our destination. The snow-clad Himalayas seemed to have worn a golden hat with the sun slowly making is way above them.

Before this moment, I hadn’t been able to imagine what people exactly meant when they described an experience as ‘breathtaking’.

The sheer calm and simplicity of the place put me at ease in such a way that not even a single cramp could bother me. I, along with 3 other friends of mine, did quite a long but an easy trek all the way up to the Bhagsunag Waterfall, and then another one in Dainkund, Dalhousie two days later.

Stomach cramps after all that trekking? Nope. Much to my surprise, it was, in fact, a happy period!

When I was preparing for this trip, I did quite a lot of reading about the place’s culture and history. I’m geeky like that. I was looking forward to seeing monks strolling casually on the streets, visit beautiful monasteries, walk along the streets lined by the Deodar trees on both sides and hog on all the local delicacies that the place had to offer. Oh, and I wanted to collect pinecones, lots of them!

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I did all of that and much more.

I’ve always found it difficult to reach out to people; even my own friends. I’m always afraid of “bothering others” with my “concerns”. What if people don’t get what I’m trying to say? Or worse, what if people think that my worries are pointless?

The thought of getting my fears and doubts invalidated by those I count on makes me feel like I’ve been kicked hard in my gut.

Hence, I always refrain from initiating conversations; the burden of keeping the conversation alive feels a bit too heavy to me.

Vicky, our cab driver who was introduced to us by our Airbnb host, turned out to be an easy-going and a very pleasant chap. I thought it would be rude to sit in the passenger’s seat with my earphones plugged in, so I sat there hoping that he doesn’t try to force any conversations.

He would occasionally point at a temple or an important building to tell us about its significance as briefly as he could. I liked how perfect the length of our conversations was.

It was as if we had some sort of a mutual agreement between us to give each other company without getting into each other’s space.

On our way back, we had to get down at a café which was a good 30-minute walk away from our Airbnb. The plan was to end our cab ride and get down at the café, and eventually walk our way back to our accommodation. Vicky being the sweet soul that he was told us that he had no trouble waiting for us.

Aap log akele andhere mein chalkar jaane se behtar hai ki mein ruk jaaun. Aadhe ghante ke liye toh ruk hi sakta hun” (I’d rather wait for you to come back than let you girls walk back in the dark. I can surely wait for half an hour.)

Was it normal for cab drivers to be this concerned?

My first thought was to find out what his motive for being so considerate was, but he had none.

When we booked another cab ride on our own, our Airbnb host went out of her way to ensure that the cab driver was a reliable person. Whether she did so out of genuine concern or as a precaution to avoid any possible trouble for her own sake is another topic altogether, but she did what she did and it made me realize that it’s possible for people to care for you irrespective of the duration of time that they’ve known you for. I’d been sceptical about her since the beginning, thanks to my never-trust-anyone policy. But unexpectedly, she turned out to be yet another pleasant acquaintance on the trip.

Wow! I’d never thought that it could be so easy to forge connections with strangers.

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People here in McLeodganj seemed to trust each other a little too much. A tea-stall owner would leave his stall unattended without the fear of having people leave without paying; cab drivers would gladly let their fellow drivers take passengers instead of cutting each other’s throats for the sake of making as many bucks as they could; people were not worried about pick-pocketers even when the streets were at their busiest in the evenings; monks as young as 5 and 6 years old would walk on the streets without the fear of strangers bothering them.

We also saw a monk who walked in sports shoes, clicked tonnes of pictures using his smart-phone, and posed readily when I requested to click his picture.

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What even was this place? Is it even safe to trust each other to this extent? Are people everywhere so easy-going?

People here lived from hand to mouth. They woke up, went out to earn their daily bread, came back to their families and took a good night’s rest before they could wake up and take on another day. People here worked hard, even those whose backs were bent from the burden of age. They would either play a musical instrument in a corner of the street or prepare a small quantity of eatables to sell.

People here refused to beg. No matter how tiny the earnings were, they would make sure that it came in exchange of hard work.

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How did a tiny town of barely educated people understand the rules of life better than the “highly educated” metropolitan lot? This goes to show that ethics and education clearly are independent concepts.

This place had slowly started to feel like home. By the end of our trip, I realised that a sense of familiarity would accompany me whenever I walked on the streets.

I would smile at random strangers and they would smile back!

This was strange because hey, I’m not supposed to trust strangers and unfamiliar places right? I learnt that as a child and grew up practising that. Was it possible for connections to grow so deep so quickly?

As clichéd as it sounds, this trip turned out to be way more than what we’d expected it to be. It taught me how gorgeous people can be if I just let myself see them for what they are without constantly judging them in my head.

It taught me how beautiful our own kind is.

McLeodganj, you definitely have my heart!

‘twas Nice to Meet You!

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

If morning moods could be classified into types, I would fall under the ‘grumpy riser’ group.

Out of all the things that I am, I am not a morning person. I hate the pressure that the world puts on you which demands you to be all fresh, energetic and gay as soon as your eyes catch the morning light.

My morning theme song, undoubtedly, is Bittersweet Symphony.

Goes without saying, this morning melancholy reaches new heights on Mondays. If Monday was a person, it would have been dead by now.

On one particular gloomy Monday morning, my brain decided that it was finally time to get out of slumber mode at 11 AM. 11-effing-AM! No points to guess what happened next –

I went back to sleep for 5 more minutes.

Yes, I can get quite shameless when I want to.

When mummy refused to end her very sarcastic “Why did you sleep at 3 AM last night? You should’ve stayed up for a bit longer na” lecture, I had no option but to get out of bed and hurry through my morning routine.

After a lot of contemplation, I finally decided to take a bath. Usually, that’s the first thing I skip when I’m running late for work. Or just running late for anything in general.

I don’t particularly enjoy taking a bath because unlike most people, I feel extremely sleepy after a shower instead of feeling as fresh as the girls from those sanitary napkin advertisements.

Me taking a bath may have made my mother a little happy, but to me, it just further delayed the rest of my schedule.

Knowing how bad my luck usually is, I was prepared for the worst, and worst is what life gave me. It hadn’t even been 2 minutes since I stepped out of the house when it started raining. 

Perfect.

Do you know what’s the worst part about taking the local bus? It’s watching people who came after you, leave before you. And I had to watch that for a good 20 minutes.

Can this life be any more unfair?

My daily commute to work involves me taking 2 buses. The first bus drops me at the highway, and the second one takes me further from there. If I’m feeling rich enough to spend 10 bucks more than what the bus ticket would cost me, I take one of those shared cabs.

Since I was already running super-late, I took the first option that I got. A kaali-peeli slowed down as soon as it got closer to the bus stop in the hopes of luring passengers to spend those extra 10 bucks. The driver was a middle-aged man with rugged skin which seemed to hide a lot of young hopes in its cracks, he sported a long beard and a white skull cap. There was another guy sitting in the passenger seat. I asked the driver whether he would take me to my destination. He agreed; so I got in.

The other guy got down just 2 minutes later and the driver politely asked me to sit ahead in the passenger seat which was now vacant.

I gave a surprised look and all the lessons I’d learnt by watching Crime Patrol instantly surfaced in my mind. But I’ve always loved passenger seats, mainly because I’ve grown to believe that I can never drive. Hence, sitting next to the driver was the closest I could get to driving. Without thinking much, I got out and took the seat. I continued to get grumpier with each time the driver stopped at the bus stops on the way to get more passengers. This guy was definitely not helping me with my whole running-late-scenario.

After 5 minutes of total silence, the driver decided to strike a conversation.

Now, I’ve always been a people-hater, and moreover, a people-who-force-me-to-talk-hater. I enjoy silence and I love not being disturbed more than anything else. I wasn’t reading or even listening to music while I was in the cab, which is why I thought it would be rude to end the conversation as soon as it started.

“Do you work or are you still studying?”

I work.

 

“My niece graduated this year and bagged a job at a bank two months ago. She got me a gift for Eid with her own money. I’m so proud of her!”

That’s nice.

 

“These days, it’s become so difficult even for educated people to find good jobs. These computers are replacing human beings which is why even educated people with degrees are running around in the search of jobs. God knows how tough is it going to be for our grandkids!”

That’s true.

 

“Do you take the cab regularly?”

Okay. Don’t answer that question. He could possibly be a kidnapper and is trying to wring information from me. But why would he want to kidnap me of all people? Do I look like a rich person when I take a bath?

 

“Umm…do you take the cab regularly?”

Not regularly; only sometimes.

 

“Be careful when you get into a cab. People can be dangerous; sometimes even passengers. Drivers, especially, are not always vigilant while driving. I watched a video on WhatsApp of an Ola cab ramming into the divider, the bonnet being torn into two halves.”

I was taken aback; pleasantly surprised actually. I was starting to sense safety in this guy’s words.

That’s horrible! I have always been terrified of driving. My father keeps telling me that I should get a bike, but I keep dismissing the idea. I think I can never feel confident enough to drive.

 

“Confidence comes with practise and experience. Also, one’s attitude while driving matters a lot. I have been driving this cab for 28 years now, but I still tell myself that I don’t know everything yet. This thought keeps me from getting too comfortable on the road and that’s why I’m always careful. When you get overconfident, you tend to get less cautious.”

That’s absolutely correct.

 

“Ask your father to buy you a car instead of a bike. That’s a safer option.”

 

I chuckled and asked him to pull up a few metres away as it was time for me to get down, and so he did. As I was just about to leave, he called out to me and said “I’m sorry I asked you to sit in the passenger seat. I only did so because I didn’t want you to get uncomfortable if any male passenger(s) boarded the cab. Have a nice day!”

With that kind statement and a smile, he left to take care of the rest of his day.

I have always used public transport all my life, I take myself to movies and sit alone in a café every once in a while. But I’m never open to encouraging conversations from strangers. I used to be a very talkative child, that’s what my parents tell me. I don’t know when and why did I stop being an active participant in conversations.

I wonder how many memories I must have stopped from happening only because I was building these high walls around me.

Most people are kind, they’re gorgeous. It’s amazing to see how much our kind is like us.

I didn’t ask the cab driver what his name was, but it did not matter. I had a great Monday and he definitely had a part to play in it.

24 Things I Learned in 24 Years

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It’s been a little less than a week since I turned 24 and I thought what better way could there be of celebrating a birthday than sharing all the lessons I’ve learnt! So here’s a list of 24 really important lessons that I have gathered over these years – 

1. Pursue a hobby

That’s what keeps us sane when movies, TV series, alcohol and sleep fail to fix us. Find what you enjoy doing and make time for it at least once in a week. I sometimes make a quick 15-minute doodle before leaving for work. Therefore, “I’m too busy” cannot be an excuse for anyone to be lazy about it. If a potato like me can do it, so can you.

 

2. F.R.I.E.N.D.S. and Maggi are the best inventions ever!

I would binge-watch F.R.I.E.N.D.S. when I would get stuck in a dull phase, when I would want to take a break in between reading intense books, when I would PMS, etc. Likewise, Maggi has been a saviour during trips as well as on days when there was tendli ki sabzi for dinner at home. Mark my words – these two things have the power to help us sail through an apocalypse!

 

3. Learn to cook basic food

Messing up chai, plain steamed rice, and omelettes are unacceptable once you’ve reached an age where you are capable of making babies.

Each one of us, regardless of our gender, MUST know how to cook basic food; and Maggi is NOT an alternative to food. Also, I do know that Indo-Chinese food is delicious and I love ordering in from time to time, but it’s highly unhealthy and no amount of added vegetables can make up for all that oil.

 

4. Reread books and rewatch movies

Revisiting stories – be it books or movies, can surprisingly give you a whole new perspective on it. With age, we tend to feel things deeply and differently. Besides, knowing how a particular story is going to end brings a sense of relief that we otherwise don’t get to experience very often in life.

 

5. Say exactly what you mean

“Oh, but I didn’t mean it that way!”

Don’t fall for this. Also, never resort to this behaviour. Be clear about how you feel, what you think, what your intention is, what you want, and most importantly, what you do not want. Leave no space for ambiguity. Say exactly what’s on your mind and own your words.

 

6. Introversion is not a disease

Our extroverted peers force us into believing that if you’re not going bar-hopping on a weekend, you’re a loner and that you need to get out. Don’t believe them. Introverts need their space, they are hypersensitive and are extremely choosy about what they want to do and who they want to spend their time with. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Do not let anybody tell you that you have a problem.

 

7. Travel with a purpose

Too many of us, myself included, are planning trips to see new places and new cultures, but are walking away without gaining much. You went backpacking to Europe, stayed in a hostel for a few weeks, so what? How did you grow by visiting this new place? What did you learn? As clichéd as this is, at the end of a trip, I ask myself – did I travel or did I take a vacation?

 

8. Wait for a month before making a big purchase

Retail therapy is a sad excuse for experiencing instant gratification. Over time, I’ve cultivated a habit of letting an entire month go by between the time I “think” I want a particular item, and actually buying it. Only if I feel strongly about owning that item by the end of the month do I go ahead and place the order.

 

9. Karma is a legit concept

We all know how it works. It’s one teacher that practices fairness the way it should be practised – man or woman, rich or poor, smart or dumb; it spares no one. You get what you deserve and that’s just how it should be.

 

10. Life will suck

Biryani chaahe kitni bhi badhiya ho, ek ilaichi zaroor hogi jo muh ka pura swaad bighaad degi!

The impermanence of good and bad times is inevitable. So, it doesn’t make sense to crib about your problems when they arrive. Everyone is dealing with their own struggles; acknowledge this fact, respect it, and try not to be an asshole while everyone is trying their best to find their bit of happiness.

 

11. It’s ok to not be ok

Positivity is overrated. We’ve been tricked into believing that we need to be happy all the time; that we need to find the good in every situation. I’m not saying that that’s not right, but sometimes, you just need to see the situation for what it is, feel what it makes you feel and then get over it. It’s okay to feel broken and as if you’re going to puke if you don’t scream. It’s okay to ditch your friends if staying in makes you feel better, it’s okay to call in sick and cry your heart out in your bed. 

 

12. Others’ problems must not make you feel better

You can’t assess someone’s happiness based on how happy or sad other people in this world are. So, don’t try to make your friend feel good by making them see other people’s miseries. That’s plain sadistic and it’s not going to make anyone feel better because every person is dealing with a different problem.

 

13. No family is perfect

Families are twisted because we, as humans, are like that. Every family has one person who brings disappointment, one person who brings shame, one secret that must not be revealed and one issue that’s always swept under the rug instead of tackling it head-on. No matter how happy it may look from the outside, every family is internally screwed up in its own way. Embrace your family’s flaws.

 

14. Our minds are capable of reconditioning

We often tend to start identifying ourselves and get influenced by the religion that we were born in, the family values and practices that we’ve seen our elders follow, the ideologies that our community has stuck to and even the political views that our family members hold. It’s not right to grow up and say “…but I have always been taught to believe this”. 

We can always unlearn and relearn things.

Be open to that.

 

15. Learn to listen

There’s a difference between ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’; the latter is a fairly difficult task. To listen is to be attentive, to let the other person know that you are interested in what they’re saying, that you respect them enough to let them finish before you respond and that you recognize the other person’s right to be heard. Also, there’s a lot one can learn just by paying attention to what others are talking about.

 

16. Learn to see

Our current society has trended towards overstimulation and it leaves little time for us to be alone with our thoughts. Every idle moment is overstuffed with social media. Put your phone down and look around. Watch people. I, personally, love watching kids in public places because when they’re not crying, puking or pooping, they are being mesmerized watching the aircrafts fly, speeding cars, elevators go up and down, etc. It’s easy to take the miracles around us for granted. We should be taking out small moments to realize how incredible the world is around us.

 

17. There will always be haters

No matter how patient and accommodating you are, there will always be someone who’ll tell you that you are not enough. Jealousy is a human emotion and when it exceeds the safety mark, it gets the best of us. Make peace with those who always pick your faults; if nothing else, they’re at least teaching you what you shouldn’t be doing.

 

18. If it feels wrong, then there is something wrong

Intuition is real. Vibes are real. Energy doesn’t lie. So, tune in and listen. If you get a bad feeling about a particular person, be careful and draw your boundaries. If you feel your friend doesn’t seem okay even when they’re wearing a smile on their face, go and talk to them.

 

19. Befriend people who are older than you

To have friends who are older than you is a blessing. There’s always something that you can learn from them – be it about making career choices, dealing with difficult colleagues, making investments, discovering old music, dealing with problems, making the best cocktails, etc., they will always know something more than you do.

 

20. You lose nothing by helping others

If there’s something you can do that will solve someone else’s problem, then go ahead and do that. It won’t take away anything from you.

All your education and experience is insignificant if it can’t help alleviate someone else’s predicament.

I believe that’s the exact reason why the human race is running its course – there’s so much knowledge that remains to be passed on. We must help each other out and make our journeys a bit easier.

 

21. Actions aren’t everything

It’s often believed that one must watch what one does to understand how much they love you and care about you. But sometimes, you need to verbalise your emotions and intentions. You need to tell your friend – “You’re a piece of shit, but I really appreciate your presence in my life”. Hearing beautiful things can really have a long-lasting impact on people.

 

22. Trust the wait

We’re all always in a hurry – we want our answers right now, we want people to reply to our texts ASAP – we want to have it all at once. But, waiting is beautiful. It delays the feeling of gratification but it also makes you realize the importance of what it is that you’re waiting for. Not knowing the outcome of a particular decision is okay.

When nothing is certain, anything is possible.

So learn to wait.

 

23. Life is happening right now

We often dwell on our past – the mistakes we made, the things we should or shouldn’t have said, the people we trusted, etc. If not that, then we live in a constant worry about our future, wondering if and when will our life present itself in its greatest form to us. What we tend to forget is that life is happening right now, right now while you’re reading this. Be mindful of the present moment. Smile at the things that are going really well and also at those that you can do nothing about. Show life who’s the boss!

 

24. The best is yet to come

Life is short; it can end at any moment. But that’s just one possibility, right? What if it’s long? What if we live to see our great-grandkids? And aliens when they descend on Earth? Okay, I may have taken it a little too far. But the bottom-line is, as long as we’re alive, we must hope. We must hope that our problems will come to an end and that we will be okay. We must hope that the best is yet to come; and that it will.

 

I would like to end this by saying that everything that’s mentioned above is purely my understanding of life and it’s way of working. I DO NOT wish to enforce my views on anyone. These are just a bunch of things that I picked up on my way over the last 24 years and I hope that you are able to let go of parts that you don’t concur with.