Love.

Love.

It’s such a heavy word. It is good and it is bad. It holds so much power over who we are, how we live and everything we become.

Love.

Sometimes I think it’s a cliché in a word. Overrated just a tad bit. Adds an unnecessary twist to basic everyday things.

Love.

Versions of it can be found in every corner. You can feel it, you can share it, you can buy it. It is a new perspective for every person – rarely the same in two. This one’s mine.

Love.

I found it in a broken home. In food we ate, movies we watched, late night beach drives with her friends and family. In how the world felt when I would lie on her lap, her hands on my hair. She felt it too. She always knew and she always will. Simple but consistent. Through arguments and rebellious teens. Through crazy good and insanely bad. We knew.

In the way he stocked up my favourite food when I visited Singapore. Washed the curtains, changed the bedspreads, carefully keeping my dust allergies at bay. The way he woke me up at 9am with a gentle knock and soothing words. I never startled, never panicked out of slumber. The way he taught me how to really drive two hours before my license test. His pride knowing I’m doing everything we planned for my future. His smile when I said I won’t change my last name. A daddy’s daughter can remain one with a partner, with a husband, with a life for myself. He doesn’t feel it from me. He doesn’t know by instinct the way he guides me, in my head, every step of the way. He can’t process the impact he has. His affection, guidance and protection have every minute of my life.

How she knows me better than I know myself. Her hatred to physical affection but eye-rolled hugs. Three years younger and a decade wiser. Her smart quips that she thinks tease but make me happy. It means things are okay. It means she’s not mad for the third thing I did or said wrong that day. It is the lunch she packed when I woke up late for work. The way she listened when I complained about the same thing yet again. The small words of appreciation that make me feel recognized. Her presence around me, giving me a piece of home.

Love.

It’s abundant for her. It’s complicated for him. It’s streamlined for her. It’s them for me.

Love.

I found it in a sister unrelated by blood. Harsh words when the dating was too much. Hugs when the world was tough. She was my guardian angel, my best friend and my family in one person. An inspiration in many moments. Her calm, her sanity and her patience. Nothing quite like it. I felt it in the times she trusted me with her life. I knew it when I could cry about mine to her. I don’t cry to friends. But she was always more.

Love.

Not very traditional. A myth not to be prioritized. Life requires more things than just that. Responsibility, towards duty, towards family, towards society. A career, a plan. More things mattered in the long run. A sustainable future is so much bigger.

Love.

It had a type. A mould that you needed to fit into. A person that you absolutely must be. Kind, calm, patient. Skinny, fair, attractive. Not too much make up but made up. Kitchen skills don’t hurt. A shyness around the bedroom and topics of sex. Don’t know what you want but don’t be an idiot. A job is great but family first. Duty to the future and wellbeing of the partner and the babies yet to be conceived.

Love.

Synonymous with change. Obsessed with being found. In a person. Preferably of the opposite sex. Ideally with a job. Perhaps a bit of faith and religion. We can include a few things from my list too – Taller than me, smart, well-spoken, career-obsessed, an equal partner, well-travelled, independent of me, a partner I share a life with, no decision-making authority about my life. An unreal list for an unsuitable person. It’s not about what I wanted. Not about what he wanted. It was a parent’s list. Mine. His. Maybe theirs?

Love.

Adapting, adjusting, understanding. Silent, submissive, sweet. Smiles at everyone, never has an opinion, never argues. Does not dare raise her voice, takes care of their son and creates a home that’s acceptable. To them. To theirs. To everyone else.

Beliefs that adapt to theirs, lifestyle that modifies to their plans and parents that become them.
Child over career. Bounce back culture. Partner Husband over everything else. The perfect wife for their perfect son.

A list from the parents. That’s all that matters.

Love.

It hit me like a train without a break. For the first time, I could be anyone I wanted to be. I could be fat, I could be rebellious, I could be anxious. It didn’t matter. The things about me I was criticized for became things he admired. My smarts, my passions, my job.

He supports, encourages, motivates. The person of my list and then some. A perfect partner for a ‘perfect’ me.

Love.

He gets me. My quirks and my rambles. Every word I speak, every emotion I feel. He gets me. Who I am, where I come from and everywhere I want to be.

I am a better me and I can’t remember how I got here. But this is how it should be. Empowering, enabling and enticing. Pulling you through life, only stopping when you need to. Letting you catch your breath while taking it away.

Love.

Happy, glowing and content. Accepted, appreciated and adored. Away from the lies they told about problems he doesn’t see.

A magical place. A life of the past irrelevant amidst the laughter and all-knowing glances.
A moment, maybe moving, maybe here forever. But you feel it. In cups of coffee and lingering goodbyes. Excited travel and lazy evenings. You will be everything you were meant to be. But better.

Love.

The way they curl up right next to me, eyes staring, mind relaxed. I never feel alone. They think we rescued them, but really they rescued me.

Love.

The way I feel when I write. In the strokes of paint across a canvas. For me, for my emotions, for my satisfaction. The moments between work and home. The perfect book that makes me cry. The perfect song to the tune of my world. In silence and loudness. Excitement and disappointment. The overplanning, long lists and never ending piles of colours.

Love.

In the middle of a work day when inspiration strikes. I type as I listen to songs from the 90s. The dogs right next to me. My mother texting me. I see him through the corner of my eyes.

Love.

Hamster On A Wheel

In conversation with one of my closest friends, I told her about my life. The routine and the things I hated that have become part of the new-normal. She interrupted, “Like a hamster on a wheel?”

Nothing had ever made more sense to me. 

I was that teenage rebel who swore she would never live a life where two days felt the same. It’s been two years of the same day every day. A few breaks every now and then, but I miss so much about life before all this. Surprising even to me, it’s not the fancy vacations, the trips to Paris for “work” or the drunk stumble home. 

I miss the little things I don’t get to see anymore. The different people on the train every morning. The ones with earphones, wet hair and a lost stare. The ones in a suit, hoping to be more productive today than the day before. The familiar face that worked in the same building, a small smile of “I see you even if I don’t know you.” I miss elevator rides. You never know if you’ll be in time for your best friend or your boss. The walk to get a morning coffee, not always because you need it. It’s more for the conversation, the steps, a loud sigh about the people we had to deal with as we waited for a latte we all knew wasn’t worth the money.

I miss walking into the office, turning on my computer and knowing my day has begun. The random knocks on my door for “Lunch?” “Second coffee?” “Walk?” or “Yay you’re here. I need help!”

The moment I walked into my house at the end of the day. I knew the day I’d had the moment I dropped my bag – productive or procrastinated. Did I spend too much on Starbucks? Do I continue to feel energy to pre-make lunch for tomorrow? Am I cooking? Netflix and instant noodles it is.

There was a joy in knowing I would wake up and see a whole new world of people the next day. A different train, different passengers, different barista and a different routine.

I miss familiar moments with strangers. Getting ice cream at McDonald’s as I headed to my apartment. A little treat to myself. Her stories of a boyfriend that refused to respond as she swirls the ice cream cone perfectly. I’ll never know her name but I’ll always know she’s annoyed at him. 

I miss long nights at my parents’ house. It was in the dark that our laughter was at its loudest. Past bedtime, dogs curled up at our feet, talking about our day, our lives, the people in it and the many memories. A sarcastic comment from my sister that sends us into fits of uncontrollable laughter. A remark from my dad we tell each other we’ll remember forever. Unafraid, unbound. 

I miss the feeling of there being no end to my physical world. If I took a plane, I could go anywhere. I could get in my parents’ car and we would drive for hours. We’d pass fields and towns, windows down, music loud. We had a destination but if I chose to, I could drive on for days. I could see nature at its purest. That stretch of sunflowers I notice every time. The group of old men sitting together smoking and talking as cars fled past them. I look out the window, observing. Knowing I’ll never see them again. I’ll never remember their face or that exact place. But in that moment, they were there, and they were part of my journey to a destination my parents were taking me to.

That’s the hardest thing about the last two years. The feeling of being walled in. There’s no endlessness to my physical world. I can try all I want, there’s only so far I can go. It wouldn’t matter if I couldn’t travel for my ‘gram. But it matters that a plan I’ve been making to go visit my parents at the end of this month is yet again in jeopardy. I feel like I have yet again been caged in.

Repeating the same day over and over again. The same emotions, the same processes, the same people. Wondering when the groups of 5 will turn into groups of 2 again. Wondering when the imaginary walls of the country I live in will open to let me be free again. Wondering when travel to see my parents filled with fear and agony of infecting myself or worse, them, will change again.

I miss knowing my parents are healthy still. I miss not being afraid to lose people before I could spend enough time with them. I miss existing in a world where I don’t feel terror when hanging out with my best friends. Not having to wonder every minute of every day where every person I see on the street has been to over the last 14 days. 

I miss breathing. Not the “say no to masks” kind. The emotional kind. The calm as I took on the world kind.

Every morning, I wake up and for a brief minute, I imagine being somewhere else. Head out the window, driving for hours past fields, towns and cities I’ll never remember. Wind in my hair, nothing to think of but the stillness of my emotions. Calm and happy as I breathe in a world without walls.

I get out of bed and go repeat my day. A hamster on a wheel again.

The Toxic & The Terror

I recently resigned from a job I loved. It was a tough move – there was so much happiness there. I went from someone figuring out life to someone who knew what they were doing within the three years I spent there – with a team that appreciated, celebrated and stood by me through it all. I didn’t really think I would leave as early as I did but I also can’t believe I stayed there that long.

Every workplace has problems. It can be workload, it can be processes, it can be pay. But sometimes, it can also be a person. In a department of 60+ amazing human beings that I loved working with, that one person had more effect on me than they should have. It all only started when they started.

After a year of everyone around me being jealous of the experiences I was having through my job, I had an experience nobody would want for themselves. A casual conversation used against me to keep me out of a project. Something I said I intend to do in the future was turned into “We never know how close the future is. She could leave tomorrow.” That should’ve been my red flag, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it.

In a flat working environment where my former manager is now one of my closest friends, they tried to set hierarchy. I was beneath them and they wanted me to know it. When something I did wasn’t working for them, there was never a conversation. I never received feedback on the 14 versions we worked on together where I tried to keep up with changes that were continuously presented on wrong drafts. I simply got removed from the project when they responded directly to the person on their same paygrade. It bothered me but I told myself, “One less thing on your to-do list. Focus on the rest.”

I should have seen how the small things were adding up. Not just in the real world but emotionally. How this person was making me feel with every decision they made against me. But that’s the thing – these things never capture our attention long enough for us to know. If only I’d known.

6 months since they started. That’s when I knew. The anxiety, the panic, the constant jitters on calls with them. But I’m not silent. I’ve never shied away from letting the world know how I feel. So, I spoke about it. I spoke to the people around me. I spoke to the ones who had power to make change. I spoke to colleagues who could sadly relate.

There were emails – words that person wrote to taunt others just so they wouldn’t get called out for their own flaws. There were phone calls – things that person said to put ‘people in their place’ so we wouldn’t tell that person how they were failing at their job. There was so much that so many people were going through together that we all spoke about.

Nobody cared.

So, I made a decision. I stopped talking. Instead, I observed. I went to meetings and said nothing. Watched everyone try and watched every reaction on that person’s face. I sent emails with different people on copy to learn when their tone changed. I learnt to work around them, never having to be in a call together, never having to talk to each other. It’s no way to work but it’s the only way I could.

For the first time in a really long time, my anxiety was tolerable. I wasn’t panicking every time I heard their name. My heart wasn’t in my mouth when they said my name. I was able to function because I taught myself how to manage them and when I couldn’t, I followed their tactics and asked to be removed from their projects. I was lucky enough to have a team that understood.

Not everyone does.

When you are a manager and your team member tells you someone’s rude, someone wasn’t nice or that someone was making them nervous – listen.

Don’t encourage them to have open conversations with that person. Toxic people are often narcissistic. They don’t like hearing how they aren’t doing something right. When you encourage a person affected by them to speak to them, you are encouraging someone who trusted you to walk into a war path where the other person will always hold more power.

Don’t tell your team that the toxic person is nice deep in their core. Don’t humanise their behaviour. Bullies with a million reasons are bullies still. If there’s a deep underlying cause, it is their responsibility to work on it. It’s not yours to tell them. It’s definitely not the victim’s.

I watched a toxic person rise through the ranks after we told people how they behaved. I watched them build a stronger army. I watched them fail at everything and get away with it every time. I watched them stay – no matter how badly we all threatened to leave.

I ultimately left for a very different reason but the day I left and realized there will never be another call, another look, another casual sentence thrown around to prove how low on the food chain I stood – I felt my shoulders relax, my heart stopped racing and I knew I’d done the right thing.

Not everyone can.

Chennai: Never just a city

I’m that girl that crossed oceans to sustain myself. I live a few hours away but it’s been a while since I’ve been home.

I hear about a possible third wave. I read about carelessness. A city unmasked and unafraid. It scares me all the time – I have parents and in-laws that are old enough for me to be worried. Two dogs I haven’t cuddled my weekend away with in a really long time. A flight to Chennai is almost impossible. And that small chance of maybe? I can’t take it because it all sounds so scary from where I see.

But in the chaos of the news that feels like my worst nightmare, I miss a lot more than just loved ones.

I miss home.

I’ve been talking to my sister about it – What makes us so special? Us adults from Chennai. It’s this tie that we can’t break. In a foreign country, when everything seems different, “Chennai-ah?” is all the connection you need to be best friends.

I miss that home.

That feeling of stepping out of the flight and getting into my mom’s car. The ever-familiar road that leads you away from the airport, “Wow. So much has changed. Traffic alone doesn – epdi poraan paaru.”

You know you’re home when travel is a musical experience – radio or roadside dialogue, to each their own.

The incredible food. Gangotree pani puri, Saravana Bhavan ghee dosa, Ratna Cafe sambar idli, New Woodlands full meals. I’ve never visited without a list. I’ve never left unsatisfied. Street corner akka or Shree Mithai aunty, I miss the friendly banter with total strangers. The extra mile they always go to ensure you enjoy your meal. I often wonder how the aunty and uncle with the delicious channa samosa stall opposite SIET are doing. I wonder if they had enough saved for a rainy day – or year. The bajji akka outside Giri Traders in Mylapore. The chikoo seller outside Ratna Stores in Pondy Bazaar. So many more like them.

The helpers who walk to multiple houses. The tiny arguments our moms always have with them. “Paavam-di ava,” is how the day ends. Have they remained employed? Do you still pay them through the lockdown? There’s so much uncertainty from where I see things.

But one thing remains.

This feeling. If you’re from Chennai, you know what I mean. This particular emotion that makes you play cheesy Madras songs on a cozy Sunday evening. You’re not sad, no. You’re wishful. Longing to be back in those streets. Amongst the colours, the energy, the people.

Unmasked, maybe, but unafraid we are. The news terrifies me, I won’t lie. But I’m hopeful. I’ve seen the Chennai I can’t stop thinking of. The one that saw trouble and didn’t wait for help. The Chennai that wasn’t afraid of flooding water, rising waves or an Earth that shook. The Chennai that rose to the challenge, together. The Chennai that risked themselves to save their neighbours. The Chennai that is proud, brave and resilient.

The Chennai my husband is tired of hearing stories about.

A Chennai we won’t get to be in until – for a change – we distance ourselves and stay indoors.

A Chennai I miss, every day of my life.

I’m that girl that crossed oceans to sustain myself. Years may pass, lives may change and roots may form, but Chennai will always be home.

And the music, the movies and the million keepsakes I can’t throw away will keep me wrapped in warm memories, until I return…

To me, to you, to us

I think of January 9th everyday. It’s so crazy to think if I hadn’t worked where I work, if I hadn’t taken a cab because I can, if I hadn’t tried to not be on a call every morning, if the universe hadn’t connected a thousand dots together just so we would find each other…

I am two opposite people in one. I am traditional and I am liberal. My eyes search for the brightest of pink borders in that perfect Kanchipuram silk the way my hands are drawn to the little black dress that hugs the right places. I feel peace at a temple, sitting in front of God the way I find calm at the end of a chaotic day with a glass of wine in a loud Blues bar. I am the perfect conservative girl your parents always wanted. I am loud opinions and adamance like someone they can never tolerate.

I was raised with words of “change now” because who would marry the woman that didn’t want to be a wife? That wanted a husband who will run the house and have a career so she can claim she was tired after a long day? That wanted to wear the pants but wanted her spouse to be the man?

“How will you find a world of contradictions in one person just because you are? How will he be traditional and open? How will he accept you for all that you are while still being acceptable to your parents?

How will you trust him? You trust no one. How will he trust you? Your best friends are two men.”

It was the extra drink at a work party. The stumble home from Don’t Tell Mama. The desire to make my own money. To be richer than everyone we’ve ever known. To be married to my job. The flinch that was a reflex at the idea of becoming ‘someone’s wife’. The refusal to commit to “womanly duties”.

I was never going to find you because I was unsuitable for a man that didn’t exist.

Then you happened.

I think back to every day that we’ve spent together. Life put us through a lifetime in a year. To love, to lose, to feel helpless, feel lost, depressed and claustrophobic. To deal with anxiety attacks and temper tantrums. Physical and emotion pain. All in the middle of a pandemic.

Yet here we are. This morning I watched an episode of Schitt’s Creek. Patrick serenaded David. I hung on to every word.

“Give me a life time of promises and a world of dreams

Speak the language of love like you know what it means.”

I could see it. The stars and sparkle that enveloped us. It wasn’t my imagination. When I stand next to you, I feel it wrap around us, pulling us closer to each other. It feels like the words I told my best friend after our first date.

“It’s magic.”

Today, we finished something we started many months ago. Today, I married my best friend. My soulmate. The love of my life.

Today, I married you.

And the girl who swore she’d never be tied to a man, stands next to you, excited for the rest of our life.

When you know…

“When you know, you know.”

How many times have we heard this phrase? I’ve never believed it. I thought people were lying.
“You can’t know. You can’t just feel content about someone without knowing anything. You cannot just know.
Relationships that last a lifetime have to be formed, created, built. From sharing stories, aspirations, dreams – love that lasts a lifetime takes a lifetime to develop. Nobody just knows.”

And then I knew. Deep within my soul. He smiled and I saw us – greyed and old, kids moved away, with a cup of coffee in our hands – content.

If you’ve been here a while, you know how I struggle with anxiety. How making a decision that affects me for any period of time crumbles my soul. But I didn’t blink before I said yes. Truth is, I didn’t even say yes. Nobody asked. We just knew. We looked at each other and we felt it. We talked about ‘when’, not ‘if’. We told our families, didn’t ask for permission.

It was like watching the perfect set of dominoes, except it wasn’t falling apart.

Our story still surprises me because… I believed in fairytales for a really long time. Girl meets boy, she knows, he knows, they’re married. It all sounded so romantic. But the real world tends to attack that part of you as you grow up. I think the saying goes, “Wake up. Shit like that doesn’t happen.”

So I believed those voices. I told myself my parents will find me a wonderful man that I will spend the rest of my life growing fond of, never knowing the love that the movies and books I’d spent so much time obsessing over had told me was possible. I made myself 5 plans for life – none of them included a partner.

Two weeks into 2020, on a lazy Monday night, I began texting him. It wasn’t supposed to go anywhere. We spent the next 4 days trying to find something we didn’t agree on. I remember our first phone call. My dinner sat on its plate for three hours as we talked about family, friends, school, university, culture, movies… It was like a teenage dream – the adult version.

I kept it a secret. I wasn’t ashamed, I was afraid. It was so perfect, I wouldn’t dare ruin it. Wouldn’t let anyone jinx it. That Friday, I told my best friend and there were tears in my eyes – my anxiety was real. “I’m waiting for the shoe to drop. Nobody is this perfect.”

I met him at 6pm on a Tuesday. I’d dressed to impress but I had never felt more like myself. Seven hours later, on my way home, I knew I’d experienced magic like I’d never known before. I knew.

It took us 21 days to go from strangers to engaged. People thought we were crazy. I was so happy.

The last year has been ridiculous. You’ve been around, you know how it goes. We’ve been through so much – we’ve lost grandparents, gone on lockdown, experienced a pandemic with aging parents in another country, been sick and frustrated – but I’ve never been more in love than I am right now.

We’ve found differences, we’ve found things that annoy the other person, we’ve found common dreams and goals – but beyond everything else, we’ve found each other.

So here I am, one more in the long list of people who’ll tell you words you won’t believe – Someday, you’ll meet someone. They’ll smile at you and your heart won’t melt. It’ll expand. You’ll feel happy and calm and chaotic. You’ll feel in love. You’ll know. And when you know, you know.

Counting Down… Endlessly.

“I’m not alone.”

I say that because it’s what’s kept me sane for so long. As we went through lockdown and phases of reopening, my heart felt okay because I wasn’t alone. If I needed help, if I needed a hug, if I needed nothing but another human body to sit within my line of sight – I had someone.

I told myself every day that it made all the difference. For months, it really did. But as we continue to struggle with a world we didn’t think we’d ever encounter, it’s not working. My reasons, my excuses, my ability to convince myself – they don’t make sense anymore.

To no reflection of the person sitting with me, holding my hand and telling me it’ll be okay, I find myself feeling not okay.

People have different relationships that they’ve been stranded away from. I’m now counting 6 months since I last saw my parents. 6 months since I was home with them. 6 months since I last cuddled my aging dog. It’s the longest I’ve ever been separated from any of them but that’s not the problem.

The 6 months I’ve stayed apart has already passed. I’ve lived through it. Can’t change anything about it. It’s the future.

April 2020 – I told myself I’ll be with them by October. Flights will resume. The world will be healing.

June 2020 – I told myself I’ll be with them by December. It’s slower but everything will be fine.

We’re at the end of July – February 2021 seems almost unrealistic. Like something I can’t plan for because I don’t know if the world will heal – by then, if ever at all. I’ve watched my friends who live alone struggle with the depression that came from the negative news cycles. I encouraged them to remain positive. To not absorb it. I told them when restaurants opened, I’ll be there for a cup of coffee, maybe some cake?

But somehow, it was the opening of things that really made all the difference. When life showed me a glimpse of normal, I felt trapped – it was like dangling a dream in front of me that I couldn’t grasp. I could go out, I could meet people, I could laugh and giggle and have the time of my life – just not with my family.

I can’t get on an impulsive flight over a weekend because I missed my dog too much. I can’t go running to my Mom when my brain was overworked. I can’t be sitting across my Dad in conversation about my understanding of the world.

Before the pandemic, I got through long weeks by counting down days until my next flight home. I can’t do that anymore. For every week that passes, months add on. And that flight… it seems farther and farther away.

Maybe, at almost 28, it sounds ridiculous. Maybe, almost married, it sounds immature. Maybe, my parents are right, how could I be such a baby and cry?

But of all the things that COVID has thrown my way, healing a part of the world and not the rest has been the toughest to deal with.

I don’t know if we’ll ever go back to normal. I don’t know when I’ll get to hold my family – furry and human – close to me again. But I know I’m not the only one stuck like I am.

Do your part in keeping yourself safe and reducing the spread. When you help yourself, you help us all.

“Paattisaami”

It’s been a week since she passed. A week where I woke up every morning, brushed, showered, got my morning coffee, checked my emails and got to work. At 11, I’d break to make lunch that I ate to different series on Netflix. I got a second coffee at 4 and dinner at 8.

My life went on.

It’s almost like it’s all normal. Like I’m just this kid in a foreign country, working my butt off in the middle of a pandemic and my family is intact where I last saw them but that’s not the truth. Not even fucking close and that reality is scaring me.

I don’t know what it is about it all. Is it that when I go to Chennai the next time, I won’t have to ask, “When do we go see her?”

Is it that I will never have another moment where she holds my face and kisses my cheek again?

Is it that I last saw her in a hospital bed, mildly hallucinating? Having to deal with the fact that I didn’t get to hold her hand and say, “Thank you for the best parts of my childhood. I have loved every minute of being your granddaughter.”

Is it that I will never talk about her in the present tense again?

Or the mere fact that my grandmother – the woman that held my hand on our way to markets as a toddler, bought me puzzles and games that made me smarter and faster, believed in me as if there was absolutely nobody on this planet that could be any better – is now dead and I wasn’t there?

Instead, as she breathed her last, I was texting friends, smiling and excited about a new step in my life. I cut my sister’s call when she tried to tell me because I was too busy staring at a dog. I found out via text.

I took a deep breath and called my mom. “Okay. Okay. Keep me posted.” It hadn’t passed through me. I was surrounded by flatmates, it couldn’t pass through me. I walked into my room and the door shut. I can’t remember the last time I felt as broken and helpless as I did in that moment. I couldn’t tell anyone because I have a problem letting people see me that weak. So, when my dad called to check on me, I wiped my tears and put on a smile. “I’m fine. Are you okay? Okay. Yeah, I”ll go to bed now.” That was 9pm.

I watched the clock turn to 3.10 in the morning. I woke up at 5. That was last Friday.

Here I am in this new world. Locked indoors, just a girl and her computer. I have no grandparents. I’ll be bold enough to say I was my grandmother’s favourite. Maybe not, but I’ll keep what I believe and the world will let me.

She was a bold woman. She spoke English so poignantly, it surprised people. She was independent for as long as she was able and it killed her when she couldn’t be anymore. You don’t know her. You don’t know how much she loved and cared. How she stood up for me when nobody else would. How she saw a side of me that often I didn’t even see.

She was wise and poised. She was traditional without being conservative. Words can’t ever explain who she was to me.

I feel her absence. I didn’t talk to her everyday. But the idea that I won’t ever talk to her again gets to me everyday. I won’t see her laugh at my stupid jokes or shake her head at my crazy stories. I won’t see her anymore.

But I know my life will go on. I’ll get used to the new reality. I’ll get used to trips where I don’t visit her. I’ll get used to living with only memories of her. Slowly, she’ll belong more to my past than to my present. More in my head than in person. Until every year, she becomes a day on my calendar. A smile when I cut mangoes for my kids for the first time like she used to. A smell that seems familiar when walking past her favourite products at a grocery store. A joke that only we’ll know. And my life… will go on.

But on a bad day, as I find myself in a corner not feeling all that good, her voice will speak in the back of my head, “You’re a diamond in the rough. They don’t know how to make you shine.”

And so she will remain a part of everything I will ever become. For as long as I live.

I will always be “paattisaami” <3

To Find Meaning

I’ve been reading this book called Ikigai by Albert Liebermann and Hector Garcia. If you haven’t read it and belong to the generation that does not understand stress-free life, I would strongly suggest giving it a go. It has made me admit to myself something people have said to me before (while I constantly denied it and called them insane).

I am a workaholic (that wasn’t the admission but we’ll get to that in a minute). I love working. I can complain about my job, my pay and even toxic environments but when you ask me to stop working, I’ll only come up with reasons why I can’t. I can’t stop. I was in a meeting until 7pm today. I was dragging my feet to the train but my ego was flying. I was so busy, I had to be in a meeting until 7pm. Like that makes me feel really good.

And there’s nothing wrong with it. We all like different things and I like to be busy working. It makes me feel important and productive and like I’m doing something with my life.

Now let’s get to the thing people complain about that I don’t like admitting – my work defines everything I do outside of it. I was on the train at 7.30pm and told myself, “Don’t check your emails. Shut it off and focus on the music and the words on your Kindle.” You know what I felt? Not anxious, not peaceful and definitely, not focused. I felt guilty.

I feel guilty when I don’t respond to emails beyond work hours. I feel guilty when I turn off at the end of the day. I feel guilty when I take a day off because the doctors thought I might have cancer. I feel guilty when I am not working for not working because my work defines every other aspect of my life.

Before I read Ikigai, I had read Man’s Search for Meaning – thank you Abhishek, if you ever read this. Viktor Franckl talks about logotherapy which is mentioned a lot in Ikigai. The core concept of both these books are the same. (Can I please mention I didn’t go looking for these books? It came to me through suggestions and surprisingly they had the same messaging.) That when you have a why to live, you’ll do so no matter how. So I spent time thinking about my why.

I often tell people I want to be really rich. That’s the purpose to my existence. Money. I want the kind of money that people I grew up with can’t even imagine. To be so rich and yet so humble. To buy the things I see and I see a lot. To own my own place – massive with floor to ceiling windows and a view you would kill for. I don’t want to inherit it. I don’t want to be married into it. I want to earn it. My work will bring that money that will be mine.

Except, I’m beginning to wonder if that isn’t really true.

I work at an amazing place in Singapore. It’s great. I get to go to these incredible events with speeches by amazing human beings. One such event in October addressed purpose and stress. She asked us to look at the person next to us and talk about our purpose. My answer was easy. “Money.”

Then the person next to me mentioned, “I want to do good through my job.” I stopped and realised that it’s what I really wanted but didn’t like admitting because it doesn’t offend my parents as easily. I wanted to do good for the beings on four legs that can’t speak for themselves. I couldn’t admit it to myself, I wasn’t going to tell her that. So I said, “Cool.” But I kept thinking. I always told people I wanted to start a rehabilitation zoo. For abused animals. To recreate a forest in a closed environment so they were home without being subjected to hunters or abusers.

That carried into Viktor Franckl’s explanation of logotherapy. I continued to think about the things that really make me wake up to that insane alarm at 6am. And now as I read Ikigai and they repeatedly talk about the thing that keeps you going, the meaning, the reason and the purpose behind my need to keep existing in this seriously not-so-great planet, I am realising the truth and I don’t know if it’s the wine typing or really me but…

Remember how I mentioned that I got very used to answering “Money” because it offended my parents? Imagine my surprise when I realised the purpose to my existence was really them.

It didn’t matter how much money. It mattered what I could buy with it for them. It didn’t matter how big an apartment. It mattered how successful it made me appear and how much prouder it made them by default because…

I wasn’t an easy kid. I was smart that wasted the smarts and emotional that made stupid decisions based on those emotions. And my life, this incredibly weird thing I didn’t ask for that they gave to me, I spend working like a mad person because it gets me closer to making them look like they birthed a fricking genius – a result of which makes them stand taller than the others in any room – something they deserve.

Yeah, I wasn’t expecting this post to get so real as well but I just wanted to put this out there.

Sometimes, it’s good to find the meaning behind the things you do. It may make them that much more worthwhile.

So, yeah, I’ll say it. I’m a workaholic. I chase after success and I will slave my soul away until I reach it. My purpose is money. But there’s a meaning behind it.

Find yours.

My Lighthouse

 

I’ve been kind of lost for the last six months.

My life went through a drastic change and as I tried to find where I belonged in this new phase, I feel like I lost who I have always been.

When things end, they say it gives way to new beginnings. I thought my new beginning would feel free. Like I could do anything without ever having to worry about how it affects another person. But the thing was, there wasn’t much left to be done with that freedom because the things that controlled me remained. Money, exhaustion and just life, in general.

So I began to cling on to anything that felt new. Maybe a new person, maybe a new role, maybe a new dress or a new passion. Maybe I should focus on myself finally. Or my job. Or maybe I should look for a partner. Maybe not. Maybe I look for the old me. The teenage-me. The care-about-nothing and just-have-fun me. Something had to give because my life had to change drastically. It had to.

But it didn’t. And I couldn’t accept that. I turned frantic in my search for something that replaced what I had lost, not realizing that as I tried to walk towards something else, I was walking away from myself.

So I started to add pressure – to me and to the people around me. I watched others’ lives change and began envying them because mine wasn’t. But it had. It didn’t feel that way because my routine hadn’t necessarily changed. Nothing I did every day changed. It was only an emotional disruption and I didn’t know how to process that. I didn’t know how to point and say, “This is why it’s different. Even if nothing changed around me, my emotions are in disarray. So that’s what I need to focus on.”

I searched for a solution to my emotions in the physical world and failed, consistently. I tried to throw myself into work, but it didn’t feel enough. I tried to balance work with life so I could focus on myself but when the day drew to an end, I was left feeling unsettled again.

Maybe this was my way of grieving. This frantic search for something, anything, that made me feel like my life had gotten better. Maybe this was my way of going through the emotions that come with separating yourself and your life from someone. Maybe this is how we all feel at 27 and it’s nothing but a mid-life crisis. 

The problem was, until three days ago, I didn’t understand any of this. In my frustrations with the world around me, I never realized that perhaps the reason I couldn’t find what I was looking for was because it wasn’t in the real world. 

I haven’t painted for over a year. I’ve given myself a lot of excuses as to why I don’t have the time – to be creative, to draw, to imagine, to clean up after. And on a very busy Sunday, I was just done with the excuses. I always imagined painting a lighthouse, Van Gogh style. There was something about it, standing next to the ocean, alone but surrounded by the beauty of the world that made lighthouses seem so fascinating. They reminded me of the wind against my face, sand between my toes and the sound of the ocean. Far above the land, almost touching the sky, just a little bit shy. Lighthouses reminded me of home.

It’s amazing how art cures the most complex of your problems. As I slowly began painting something I’ve been wanting to for so long, I found what I had been missing. Why I had felt so out of place. What I had been searching for since July.

Myself.

I smiled for the first time in a while. From my heart. It was like standing in the rain, every drop taking you closer to yourself. I painted my happy place, finding it within myself along the way.

Maybe this blog isn’t the right thing to post at this point in my life. Someone recently told me that if I were to get married, blogs with so much honesty cannot exist when they google me. Maybe they’re right.

Maybe you’re not supposed to know how I’m trying to find my place in this world. Maybe we’re all just supposed to pretend we’re put-together and perfectly fine with lives that go through nothing at all. But I’m not going to take this away.

We all go through changes. Some are obvious. Some aren’t. You know they happened, you experience the difference even when you can’t see it. Those may be the most difficult ones to process. 

In the process of readjusting my life to a new reality, I lost myself.

It took me six months of searching and one painting to find. And I know this could happen again. Another change I don’t know how to handle could make me lose sense of who I am.

But when it does, I’ll know better. I’ll know the patterns and the emotions.

I’ll know to breathe deep and close my eyes for just a few seconds.

I’ll know to look for my lighthouse.

If you’re out there reading this and you’re not sure where you’re headed, what you’re doing or why you’re acting a certain way – this is your reminder.

Breathe. Imagine your lighthouse. What does it feel like?

Lighthouse painting