Of shame & getting shit done

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“What’s the worst that can happen?”

I’ve been asked that by A multiple times. I know why it’s one of those things he doesn’t get. Because to him, I’ve been one of those people who really don’t give a crap about what people think about me. And to a large extent that’s true. When we’re talking of ‘people’ as this collective group of faceless people who gossip. But every time he asks me this question, I know in my head I already have an answer.

“Because I’ll make a fool of myself.”

And it’s hardly ever about making a fool of yourself in front of the faceless people, is it? No. It’s the ones you know. The ones whose opinion you find yourself caring about, even against your best judgement. And the more I think about it, the more I realise that over the years there have been many times I’ve felt shame (I’m sure we all have), but the ones I remember, have been moments I’ve been shamed by people close to me. And it’s always worse because they never say things to hurt you. How easy it would be to brush words off because you know the intent behind them is hurt. But here, the intent is the meaning of the words themselves, carelessly thrown at you, sometimes as a joke. But they stick.

Your thighs look like you have elephantiasis.

How is your sister so fair, and you’re so dark?

Your voice is weird.

Why did you date so many guys?

He called you easy.

You’re average looking.

You’re cute, but don’t let it get to your head. You aren’t like hot or anything.

You’re cold hearted.

These have come from family, close friends, lovers. And while now, years later, I know a lot of them to be untrue, why do I still remember them so clearly? Why do I think about my legs when wearing a short skirt? Why would I never try to lend my voice to a video? Why would I think ten times before talking to a guy, just in case he got the wrong idea? Why would I never step out without kajal to hide my dark circles and complement my dusky skin?

The funny thing is, most of those comments caused me to rebel in ways while growing up, anything to prove them wrong, or to show I didn’t care. But the fact that they’ve stuck around, shows I clearly care.

And I wish I didn’t.

I wish I could embrace Brene Brown’s thoughts on vulnerability and just get out there and do what I want to, irrespective of the outcome. Every day, I’m hoping I’m building towards that moment – that step towards overcoming shame.

But acknowledging shame is step one, right?

P.S. How do you deal with shame?

P.P.S. Also one of my favourite quotes from Brene Brown’s book (must read, in case you haven’t!):

A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.

things i’m craving for this lockdown

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There’s nothing like being told you can’t have something, to make the spoilt kid in you want it even more.

  1. Coffee with Friends. Can’t believe how much I’ve taken this for granted. How this was always an option. Until it wasn’t. Sure you can do zoom coffee dates, but if you don’t hug each other before and after, did you really meet at all?
  2. Dreaming that I want to start running. It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to do (but I suck at), and never got around to seriously trying. But one could always keep thinking, tomorrow, right? Even that dream seems a bit distant now 😦
  3. Unhealthy food delivered to the doorstep. Yes I know this is still on. It’s just one of those things we’re staying away from. And there’s nothing like the dream of a way-too-sweet American Chopsuey or overpriced Avo on Toast or good ol’ butter chicken to get the cravings started. Of course, we try and cook these things. But by the time we’re done we’re too exhausted to actually enjoy them. Bleh.
  4. Making excuses to stay at home. Who am I kidding, I was anti-social on most good days. But where’s the fun in staying at home curled up with a book when it isn’t an active choice over loud noise and lots of humans?
  5. Positive news. It would be nice to know that something good is happening in the country. Something that didn’t leave you feeling infuriated or helpless or panic-stricken. Something. Anything.

5 random facts you may or may not know about me (also known as narcissism max)

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Here goes, in no particular order:

  1. I can no longer have alcohol. Apparently there’s an enzyme in your body that helps digest alcohol. Apparently, I barely have any of this said enzyme. This is also cutely called Asian Flush (because a lot of Asians suffer from this and turn red). I do not suffer from any such cute side effects. I go directly to the ugly dizziness and nausea. I do however often dream of mojitos and sangrias. Then somehow remember they are bad for me. I can’t even get high in my dreams anymore.
  2. I can’t stand hair being brushed the wrong way. Any hair. I don’t have any explanation for this. The best way to annoy me – stand in front of me and brush your eyebrows in the wrong direction. I might slap you to make you stop. Also I’ll HAVE to brush your eyebrows back the right way to make it all okay. You’ve been warned.
  3. I do not care for music. This is that one thing that I lied about while growing up. I listened to every new song and kept up with the trends and had an answer for the inevitable ‘what kind of music do you like?‘. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate music. I’m just indifferent to it. Like, if somehow music altogether disappeared from the world tomorrow, I really won’t miss it in my life. At all.
  4. I have a phobia of driving. Yes, I know it’s supposed to get better with time. It didn’t okay? I used to drive from Andheri to Lower Parel, and then spend the entire day shivering and stressing about the fact that I had to drive back. It’s astounding how trusting pedestrian on the roads are. How sure they are that I won’t run them over when they randomly jump in front of my car. I have regular nightmares about this.
  5. I have a bigger phobia of lizards. Also a constant in my nightmares. I might choose risking my / (your?) life driving instead of being stuck with a lizard in a room. Just saying.

Of labels and not giving a fuck.

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This is something I have struggled with my whole life. My fear of labels.

I never wanted to be a type, or someone you could really peg down and understand. I was studious but not the teacher’s pet. Rebellious but not disrespectful (or at least I tried not to be). Serious, but loved to party. Not slim, but not really fat. Okay fine, the last one was never in my control.

But having spent a lifetime running away from labels, I realise now that I’m perpetually scared of owning them, even when I’d want to.

Which brings me to my real point – don’t ever let the world tell you what you are / are not.

I’ve been blogging / writing stories / penning poems for over sixteen years now. And yet, I struggle to call myself a writer.

More than anything, it’s because I’m surrounded by great writers around me at my place of work, and I know that on most days my work can’t even begin to compare.

But that’s where the issue really is, isn’t it? Why compare at all? Why do you need to be a writer by profession to call yourself one? Why must you be good enough to have 10k+ followers, or get paid to write, before you consider yourself a writer?

I didn’t start writing to see what other people thought of it. I never even showed my first few stories to my parents. It wasn’t until something my teacher submitted won an award that they even realised I could write. I never blogged because of what people would say – I blogged because it helped me release my frustration, express anger in a healthier way, cry and crib and feel all the emotions that I couldn’t otherwise. And why should that ever change? Why does that make me any less of a writer?

This is so easy to spell out, yet so difficult to remember. It’s one of those things I need to remind myself over and over again, every time I’m feeling low, on confidence or otherwise.

And it’s something I’m putting out here to remind you – the person who likes to put on music and dance when no one’s looking, the one who likes to sing out loud but doesn’t outside the shower, who doodles in their notebooks but doesn’t know the what impressionist art is – you’re a dancer, a singer, an artist. Don’t shy away from labels. Own them.

Never date a writer…

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Oh you poor thing, you fell for their words, didn’t you? The way they made you feel beautiful with their colourful metaphors and special with their poems. Congratulations, you’re screwed. Welcome to the dark side.

  1. Writers can make everything sound beautiful, so chances are, you aren’t really that special. You just happen to be around.
  2. Everything around them is a potential blog / IG post. You think they’re looking at you with interest, but really in their heads, there’s a description being typed out of just how they’d love to go skinny dipping in the deep pools of your eyes.
  3. Of course you’ll love the words they dedicate to you. But you’ll also spend a lifetime wondering if there’s any truth behind the words that weren’t dedicated to you.
  4. They write about heartbreaks more easily than love. Remember that.
  5. And if you make the mistake of breaking their heart – oof, know that you will be immortalized as a poem, a monument of words will be erected in the honour of your has-been relationship, and you may be faced with the bitter truth – that your absence fuels their creativity much more than your presence ever could.

P.S. I wanted to end this on a positive note, on how it’s actually wonderful to date a writer, but, nah, this just seems more fun.

My love-hate relationship with mumbai

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I was staring at my blank screen for quite some time, wondering what to title this. And then I realised, this is just it. How I’d summarise my eight years in this wonderful gutter of a city. See what I did there?

When I first came to Mumbai – it royally kicked my ass. I felt like I was being put through some kind of an initiation test – where only the strongest survived. And I was barely surviving.

For context – I was living with two other girls in a small room in a rat infested PG – pretty much the only thing I could afford with my recession impacted joining salary. I couldn’t quite get myself to accept that Andheri rickshawalas will take you anywhere but in Andheri during office hours. And then came the monsoons, and all hell broke loose (Almost literally, the ceiling in my PG collapsed, all my clothes caught fungus, I hurt my foot and wasn’t allowed to let it get wet while wading through knee-deep water). I was a spoilt kid, and the city had taken on the challenge of ragging me into submission.

And yet, it’s been ten years, and I’m still here. I even moved back to Delhi once, but I’m here, again. And don’t get me wrong, I still don’t love this city. I’m not one of those romantics who will write about getting drenched at Marine Drive as something dreams are made of. I do not believe in calling not-having-a-choice-but-to-move-on the ‘spirit of the city’. And I still hate monsoons.

And if anything, this lockdown has made me think long and hard about this city. The standard of living will keep getting worse. The houses will always be tiny. The locals will still run over people, and everyone will forget it, because it’s just something that happens. It will flood every year, and probably disappear in large parts in another fifty. And crises like what we’re experiencing, will always hit it harder than the rest of the country.

Then why am I here? What right do I have to crib about this city that I’m actively choosing to live in? Which brings me to the positives.

  1. The people. No, I don’t think they’re saints here. But they’re definitely relatively better than in other parts of our country, specially the part that I come from. (Except if you’re at the station. All bets are off then. When I fell down the stairs at Andheri station and broke my tail bone, a guy stood there and laughed, before running and getting onto the train. My train.)
  2. The work culture. Maybe this should’ve been point 1. Sure, nowhere in India do they respect your personal time, but trust me when I say this, I’d take working in Mumbai over Delhi ANY day. When you have had your share of politics, ass licking, showing off of the latest iPhone, and sexist remarks, move to Mumbai for a slightly more professional view of things. (Not that I haven’t faced sexism at the workspace here – it’s just relatively – SO MUCH BETTER.)
  3. Freedom. In one word, that’s what this city means to me. Freedom to step out of my home after dark. Freedom to wear whatever I want. Freedom to not care about log kya kahenge. Freedom to be myself. It’s the one thing that has kept me here. The one thing that keeps bringing me back. So every time I find myself cribbing, and yes, I know, that’s a lot of times, I remember to take a deep breath, and remind myself, this is what freedom smells like – pigeon shit and drying fish. Okay okay, am kidding!

things i’m increasingly grateful for…

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  1. Coffee. It’s one of those things I never had at home, but had a habit of starting the day off with in office. Or on coffee dates with friends. Well, now that we’re in this muddled mess, it’s continuing as a daily ritual to look forward to. P.S. Investing in a frother has been a blessing.
  2. The wi-fi. Shitty as my connection is, it’s still a connection. (I’ll try to remember this the next time it stops after buffering 30 seconds of a show, instead of throwing my remote at the router. I’m kidding, obviously I don’t actually do that. I only throw the remote at A, blaming him for the shitty wi-fi he chose.)
  3. The lack of a bra. No explanation needed.
  4. The spin mop. Because it’s an invention that needs to be given its due credit. Squatting and mopping the regular way – it was the leg workout I never asked for, and couldn’t really survive.
  5. The cupboard full of alcohol. For teaching me will power and resolve, to not indulge in the things right in front of me. I guess it also helps to remember the doctor shaking his head at me and saying, just let it go. I have never craved a watermelon mojito so much in my life. (I don’t know, it’s a very very specific craving). Or a sangria. Oh man, a sangria.
  6. Not being alone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of those people who can spend days alone inside the house and not bat an eyelid. But I’m glad I’m not alone right now. If for nothing else, I now have someone to blame for the mess our house is perpetually in. (On a serious note, times are weird, and every day we learn something new about ourselves and how we react to the news around us. It’s good to know there’s someone to have your back when you find yourself crashing when you least expected to.)
  7. Privilege. It’s what this entire list stinks of. It’s why I have the ability to be writing random blogs to take my mind off things instead of worrying about survival. It’s why you are able to read this right now, without worrying about survival.

how to stay sane during this never-ending lockdown

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Yes, it’s been on for a long time.

Yes, it keeps getting extended.

But if you’re in an extremely red zone like me, you’d be thanking your stars things aren’t opening up.

If you’re out shopping or getting a manicure, or have tossed your mask in the bin, I have some select words for you. But I’ll be nice instead. Please reconsider your choices, things might get much worse before they get better.

But come what may, we’re all coming up with different ways to stay entertained, stay sane.

  1. Indulge in neighbor-watching. Yes, it sounds super voyeuristic, and frankly is just that. I somehow have been blessed with a flat where the view is every room of every house in the building in front of mine. I also for some weird reason can hear everything happening in the common areas of our building. I have one interesting story per day, whether I want it or not. Ranging from a blackmailing maid to a woman threatening our guards post midnight to the house where the TV is on 24×7. Who needs Netflix?
  2. Turn into Masterchef Andheri West. Flip those potatoes even though you can just turn them over. Sprinkle salt with a flourish instead of just using the spoon. Call your Daal Sabzi a lentil reduction with stir fried potatoes in cumin and delicate spices. Arrange them neatly on your plate and add a splash of green chutney by spreading it in a line with the back of your spoon. Be your own Gordon.
  3. Gamify your chores. 1 point for every time you wash utensils. 2 for jhadoo-pocha. A bonus 5 points for the person who cleans the hair stuck in the bathroom drain. We have no idea what to do with the tally of points. But one day, when we get out of this lockdown, one of us would have won, well, something.
  4. Talk to your plants. I’ve heard this helps. It helps nurture the plants. It helps nurture your soul. Full disclaimer though – I have one plant. It’s almost dead. Not sure what that says about my soul.
  5. Schedule a time to consume news. It’s a lot to digest. And mostly negative. Make sure you’re reading things when you know you can handle it. Because personally, I’m not sure if in the middle of a hard day, I can really handle Karthik Aryan’s tiktok video punishing his sister for making bad roti. Or deal with the trauma of trying to pronounce Elon Musk’s child’s name.
  6. Switch off from social media. It’s just too much information. And too many people sharing recipes, workout videos, pictures of their abs, and travel pics. Do you really need more of that in your life? Oh, but then you’ll have all this free time. And FOMO. Oh, no, we can’t have that. Let’s look at those abs instead.

what exercising is like (when you aren’t fit at all)

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I open Instagram and am showered with pics and videos of headstands, abs, and fitness challenges.

I, on the other hand, still fall flat on my face every time I try to do the knee-chin-down-ass-up part of a Suryanamaskar.

No arm strength, you know.

Or back strength.

Or core strength.

Basically, no muscles anywhere.

And it sucks.

  1. I hate group classes. It has nothing to do with people (even though I usually stay away from them too). It has everything to do with the fact that I just can’t keep up. And sure, it’ll get better with time. But until then, lagging behind / not managing half the things others are doing / realising just how unfit you really are – just isn’t fun.
  2. When I first started lifting weights, I felt like a pro. Then realised I ordered the wrong weights, and was actually lifting 0.5kgs.
  3. Andheri West gyms exist to make you conscious. Forget worrying about that bit of belly flab. You’ll question everything from your non-branded wardrobe (Oversized t shirt and pajamas? What were you thinking? Where’s your Nike Sports Bra?), to your lack of makeup (sweat-proof MAC only please).
  4. Protein bars make no sense. Unless you’re really working out like crazy and need that extra protein. I think it’s time we admit why we eat that expensive stuff – it’s filling and tasty (and probably contributing to more weight gain than loss, given you aren’t working it off as much)
  5. Yoga pants are a quick-fix ego savior. Feeling unattractive? Throw them on. They tuck and squeeze at the right points. Enough said.
  6. Sometimes, letting go and just enjoying a workout is good enough. So maybe you find a partner in your group class who is as unfit and you (video?!) hi-five in the middle of a sumo squat. Maybe your favourite pose is shavasana. Maybe you pose in front of a mirror in extremely tucking yoga pants, sucking in your stomach, and post it on IG (even though you know that’s not how you look the rest of the day). The simple fact that you turned up for your workout is something to celebrate.

In all honesty, weight gain is something I’ve struggled with my whole life, and specially the last six years. It’s something that people would love shutting me up about, because how can you complain about weight gain when you aren’t actually obese? But the fact of the matter is, how we feel about our bodies changing is relative to each of us.

Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s genes. Maybe it’s hormonal imbalances. But come what may, I can’t get rid of the 8 kilograms I’ve gained in the past 6 years. I’ve tried calorie burning workouts at home. I’ve worked out at the gym (I would gain muscles, and somehow suddenly lose them, and go back to square one. Something that even my instructor couldn’t understand).

And after a lot of hue and cry, I’ve come back to just enjoying yoga.

No, I still can’t do any of the fancy poses. In fact, I can’t even do a lot of the basic ones. My hands still can’t touch my feet when I bend.

Maybe it’ll get better, maybe it won’t. But I’m showing up. I’m enjoying it. I’m trying to be mentally and physically fit, and not bother with the weighing scale or the measuring tape. And really, all that matters is that we try, no?

Until then, tucking yoga pants, suck in tummy, click.

Or, accept yourself. (Tell me when you manage this one, okay?)

How to deal with being stuck with your significant other this quArantine

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Okay, for starters, just be thankful you aren’t stuck alone, okay? Unless you were about to break up the night before the lockdown began, and somehow just felt really sleepy and decided, oh well, I can do this tomorrow.

But let’s admit – it isn’t always a heavenly abode, being at home with the person that you now sometimes convince yourself that you absolutely love.

But we’re all figuring our way around it, no?

  1. Have your own dedicated space. Or if you’re living in a Mumbai pigeon hole, your own dedicated corner / kitchen stove / time on the pot. Anything to make you feel like you have a few moments, all to yourself.
  2. Eat your salads and soup. But learn to eat the oil-dripping pakodas too. (And to be fair, it’s actually easier to learn to eat oil dripping pakodas than to learn to eat salads).
  3. Divide your chores. Try not to keep a tab the one day you did the dishes AND mopped the floor while the other watched television.
  4. A friend and his wife are now deciding on chores they both hate, via friendly games of table tennis, loser takes up the chore. Not sure how friendly those games stay, when there is toilet scrubbing in the mix.
  5. Dear Men, try not to crib about the amount of hair you find floating on the floor, which have a weird habit of sticking to the mop and only letting go when you pull them out by your hand. Yes, we know we lose hair. But tomorrow, when you won’t have any on your head, we’ll still be nice to you about it, and pretend you look as hot, even when half bald.
  6. Working out together is great. It gives you something you can both take joy in together, and helps with overall fitness, keeping away depression and anxiety, and the whole jingbang list. But you know what, letting the other person sleep, sometimes does more for your relationship than working out ever could.
  7. Watching good shows / films helps. It enriches your mind and soul, together. But watching trashy shows / films – clutching each other and laughing while watching something like Splitsvilla – priceless.
  8. Try not to let your arguments escalate to the point where one person feels compelled to bang the door and get out of the house. Firstly, you can’t really get out of the building, so you’re basically stuck meandering between your house door and the building gate, in a germ filled elevator. Secondly, it’s really hot outside, and you’re just going to feel like a fool for stepping out, and will probably come back home to a smirking spouse. This is what that time on the pot is for, people. Seek your space.
  9. Meditate. If nothing else, it’s 10 minutes where you don’t have to listen anyone else.
  10. Be kind to the other. Take a shower every day.