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


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. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Annus Mirabilis

Tomorrow marks one year of being on my own, and I decided that it warranted a blogpost, irrespective of whether I had anything specific to say. Before that, first things first: I have definitely improved my skills in the naming of blogposts (check this out and the current one - fist pump!)

Figuratively speaking, I closed my only door before looking for a window to open, 365 days ago. I just knew that I needed a change from my full time job but it took me two weeks of roller coaster like thinking, an excel sheet and a sleepless weekend to decide to freelance rather than get another full time job. 

My ex employer was the initial light for this untrodden path, offering me a 2-day-a-week consulting assignment even before I could articulate what I wanted. A much needed jab of reality for me, in hindsight. I struggled with the other 3 days at home, getting 5 days of work done in 2 and admitted to myself that I sorely missed the social environment that a workplace provides above everything else. 

I moved from binging on movies, to binging on sleep, to a higher frequency of workout at the gym. I met people, made project proposals for said prospectives, swished them off by email and then bit my nails to dust when no reply was forthcoming. I weaved huge dreams, visioning and then visioning my life 5 years from now, when I would be making more money than I have ever done, while having enough time for all my hobbies and my family. A juxtaposed utopia that seemed within my grasp. 

The hot winds of an early summer in late February brought with it a stony silence on the work front, something I was ill prepared for. I knew from watching my father (who was also an independent consultant) that Q4 was traditionally a quiet time. Plus, ups and downs of this nature are part of being independent. I wish I could say that I reasoned myself into a smile; that I took the silence, moulded it into a ball of clay and tucked it away in my pocket. 

When prospective clients popped out of their walls to message and email me again as April dawned, I could scarcely believe it. So much so that I undervalued myself a couple of times. I lived to learn from it. To date, I have worked on 4 projects with 3 different clients, and none of them have been anything like the other. I enjoyed the fast learning curve, and learned more about negotiation, people management and dynamics at the workplace from these projects than my 7 years of work put together. Ah, and the icing on the cake: regular expenses included, I have made money. Just don't ask how much yet, because I am only focussing on the colour of that number for now.

When speaking to friends, family, or prospective clients, I marvelled at my ideas - new, yet workable. I admired my new found adaptability and chided myself every time I grimaced at a change. I created monthly / weekly / daily schedules, didn't follow them and still got work done. Most of all, I learned to like myself a little more, and be more forgiving. I deserved a chance and this was life giving me just that. 

It seems like only yesterday when I signed up for this, because I didn't want to do anything else. Through ups, downs and everything else in between, it has been far, far more than I expected. 

Thanks to friends sounding so wistful about my new life that I wondered if I was cribbing too much, and to family for making me take things one day at a time. I am a reformed long term micro planner and proud to declare it. 

Thank you to the world at large, for not being the crazy place filled with evil intentions that I had thought it to be. 

Thanks to me, for just sticking on, day after day, month after month, watching time go by and appreciating the view from that window, always. 

It has been a truly wonderful year. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017


I had many fears when I quit my full time job after 7 glorious years of fancy titles, fancier company names and unmentionably low salary increments: 
1. How would I finance my monthly shopping frenzy, one. Answer one: that itch died along with the need to be constantly seen in something trendy, because my new wardrobe was rapidly rotating pyjamas and those seasons last years, you know
2. How would I continue to be financially independent and hold my own in important decisions at home, two. The cash well, so to speak, was not empty, yet. Like the swan singing its last song, I was free to assert my opinion as long as it numbered > 0
3. What would I do with my time, three. This turned out to be the least of my problems. There always were movies to watch, afternoon naps to take and friends to catch up with. And the occasional "business development" for new projects, of course

Nine months to myself and some of my deeper malaises are floating to the surface like dead fish: 
1.1 The worth of my CV, which I had painstakingly and strategically built to its impressive (as of June 2016) state, one point one. Another year of sitting around, dreaming and I could kiss any chances of getting another full time job worth my time goodbye 
2.1 In five, maybe ten years all my peers, especially the ones I would refuse to be in the same meeting room with, will be VPs, CXOs and oh-so-definitely investors, two point one. I would be exactly where I am now, slightly worse the wear
3.1. Aforementioned VPs and CXOs will send their children to fancy international school holidays for "study tours", and eventually to Norway to study "design", three point one. I would scrape through something to support living expenses of my progeny for a merit seat at a local college
4.1 In their early fifties, people my age will be talking "early retirement", four point one. I will still be searching for my calling

On the other hand, I know in my heart of hearts, as I have known for every single day of the past nine months I have spent outside of the workplace, that I belong elsewhere. Even on the worst days - the days when I had no new clients, nothing new to add to my latest piece of writing and when everything seemed dull, I did not want to go back to work. 

Maria Popova of Brain Pickings fame speaks eloquently and passionately about how anything worthwhile takes time, and laments our culture that values productivity and money over real immersion and following our hearts. She's lucky, I think, she stumbled upon her calling like one trips over an uneven stone on the footpath. I am too tired to study something completely new, too old for fanciful thinking, and too close to the ground to ignore the monthly bills. Then there are the others, my colleagues turned ex friends, moving on to better paying jobs while looking at me as a trapped bird would at the sky. 

I don't know which is the greater fear: never tasting freedom, or not knowing when and where (if at all) real, life altering inspiration is going to strike. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Being Female

This is the first time I have given voice to a topic that has been close to my heart since I left home for college, and spent time in the close company of the opposite sex. 

I realise with bitter clarity one reason for me to have taken so long to get to this point: for almost a decade I had been all bluster and no essence. For the first half of my life I was content to do laps in my shallow end of the pool, since I didn't know any better. I spent the next ten years or so seething. First quietly, then in fits of words, like an overloaded washing machine leaking its excess. Now, I am tired. Or rather, my body is tired and is dragging my mind along with it. Hence the action. 

My first learning is that a bulk of my limitations or restrictions are self inflicted. As an impressionable teenager, I had looked at other women - older women, younger women, more popular women, successful women - and decided to be a little like all of them. My shackles were in my mind, into which I allowed just about anyone whose words fell into my over sensitive ears. In all that cacophony, I lost contact with who I really was. Now, the only rules that matter are the ones that I make.

My second learning is a practical one - for better or for worse, we live in a society where men hold more power. It is natural that they will do things the way they know. If women had been in power, maybe men would be blogging about their rights, too. I want to focus on navigating this tide, rather than trying to turn it in my favour. Of course, if a few people get sensitized along the way, great. Otherwise, they will be made more than aware simply by watching me stand up for myself.  

My last learning is that preaching to the world is a waste of time. Everyone has emails to check, families to feed and FB to update. I have my little world, which is in as much in my control as it could possibly be. I need to effect the change in this microcosm. Then I can blog about it and send it to a few people who matter to me. Maybe they will do something in their worlds, maybe not. Either way, change will happen in its own time.

As a disclaimer, I am just writing about what I know. I don't want to get into an argument of "buts" on how I am privileged to be where I am, since lakhs of girls get killed in their mother's wombs, lakhs get married off as mere children and millions continue to suffer a plight that is the definition of subjugation. All of that is true. What I think is also true. To me.