Yet More Learnings From The Lockdown

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Yes, the list just goes on and on, doesn’t it?

  1. There is absolutely no real reason to bother ironing your clothes. I mean, we’ve all stopped using the video function of our office Zoom calls now, haven’t we? And do you really really care if your pajama is wrinkled? Aren’t you just going to lie around all day in it and wrinkle it further? (Or maybe even iron it by body weight & heat if you lie around just right).
  2. There is such a thing as too much Maggi. I never thought this would happen. It has always been my go-to savior. Until I finally made a face the other day at it. This, kids, is the real doomsday.
  3. Our utensils are cursed. Or charmed. But really just cursed. Remember the Gemino curse from Harry Potter? Where everything just doubles on touch in Bellatrix’s vault? Yup, I’m pretty convinced that’s happening to our dirty utensils. Because WHAT OTHER LOGICAL REASON IS THERE FOR THAT NEVER ENDING PILE IN THE SINK?!
  4. Crows are loud. And now, with less human intervention, have taken to cawing at the choicest of hours. Like just when you start talking in an office conference call. Or when you finally manage to fall asleep at 4 am. And all of you people complaining about koyals…really? Wanna trade with my crow?
  5. Rain can be beautiful, when you’re safely tucked inside your home. Maybe add an instagram-able coffee cup to the mix. A book next to the cup that you are never going to get around to actually reading. No, wait. Who am I kidding? To me rains will always be about clothes never drying for the next 4 months. Or memories of wading through knee deep water. Or jumping on a dead rat and the squelching sound that ensued. Oooh, romantic, no?
  6. Human beings are stupid. Because what other reason could you possibly have to step out of the house?! Yes I know the lockdown had to be opened up because the economy and livelihoods were at stake. But you, YOU reading this – chances are you stepped out in the last few days not for your livelihood you privileged ass, but because you wanted to walk on Carter Road / Marine Drive / some other overly crowded area. Like seriously – what part of the lockdown opening up translated into: I have never exercised in my life but TODAY I MUST WALK IN FRESH AIR and infect / get infected / possibly turn into a carrier without realising.

Just stay the fuck home, please?

Of facing ugliness and being kind

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These months of, well, I wouldn’t say isolation because I’m not really alone, but being stuck indoors have ended up in me seeing new sides of myself. I wish this was a post where I would now go on to talk about my new found love for cooking, or how the artist within me has flourished. Instead, these months have made me see sides of myself that I didn’t know existed, and am not quite ready to accept yet.

I’ve always taken pride in being that person who can disconnect from emotions when things got bad, and concentrate more on the problem at hand. Logic before reaction. And yet, for the first time in my life I find myself restless and… anxious.

Of course I use the term anxiety very loosely. I understand just how widespread and debilitating a mental issue it can be. Yet, it isn’t something you can ignore, even when the doses are smaller.

Maybe it isn’t surprising, because what these last few months have been – have been for the first time in all our lives. A pandemic. A humanitarian crisis. An impending cyclone.

I know I’m supposed to be kind to myself right now. I know I’m supposed to sit back and say, it’s okay, it isn’t in my control, and I will do what is required with what is in my control. But being a logical person means I know this all already, okay? It also means I know very well just how much things are not in my control.

It isn’t a pretty side of me. Specially when it first takes you by surprise, then a bit of disgust and introspection of when I turned into this person. The not sleeping well doesn’t help either. It’s worse because it’s so unpredictable. There are absolutely fun days when I’m enjoying being home, taking work calls and baking cakes. And then there are sudden days when I have to force myself to keep doing things in auto pilot mode, all the while disconnected with a sinking feeling inside me. Feelings that suddenly remind me just how much I miss my family, or how much better it would have been if I had gotten out of Mumbai earlier.

As I type this, I’m sitting next to the balcony, the sliding door open just enough to give me an idea of the state of the weather, close enough to shut it at any moment as required. It’s surprisingly pleasant outside, the way monsoons are when they aren’t busy wreaking havoc. And yet, so gloomy knowing where this might be heading.

So with nothing in my control, I sit back, finish work in auto pilot mode, and do something I’m not used to at all – send little prayers out into the universe.

Because, we might just need it.

How adulting has changed in lockdown

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A few disclaimers: I’m in the heart of a red zone in Mumbai, so the lockdown isn’t going anywhere for me (rightly so) for at least another month. Also I’m in my 30s. You’d think I would be over ‘adulting’ issues and just calmly be an adult by now. No such luck.

But these last few months have seen things switch gears so smoothly that it’s only a surprise when you sit to think about it.

  1. You’re no longer arguing about who will get up in the morning to open the door for the maid & cook. Instead now, those fights have mutated into who will cook / wash utensils / do jhadoo pocha that day. Negotiation skills are of utmost importance here.
  2. From putting off grocery shopping till the last minute, to applauding an algorithm that alerts you each time Big Basket slots open up. Those slots are sneaky and hard-to-get!
  3. From never having enough fancy clothes to not having enough pajamas. If you wear any. Can’t really tell in a Zoom call. Thankfully.
  4. From worrying about that promotion / increment, to worrying about still having a job at the end of the year. Things just got real.
  5. From not being able to get an Uber in Mumbai monsoons, to figuring out if you have candles at home in case of a power cut during the impending cyclone. I can’t even believe I just typed that sentence.

Okay, that got too real. I’m going to go and numb myself watching stories of workouts, banana breads, coffee and… oh wait, that’s my own feed. Shit.

P.S. I don’t know why I chose that pineapple pic for this post. It just seemed fun. And in the middle of all this shit, we could use some fun, no?

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.