Tuesday, 6 December 2022

Grieving lost friendships!

I sometimes wonder why we don’t accord similar level of importance to friendships as we do to romantic relationships. I like the social awareness around the space and respect given to grieving romantic relationships – lost relationships, failed relationships, complicated relationships, long distance relationships or relationships that just drifted apart. I like the lack of awkwardness in asking, ‘What are we’, ‘It feels different’, ‘What changed? We changed. Can we work on some things?’, ‘I need some more love. Can you give it to me?’. While the whole beauty of friendship might lie in the lack of concrete definitions and social norms, I often miss the definitiveness of romantic relationships in my friendships. How close are we? What are we? Are we Friday night drinking friends, are we Sunday morning deep-conversation friends? Are we friends-of-convenience filling our lonely lives with some insincere affection? Are we soulmates of some sort? Are we I’ll-always-have-your-back friends? Are we all of them? Are we some?

I believe in soul families, not soul mates. I hold a lot of people– most of them friends, dear to me. Falling apart from them is painful, often more painful than breaking up with my romantic partners. However, I’ve missed being able to grieve it, being able to talk about it. I miss taking the refuge of music, movies and poetry to grieve about friendships lost – the way I can for romance gone bad. I miss being accorded a shoulder to cry for all the friends that got left behind. I hate my pain being dismissed because drifting apart from friends is such an ‘expected’, ‘natural’ part of life. I wonder why my grief over a break-up of one-year relationship gets more validation versus my multi-year friendship gone sour. I hate my grief not being validated enough.

How to talk about the pain of not being able to hug your friend as often as you’d want to, of missing growing old with them, of not being able to call them up to tell them about your day, of not having the right to call them after a bad day. When friendships end, the reasons are rarely defined – most times they just end mysteriously or sometimes they don’t end at all but just fade away. Sometimes, you just drift away because of distance or evolved priorities. Sometimes, you just grow out and become incompatible – you grow out of the activities, values or commonalities that held you together. Sometimes, you just hurt each other but neither of you want to have the difficult conversation to address the issue, so it let it go till both the problem and the person start hurting less. Sometimes, you just get too busy to make time for all the friends you have made.

It irks me, though, to not be able to get that closure for myself – to go through old pictures, old memory lanes, old cards and wonder, “I miss them. Do they miss me too?” Sometimes, I type out a whole message and then delete it because it seems too corny. I want to reach out to an old friend and say, ‘Hey, can we work on our friendship? Can we pick it from where we left it off?’, but I fear lack of reciprocity and drop the idea.  I like how it is socially acceptable to be embarrassing with your ex-romantic partners. I miss being able to send awkwardly corny messages to my drifted friends without it sounding annoyingly cheesy.

As I am writing this, I am wondering why I care about these social constructs at all. I am not sure. Looks like I am not all that non-conformist as I believe I am, and the years of social conditioning has played its part. What is the point of this post? This is probably me validating my pain for all the lost/distanced/forgotten friendships that I am grieving, and extending a virtual hug and shoulder to everyone in similar shoes – "Your emotions are valid, and it is okay to feel deep pain for lost friendships."

Monday, 21 November 2022

A little bit of a Londoner!

I should have worn the waterproof mascara. Crying in the flight is a bad idea especially when the airhostess is giving you emergency landing instructions. I decided to write my little tribute to London on the flight because I needed to bid a fitting good bye...and words are all I have sometimes, most of the times. And apparently, raw emotions make for compelling writing.

But this is just so difficult. What do I write about you, London? What could be a meaningful tribute! You've been so wonderful on most days London, but also so painful and lonely on so many others. This feels like a breakup. But like a good breakup (if there is such thing). A breakup with a partner who is incredibly amazing but somehow could not be just right for you. And it's so painful to part with them because you wish you could make the relationship work.

I'll miss you, London. I'll miss the privilege of casually watching a Westend musical on any given evening, and always having 50 shows to choose from. I'll miss the red buses. I'll miss them a lot. I'll miss walking to Barbican Centre and writing there quietly for hours, and marveling every time at how such a spectacular location was freely accessible to everyone. I'll miss the parks – the ducks at Regent’s Park, and views from Primrose Hill. I'll miss nonchalantly walking by the London Bridge and not gasping at its beauty every single time. How I took your beauty for granted! I'll miss Tate Modern. I'll the privilege of living in a gorgeous Victorian house with a fireplace. I'll miss the tube. I'll miss the glorious display of diversity every single day on the streets of London. I'll miss the spontaneity of a whimsical weekend getaway in an exotic European city. I'll also miss the absolute unpredictability of the weather. And needlessly discussing it all the time, with everyone. Oh God, I'll miss you London.

Thank you for the beautiful people, London. They say it’s tough to build genuine friendships as you grow older. I remember coming to you being so stuck up with my best friends home that I almost did not give space for new friendships to bloom. But I am glad I gradually let people in, and how lucky am I to have found so many incredibly intelligent, funny, creative and lovable people. All of them so unique and beautiful.

London, you have been so transformational for me and taught me so much. These three years have pushed me to grow immensely in aspects both big and small. I have so much to be grateful for, but my biggest accomplishment is easily my dramatically improved map reading abilities. Heck, I even lead the navigation on some walking excursions now. I can set better boundaries than I could three years ago (this is massive work in progress but it's something). For the first time in a long time, I have actually enjoyed and felt fulfilled at work. You opened myriad of opportunities for me. Also, you introduced me to painting, and I think I am half decent at it.

You taught me to be perseverant, London. I would be lying if I say you weren't painful on a lot of days, London. Despite so much to do and so many lovely people, it was lonely and difficult many times. You pushed me to learn to love myself and my solitude a bit more. You also pushed me explore what else could be out there for me, and I am thankful for that.

Thank you for everything, London. So many beautiful memories, so many tears, so much hope. I think I will always be a little bit of a Londoner. On to, next! I hope you'll match the bar, Seattle❤.

Monday, 25 July 2022

Look Mom, we graduated!

So much about graduating is about Mom. So much about life is about Mom. So much about my existence is about Mom.

I graduated. An MBA from London Business School. It feels surreal. This was the dream. To be honest, it wasn’t even the dream because I often dream cautiously and carefully, scared that unfulfilled dreams would hurt so much more than dreaming smaller. When you’re at a low point in your life, it feels tough to dream big, almost ludicrous. Something within you almost tells you, “Have you looked at yourself now, how dare you dream this big?”. It was my ex-boyfriend who pushed me to dream, to apply regardless. I would forever be grateful to him. And to my best friends, my mentor, my brother, my sister, and those 30 people who reviewed my 400 essays 535 times and responded to my ‘What do you think about this edit?’ messages at 11:55 PM, 5 minutes before the submission deadline. They kept their patience and still told me that they loved me, and meant it. Ah, what would have I done without you all?

However, this post isn’t about them. This is about you, Mom. And how it meant everything to have you support me all along in life. This is about when I was 12 and wanted to take swimming lessons. I remember how you accompanied me every day, and sat by the pool for hours in the sweltering 45°C Indian summer heat to cheer for me as I perfected my butterfly-stroke. This is about the times, multiple times, you woke up at 4 AM, so you could wake me up to study for my examinations. And when I blamed you for waking me up 30 minutes late because you couldn’t wake up in time, you apologized. Oh God, why are teenagers so awful! 

This is also about the time I wanted to move across the country to study for my undergrad. Dad was unwell and you needed support, but you told me that you’ve got it and let me go to study that far. You taught me, over and over again, how to love independent people. That love means letting people go after the things that matter to them, and not guilting them into staying back.

This is about the time I told you that I did not want to not pursue engineering anymore, and felt that writing is where my true passion lies. Instead of blatantly dismissing my idea and lecturing me on the frivolity of passion for most people in India, you urged me to think more deeply. “Do you want to talk to more people about it?”, “Can I connect you with someone?”, “Do you think you want to take up writing as a profession or do you want to continue it as an avocation?”. You urged me to think, ask questions and carve my path without feeling intimidated about failing.

I did not, however, end up pursuing writing because my soul searching helped me realize that I might not enjoy writing as much if it became a full-time job. At my non-writing job at work, on many days that seemed to never end, I remember feeling too exhausted to call you and check in on you. It meant everything to me that you gave me the space to be busy, and understood when I was not there for you as much as you would have liked. I felt like a heavy burden was lifted off my chest when you didn’t say, ”You never have time for me”, and instead said, “Call me when you can.” You made me feel safe knowing that I can come back to you when I am ready – that you would wait. You never made me feel that I have failed you…even though I sure have, many times.

Thank you for London, Mom. I remember getting insanely excited when I got the admit for LBS. The MBA was super rewarding but it came with a price tag that was tough for us to bear – thank you for sharing the burden, Mom. Recruitment was stressful, and Covid just made things worse with the job market crashing down. With every rejection, I remember mentally calculating how long I could manage London expenses without a job – it wasn’t too long. I know the period was as debilitating for you as it was for me. Thank you though, for not showing it, and for remarking, “It’s okay, it’s just a job” to every rejection email I received(we both knew fully well that at that point it was not ‘just’ a job – it was a hope to create a new life in a new country, and start paying off my hefty student debt).

You taught me about identity, freedom and choices; and stressed the importance of each of them in life. Identities of brown women often get camouflaged with their partners – you encouraged me to carve my own. You taught me that marriage is important but not pivotal for my happiness or personhood, and I can take my time to choose the right partner. You enabled me to make the right choices, generously sharing your share of wrong choices to prevent me from making the same mistakes. You taught me the importance of financial freedom; and why I must not never value anything over it. I remember our tough discussions, Mom. Thank you for listening to me and letting me have my own opinions, even when they were starkly opposite to yours. Thank you for shaping me Mom, beyond what any education could.

Look Mom– I graduated. We graduated. Thank you for the graduation, Mom!

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Of daddy and my nose!

I must have been eight when I was made to realize that my nose is not my most flattering feature. A relative probably joked about it being too broad one time, and that stuck with me for a long time. So, the weeks, months, and years that followed, were filled with me checking out my nose in every reflective surface I encountered, literally every.

I became obsessed with noses. Funny thing to be obsessed about as an eight-year-old no? Noses? In fact, it is a funny thing to be obsessed about at any age. I used to check out everyone’s nose, compare it with mine, and wonder how their nose would look on my face. I remember using hairpins, cloth pins, and every other pin to pinch my nose together, hoping that it might become more chiseled somehow. Sadly, all the pinching did not work, but what did happen was that I developed scars on my nose because of the continued pressure.

All I wanted, more than anything else in life back then, was a chiseled nose. It was my single, unwavering goal. However, all the pins, prayers, and holding my breath ever so often did not help. My broad nose started making me resent my dad a tiny bit. After all, it was his broad nose that I inherited. I used to blame him for passing on his non-flattering nose genes to me.

I grew up over the years in most other aspects but my obsession with my nose or its lack of sharpness thereof did not wane down. So, I approached this problem the same way I approach most problems in my life – I went to my sister to resolve it. She acknowledged it and then both of us with our combined childhood wisdom came up with a plan. The solution was clear – I needed to get a nose job. The plan to reach there was to work hard in life and become rich because apparently, good nose jobs are expensive. I was satisfied with the solution she offered. It was not ideal, but I was happy that one fine day I can look pretty with a chiseled nose.

Over the years, however, I grew up to feel that my nose was probably not all that bad. I passed my ugly duckling phase to grow up into a good-looking young girl and surprisingly nobody seemed to notice my nose or its lack of sharpness. I was, however, always conscious of wearing any make-up that would draw any attention to my nose. I learned to accept it but not love it yet. I was alright with it lying on my face quietly, not asking for attention. But the thought of it asking for more and claiming its rightful place on my face was almost blasphemous. How dare it! It was just allowed to exist – quietly, unceremoniously, and almost grateful of my acceptance, indebted even.

Over the past few years though, ever since dadda passed away, I started growing a strange fondness towards my nose. I now find in it my special connection and bond with dadda. I feel like a part of him stayed back with me through my nose. On days when I have time to stare at the mirror a little longer and admire myself, I get reminded of him and smile. So, my nose is now a strange yet adorable reminder of my bond with dad. And funnily enough, from accepting it, I have now grown to like it. I no longer expect it to lie unceremoniously on my face. I want to get a nose piercing someday because I want to make up for all the love that my nose did not get all these years. I want to love it, and dare I say, even celebrate it.

On your birthday today dadda, I am thankful for all that you passed on to me – your smile, some bits of your intellect, your fierce independence, your vulnerability, your bad sense of humour, your idiosyncrasies and most importantly your nose…I am thankful for your nose dadda. It taught me so much about the cruel beauty standards we crush little kids and their spirit with. And it taught me so much about embracing our bodies and our beauty. You are gorgeous dadda and so is your nose, and mine. Also, ‘Fuck beauty standards! I am not getting a nose job.’

Monday, 15 February 2021

All about 2020 - the best is yet to be!


In my youthful naivete, I tattooed ‘The best is yet to be’ across my shoulder, a few weeks before I left for my MBA in London. It was a rather impulsive decision. I think I got that tattooed because I wanted to leave India with a lingering thought and emotion. Or maybe because I fondly remember my dad telling me, ‘Grow old with me, the best is yet to be’ on every birthday of his. Or maybe I wanted to believe that I have more depth and thoughtfulness than I do.  Or maybe it was my fear, fear of dwelling in the past, of gloating over ‘days that were’ – days of youthful innocence, deep friendships, college corridors, incessant laughter, dreams, and love. I think I never wanted my past to be any more magnificent than my present or my future. I did not want to keep lingering on the ‘best days of my life’ in the past, I wanted to create the better days of my life ahead. I believed that these words would serve as a reminder to stay optimistic and hopeful of all the beauty that lies ahead.

Come grow old with me; the best is yet to be

As fate would have it, six months into getting my rather optimistic tattoo, we were met by a pandemic, and it robbed me of so many experiences that ‘best is yet to be’ seemed like a cruel joke. I responded to the pandemic with differently erratic emotional spurs over the months.

I think I started with denial, ‘It’s not that bad. It’ll get better in a few months and life would be back to normal.” Except that it was that bad, even worse and life did not get back to normal…became worse. So, in the months that I was promised the most transformational MBA experience – most engaging classes, parties that go on till 6 AM, and trips all over the world; I was trying to desperately figure out how to use a virtual background on Zoom. Good thing I figured that out though, because the next couple of months, creative Zoom backgrounds on virtual classes were the highlight of my weeks.   

I started off by appreciating the silver lining. ‘At least I get to spend more time with family’, ‘I have time to introspect’, ‘I can save money’, ‘I can read all these books that I kept turning down for more socializing options’, ‘My cooking skills notched up quite a bit’, ‘I can finally watch all these Netflix shows without feeling guilty’. Gradually though, I got exhausted from appreciating the silver lining. It became too narrow with every week that passed; a few months into the pandemic, I could no longer see it.

I felt robbed of my MBA experience and was incredibly angry at the circumstances. ‘How egocentric do I have to be to make a global pandemic about my compromised MBA experience?’, I wondered. However, rationalizing seldom helps with assuaging your emotions, so that thought did not help. I missed hugging people, I missed kissing them, I missed seeing views beyond my bedroom and kitchen. I missed not having to be paranoid about infection every living moment of the day. I missed living freely, and I wanted to scream how it is so unfair to take it all away from me in the years that were supposed to be my best years.

I remember laughing at the tragedy of the times on most days. And then there were days that I cried, cried my heart out. I remember a particular email stating that our global business experience, which was essentially a week-long interactive business learning experience in Brazil, got canceled. I remember looking at that email for straight ten minutes and crying. There was nothing extraordinarily sad about that decision from school. In all honesty, it was quite an expected decision. But on some days, you are hinging on an unrealistic hope of things eventually working out, and when that bleak ray of hope is taken away too, you no longer know what to look at for hope. I think I cried so hard because there was too much pent-up anger and grief, waiting to be released at an opportune moment, just so that the emotions do not feel uncalled for.

I think it was after I cried quite a bit and video-called more people than one practically can, watched more Netflix shows than my sleep-schedule allowed, and went on more bad dates than my friends could hear about, that something switched within me. I could, after all the months of cribbing, finally  accept and dare I say, appreciate everything the pandemic taught me.

The pandemic taught me so much about grief, about accepting it, and on some days, even appreciating it. I learned to accept my emotions and be grateful for them…even grief. I learned what a privilege it is to be able to experience sadness. I became more comfortable telling people that I do not feel okay. I let go of the pressure to constantly see the brighter side and it made me feel so much lighter, and my emotions so much valid.

I think with acceptance, gratefulness followed the course of emotions. I was able to gradually change my mindset to appreciate my life for all that I still had. I appreciated the privilege of having classes, being able to go for beautiful walks in stunning London, having family and friends…friends who would hug, listen, pick up your call and be there for you, having job prospects, having the opportunity to interact with the most brilliant minds in the world, albeit virtually and most importantly of living in a beautiful home.

I became so much more appreciative of the people in my life. I learned to say ‘I love you’ to more people, more often and more generously. I learned that on some days, the only thing that matters is to be able to open WhatsApp and have two people I can text about how I am feeling. And I have been so incredibly lucky to always have those two people, and on some days, even more. I learned how in the end, it is always the people that make all the difference for me. I learned to value people more than I did. And I learned to remind people how much I love them more often than I usually did. I learned to send those messages and make time for those phone calls.

With the passing months, the pandemic is pretty much still holding strong with the continued lockdown, but I think I have learned to find my happiness in the small progress that I make in life. I have learned that adversity more often than not, gives you incredible strength. Strength that you were not aware of, strength that you probably did not want, but strength that helps you sail through. I learned that life helps us become stronger people when we are least expecting it and sometimes, we do not understand it; but in the end, it almost always makes sense. The lockdown does not seem all that bad on days when you can share it with your most wonderful flatmates, when you have the luxury to go on a walk with your amazing classmate who recommends a book that changes your view on life, when you attend some ridiculous Zoom parties and figure out that you can actually get wasted on virtual parties, when it snows for the first time in a long time in London, and when you meet the most amazing guy on a walking date.

I became more hopeful and happier over these months. I often look down at my tattoo, smile, and think to myself, ‘the best is indeed yet to be…’

Saturday, 12 October 2019

My one-sided love affair with Hyderabad

Dear Hyderabad,

This comes a little too late, and I wonder if it would make you question the sincerity of it. I left without stopping to say a heartfelt goodbye. Today, however, sitting thousands of miles away from you in this foreign city, I miss you a little too much, a little too deeply. And, when I miss people and places, I do the only thing I feel I do well…I bleed words. 

Five years ago, when I came to Hyderabad, little did I know that you would become home. Before I realized, you started feeling more like home than Allahabad ever did. I know it makes me sounds like a traitor of my native place. What sort of a person loves another city more than their native place? But, hear me, will you? I think Allahabad confined me and never really let me be myself. I felt trapped by considerations of the length of my skirt, of secluded roads that need to be avoided post 9 PM, of having a guy friend drop me back home, of being decorous being more important than being happy. And then, when I came to you, I felt for the first time what being truly liberated feels like. I could for the first time care more about the colour of my dress than its appropriate length, about the parties and not who would drop me back home, and when I had to bike back home at 12:30 in the night after rehearsals, I knew I would be fine. You empowered me with independence, and I felt like I finally found myself there. 

You welcomed me with open arms and introduced me to people, places and activities that became a part of my being. I found people who didn't push me away for not knowing Telegu or for my Hindi being too far from ‘Hyderabadi Hindi'. They loved, deeply and fondly.  As I was falling in love with the people, you introduced me to theatre. Theatre, that opened arms to amateurs. Theatre, that was not elitist and did not sit on a high horse turning away people who did not start acting when they were 3. Theatre, that understood, almost always, that a different job may put the bread on your table while theatre may be the jam you spread on it occasionally. You introduced me to art and gave me something to feed my soul with every time I felt empty. How can I ever thank you enough for making theatre such an endearing part of my life!

Thank you for the ‘Biryani', Hyderabad. The Biryani, Haleem, the Irani chai and the Osmania biscuits. Why are Osmania biscuits orgasmic and how do they make it perfectly porous to let just the right amount of tea soak into them? 

Did I ever tell you that you are paced extremely well, Hyderabad? You never made me feel like I was lagging, even when everyone seemed to run past me. You always had space to let me stop for a while and breathe, and tell you that I have had enough and I cannot run anymore. I could lose myself on one of your rocks beside the magnificent lakes and just stare into eternity. And, when I wanted to get back to the grind, I could get back to the crowd again!

And your forts, how can one not get smitten by them? Standing tall and strong, telling stories lost in History books. Would it be too much if I told you that I miss your roads? But I do…the roads, the pathways, the cafes, the clubs. I feel like I have left pieces of my self there…on the stalls, at the signals, at the cafes, on the dance floor, at the theatres, and dare I say, on the stage? Pieces of my liberated, complete self. 

Today, as I sit here, yearning too deeply to be around you, I fear only one thing. I wonder, if you ever, at all, loved me back Hyderabad? Will you, ever, if I choose to come back to you, be as delighted to have me back as delighted as I would be to be back? Or would you smugly tell me that you were never mine to love? Would you tell me that I was pretentious to have claimed to love you without knowing you in your entirety? I never asked you, if ‘outsiders' were allowed to love you deeply and what qualifies one to be a ‘Hyderabadi'. It scares me, but then I tell myself that maybe, just maybe you would be able to see my love beyond my disappointing ‘Hyderabadi Hindi' and also understand that love does not necessarily need to be a function of time. 

I love you, Hyderabad. Not in a colloquial way, but the way when you love someone who touches your life so profoundly that you are never, ever the same. And I hope someday, you would love me back!  

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Women, age and the ticking time bomb!

“So, when are you planning to get married?”, I was asked for the 126th time or was it 127th? I usually laugh away these questions but this time they came from a dear friend, so I gave it a thought. “4-5 years, maybe.”, I said after thinking for a while; “What about you? When does marriage fall in your life plan?”, I added. “Same – 4 to 5 years”, he responded. “Goodness gracious! We will be 31 by then. Damn! You would be so old, Charul”, he said.

“What do you mean by I would be so old? We would be the same age. Do women age faster than men?”, I responded with my signature eye-roll.

“I mean…you are a girl. 31 is quite old for a girl to get married but not so much for a guy”, he replied in a seemingly matter-of-factly tone.  I rebuked him and called him names, something like a patriarch, an asshole or a sexist. I think I called him a patriarchal sexist asshole.

Even though I rejected my friend’s words, the conversation with him got me thinking because he clearly reflected what a huge fraction of the Indian society believes in. The thought urged me to write this piece hoping optimistically that maybe it will drive the point home to at least 1% of my meager blog audience.

I want to start by deconstructing the famous ‘Girls mature faster than boys’ notion. This notion is highly unhealthy for young girls to be fed with.  It is popularized and even encouraged to justify women handling more emotional labor than men are ever expected to bear. Girls are conditioned into believing that they are more mature than their ‘naughty’ brother, and hence more qualified candidates to help mother with the household chores. This grows into women being expected to remember birthdays, keep the groceries stacked, organize parties and maintain family relationships.

This notion is the reason why men are often encouraged to engage in romantic relationships with much younger women(in which there is a substantial power gap) while women are often rebuked for dating men much younger to them. This notion excuses boys from being held responsible for their actions but holds women accountable from a much younger age. There is little to no scientific evidence suggesting that emotionally girls mature faster than boys. Yes, girls generally hit puberty sooner than boys but there is no substantial scientific inference to link early puberty to early emotional maturity. More than science, this is more of a gender-stereotype passed on from generations without being challenged leading to girls and boys essentially responding to behaviors that are expected of them.

Women are viewed as a declining asset whose worth post 30 in the marriage market exponentially drops. There is a constant pressure on women to figure out themselves and their career as soon as possible – there are hard deadlines imposed on schooling, college and settling down in the dream job. All of them need to be met precisely on time and there is little to no negotiation allowed in the timelines. In most Indian families, you are expected to achieve these milestones by 24; if you are from a more liberal family you may be blessed with 3 more years and if you have been extremely lucky you may be allowed to touch 29.9 but not 30…30 is blasphemy! Women bear the pressures of these deadlines from a very young age. These are not only unfair but may also restrain them from realizing their full potential and living their dreams. While men get more freedom and breathing space to achieve their goals, women are forced to accelerate their career timeline to stay relevant in the marriage market.

Another argument often sought when debating in favor of early marriage for women is that their fertility may go for a hit if they marry too late. It is important to understand that women are more than baby breeding machines and their fulfillment and happiness is more important than that of the life they will bring into this world. Their priorities and expectations out of life may be beyond having the perfect family or maybe their perfect family does not have children or maybe it has adopted children or maybe the children are produced through frozen eggs. All of these expectations and priorities are important and correct in their own regard.

Can we just let women be? I could have referenced ‘people’ but the world’s sometimes a little harsher to women, so I chose women for this article. Can we give them the space to breathe, to figure themselves out and settle down in life when they want to and not when they ought to? Marriage can wait and so can children, but personal goals and dreams cannot. If women require those three, four or how-many-ever years to be at peace with themselves, can we please stop shaming them for it?

The woods are lovely, dark and deep but can we not for once hold people accountable for the promises they never made and let them venture into the deep, dark woods to their hearts’ contentment.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

The curious case of Dadda

It's been way too long…six years, I believe. I was looking at your picture and reminiscing about how you were so peculiarly adorable. You were anything but a regular father. I remember talking to my friends about their fathers and I always wondered how you were nothing of those sorts. I wondered sometimes if you were even cut out for marriage or for having kids because sometimes you did not seem to fit in…your world seemed more fit for solitude. I am not sure if you were actively my mentor or my guide, but I do know that you taught me a lot about love, life and embracing my individuality.

I think I would miss our tea-time conversations the most – I wish there were more of them and I wish I had the opportunity to know you more. Regardless, I was looking at your picture and felt the need to write about your colorful personality, your ideologies, and quirks.

In a world where nothing but selflessness is expected out of parents and the most sacrificing parents are placed on the highest pedestal, your focus on self-care came as a welcome change. You taught me how it is not selfish to have your own opinions, choices, and idea of life and to not change it for anyone. You taught me that it is okay to care for yourself first because one cannot pour from an empty cup.

You taught me that you must always keep the child alive in you. You taught me that you're never too old for jujubes, gifts or stealing toothpicks from restaurants. I remember you getting mad at us for not getting gifts for you on your birthday. You taught me that we must say ‘I love you' to each other and say it often. "I love you the most, Charul. I will live with you after you get married. You must clearly lay this out as a precondition with your boyfriend". Later, you would add, "Also, don't get a boyfriend at this age. All men of this age care about is sex."

You taught me that it is okay to embrace your individuality and not blend in for the comfort of others. I remember how you would much rather sit with the women and discuss food than get into the men's room and watch cricket matches because you did not feel like it(much to mother's embarrassment, though). I admired how you valued people for who they were and how beautiful their souls were, rather than attaching importance to their social status. I remember how you would become best friends with some taxi drivers and spend hours talking to them and conveniently ignore certain VIPs because you just did not like them. I am dazzled by how you loved without bias, loved often and loved intensely. You always stood up for the people you loved, even when you were at your lowest. “You need to be there in people’s grief, Charul. In their happiness, they can still do without you. In grief, they need more support.” I still remember how your students doted on you and how everyone loved you too much. I covet the candor with which you could just be who you were, love the people you want and do the things you love without caring about the world judging you for it.

You taught me that it's okay to be brutally honest (I still believe in being kindly honest, though!). I remember asking you how I looked on my farewell, to which you replied (much to my displeasure), "You look ugly, Charul. You have a terrible dressing sense." I did not feel like talking to you then, but I do laugh about it now. I remember asking you what your hobby was, to which you looked me in the eye and said, "A poor man does not have a hobby. Hobby is a privilege." You taught me the importance of money, albeit in a harsh manner, "The day I stop giving you money, you will stop calling me your father." I loved how you did not believe in pleasantries and small talk, how you spoke what you felt and felt what you spoke. It was almost funny how you reacted at demises and said ‘Everyone dies', ‘It was due time' rather than the usual euphemisms.

I admire your zeal to be the best at whatever you chose to do. You didn’t believe in second places and you were unapologetically blunt about it, “There are no second places, Charul. A miss is as good as a mile. You just lose the first place.”

You taught me that men can cry, feel pain and be hopelessly vulnerable. You showed that true strength lies in embracing our weaknesses. You taught me that it was okay to ask for love, affection and even gifts. It was funny and adorable how you would cry even at Ekta Kapoor serials. I loved how you could laugh at yourself and not take yourself too seriously. "Why did you choose to become a teacher, dad?". I remember you laughing and saying, "It was a mistake. Never become a teacher, Charul."

Most importantly, you taught me to believe in destiny, stars, magic, and love. You taught me to never give up on life and to make the most out of it every single day. You traveled to your favorite destinations till your last day even though your health was critical. You traveled and lived life with the vigor and excitement of a 12-year-old. You lived the phrase, "It's not the years in your life that count; it's the life in your years." There was so much life in every moment that you lived, daddy!

You were beautiful, charismatic, unique, and stood out as a shining star in my life and the lives of so many. You will always be missed Dadda and your idiosyncrasies cherished in fond remembrance.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

To all the women I met in the restrooms!

I must confess that I have an affinity for restrooms. They remain some measure of home to me, probably because the largest chunk of my self-reflection took place in the restrooms. Some of my favorite conversations and life advice came from them. Sometimes it was me reflecting in the restroom mirrors and telling myself that I can do it, sometimes it was other, mostly drunk females.

It is surprising how few pegs of alcohol and the comfort of a restroom can turn women into such thick allies. I have been extremely lucky to have had real, uninhibited conversations, and exchanged some real, uninhibited hugs. Destiny ensured that I met my amazing ladies at a time when I probably needed to hear those words of advice and hold on those hugs. Considering that all these women in ways big and small added a lot of wisdom to my life, I feel that it is only fitting for me to express my gratitude to them through the only medium I know best - words.

Here’s to the lady who told me that I don’t look okay and asked me if I would like to talk. I didn’t know you and I am not sure why I opened to you, but it felt so relieving to be able to talk and not be judged. I want to let you know that you lending your ears mattered, so did your advice and most importantly your embrace.

Here’s to the group of girls who told me that I have the most beautiful hair in the world and that applying some extra red lipstick is totally alright.  I remember fixing each-others hair, helping touch up the make-up and checking on whether each one of us is alright. These little gestures that were so heartfelt made me wonder who these imaginary women are who just hate each other, the ones the world keeps talking about.

To all the women I hugged too hard and told how much I loved them times too many, I want you to know that it was not just the alcohol talking. If I could, I would say it every day but it probably makes you look goofy to keep uttering “I-love-you’ s” on random evenings. I cannot forget this girl who told me that I should dump the guy I was dating and that he was an asshole. I didn’t listen to you then but in retrospect, I realize how I should have taken your word for it.

The girl who’s shoulder I cried upon after a failed performance, who held my hand and told me that I have so much potential and that failure helps us grow, I want you to know that it meant a lot to me. It made a difference to my life, so thank you for that!

Washrooms are these private spaces which somehow have the power to enable people to confide, apologize and confront. I couldn’t muster enough courage to apologize to this girl I had wronged, but the other day at the restroom I could drop off my wall and tell her that I was sorry. I am not sure if it seemed sincere to you then, but I want you to know that I meant it.

It has been mildly surprising and deeply heartening to come to terms with my vulnerabilities and emotions in the comfort of the cohort of women who surprisingly emerged to have my back. It makes me wonder how beautiful this world would be if women continue to be as comforting outside the walls of the restroom. I think maybe the world requires us to wear blinkers, swallow tears and embrace stoicism to align with the expectation of strong women. I think restrooms are kind to us – they don’t judge, they let us be and we take our time there to let our emotions flow. No wonder we spend way too much time in the restrooms.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

My momma don't like you!

If I got a penny for every friend of mine whose partners were turned down by their parents, I could finally go on that Euro trip that I have been planning for five years now…actually seven. The thing with being twenty-five is that most of your friend circle is of the ‘marriageable age’ and although your relationships never lasted long enough to bring up ‘that question’, you always know these couples who are just right for each other. I often covetously admired their relationships and wondered how blissful it may seem to have found your significant other.

I know couples who were just right for each other – ‘sanely’ in love, great jobs and enviable compatibility. One friend of mine envisioned her entire wedding; everything was picture perfect– the dresses, the food, the venue, the honeymoon, until the day the girl decided to tell her parents about the relationship. The picture-perfect wedding plans fell apart when two critical questions were asked – what’s his caste and what’s his ‘rashee’? I was told that their castes and ‘rashees’ didn’t match; in fact, they were of the two opposite castes – the Brahmins and the Shudras and there was no way in hell that they could be united. I thought 67 years of Independence and innumerable History and Civics lessons would have done away with this discrimination, but I couldn’t be more wrong. So, some 365 days and 462 melodrama sessions later, their relationship was formally and finally butchered by their family. 

I would run out of fingers if I try to list all my friends and colleagues whose perfectly beautiful relationships were forcibly broken by their parents for one of these reasons - their families did not like each other, their castes were different, their horoscopes did not match, or they simply did not like their children’s partners. Indian parents believe that they love their children way too much to ever take a wrong decision for them. They raise their children believing that they are always right and that their children can never grow old enough to take mature and informed decisions. I remember having conversations around love marriages with my mother. They always ended with her bringing up her the infamous diary of ‘101 love marriages that failed’ and reciting case after case of picture-perfect marriages that ended in either divorce or separation.

I tried to understand why Indian parents tend to be so controlling when it comes to their children’s love life and I came up with a hypothesis based on my observations. I think Indian parents are way too involved in every decision that their children take – the courses they should opt for, the friends they should make, the dresses they should wear and most importantly the career choices they should make. Not surprisingly, the control does not end at determining the career and goes on in selecting the right life partner for their children. In event of their children selecting their life partner without their discretion, the parents are understandably heartbroken. They are not able to make peace with the fact that their kids, who did not even buy their underwear without their approval, have taken one of their biggest life decisions without their consent. ‘When did they grow so old’, ‘I raised you for 25 years, why do I not get to decide your life partner’, ‘I know how marriages work better than you do’, ‘Why would I not want the best for you’, are common arguments that the parents bring up with whenever the ‘I am in love and I want to marry him’ situation comes up.

Control is often confused with love and emotional manipulation is justified because ‘I love you too much to want anything but the best for you’. Indian parents make their children’s marriage more about finding the right child-in-law and less about finding the right partner for their children; them liking the suitor becomes more important than their child liking his partner. The situation is analogous to your friends not approving of your date; while it is good to have a date whom your friends love which would mean that you can all hang out together and have more fun, it should not determine whom you end up dating. Even though we share a lot in common with our social circles, we are unique individuals and the choice of selecting a partner should lie with us and not our social circles.

I often come across people who would voluntarily break up with their partners because they don’t want to hurt their parents. ‘This is the only thing that my parents have asked me for’, ‘They asked me to choose between them or him’, ‘I cannot betray my parents’, and the list goes on. We have been conditioned to believe that sacrifice is the essence of love and that standing up against our parents or having healthy debates are blasphemy. We have never questioned our parents’ views or believes and most of the times happily adopted their beliefs’ as ours. Hence, when we suddenly stand up for our choice when it comes to our life partner, it is not only hard for our parents but also for us to accept this anomaly. We, together with our parents have fostered a culture where dissent and arguments are considered sacrilegious and obedience is an essential component of love.

At the expense of my mom cutting the phone on me sometimes and me throwing my phone in a fit of rage on other times, I have dared to venture into the uncomfortable conversation zone with my mother on a multitude of occasions. I have spoken to her about love, sex, marriages, relationships, my expectations out of life and my perception of the right and the wrong. Even though very few of our conversations concluded fruitfully, I still feel that they helped in establishing healthy dissent in the family. These conversations help in transforming the family structure from that of a dictatorship to one of a democracy. They help in establishing that rebellion is not necessarily evil but could be an essence of growth and progress.

I think it is important to separate love from conformance and respect from submission. I think it’s high we stop glorifying (wo)man-children to be the epitome of parent-child love and start respecting the fact that adults can take important decisions on their own, including that of choosing a life partner. I hope we can together take small steps to make parent-child love less suffocating and more liberating. We can begin with having more conversations with our parents and bridging the ‘taboo’ gap – talk more earnestly about our lives, our dreams, and our understanding of love, happiness and grief. We should let our parents know that their worldviews may sometimes be wrong and their perceptions flawed, and together we can help each other grow into our better selves.

Hopefully, we can work together to create a more tolerant and accepting country for our children and maybe if we try too hard, for our younger siblings. I believe conversation is pivotal in creating an environment more conducive to healthier relationships. I hope we encourage more conversations, both as children and as parents. If not, there are always these new dating apps on the store that let you filter by caste (I am not kidding). My Jain friend confessed to having used the caste filter for finding her latest date, “If I am not dating a girl of the same caste, then I feel that my parents will anyway not approve of her and the relationship will never last!”.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Knock, knock! Are you my soulmate?

The terrible thing about growing old watching Bollywood romance and reading dozens of love stories is that you have a larger than life expectation out of romance. You grew up watching Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit in ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai’ where Rahul and Maya eventually find the soulmates they had envisioned throughout their youth. Aishwarya Rai in ‘Taal’ found love in Akshay Khanna and their love stood the test of time, class conflicts and rivalry; it conquered it all because they were soulmates. Veer found his Zaara and Raj finally got his Simran. Oliver Barrett and Jennifer Cavilleri found each other in the ‘Love Story’ and taught you that love means never having to say that you’re sorry. All of them contributed to the content of the mental ‘soulmate’ booklet that you consulted way too often.

Having spent your childhood soaked in romantic movies and novels, you were aware of your hopelessly romantic expectations out of love. You wanted to feel chills down your spine at each sight of him, have breathtakingly romantic dates along the beach by the moonlight and write poetry till the ink cannot bleed more love. Your first ‘love’ or whatever you call it when you’re fifteen did obscurely met some of these criteria – there was poetry, breathtaking romance, 12-hour-long phone calls, there was ‘I love you’ written boldly and deeply on bits of paper every time you felt a surge of passion, there were decisions about the future, names of the kids and there was madness. It was followed by jealousy, heartbreak, betrayal, and devastation. ‘How do you destroy 16-year-olds? What do they even understand about love?’, you may ask. I think you break down their beautiful idea of love, tell them that they were delusional, and love doesn’t exist in the form they imagined it.

You pick up the broken pieces of your heart and put them together. You tell yourself that you cannot let one heartbreak take away your entire belief out of love. You reassure yourself that your soulmate exists, and you will find him in time. You grow up and so does your understanding of love and attraction – you understand that sometimes the chills down the spine are overrated, that sometimes your guy wouldn’t know wordplay well enough to stitch together a beautiful poetry for you, but he can still love you the same. You start familiarizing yourself with apparently a more mature idea of love and manage to find someone who fits into this idea. ‘He is probably the one’, you tell yourself and the years that follow reassure you of the same. There is again the spiral of love, laughter, cute-fights, not-so-cute fights, decisions about the future, names of the kids, I-think-we-are-not-the-same-people-we-were-three-years-ago, I-think-we-want-different-things-out-of-life and I-don’t-think-we-can-work-out-anymore. Gradually, the differences take over the love and you don’t feel like soul mates anymore. You sigh and tell yourself that you’re still young and maybe the right person and has not walked in just yet.

You grow older and hit that age when it somehow seems alright for you to be unapologetically reckless and have more drinks than you can handle, go to more parties than your schedule allows and fall for more quintessential wrong guys than you need for your mandatory ‘wrong guy lessons’. For some strange reason, they felt like your soulmate, albeit for a very short time. You wipe off tears, bandage your bruised ego and tell your naïve self to become pragmatic and not mistake a life lesson for a soulmate ever again. You tell yourself that it’s alright to fall for the wrong guys sometimes because they make you strong and give you more content for the ‘Things I will teach my daughter’ booklet.

Enlightened and emancipated with the life lessons that the wrong guys brought along, you continue your pursuit of the ‘soulmate’. Your thoughts have been widened to understand that sometimes you need not attach tags to love. Your supposed wiser self now stumbled upon the more liberated souls, unconsciously looking for a piece of the jigsaw that was supposed to fit just right. There were some who seemed just right – the thick-rimmed spectacled guy who read Kafka and the singer who made you the central theme for all his lyrics thereon. They seemed right – maybe this is what a soulmate would feel like – great conversations about the complicated theories of love, life and beyond. You pretend to understand Rumi and maintain the intellectual snobbery of being better than ‘them’, the mere mortals who could not think beyond the norms. It seemed beautiful for most parts when you felt liberated and realized relationships make you a prisoner of love and love is too beautiful to be caged. Months passed, and you realized that maybe you also want to belong to that cage. Your free-thinking partners, however, continued with their absolute rejection of anything closely linked to commitment. You strike off some more points from the soulmate booklet and move on.

‘You’re adding to experiences. Nothing beautiful comes easy. At least now you know what you don’t want!’, you tell yourself. You pull out pages from your soulmate diary which spoke about madness, passion, Kafka, pseudo- intellectual-masturbation and liberated ideas of love. Then, you meet this guy, the all-famous best friend whom you get romantically involved with because apparently, best friends make for the best partners. You think you have finally found the one when you realize that you understand each other perfectly, do not go through the ‘couple’ drama, have no pretense and have the potential to maintain a real relationship. Only when you started getting comfortable with your regular fights and not-so-cute name calling and try to establish it as a critical component of any healthy relationship, he breaks it you, ‘I can’t handle these fights. They drain me of all emotional and mental strength. I think we are great friends, but we cannot work out as a couple.’

It hurts to know that something which you established as a healthy component of the relationship was a deal breaker for someone. Nevertheless, you go ahead with the quest of the soul mate because you were certain that when you find him, he would fit into the spaces of your life so beautifully that all the undulations would smoothen out.

Then, one fine day you come across that guy. He ticks off everything from your updated ‘soulmate’ booklet and also brings in more additions. The smart guy with witty jokes, the cute nerd, warm, affectionate, passionate, ambitious, sensitive and adorable. He texted just the right amount, made phone calls of the right length, wasn’t painfully jealous of any of your guy friends, understood your idiosyncrasies and need for space. He didn’t reek off toxic masculinity and understood that men do cry. He didn’t seem like someone out of a romance novel because he seemed real and his love, believable. He didn’t sweep you off your feet or inspired you to drown in poetry. You didn’t mind it because you thought that maybe the real deal gives you peace and not butterflies. He seemed like the one who would make all the wrong guys worth it. You believed that finally, you had it all figured out and realized that peace and not chaos is the answer to it all. You basked in the perfection of it all, until one day when he tells you, ‘We are too ordinary, dear. There is no magic. It is important for me to be insanely, passionately in love with you and I don’t feel that. You don’t inspire poetry or madness. Lukewarm is no good.’ You took a deep breath, smiled, told him that you understand and maybe you’re not the one for him.

As you tear off all the remaining pages of your soulmate booklet, a billion questions throw themselves at you. What all qualities do you look for in a soul mate? What do people without a soulmate do? Are they supposed to spend the entirety of their life waiting for someone to come and complete them? Also, does your soulmate need to necessarily be your romantic partner? Does it necessarily have to be one person? Does it have to be a person at all?

I thought about it all and wondered that maybe I have pieces of my soulmate lying across different people, places and things. Maybe one part lies in my best friend, another in my mother, another in the guy who made me believe that my darker upper lip is actually quite sexy, another in my best friend who can take a bullet for me or so she says, another in my childhood journal, another in my mentor and another in the cat whom I used to pet as a kid. Maybe all of these parts together are my soulmate. Maybe it’s unfair to expect one person to bear the gigantic expectations of my soulmate booklet.

Yes, it definitely makes so much more sense now!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Hopping on to 25 – the less glamorous other side!

There is something unnerving about pre-birthday nights for me. I have been telling myself for the past five years that I have outgrown birthdays. Apparently, I had dropped the expectation from people to treat me like the almighty’s choicest creation and turn their lives around to make me feel special. Only that, I hadn’t outgrown them. It is in equal parts ridiculous and egotistical to expect people to spend time and effort to make the day you just happened to pop out of your mother’s womb, special. However, my heart and mind rarely choose to live in harmony.

My extent of making people feel special has been only stretched to pouring the contents of Knorr soup in a cup of boiling water and offering it to a sick friend. I had almost reveled in happiness and gave myself a pat on the back for exuding such compassion. Despite embodying such shallow standards of affection; hypocritically enough, I still expect people to drop everything and invest the entirety of their time in the glorious event that’s my birthday.

It was finally the birthday eve. It was 12 AM; I was half sloshed and cutting my overly priced ice-cream cake, half of which would be thrown away next day because there was no way it would get over. The next thing I remember was making forced attempts at having fun and making everyone around me to do the same. Alcohol is supposed to do that, right? Only that sometimes, it doesn’t. It doesn’t when you have been shoving gallons of it within yourself since the past two days of the extended long weekend because what else is 24-year-old frustrated IT folks excuse for fun? However, my friends still tried with all their might to fabricate fun out of their exhausted bodies, to swing on ‘Taarein gin-gin yaad main teri’, and periodically shout, “Shots, shots”. I glared at their sleep-deprived eyes, alcohol bloated bodies and decided that maybe we could do without more ‘fun’ that evening and called it a night.

I wished everyone a good night and thought of hitting the bed. “Oh God, let me turn my phone to silent mode. I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night with all the calls and messages. And Facebook, shit, I thought I will remove my birthday this year. All the unnecessary wall posts, man – so many notifications. I can’t handle them.”

I woke up the next morning and suddenly the realization seeped in – I am 25! Everything that followed, reiterated it, in not so fancy ways. I picked up my phone expecting at least a dozen missed calls like every year. It’s funny how I tried to mask my embarrassment from my own self when my phone read ‘2 missed calls’ and one of them was from mom. Then, I opened Facebook and pretended to nonchalantly browse through the newsfeed. I heard something break inside me when I saw only three notifications. I tried to rationalize it in my head by telling myself that those ‘HBD Charul’ posts are the ones I give two hoots about, but deep within it pained to know that I am not even getting those irritating ‘HBD Charul’ posts. It’s like that feeling you get when the creepy guys stop making passes at you-you never wanted them in the first place, they were outrageously annoying, but it makes you stop and wonder for a while if you’re attractive anymore.

25 is a rather funny age. You’re old enough to understand the things that shouldn’t matter anymore but still too young to stop caring. It gradually dawns on you that the attention and affection that became too difficult to handle at one point in your life has gradually moved out when you were busy growing up. That Skype call from friends settled in the US did not happen this time. I realized that along with me, they grew up too and finding jobs and looking after their fiancé became more important. The birthday messages in the ‘Others’ folder also shrunk down to three from thirty-three. The creepy guy who religiously sent monthly poetry to my inbox also seemed to have found another muse. I judged myself so hard when I almost missed that weird poetry.

My old friend from college called up, I acted cute and asked him to sing ‘Happy Birthday’, he blatantly refused and asked me to grow up. I spent a significant amount of time wondering how old one is supposed to grow in a year because he did sing it last year. I laughed; a light, hollow laugh that was meant to mask my inner chaotic battle. My mom called next, “Baby, Deepali aunty asked for your hand in marriage.” “Mom, I need 5 more years”. “Honey, who do you think will be interested in marrying you after 5 years. The rate at which your beauty is deteriorating, do you think that even you would consider marrying yourself after 5 years”, she said, matter-of-factly. I stared at myself in the mirror and my growing acne and weight seemed to suggest that mom wasn’t just trying to be sarcastic and funny.

Gradually, it sunk in – the horrible realization that I am now on the less glamorous other side. Life is a bit harder this side, you may end up looking less pretty and your likability radar may shrink, one bit at a time. The less glamourous side may not seem as amazing, but it is more peaceful. It throws you out there amongst the crashing, fast waves. However, I believe that eventually, you learn how to swim and reach the shore stronger than ever. The other side is intimidating and often sprinkled with spells of loneliness. You learn to find comfort in those spells. You explore the forgotten, uncharted spaces of yourself and serendipitously discover solace in them. The extras get trimmed out and the constants remain, and they are the only ones who matter – the only ones who ever mattered. The next morning, with the maturity of the first quarter sinking in, I happily welcomed myself to the other side.