To Periyar and beyond

I enjoy travelling. Part of what I hope to do more of every year is travel. Both with people and alone. There is a sense of calm I feel when I am away finding small spaces of belonging. Sitting under trees. Falling asleep in a chair. Drinking beer staring into fields. Falling asleep while reading in a hammock. Walking around aimlessly. Talking about books, the world, life. Looking at sunsets with a twinkle in my eye. But what I like most is the things I learn about myself while travelling.

Recently, A and I went to Periyar. I was a little anxious about travelling cause my body has not been in the best shape. But I went packed with my regular medicines, pain killers and a can-do-it spirit. It started off rocky with me taking a train ride with a baby kicking and screaming throughout. Something I seem to attract on train/bus journeys. Yay, babies. Then it spiralled into a strange sleeper bus ride with no divisions between two seats and a uncontrollable driver who made me turn to stone all night and A sit up with her nose out the window. But we reached. One piece et all.  Promptly after reaching, we drowned ourselves in the smaller things in life. Dew drops. Butterflies. Organically grown strange looking fruit. Picking pine cones fallen on the ground. Our day was spent unwinding from the journey (two consecutive ones for me) and just relaxing in the chair, which by the end of the trip was the space my butt had memorised. By evening, we realised our plans to visit the actual park seemed vague and close to non-existent. Frantically, we looked up a few websites and I used my limited Tamil to book us on an early morning, full day trek. This task wasn’t easy and left me decently sceptical about our trek. Will we actually go? Will they feed us to sloth bears? Did I just confirm tickets with a man who has none? Will we be sitting at the park in the morning ticketless?

We did make it to the trek though. Not without me knocking on a strange door, picking up tickets from a burly man and getting an early-morning view of said Mallu man without his shirt. Yay, men. And we were off for the trek. With a few unplanned, havoc-ridden detours. The trek was chaotic to say the least and marvellous to say the maximum. We ambled behind two couples (one French and one Brit) who were nearly twice my age but so fit. They assumed A and I were a couple and threw our way a few well meaning questions with the undertone of coupledom. It all started well but went on to get difficult and off the regular route. The search for the elephants was on and I was sure if we found any, I would just lie down and let them eat me. By the time we spotted the elephants, my knee had decided to wage a full blown war. We didn’t chase the elephants like the rest of them. We sat in quiet reflection under the canopy of trees. The tall, lush trees were a delight to gaze at. The nooks with streams of water were places to spot A spotting butterflies. Watching the Malabar squirrel jump gracefully from one branch to another made us wonder how we were more evolved than that elegant fellow. It was a place to be present and lost at once.

We waddled our way back to flat land and I spent the next day recouping from fat knees and A from angry toes. I spent most of my time in a chair reading Atwood and giggling to myself. We also ate delicious fish at our organic farm stay, consumed Papaya like I have never relished it before.

As movement returned to our knees and toes by evening, we made early morning plans to go boating. The boat ride was magnificent (words fail to describe) and one didn’t need a fancy camera to take breathtaking photos. We did spot more elephants, wild boars, deers and several lovely birds. Many of our co-passengers were not half as enthusiastic as us.

It was a lesson in many things for me: a) Indians like to boat. b) They can call women with short hair – ‘Saaar’. c) They wake up early to go boating, stand in long queues, push people around and then sleep on the boat. d) Periyar lake was one of the most beautiful bits of nature I have seen. e) People can get super dressed up to come boating. I mean some of them looked like models.

After we finished our hour-long boat ride, we walked out slowly through the park. Enjoying the birds, the monkeys, the silence, the sound of trees talking to themselves and big plus, very few humans. The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful.  We took an auto ride where autos should never go to see views that were underwhelming. Plus though was that I got marriage and travelling advice from the driver. He did take us to a waterfall. Maybe waterfall should be in quotes. Cause there was really not much fall and very little water. Like all waterfalls, this had a tragic story of lovers committing suicide.

We ended our crazy auto ride with a tour of an organic, ayurvedic farm. The woman might have been the best salesperson I have ever met and a really tough school teacher. She snapped at A and me for giggling and not listening to her. We left amazed at her ability to sell products with a strong message that all illnesses will henceforth be cured. Amen.

As our trip began to come to a close, I began to feel uneasy again. Being away suddenly meant more calm than getting back to the routine. I was ready to run. Again.

The trip was an important reminder for me to look after myself; love myself more; be still to notice the smaller things; glance at the skies everyday around sunset; just keep swimming. Being still for a few moments everyday made me see that I had a lot of unresolved emotions. These things take time to heal. I was being impatient and wishing for it to end. But processes needed to be followed and slowly, I would see the end.

I am always glad to travel with my INFJ partner because she doesn’t react drastically to my breakdowns; and she is more giving than I will ever be. We are always greeted with some chaos on our trips. They never fail to make us laugh, reflect on life and bring us closer together.

Till our next trip and our next overwhelming chaotic life lesson, then.

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2015.

(Disclaimer: Excruciatingly long)

Well, 2015 is coming to a close. On most counts, I am glad this year is done. Putting aside a brief two-week vacation to Nepal, to my enthusiasm, 2015 has been overwhelming on the low front. I had a couple of surprising heartbreaks, professional and personal, that shook my earthing. A few diagnoses were the additional bonuses on the health front! Woot.

When I used to write on Blogspot (before I wanted a clean start and began this blog), I did a year-end review. I thought it was a silly practise till my conversation with A from last evening made me realise how smart I used to be.

I get bogged down by the low a lot. Perhaps a little bit of this is in my nature. End-of-the-year existential crisis is common and tempting to wallow in. I have honestly done a lot of it. BUT, I learnt a lot this year.

Embracing my personality with all its quirks has been rewarding and relevant. I stopped making excuses when I didn’t feel up to being around people. Especially those I had drifted away from. I learnt to enjoy my company and do what is good for me which resulted in lots of art and getting my hands messy. I began to look after myself more. My health taught me that my mind and body are not separate. The pressures on my mind will be felt by my body. So care is not optional. It needs to be integrated into daily living. Smell a few more flowers, perhaps. Unfortunately, these health crises have forced me to give up sweets and coffee. Something till 2015 I thought was not possible. But I am finding new patterns and routines. Healthier ones. All while remembering that I am really tiny in the grand scheme of things. People tell me this insignificance scares them. But it has been one of the most reassuring and calming truths.

“When I go for a drive I like to pull off to the side
Of the road and run and jump into the ocean in my clothes
And I’m smaller than a poppyseed inside a great big bowl
And the ocean is a giant that can swallow me whole
So I swim for all salvation and I swim to save my soul
But my soul is just a whisper trapped inside a tornado
So I flip to my back and I float and I sing
I am grounded, I am humbled, I am one with everything”
– I like giants: Kimya Dawson

As a surprise to myself, I fell in love. Accidentally. Madly. To an unsuspecting bystander. Though it has left me recovering from a broken heart, it reminded me that I am intense and love is overwhelming. It was nice to sit drenched in the emotion and learn to just breathe. Let the pieces fall as they will. I am still learning to live with my intensity and even enjoy the depth of character that I seek. 🙂 Love dragged me along a long path of self-discovery which has been difficult, painful, stirring, and intimate in discoveries about myself.

My professional heartbreak is far more difficult to write about. Since most of the year and waking hours were spent at the office, learnings are integral to my growth. I had to quit a job that I was fond of because of grave internal turmoil, certain strife and need for more challenges. It became essential for me to embrace that I am young, emotional and vulnerable which people in workplaces often use against me as a weakness. I didn’t realise how much I had pushed these away. Over the years of hearing it being pitched as a negative, I had happily accepted this to be true. Not anymore. 🙂

One of the most unsettling truths of the year was revealed while stranded at the bottom of the Himalayas because of unseasonal rain and snow. Rainer Maria Rilke was the bearer of the news – ‘Life is right in all cases’. Rilke has rescued me on several occasions. His words were a float when I felt I would drown in the ocean of anxiety and self doubt. They were a balm to my soul that felt out of place, making me more home in my skin and less cuckoo. (Or is it be more cuckoo? :))

“Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a young poet

I also turned around my writing this year. It was a much needed change from the self-deprecating stuff I tell myself about lack of any talent. Though I write here, I had not written about the many learnings from my work and the world around me. Starting to write for Women’s Web and Girls Globe is an attempt to fix this. I am happy to add my two-cents to the progress to women’s rights and equality around the world. It is a small drop in the ocean, yet a satisfying drop.

I think writing these words was an important part of taking stock of the changes, both good and bad, the year brought my way. In the darkness of doubt, pain and unanswered questions, I have found it is comfortable to believe I had an unproductive year. One where I have been stagnant and done little to further my beliefs. But I have made a lot of personal growth and some professional strides. This forms part of a learning process to understand myself better and walk closer to the person I want to be.

Hope 2016 is less harsh but as rewarding.

Contradictions

You brushed aside my extended hand.

Casually. Unintentionally. Confidently.

With a gentle wave of those five fingers that I loved. You didn’t see the many worlds my mind travelled to in those seconds of silence that followed.

Broken glass pieces that I walked across. Despite major internal struggles, to not relive those moments of anxiety again, I took the painful steps forward. You were not responsible for the history of unresolved emotions I had collected. You were only responsible for the ones you and I brought into existence. Mostly ones of warmth and comfort. But I was a fool. I traversed those roads and cut my barely healed feet. I reopened the scars I had convinced myself were only part of the decoration.

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you – it’s been done before. In the same regal, nonchalant manner you conducted yourself in. Or was it just an excuse?

A shield for my mind to punish my heart and retreat a few thousand steps. For me to say, “I knew it, you foolish foolish heart. You never listen.”

I didn’t want to listen to my calm, logical mind anymore. I was tired of protecting. Nothing miraculous was happening within my fortress. I wanted more.

The friends of the past lingered too close.

Taunting. Saving. Reminding. Ruining. Protecting.

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Breakups have always been hard. But I was recently thinking about it and I realised the digital world has multiplied the problems. Earlier it was an occasional memory that would pop up unannounced; a stray letter would land up as a bookmark; a photo found while cleaning under the mattress. Even then, these could be handled and tucked away into the dark corners of the loft. The digital world, fortunately or unfortunately, has complicated life. You not only have to put away physical memories but you have to distance yourself virtually. There is Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Instagram, Whatsapp, BBM to name a few. This means there is more than one way a memory, an instance or their very presence sneaks up on you. To ensure sanity, you need to use the very tools that allowed you to know them intimately and thoroughly to place comfortable distance. It is a tough job and requires one to painstakingly go remove digital footprints. Additionally, one can track most of these unfollows and blocks. It makes the pain that much more brutal and repetitive. It is in effect a gnawing feeling that prevents healing.

Or maybe only I feel this way.

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I hated all kinds of endings.

The last page of the book. The credits. A loved one passing away. So I avoided them mostly. But endings have a way of sneaking up on me. Surprise me by jumping out of the blue and reminding me, there is no escaping them.

This ending I was unprepared for. For the beginning was my idea. The days passed. Weeks too. Words flowed. The connection brewed. Routines were set and I was happy abiding by it.

Even from the start, the end was in sight. Yet, I was hardly preparing for it.

Now I wonder what next? Where do I go from here?

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When I moved back to Hyderabad a year ago I wasn’t sure it was the right choice for me. The city had a special place in my heart until then. I loved it dearly and I called it home. Back then, it was the only city I felt was closest to home. But I always felt it was low on cultural and artsy activity. I have no anger or hatred for Hyderabad even now. The laziness and the foodiness is both pleasing and annoying. I can’t make up my mind. However, over time I felt an uneasiness. A rising discomfort with the city spaces. The roads no longer seemed welcoming; the sexual harassment was more than I remembered. The random comments from people seemed to have peaked. (Be it about my rowdiness because of the short hair or the comments my fellow residents were getting about being ‘too fat’.) I found the charm fading. Then I began to analyse and question this and I felt it was probably me. I was just aching for a different space, a different rhythm. More adept to my creativity. More aligned with my frame of mind. It is pompous to say I have outgrown this city. But something had changed. Over a period of time, it didn’t feel the same anymore. My relationship with it had changed. And that was unnerving.

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A savage beast was she? Not really. She just fluctuated between too angry, angry and not angry enough. Stranded in a public place in an apathetic crowd. Less angry. More angry. Outrage. Way too much anger. She repeated to herself: Calm down. Yes. Calm. Down. Instead she stood jolted in public place as she heard someone tell her to not be angry. Don’t be angry here. Don’t be angry now. Don’t be angry with me. Don’t be angry. 

Not volatile. Not demented. Not crazy. Just fed up of ‘having a sense of humour’.

You know?

 

 

343 of 365

Watching the sun rise or set in the water. Finding a really old version of a book I was looking for. Reaching the bus stop and getting an empty bus immediately. Travelling alone to enjoy the voices in my head. Writing. Baking a cake for someone I love. Reading a book and forgetting the bad day I was having. Finding a song that says everything on my mind. Sitting with someone and reading in silence. Going for a swim. Drinking endless cups of coffee. Talking about negotiating and challenging my comfort zones with select few. Waking up with the gentle licks of the dog. Cooking myself a delicious meal. Sitting on the terrace and watching the planes fly by. Magically meeting every deadline at work. Getting published. Being followed by a random dog on the street that stops after being petted. Finding an old letter that is filled with love. Sharing a private moment in a public place. The thrill of watching my favourite episode of my favourite television serial with my favourite person. Getting books as a default present from anyone who knows me even a little. Boisterously laughing without a care in the world. Drinking for the joy of drinking.

These are a few of my favourite things.

 

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We walked together. Sunrises captured. Hand in hand. Keys lost. Destination not in sight. Armed with zeal and excitement. Train, plane and bus trips taken. Many genres of books read. Comfort learned. Roads travelled. Movies watched. Often forcefully. Mountains climbed. Jobs abandoned. Kilometers covered. Known territories lived. Varieties of dishes tried. Laughter lived. Each day. Unknown lands conquered. Nomadic lives to be explored. Sunsets seen. Sandy beaches walked. Discomfort abandoned. 

I didn’t think of us as a we. I didn’t like we. We didn’t think of us, mostly. But when I wrote about us, there was no other way to say it but by using we. Did you think of us that way?

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When I started this writing challenge, I didn’t think some things through.

I didn’t imagine that my heart would ache so much that I wouldn’t want to write about anything else. I didn’t think that I couldn’t mask my pain. It was a really stupid assumption. My writing, today and always, has been my constant outlet. Things I couldn’t whisper even came out effortlessly in words. To the paper, screen and keyboard, I made myself vulnerable. I didn’t ever make those words public before. They were private battles fought in closed rooms. Maybe I preferred it that way.

As signs of it emerge in my writing, I am uncomfortable. I find I am being sentimental. I am struggling to embrace that I cannot always be happy, cheerful or even wearing a perfect mask. I am learning to not be uncomfortable by others knowing of my sadness, even momentarily. I am trying to stop pretending.