For the love of love.

I think this was around 5 years back. She quite nonchalantly mentioned him in a conversation and subsequently dragged me into her room when she was skyping and pointed at the screen and said ‘Say hi to Max. Max, this is my little cousin sister’.

When I grew up, she was this mysterious cousin in far away Bombay who occasionally came to Madras, ate nothing but boiled vegetables and was a singer. When I moved to Pune 5 years (almost!) ago, I made my way to Bombay for my first long weekend, she welcomed me home with the giant-est hug, and I haven’t left since.

She’s moved from Bombay since but she’s managed to make me feel like home everywhere she is. Be it in Bombay where I always sleep in her room, or the time in NYC where she took us out for dinner and then insisted I HAD to see her place. We walked in, she pointed out the guest room saying “that’s your room for when you come next time”, and she gave me two pairs of earrings when I left.

And that was that.

To a 22 year old trying to find her way around the north of the Vindhyas and trying to figure if advertising was her career, she counselled, guided and reminded me so many times that I didn’t need to change who I was to fit into an industry or a job. That I needed to do things so long as they worked for me, made sense to me, appealed to my principles and that if I ever felt faith slipping away, all I had to do was reach out to her.

And that I did. Multiple times.

There’s something about positive people. They have this incredible energy around them, they give you faith and hope in humanity, they reinstate it when it feels lost.

She’s inspired me in so many different ways. To love myself, to respect my brain, follow my heart and take care of my body by exercising and eating healthy. To be a kind person, to be calm and sensitive. To outrage for the things that mattered. To not be afraid to voice my opinions. To embrace storms that Bombay threw at me and get past them like a boss. To be confident, to be powerful, to see the beauty and art in all the little things around me.

Around 10 days ago, this beautiful person married her love, her best friend.

I’ve been to my share of weddings, and this easily tops as one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve attended. Yes, because of the gorgeous location, yes because of all the fun we had, yes, because of many things.

More than anything it was a wedding that celebrated Marriage. Friendship. Trust. Faith. Love. Family. Togetherness. Art.

It brought together people from across the globe. It brought together two paths of faith- not to pick one, but to blend both. Be it the kanyadaanam or the Hebrew prayers under a canopy that had pictures of their ancestors, the best of both brought together two of the best people I’ve known. Be it the honest vows that brought tears to everyone watching, the absolutely sparkling smiles, the loud guffaws through the ceremonies or quite simply a bride and groom who danced their way through their wedding, this was a celebration of all things beautiful.

And it was inclusive. It didn’t just bring the two of them together, it brought families, countries, faiths, hearts together.

And all of a sudden, the world became a gloriously small place.

As I watched my big sister and brother-in-law get married, I saw the many, many things she’s brought to my life in the last few years. The way she’s opened my mind up to so many incredible perspectives, merely by the stories she’s told me and the people I’ve met through her. The warmth and love they share, that brought together 150 people from across the world for one celebration here, in Bombay. The fighter spirit in her to stick to what she believes in, and to make it happen for everybody, happily. The ability to look beyond the ‘said and set’ mandates.

And quite simply, the happiness in just being.

Dachu and Max, thank you for reminding us of wonder and magic, love and hope.

 

People don’t grow on trees.

So here’s the thing. The thing that’s not said enough, that needs to be said a gazillion times over.

It’s okay to be single. 

Yes, it’s okay.

Yes, everyone around you are getting married and having babies, but if it’s not your time yet, it’s perfectly okay.

Last night was not fun. I was hit by a wave of ‘I’m so happy with work, but will I ever know the happiness apart from it’.

Luckily work has been hectic enough to keep me distracted, Tinder has been uninteresting enough, and the arranged route has elicited some crack responses so I’m on a break on all personal fronts.

But here’s the thing. These feelings creep up occasionally, and they tend to gnaw at the brain. It didn’t help that I was asked by people what plans I had for today, which had me explain that never had, never did and that was okay. I don’t believe in this crap in any case. And luckier, I had a host of friends, cousins and a sister who talked me through this state of mind.

Exhibit B was interesting though.

Find someone”. 

So. Here’s how it doesn’t work. People aren’t and cannot be ‘found’. There’s no tree of single, interesting people (as the sister says). And the more people say this, the more internal pressure rises. So please, please, don’t say this so loosely. 

And here’s the thing about people that I’ve realised over the last year. There’s no ‘finding’. It happens or it just doesn’t. There are times a perfectly good relationship fails. There are times you go out and meet incredible people, but maybe the timing is off and it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe they didn’t see it the way you did, but all said and done is that you cannot force things to ‘happen’.

Some people are just transactional, and you’ll learn to deal with that. Some people can’t multi-task. Some are pure perfect but it was never meant to be.

What I’ve also come to understand is that by constantly stressing and obsessing over meeting or not meeting people, we’re devaluing ourselves.

We’re devaluing the hobbies we make time for. We’re devaluing our abilities to be comfortable by ourselves. We’re devaluing our strength to be okay being alone for the time being. We’re devaluing all the things we have worked so hard to make for ourselves.

And we need to stop doing that.

Instead, we need to love ourselves more. Hope, more. Make efforts. Talk, have real conversations. Stop panicking seeing 2 blue ticks and no reply. Stop being afraid to speak our mind and heart. Make efforts. Make the damn efforts.

We need to make the time for ourselves. We need to make the time for exercise. We need to write. We need to draw. We need to make the time for the outdoors. We need to make the time for people who matter.

And when it gets a bit much we need to take a step back and reconfigure ourselves to being the people we are proud of being.

And we need to be kind. Always, be kind.

(And we need to reset alarm clocks to wake up and make it to the gym on time)

 

 

 

 

No, you may not.

I was at work today when a colleague brought up the Bangalore molestation issue.

‘Did you see that? It’s horrible!’

I was reading some pieces about it, I read about how women went running towards cops because nobody else could help. I read about how the Bangalore Mirror got pictures of the whole thing. I read about how ‘nobody filed a complaint’. I read about how ‘Bangalore is becoming like Delhi’.

On my way home from a meeting today, this popped up on my timeline. These are people I’ve written for in the past, and I’ve always liked that they try to say something that nobody else really is. Reading the title I presumed that maybe, maybe it was yet another ‘open letter’, but as I read more, my headache returned and so did some uncomfortable memories.

Aged 13, Boy who used to stare me down, follow me around, and one day came up and said ‘I know where you live, I’ve followed you home’. I distinctly remember going to Amma and telling her I could no longer ignore it because I was scared. He was warned off, and I forgot about it thinking ‘Okay nothing worse happened’.

Aged 15, random catering man at random function who thought it was fine to touch the backside of a girl. Girl who did not know then that it was okay to talk about these things or that it had to be reported. Terrified, I just resorted to forgetting about it thinking ‘Okay nothing worse happened’.

3 years of traveling by the PTC bus from college to home every single day. I want to say I have not been touched, stared at or rubbed against, but that would be a blatant lie of gigantic proportions. I know of a classmate who once stabbed the palm a guy who tried to grope her on a bus. She held his hand as he groped, pulled out a pencil and stabbed it. Nevertheless, on the bus, I used to just think ‘Okay nothing worse happened’.

A friend who once got groped in a crowded subway. Someone who got followed. A friend who recently had multiple men come up to her at a bar saying ‘Hey happy birthday, it’s my birthday too’ and promptly thought it was okay to dance with her and maybe try to twirl her.

Hold on. Who said you could touch?

And that’s what it is. At the heart of it, and beyond the ruckus behind ‘The cops did the best they could’, or Government officials who say “She was wearing western clothes she asked for it”, here’s the damn thing.

We didn’t.

We didn’t ask for the drink at the bar. We didn’t ask to be twirled. We didn’t ask to be touched on the bus. We didn’t ask to be stared at in a classroom. We didn’t ask for your number. We didn’t ask you to send us the ‘I saw your profile on Tinder and it’s interesting, can we chat’ message on Facebook.

We didn’t.

We didn’t ask for excuses for why things happened. We didn’t even ask for protection, seeing there’s none that’s there up for grabs. We didn’t ask for ourselves to be up for grabs. We didn’t have to scroll self-defense lessons on Fitternity, thinking in the back of our head that it was a good idea to know, ‘just in case’. We didn’t have to message a friend every 2 minutes on our auto/taxi ride home to tell them we’re doing okay, and that we’ve reached home.

Heck, we didn’t have to send the ‘Share ride details’ message each time we took an Uber.

All we’re asking is for people to understand consent. For people to control their urges to look, stare or touch. For people to go around thinking that ‘it’s okay’ to do so, without consent. We ask for an understanding of the word ‘No’. We ask that you don’t buy us that drink. We ask that if you do, you know we don’t owe you ANYTHING.

We just ask that you keep your hands, minds and urges to yourself. That you stop blaming us for how we dress or talk or look, and instead question why you can’t control the other person to behave in a rational way. We ask that you don’t presume we want something. We ask that you STOP giving excuses for why something happened, and instead really question why it’s happening in the first place and do a damn thing about it.

And more than anything, we just ask for one day where we don’t have to go to sleep thinking, ‘Okay nothing worse happened’.

 

One 2016 to go, please.

I remember the movies, when I grew up. They’d saunter in to a coffee shop where someone at the counter would know their name. And their order. ‘The usual’. They’d slip in to their ‘usual’ seat by the window and watch as life went by.

And I’d always wonder, as a 13 year old, if I’d ever do such things.

Also as the skinny, gawky, 13 year old who wore bug-eyed glasses and looked like a beanpole, I spent hours talking to cousins and friends, dreaming of how when I was 23, I’d have met this amaaaazing guy, and I’d be ‘settled’ in a ‘love-arranged’ marriage, yada yada yada.

I don’t know why, but back then we dreamt more about love, or the idea of it than real things such as work, living independently, cities we’d maybe be living in, etc.

Fast forward, December 2016.

If there’s one time of the year (not including every 3rd weekend of every year) that gets me reflecting life, where I am at the moment, and where I think I am heading to, it’s December.

I rang in 2015, my first ‘New Year’ in Bombay, in Bombay with friends. I hadn’t yet accepted this city, and I presumed I’d be out in the next year or so.

2 years down, I’m still here. And I’m still reflecting. 

2016 has been a rather, rather disappointing year, on a purely personal level. While professionally there was a very emotional job change to what is seeming to be a large step ahead, and even at home it’s been wonderful with respect to people getting married and babies coming in to this world, this will always go down as the year I lost and re-gained faith in myself. Hopefully, the only year.

While it started out with a bit of a chipped heart, and then a downward rollercoaster existential crisis at work, it tentatively balanced out when I holidayed with the sister and BIL who gave me sufficient reason and time for me to understand that all was not lost or the end of the universe.

As 24 crept away, the traditional pressure to ‘settle’ came closer.

Where I failed myself in succumbing to the pressure and truly letting it get to me and bother my confidence in myself and generally wonder if life would ever work out, I succeeded in building the closest net of friends here, in the big city.

Unbeknown to myself, I had built the fiercest set of friends here. Friends who I had started out by having a simple lunch at work with, who are today, my go-to people if I’m flipping out at 3am because a boy hasn’t replied to my message for 4 days and who’ll remind me how such people aren’t worth my time. Friends who will pick up a 11:30pm call and immediately cross the road to help me lug my bags up 3 floors because I’m exhausted with pulling my suitcases. Friends whose homes I will barge in to for a mid-week dinner, where I’ll say “I need food now” and who will listen to me whine and cry about life, and tell me as it is when I’m being an idiot and also remind me that their grey couch is always there for me to crash on when I’m low. Friends who come with me to the doctor on their birthday day off just so I don’t need to go alone. And friends who say ‘Come home, I’ll make you some soup and you can lie down here and relax’ when I’m crouched alone under the covers with a raging 102 that refuses to let up. School friends who go back more than 10 years and who are more than family, and who remind me of everything home. Aunts who are always ready with some rasam for the soul.

Where I had presumably convinced myself I had failed at what was supposed to be ‘love’ and all that bull-crap, I’d shined the crap out the universe with the most amazing bunch of people by my side.

Where it seemed that I would maybe never meet people, I had gotten up and gone out and met people I had never, and learnt to be okay with it not happening again. I did some right and left swiping, and signed out with knowing I tried.

And more than anything I realised the power of being forgiving. Not to other people, that was my lesson last year, but to myself. I cut myself some slack, stopped being so harsh and judgemental on my own self, and let myself be. I also learnt kindness, learnt to hug more, learnt to let go of things more, and learnt that it’s okay and important to say ‘I love you’ if you do. All this has been spinning around a quote I love, and I’ve been trying to absorb.

“I’ve learned that people will forgetwhat you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”– Maya Angelou

Somewhere behind all this, I discovered parents who listened and understood, a sister who was my fiercest support and a BIL who refused to let me give up, cousins who were always at the ready end of a panicky FaceTime call, or who’d gently remind me how maybe, maybe  I didn’t need someone in my life at this point because that is never something that defines me, and shouldn’t be, at 3am as she fed her 2 week old daughter AND gave me important life lessons.

Beyond the self-doubt, low confidence and pressure, it’s been a year of people. Of the most amazing people with me. Of building relationships of every kind. Of being kind. Of loving. Of a gazillion hugs. Of fighting battles on the inside. Of being brave. Of powering through lonely days.

And most of all, it’s been realising that this city I refused to accept has wormed it’s way in to my heart. I no longer claim it’s my last year in Bombay. Behind the crazy work days and mental monsoons, I found myself a place and home. One filled with fun nights with friends. Filled with the best of food and mid-week gigs. Filled with fairy lights, laughter, warmth and the feeling of a secure net.

One filled with people I love.

And an Udipi place down the road that asks why I haven’t stopped by in 2 weeks. And who then immediately give me that cup of coffee.

Oh hey. I found myself that coffee shop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re 25, then you should be married.

It’s been a long time coming, this. But at some point it’s important to stop worrying about the people you might hate, but actually raising an alarm to something that’s troubled you, and doing so with the hopes that it someday doesn’t trouble someone else.

The holiday season has always been full of cheer. Around this time last year I was in what was then, an incredibly happy relationship, and it seemed much cheerier. However time passed by, relationships withered away and life moved on. So did age.

Post all that drama, for a few months, the folks understood and held back on any marriage pressure. Something that was new to both of us- me explaining a broken relationship and the side-effects to my mother, and them understanding the repercussions it had and respecting it. These are things that define the wonderful relationship I have with my folks. And the sister is of great help in helping them understand it.

That being said, it didn’t stop the rest of the world.

24 and a 1/2 came along, and the pressure intensified.

“You’re going to be 25 soon. You need to find someone”

So here’s the funny thing.

Finding doesn’t just ‘happen’

What happens more often than not is that at the ‘ripe’ age of 24-25 you’re either with someone who is the same age and hence not in the same frame of mind with respect to ‘settling down’ or you’re with someone older who may have different priorities. In times like these, you might sometimes need to walk away, for no fault of either party.

So here’s the thing. I never knew how damaging the ‘find someone and get married soon’ statement was, until it was made to me. For a few months, it marinated my head. It made me imagine I wasn’t good enough to hold together relationships. It convinced me that I wouldn’t in any future ones. It made me feel like I was running a race, a race all alone where somehow, someone had to magically appear next to me. It made me feel like I had to be ‘on the look out’ every single time. No, that maybe, maybe all I did want was to go out on one fun date and that’s all.

It made me forget who I really was.

Through this incredibly existential crisis, I panicked. Everything in my head spiralled out of control. My sanity was safe-guarded by the darling sister, my cousins, some dear, dear friends and most surprisingly, my parents. All it took was one simple explanation to them that this was doing awful things to my self-confidence, to get them to stop asking me.

And it has worked, and how. 

It’s given me the confidence to say “Please Patti stop asking me to get married” every time she says something. It’s given me the humour to smile and make a joke every time someone said anything at a wedding I went to. It’s reminded me of why my sister tells me she hopes her kids someday learn how to be ‘strong and independent’ like their Chithi (aunt). It’s helped me see what my cousins mean when they think I’m doing a half-decent job of things here alone.

But more than anything, it’s reminded me of the person I never dared to dream to be. I sort of liked the trajectory, so pushing myself back on it has been quite a delight.

More than anything it’s helped to voice this voice in my head. To not let it take over my mind and heart. To not let it control or demand from relationships. To relax the pressure I’d unwittingly piled on myself, and to stop thinking I was a horrible person or a terrible failure.

So here’s the thing. The next time you loosely ask someone to have a baby or get married, think again. Think of whether what you’re saying is truly in jest. And more than anything, maybe start to think of what you’re adding on to in their head. I’m all for ‘It’s just out of good will and concern’, but maybe it doesn’t always articulate that way.

My moment of truth happened the day my niece was born. It hit me then that I needed to be that person her mum thought I was. I needed to validate what she was maybe going to believe in. I wanted her to be in a world not defined by when a woman should get married, how many babies she should have and whether she had to be cat-lady if she was single at 30.

And if I had to show her the sunshine, I had to believe in some myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

/ɪndɪˈpɛnd(ə)nt/

I write of that word they float around so loosely sometimes.

‘Independent’.

Growing up in Madras, I often heard this word. It was most often used as a reason as to why people didn’t agree to get married. Or why some didn’t work.

‘She’s too independent. Doesn’t want to live with his family’

‘She asked if he could cook. Girls have become that independent these days’

It rarely bothered me back then because I didn’t understand or realise the implications of these things being said. It wasn’t being said to me, right?

Fast forward to today.

Today, I’m the first girl in my generation in my immediate family who is 25, single and living away from home and working in the media industry. That being said, I have seen my sisters in incredibly happy relationships that progressed to marriage in their early 20s. Today, almost 9 years/4 years/even 3 months down, I see them and absorb the kind of healthy relationship I would eventually want for myself some day. I see them as individuals, as two people making something work out, I see the efforts, the sacrifices, the hard work that goes into it every single day, and I am incredibly happy it has worked out for them the way it has.

That being said, I’m often asked why I haven’t ‘settled down’ yet. Why haven’t I ‘found someone’ yet.

‘Independent’

The word I didn’t pay much heed to has crept in to my spirit. The last 3 years in Bombay has taught me many, many things (more on this later). Keeping aside the domesticity it taught me- including how to manage a hand faucet that was spewing water in every single direction with no way of switching it off, and also how to say 250gm in Hindi when I had to buy vegetables (apparently ½ of ½ isn’t a proper explanation), it’s seeded a healthy dose of that independence that they dismissed when I was younger.

The same independence that today gives me the confidence to speak to someone new. That has me hosting multiple friends who visit me, including taking them out and around, showing them crazy Friday nights and lazy Sunday brunches. The same independence that’s got me equally comfortable going for a gig with people I maybe don’t know super-well and having an absolute blast, and at the same time curling up on a couch with friends on a Friday night listening to some music.

It’s that same independence that’s seen me through relationships that have not worked out. That’s been the motivation to look beyond and ahead. To invest in something that seems worth it. To move from it when it doesn’t seem to make sense. To not misplace my faith but instead give second chances a third chance. The independence to walk away when things were not in my favour so as to save grace for not just one, but two people. The independence to be comfortable in my own skin. The independence that makes a Friday night alone at home less of a depressing activity and more of time to myself. The independence to say ‘no’.

It’s the same independence that’s kept me sane. That’s kept my pride and confidence intact (at most times, atleast. For others, there’s always been the steady stream of friends and family to have my back). The same independence that’s helped me understand when I’m ready for what. To not bow down to family or societal pressure just becuase ‘it’s time’ or the ‘right thing to do’. It’s less of a function of upsetting the folks and more of just being ready for certain things, mentally. It’s about having built a certain system for yourself, and figuring how it works when other people are part of the equation, and then making it work.

And today, it’s all that dreaded independence that’s made these things clearer. It’s no longer any ‘right or wrong’, but more of what seems right at the right time.

And the next time someone says “she’s too independent”, I’m going to smile and think ‘that’s the best thing that could have happened to her’.

In between feeds.

The cousin sister, B Akka, had a baby girl two weeks ago.

I’ve been in many situations where it’s been impossible to articulate a certain feeling. As of now, this one takes the cake. The minute I heard she was born, something changed.

It suddenly seemed like there was so much more purpose, in this world. It suddenly seemed like there was so much to better and change. And more than anything, there’s been a lightening of realisation to be a person that’s more confident, that doesn’t get bogged down by social and family pressures, that doesn’t channel that pressure internally, and more than anything to like myself again.

After 10 days of going nuts because I couldn’t see her, a sudden work trip to Madras gave me the chance to meet the little Pattani. She’s a calm cookie who downright refuses to sleep during the nights. So as part of my ‘let’s try spending as much time with her’ mantra, I decided to spend a night with the family just to see what it’s like.

Now I’ve heard horror stories on how difficult it is when newborns don’t sleep at night.

Pleaaasee. We’ve all done all nighters, this is no biggie.

LULZ.

So I entered the house around 9:30pm. My aunt had just put her to bed, so she immediately said “Okay sleep now!”. I of course, didn’t take that seriously, and decided to stay up the first leg.

Please. Who sleeps at 10pm anyway?

Wrong again.

In 2 hours, the peanut was awake. She fed, and then between the aunt and me we got her back to sleep in an hour.

Rinse and repeat, 2 more times till 4am.

At that point, I realised we’d become attuned to it. The feed cry every 2 hours. The ones in between invariably meant a change. A change in diaper meant one person had to cajole the squalling infant who was obviously in great levels of discomfort while the other person wiped, changed and made her feel dry again. An outfit change involved buttons. By the time one foot was carefully manuevered into the foot of her nightsuit, the other would be out. We eventually learnt the trick of buttoning up as we went. Our little puppy did not like being held down, and it broke our heart to see her so upset.

And then came the 4am feed. At this point, we decided it was time to wake up. Pattani decided she was done sleeping in any case. Post her feed, she stayed up, gnawed on us and gave us some toothy, sleepy smiles and yawns. And while she fed, I had the most wonderful conversations with the sister. On life, love, relationships, family. She shows me perspective I’ve never seen, she nudges me to see a side of myself I refuse to see.

The whole night I sat thinking how much an individual changes lives. How my aunt’s ‘fixed routine’ now revolves around her little granddaughter. How 4pm naps are as effective as a good night sleep. How attuned she is to the sound of even a slight whimper from the Pattani.

I am in awe. I am in absolute awe of my sister who does this every day.
Dealing not just with complete body changes, but also learning to understand a brand new person through her expressions, reactions, responses, smiles and cries, and then doing what has to be done with elan. It’s a brand new avatar, and I start to see what they mean when they say “It’s all worth it.”

More than anything, my little Pattani causes the most wonder. I hold her in my arms and wonder what’s going through that little head. How does she know how to grab on to fingers? How does she know how to sleep? When we’re upset we have a series of choice words to give the world. How does a little infant know how to communicate what she needs? What’s going on in her head as she smiles in her sleep?

And would I do these all-nighters again?

I would, a thousand times over.