Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Letter 2: Diary Entry no 7802 (approximately)

Me time. Nice and proper. I got it today. Because I am lucky. I could go to Rajani early, and S was asleep by 730pm, after some extra screaming because she was tired. Today was a breeze. There will be other days that will be gales, hurricanes, tsunamis, or earthquakes. And I am going to quake on those days. The house will be a mess on those days, and so will I. I want to tell the Future Me that it’s ok to come unstuck and plop on the floor once in a while. If I want to work; if I want to do more than what I am doing now, it is always going to be a stretch. And I can only get through it if I go easy on myself, and on others around me. Life will happen like it did through May and June, and it is going to continue to happen. Initially I thought that getting back to work will be easier when S is older, but now I feel that there is no guarantee for the future. Or, in a very Interstellar-esque way, what I do today will define my tomorrow. If S is happy and healthy, and A and I are able to make something more out of living in the same house, then there is already a lot to be thankful for. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Letter 1: What the H.


Dear Nivi of 2018,

I know that you’re wondering what you got yourself into, for the nth time in life. You are thinking - all this sublime enthusiasm for the new and unexplored is sweet, but one head duck into deep waters and it feels terrifying! 

Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t tell yourself that you never learn. You are a very fast learner. But with this, there is just no other way but to learn as you do. 

Before S was born, you told yourself you were doing this in case you wanted a child later but couldn’t have one naturally. Now, one look at her sleeping, crying, laughing, curious, screaming face and you wonder why there ever was an ‘in case’. A seconded your opinion at that time. He still does. 

For you, the 30s have been the decade of inflection in terms of experiences. There were so many critical but excellent decisions that you took. I am reaping the benefits of all your hard work until today. 

So don’t doubt yourself. On the bleak days, tell yourself one word - phase. Phase. Come and go. Go and come. 

You know the rest. I have faith in you. 


Lots of love and a giant hug,
Nivi of 2028

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

My Stroke(s)

I was watching "One Day", the sweet rom-com on TV today, fast forwarding through 1 hour within a span of 15 minutes. When Anne Hathaway asks the newest waiter at the Mexican restaurant she worked at, "What's your stroke? Waiter/Writer, Waiter/Actor?" I realised that I have had more than my share of them, lately. 

Perennially exhausted new mom
/ lamentably absent wife 
/ demanding daughter 
/ surly daughter-in-law 
/ semi productive freelancer 
/ paranoid house cleaner 
/ ex-dreamer of dreams

I have landed smack dab in the exact place I did NOT want to be - biting off more than I can chew. Struggling to join the loose ends and just creating more in the process. 

Family obligations mean that I cannot work as much as I would like. Neither can I finish the unpacking that has been pending since we moved (almost a month now), or run any other errands. I am stuck composing eloquent sentences in my head, reading Seneca on my phone and wishing I could type as fast with my thumb as with all my fingers on a laptop keyboard. Oh, did I forget? All while crooning "ahhh" the little one to sleep. Then I put her down and my eyelids droop. 15 minutes, I tell myself. 

Then she is crying herself awake and I am rushing over with help and comfort. 

A and I make plans to go for a movie but my parents have to go out of town and I am babysitting. A wants his mom home, and I think: can I really take more? 

Really, how much more can I take? How much longer? How much farther? Should I be grateful that she is not crawling yet? That she is not speaking yet? Or walking? That I got what I wanted? That it has to come like this, at this cost, because I cannot not do it perfectly?

When I have eaten last? A cup of lukewarm milk at 11am. It's 4pm now and I have lost my appetite. The little one reads my moods like a book. So she cries and I make funny faces at her, which works. She wants to picked up and I take us both out for a walk. 

Nietzsche gives me company every now and then, telling me that what doesn't kill me only makes me stronger. I suppose I will have the hollowed out eyes, stained clothes and sticky hair to show for it soon enough. Dwindling bank balance - I already have - so that's one item accomplished. 

It's a deep, dark tunnel, this one. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. That's how it's done.  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A 'Motherhood' Statement

This phrase rang in my head last week, while I struggled with my wayward thoughts and a newborn that had been crying for five continuous hours and was still going strong.

'A motherhood statement' is one that has universal acceptance. It also has mildly negative connotations, in that it is a statement that adds little or no value to a debate where taking a side is considered a sign of progress.

I have now promised myself never to use this phrase again. Simply because there is absolutely nothing universal about motherhood, other than the fact that it has existed since the advent of humankind. The appropriate word for this would be 'continuous' or 'vital' even. But universal? Definitely not.

As my baby turns four weeks old, she learned to cry for food, to move her limbs voluntarily and showed the first glimpses of a 'social smile'. I, on the other hand, learned that there are solutions that the world and its sister preaches, and then there are solutions that work for me and my baby. My solution, like the ones that others offered me, would serve as a guideline at best, and yet another experiment for some other new mother to try, at worst.

I am just a month into being a mom, and I already realise that it is an incredibly difficult job. Yet many women, across centuries have done it and continue to do so in a world that judges them more harshly for being a mother than anything else.

At the risk of sounding harsh and judgemental myself, I would say that the same pseudo-masochism that pervades our male dominated society today has seeped into the child rearing as well. Why mothers are weary of talking about how tough it is to first give birth, and then to (single handedly) manage a child is beyond me. Maybe it's because if we judge each other on a level of 'x', we judge mothers on a scale of 10x. So there's virtually nothing a mother can do to please everyone. Or maybe because women are already considered the weaker sex, so complaining about how tough it is to do the one thing that we have been doing for centuries doesn't help our case. 

My counter point: It does. Not talking about how much work child rearing is makes it insignificant, which it is most certainly not. I used to pride myself on taking on life's lemons, without a whine. This worked perfectly till I got married. Then the seemingly effortless way in which I managed my life led people around me to believe that I was just coasting along. When in reality, I had been employing considerable mental strength and meticulous planning to get through each day, albeit quietly. 

Learnings to take with me into 2018: 
1. Talk about my day to the ones who matter, because they need to see how much work goes into being a mother, running a house AND (thinking about) working
2. Don't compromise on my priorities, no matter the external pressure. If they are wrongly placed, at least I will only have myself to blame
3. Tell myself that everything is possible with time, oodles of patience and constant support

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Peaking

Throughout my life I have had periods of absolute silence. Growing up, I didn’t make too many friends, so I learned to amuse myself with books (I was just beginning then), the Nintendo (for a short and dangerously addictive period) and movies (a love for which I carry till now). A’s chaotic, gregarious family made me realise that my family had always been into long silences where each member would disappear into his/her haven within the house for hours till the Mother or a rumbling stomach propelled them outwards. 

In the past year I have grown to first notice, then resent, and now cherish these periods of complete, utter quiet. Being on my own meant dramatically less social interaction, so I was back to amusing myself, much like when I was ten or twelve years old. I resented the silence because it reminded me in what felt like loudspeaker volume, of my crazy decision to throw away my career to “determine what work I do with my time”. Over and over again. It has taken me a better part of the year to accept this dramatic change. Being independent meant that work could be irregular, so there were bound to be quiet times. I would have to learn to tide through these times if I wanted to be ready for the high tide, when work would come flowing in and the number of hours in my days wouldn't be enough for the work that needed to be done. 

It seems now that along with a career decision, I had subconsciously put a number of other significant life changes into action. Not knowing when or from where the next project was going to come from effectively halted the long term planning I used to spend hours doing earlier. Not to mention the stress of these intricately made plans not working out, well, just because. I had bigger problems to worry about now, like where my next billing was going to come from, and how I was going to convince that new client to give me the project. 

In the silence of my own thoughts, I became more aware of my weaknesses, but at the same time more appreciative of my strengths. It would be my strengths that I would have to play to, in order to make my freelancing career work. I learned to celebrate milestones, big or otherwise. I realised how impossible the task I had set myself was - to be superlative and nothing short of perfect in everything I do. Now that I actually had a choice on how to spend my time during the week (no office to run to or boss to put up with), I gravitated towards doing a few things well - 
- I am a cook by necessity, but I learned to enjoy it by choosing to do it when I wanted to, and making the dishes that I enjoyed eating
- I prefer depth in relationships to width. I eschewed the conventional ‘networking’ that everyone insisted I needed to do in order to survive on my own, and contented myself with keeping in touch with the few people who mattered to me, and enjoyed having the flexibility to meet them during the week at their convenience. Those long, leisurely chats propelled my thinking and I came away with more ideas, because I now let them in
- I accepted that I would be bad or less than perfect at some things. I could swim the shallow depths of mediocrity across multiple oceans, or deeply discover one. I choose the latter and that was it. 

More than one erstwhile colleague remarked that I looked so much happier now than earlier. I would call this change acceptance. Across multiple levels. 

I still do not want to admit to myself, that I did not have the courage to listen to what my heart has been telling me for a while now. Today I came across this interview and multiple incidents clicked in place in my head. 

During a training session I conducted recently, a participant celebrating her 30th birthday described her feelings as “depressed” and “old”. Someone else piped up, saying that for him, the 30s were far more fun than the 20s. To have known in the 20s, the clarity with which he could think in the next decade! I silently concurred. The blurred mess that was the 20s was important. It was the dirty, sandy water at the top before the clear blue of the ocean deeper down. It was a necessary rite of passage, of a kind. 

I remember feeling in school, irrelevant in the larger scheme of things just because I had missed the top mark in the class by one or two points. It had meant the world to me then, like a symbol of achieving something. Of course my fourteen year old self did not know any better because she didn’t know anything else. The fact, however is that the very same test became irrelevant as soon as I found some other missed goal to obsess about. I realise now that - for the most popular girl in school, who also topped all tests and was a star athlete to boot, the answer to the question “what next?” was way more difficult to answer. Mine was a relative cakewalk - get to the top of the class. 

There is nothing wrong with early success. It’s great validation and has many advantages. Sometimes, though, it can obscure the real story; the real calling. Jhumpa Lahiri echoes this when she talks about her decision to move to Rome and write in Italian:

“The answer, I believe, is that I’m seeking the freedom to write in my own way, to write whatever I want in whichever language, form, length, and without any pressure.”

She should know. She won the Pulitzer at 32 for her first book, The Interpreter of Maladies, and has written three other books (The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth, The Lowland) thereafter on similar themes, in a similar language. The same thing that propelled her to fame restricted her growth as a writer. In other words, there is such a thing as peaking too early. 

In sharp contrast is the feeling of collectedness I got from Vivek Shanbaug when he spoke about his Ghachar Ghochar entering mainstream publishing with its translation into English and further release in the US. Of course, this is no comparison to the Pulitzer, but a new, exciting and potentially significant step for a Kannada writer of more than three decades. I will never forget the deadpan expression with which he told us that Ghachar Ghochar as a story had been in his head for ten years before he put it into paper! To have waited so long, first for it to materialise and then for it to be translated into English. 


While there is extensive documentation on how and why one can recover from failures, we underestimate or even ignore that some recovery, and a lot of of effort is required to turn around from one successful peak and make another one happen. Absurd and ungrateful as it may sound, there is such a thing as a problem with success. What can help here, though, is a little perspective. That’s what the doldrums, the turbulent times, the slow times, the bad times, the silences are for. They are scary, but necessary. They are there to remind us of all that we have not done, lost, chosen to let go, all to get to the next summit. That’s the path, I believe, to multiple peaks in one life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Unconcern of Adam

I am presently engaged in a jigsaw puzzle of the famous painting by Michelangelo in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, known as the "Creation of Adam". This painting is one of many that adorn this historical monument so it is hard for a first time visitor plus average tourist to absorb anything more than the sheer scale of the endeavour that is the ceiling. I got lucky - the free Android app that I had downloaded when I had visited Italy in June 2014 had skipped tourist places to visit in Rome, but had a beautifully detailed audio account of this very magnum opus. So I had spent 45 quiet minutes inside the Chapel with my neck craned upwards and my mind in awe. Wanting to take back a souvenir, I splurged on a 540-piece jigsaw puzzle for 11 Euros. 



My first attempt to put it together after I got back was abandoned almost as soon as it had begun, what with life's sundry pressures taking its toll. Two weeks ago I pulled the box out, craving an outlet for my wayward thoughts. So it was that three-odd years on, the exquisite form of this painting took a slow but steady shape on one corner of the bed. Four days later I was surprised to find myself more involved in this project than ever, contrary to my usual waning of interest in any new project that I undertake. Yesterday I googled the painting. Among other things, two points surprised me: that Michelangelo was a deeply religious man, and that one of the messages encased in the “Creation of Adam” was God’s ultimate power in the creation of man. Maybe it is my interpretation of the painting, but all I could see in the scattered pieces was not awe, but a nonchalance underlined by a satirical smile - driven solely by man’s incredible sense of self importance. 

Let me explain why. 

The key part of this work is Adam, the first man created by God, getting life through a touch of His finger. 


One of the interpretations I read described Adam as lifeless; being incapable of energy and therefore lying in a heap on Earth, weak. While God was surrounded by a halo and a bevy of angels, floating in the air. He is depicted in energetic (and of course, beatific) movement, stretching his fair, muscled and hairless arm towards Adam all the way from Heaven, as if to offer help.  

I did not see helplessness in Adam's glorious, naked form. In his lazy, lounge-like posture, I saw entitlement instead. And in the way he stretched his finger out at God, an irreverent carelessness. Almost like as if he was saying, “You owe me this, already. After all, isn’t this why You made me?” 

It is true that we do not ask to be given life. We are born because of someone else. But once we are, it is our responsibility to ourselves to make this life count. Ever since I convinced myself that I had a choice on how to live my life and went about doing precisely that, I have noticed with greater and greater frequency, how many others share Adam’s sense of entitlement. It could be adult children expecting their parents to support them financially even after they are capable to being on their own, or employees expecting a certain treatment by their organisations. But most of all, I see this helplessness manifested the strongest in times of crises. Beyond the “Why me?” is a feeling of hopelessness that they are “destined” to suffer, followed by an envy of others who are not sharing a similar fate at the same time. Why they do not ask “Why me?” when something good happens is apparently a moot point. 

Beyond the fleeting moment when we enter this world, we are on our own. To expect anything more from fate, destiny, our families or friends is misguided. After all, if God wanted to control everyone’s life, why create a living, breathing, thinking human form? Might as well have created amoebae that are scarcely aware of themselves, let alone the purpose of their lives. 

Seneca echoes this thought far more eloquently, when he asks: 

But how can a man learn, in the struggle against his vices, an amount that is enough, if the time which he gives to learning is only the amount left over from his vices?

None of us goes deep below the surface. We skim the top only, and we regard the smattering of time spent in the search for wisdom as enough and to spare for a busy man.

I think where and how we start out is no indication of where we end up. It does not mean that we disregard our origins; it means that irrespective of how we came into this world and began living, we should aim to become wiser and happier. In a life with limited time, energy and resources, we, and we alone must make the decision on where, and how to spend them. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Picking my Battles

I feel battle weary. Nothing like the true blue action in Amish's latest, but a test of will and perseverance all the same. 

I brushed past another insidious comment today with a seemingly innocent one of my own, effectively quelling a potential confrontation. There have now been so many word wars I have avoided, I have ceased to keep count. 

It was only recently, as I celebrated a year of being on my own, that I realised all that I didn't do, at the same time I noted all that I did. I didn't act as much as I observed. I didn't look back as much as forward. Finally, I didn't fight back even though I could. 

I don't remember the first time my parents advised me to "pick my battles", but it's been repeated often enough since. I first let things go when I was barely out of college. Dictated by pride, convincing myself that silence was the hallmark of the dignified. But that only led to the fire burning inside of me instead of outside. The next time I smiled at a disparaging dig it was at work. I had smiled because my next decision, which had been to quit that job, had suddenly become so much easier. 

Over the past month or so, the figurative demons I have been fighting have been the makings of my own mind - a potent mix of abundant hormones, a rapidly tiring body and a burning purpose to do work worth my while. Strange bedfellows have been my only constant thus far in my life, and this was no exception. 

That was how I was discovered by the newer insurgents over the last three days, hurt and snarling. Pride dictated that I put up as normal a face as possible, but it barely lasted a couple of hours, crumbling in the face of constant querying, judging and commenting. Hankering for some peace and quiet, I put on my cloak of silence and found a cosy corner of my mind to sulk in. I had barely started licking my wounds, and was in no state to be the charming hostess that was expected of every daughter in law in an Indian household, urban or rural be damned. 

Yesterday, by noon, I had felt dangerously close to a precipice. I had lost control over the mask that had now become my trademark inexpressive face, and had turned to spouting venom the moment I stepped out of the house and encountered another non-familial human being. I knew I was treading dangerous ground, because when I would search my memory for those interactions, I would remember nothing. The only time my excellent visual memory fails me is when I am raging beyond expression. Oh, this was so not good. 

I napped my way through the stress, my already weak body crumbling under the mental strain. Only to be rudely woken up with a reminder of my non-dutiful behaviour - "We had guests at home and you slept through it all. You could have come out of your room and spent 10 minutes with everyone. What is so difficult about that?" 

Keeping my tongue in control was difficult. Allowing such a rabid invasion of my house when I was in no state to entertain, let alone stand in one place for a few minutes was difficult. Most of all, keeping quiet through it all, when all I wanted to do was scream my head off and chase everyone out with a stick, was difficult. Compared to these scenes repeating in head, my napping through the afternoon felt like a hungry python whose snores are only rivalled by its stomach grumbling with hunger. 

Now that we are all caught up with my non-issues, I replay the retort of my dreams for the nth time, open my laptop and begin to type out a blogpost.