Friday, 26 December 2014

The Year that Was

I have written about this before. As a child, I had been used to standing on the shore, at times dipping my feet into the water that spilled onto the beach while my mother firmly held on to my hand. This time it was me who had the death grip on a colleague’s hand, as she guided me into deeper waters. As a large wave approached, I lost my grip and went under. Breathing brought water into my nose and ears and for two seconds I was more scared than I had ever been before. The wave subsided, and somebody found my hand. I was safe again, but this time less scared of any oncoming wave.

Very frequently this year, I cribbed, I bitched, I was unhappy.

But this was by far, the most interesting year of my life. It was my first year as a real adult, and I think I found my way through, armed with some deep insight into growing up.

There was Goa.

Then there was the first visit to Bhutan, the trek to Tiger’s Nest. That point in the trek, when for the first time I didn’t second guess myself. I absolutely knew what I wanted to do, and did just that. The first time I wasn’t just happy, I was in bliss.
It was also the first time I was at my unhappiest, and alone. I didn’t have friends to cheer me up, I didn’t have my parents fussing over me, my sister telling me it would be okay. But I managed to pick myself up. I broke down on the way, but I wasn’t embarrassed about it. Alone wasn’t the same thing as lonely.

There was the first visit to the Maldives where I learnt that binge-watching MTV could be incredible fun. And that Sidhharth Malhotra was hot. And that I was capable of washing bed-sheets and scrubbing denims clean.

There were the second visits to the two countries when I realised I felt safer there than in India. Where I realised I was capable of random conversations with strangers. When I realised that I was more parochial than I thought. But I was still less parochial than others. Floating lights can lift your mood. Old people do not find happiness in the small pleasures of life. They crib more. I might revel in being alone, but want my parents to be with me the next time I go to the Buddha Statue in Thimphu.

And along the way, in Delhi, in Bombay, in Shirdi, in Nasik, in Kolkata, there were a host of other things I learnt, about me and the world.

I oscillate between naiveté and shrewdness. (When did I forget the difference between having fun conversations and being friends?)

The average woman matures faster than the average man. It’s true, not a sexist conspiracy.

There is no person in the world I love more than my sister. But I don’t want to be like her.

As people grow up, they make compromises in their lives, which were unimaginable when they were younger.

The most unlikely people can surprise you. The auntyji-ish colleague can be a tennis aficionado and Agatha Christie groupie. The quiet, mousy colleague could have had a love-life that could be the stuff of movies.

It’s important to say no.

Manoeuvring social obligations is a bitch.

I can’t spell ‘manoeuvring’ without the help of a word-processor.  

I look back at my Hindu college days through rose-tinted glasses. I realised this by watching a video of old photos which ironically, was designed to make me feel nostalgic. Or maybe I am emotionally stunted.

I can go to great lengths, sometimes stupidly, to save 700 bucks.

We often allow people to hurt us, and don’t hit back.

I can write soppy blog-posts.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Of old friends

Manu da sat across the room from me, at the door of the balcony, under the sun, rifling through the newspaper supplement. Every ten minutes or so, he would look up to stare at his shut bedroom door and sigh wistfully. He had a mug of tea at his side, yet untouched. I sipped mine in silence. I had winced at the first taste, and shot an accusatory look at him. He had orchestrated an elaborate bow at that indictment of his culinary skills. Then reverted to his ritual of staring at the bedroom door. Malini di was getting ready inside, before they stepped out for a winter afternoon date on a Saturday. The door had closed exactly hundred and two minutes earlier. I knew because I had begun dressing at exactly the same time, and emerged within ten minutes.

“How much more will we have to wait for her? Should I just go?” I asked half-heartedly.
“What time are you supposed to meet them?” he asked.
“Half an hour back”, I drawled.
He smiled. “If you had any talent, you would make a wonderful artist. Reclusive and people hating. The media would love you”.
I protested. It wasn’t people I hated. Just the stepping out to catch up with people I knew long back in school, and who had gone all weird on me.
“Weird, how?”
“One of them got married.”
“That is the worst”, he dead-panned. “The other?”
“She is an MBA. All ambitious and everything. She is probably earning pots of money”.
“So, you are jealous?" he wondered out aloud, his eyes narrowing. (I could see them because he had recently got a haircut, so the famous curls didn't cover them anymore.)
 "Well no”, I answered. “But she will wonder what happened to me, how I lost all my drive”.
“So don’t tell them the truth”, he answered, matter-of-factly.
“What do I tell them?”
“Whatever suits you”.

He was right, I thought to myself, as I made my way to Warehouse Cafe in CP, an hour later than planned. The place was dark, there was loud music and I missed my step and stumbled. A waitress came to my help but she said “Ma’am” in the disapproving tone my mom adopted when two minutes before the school bus arrived, I would start a frantic search for ‘chart paper’ for the SUPW class scheduled that day. It was ominous.

I spotted them at a corner table, both fashionably thin. I walked towards them and both saw me at the same time. And then something happened that I hadn’t for a minute thought out in my head. They spontaneously called out my name while breaking into the happiest of smiles and I mirrored them. And while we hugged and talked at the same time, I was glad to be there.

As it turns out, you don’t mind when school friends point out that you have gained weight (maybe because they don’t worry that it will hurt your chances in the marriage market). You can call them snobbish and forgetful without hurting their feelings. You can say elitist trash that comes to your mind, which you would filter out in different company. Everyone gets less ambitious and less serious and less intense as they grow up. Marriage does not cause personality makeovers. It might actually help people open up more. You can be honest about your career plans with your school friends. They knew you before you started understanding yourself better, so they understand what could make you happy. They ask about your family, and you genuinely care about how their kid siblings are doing. You want to know about what their old colony friends are up to, the ones you used to hear about all the time. Friends’ husbands don’t necessarily have to be people you don’t like. When they walk you to the metro station before they leave, it can leave an incredibly nice feeling in your stomach (especially after your relentless independence). And even though you are now more different from each other than you ever could have imagined, you know that you still have some solid friends.

Monday, 8 December 2014

I want to move.

I am a selfish bitch.
Someone got raped on Friday. Someone like me. A young career woman on the way home after an evening with friends. And all I can think about is I have done the same. Tons of times. I did it last Friday. I didn't take a cab home, I rode on the ladies compartment of the Delhi metro. Apparently separating the sexes is the only way to keep women safe now. That is, till the next case. Maybe next time it will be the Metro. Maybe that's the next way my freedom will get curtailed.

I want to move to a different country. Where women in public spheres are not seen as aberrations or threats. Where religion is not a polarising force. Where national leaders don't express the need for a 'holy book' for the country. Where people from the majority community don't peddle crap like 'We have taken enough'. Where donor agencies are not welcomed with open arms to make the country more 'business-friendly', especially when their ulterior motives are known. Where young educated women don't have to give up their dreams and careers to have happy family lives. Where different points of view have the space to be heard without being branded sickular or sanghi. Where people question and debate, don't believe and accept. Where the family elders don't bemoan cultural pollution when the young embrace their rights to choice.  Where people forget who or what the 'other' is.