Saturday, December 31, 2016

Things that made 2016 unforgettable

The year is about to come to an end. The time for a review is upon us. This post, more than the others, is for me. One day when I am old and wrinkled, or maybe later in 2017, I will read this and all the other annual posts and smile, laugh and cry, not in this order necessarily.
Unfortunately, for most parts I have to nod in agreement at the hundreds of memes flooding Facebook and Twitter that claim that 2016 has been one of the worst years. Office was eventful to put it mildly. As the HR and senior management tried to make up their minds, I was put in three different teams and under five different bosses in a span of six months.
January and February were cosy and comfortable at home. Meanwhile, there was a whirlwind at work.
In March we travelled to Mangalore to be with V’s parents. We went to my in-law’s farmhouse for the first time. V showed me around with so many childhood stories delivered at various stops. I drank nearly half of the coconut farm's produce. It was blissful. The barbecue managed by my BIL, cooking by my SIL, the pool shenanigans of our two-year-old nephew, my brother’s singing, my MIL’s anecdotes and FIL’s jokes and our laughter under the star-lit sky made the trip everything I had imagined it would be and then some more.
April went by with office playing more than required on my mind. But I did wear lots of sarees as a part of the 100 saree pact. I also painted penguins and ladybirds of some stones to decorate my balcony.
May started with a happy buzz surrounding me. The happy days didn’t last long. We suffered the biggest loss of our lives. I had a miscarriage a day after the pregnancy test came positive.
I was on bed rest for the better part of June. I lost a baby and in the aftermath lost a few erstwhile close friends as well. Friends, who I believed would be a part of my life forever, decided to keep their distance even at a time when I was drowning in the black pit of sadness.
July was about surviving. I am a child of a survivor. I have seen my mother survive hardships, one after the other. So, I decided to be inspired by her. No. I did not pick up knitting needles. I rekindled my love for photography. I started baking. I bake some kickass cupcakes with buttercream icing and meringues now. And I started posting shameless crowd sourcing pleas on Facebook for a KitchenAid tilt stand mixer.
The trip to Tirupati was the highlight of August. Had a great time with family. The food in Tirupati is to die for. We then went to Bangalore. Food was not as good but the weather was awesome. We visited the zoo. Seeing animals with Amay was loads of fun. He said hi to the bear in the sweetest voice. I learned that even if the guide says don’t make noise, a two-year-old will say ‘ROAR’ when he sees a real lion for the first time.
By September, following several visits to the doctor, constant hand holding by V and continuous support from elders of both sides of the families, I started feeling more like myself. I started eating better and exercising again.
October was exciting. V’s parents visited us in Delhi. This time they stayed for a little more than a month. V and I took them for a road trip to Kasauli. It was one adventurous drive. So much fun though. We bought 14 kg apples while returning. V drove like a champion. I cooked a lot and pampered them to my heart’s content. And I was pampered as well. Had a fantastic time celebrating Diwali with them.
Mid-November saw me returning to the HumSoc department. Like I told LB, it seemed like I was returning to my parent’s house after getting used to hostel life. Getting back to work and the grove of the department was not difficult at all. However, I am wiser to the changes in me and around me now.
Just as November was ending, office became interesting as ICSE decided to introduce a new syllabus. I loved being immersed in work. Bone-tired I managed to work on a book and handed it over for production in around 13 days. Proud to say, I did not have to sit late or work over the weekends. And I am more than happy with the way the book looks in its final avatar.
Just at the onset of the ICSE madness, V and I went to Bharatpur for our anniversary. Returning to the same road after nearly five years of the accident and coming out unscratched was a win. Sighted lots of birds and my favourite owls. At one point, V and I were atop a machaan, it seemed that it was just us two in the entire world, surrounded by hundreds of birds. Magical.
We got V’s drums home. His joy was priceless. And I am so glad that I played a role in making it happen for him. He plays for hours over the weekend while I bake or read or paint or cook. Our house is a happy home.
Prasha called from the states to wish us and told me that she bought a KitchenAid for me and that Mami was going to bring it to India on her return. Man, the Secret works! The fact that my baby sister bought the best machine in the world for me made it even more special. My cupcakes, my cakes, my meringues and the buttercream icing have started tasting so much better now! Yay!
December brought with it K from the US. She stayed at our place for one night. It was so much fun. K and V met for the first time but it just didn’t feel like it. I was happy to be surrounded by so much love. Mami bought the KitchenAid. My excitement knew no bounds. I was jumping with excitement. So happy with the gift. And can safely say I receive the best gifts. And the cherry on my cake of happiness was the fact that V got a big Christmas tree and a lot of ornaments for me to decorate.  
Just as 2016 draws its last breaths, G and her family have reached Delhi (from Calgary via Amritsar). I will be meeting them on the third day of the New Year. My joy knows no bounds. I will be meeting her kids for the first time!
The last day of the year is also marking a first of sorts. V and I are hosting our friends for a New Year party. This is the first time ever that I will have friends over. The only other time I celebrated with friends was in Pune in 2011. Otherwise New Year’s eve has always meant plonking in front of the TV or writing my annual posts, once from Goa, with my friends fast asleep on the bed next to me. I have cooked for the better part of the day. My house is my point of pride and it is ready to welcome friends with its warmth.
I hope 2017 continues to bring joy our and your way. May we end the negativities in our lives one-way or the other and move on. May we begin on newer paths of happiness and contentment. May we continue to bask in the warmth and glow of love and loved one.
Happy New Year!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Unsolicited advice, full of love :)

The mood to not enter the kitchen in the scorching heat, the fact that we had no idea when all of us would be together again and that we had several things to celebrate seemed reasons good enough to go out and celebrate. Unlike our usual pattern, the conversations ran in a mild, entertaining manner. The 20 minutes that we had to wait for a table at the restaurant passed by quickly while we shopped for beads, bread and cheese. The food and drinks, as expected, were delicious. The usual teasing the writer of this blogpost ensued. It was a good Saturday evening. Soon enough, it was time to say our goodbyes. Akshat was to leave for Lucknow to begin the professional phase of his life the next day. As is my wont I gave Akshat a list of instructions, a duty I believe, I must fulfil. He was indulgent and kept nodding and agreeing to all my suggestions and instructions. I turned my attention to mom and fired a couple in her direction as well. At this point, Vivek had had enough. He nudged and lightly pushed me to a side, went ahead and hugged my mother saying, ‘Congratulations, aunty! It has been a long tough journey for you.’

As if on cue, I began to cry. Akshat, mom and Vivek asked in chorus, ‘Why are you crying?’ I replied, ‘What kind of a questions is that?’

I cried almost all the way on the 40-minute drive to our home, as Akshat had predicted. Vivek kept asking why I was crying. He kept reminding me that it was a happy occasion. I kept telling him, ‘I know.’ I continued crying.

Since Saturday night (today is Monday) I thought a lot about why I was crying. I had been so busy celebrating all the good things coming our way that I had forgotten to remember what a journey it has been. And the kind gesture from Vivek just opened the flood gates.

I could see the image of a few-months-shy-of-6, Akshat near the door of the house. We had shifted to this house 17 years ago after our father passed away. Akshat used to be too afraid to go out to the park alone. The new surroundings took some time to grow on him. And today, I was saying bye to this 22-year-old version of him on the eve of his moving to a new city to start his career. Hard-as-I-may-try I cannot help but see him like a little boy. And even as I type this a few tears manage to spill through. Over the last few years, I have seen Akshat rebuilding himself again and again. Conquering the obstacles on his way. But since pelting out advice to him for the last 22 odd years has been a part of who I am, his elder sister, I want to continue with the tradition.

Look at you, all grown up!

Dear kiddo!
The journey has been a long one. On more than one occasion you have made wise decisions and have made mom and me very proud. You have been living away from home for nearly two years now. So, I won’t give you any advice about adjusting to a new environment. I am sure you have a better handle on it since I never went out of Delhi to live. However, I have been working for nearly 12 years so here is my advice for you.
  1. Work smart. A lot of people can work hard. But you should aim at working smartly. I have rarely come across people who are smart at working.
  2. Talk less. Coming from me this might seem like a surprise twist akin to a Game of Thrones plot twist. But this is a learning I have acquired quite recently. The lesser you talk the lesser are the chances that someone can use your words against you.
  3. Write more. Always depend on paper. Pen down your ideas and thoughts as soon as gold strikes. With bills, office timings, commuting, etc. taking up your mind space some ideas may be lost in the daily humdrum of things.
  4. Save money. You are a smart kid. Much smarter than I was at your age. Remember to save money. Money in your hand is better than money in the credit card account.
  5. Live well. Spend money in purchasing good things. Wait if you have to but never compromise on the quality of things you purchase. Buy good clothes, gadgets, shoes, furniture, gifts for mom, Vivek and me.
  6. Set your priorities. While work is important and will be for you for a few more years to come but remember to prioritize life and important people in your life over everything else. It won’t be easy but it is very important.
  7. Travel. Whenever you get a chance, travel. Explore new places. Meet new people. Eat new and different foods.
  8. Read lots. Books will always be around giving you wisdom, entertainment, and company. (I had to tell you that!)
  9. Nurture your hobbies. Always make time to nurture your hobbies. Sing. Play the guitar. Listen to music. Learn new skills. Increase your bag of skills. Learning a new language or a skill will rejuvenate you. Trust me after a couple of years as a part of the working class, rejuvenating helps. 
  10. Make friends. Keep your eyes and heart open for good people around you. Be the best friend you can be. The right people will be around you for the right moments in your life. Some friends might part ways. It might hurt. Smile through the hurt, wish them well and continue to keep your eyes and heart open for a new crop of friends. 

I think this is the shortest lecture I have ever given you, Akshat. Here is wishing you a successful, enjoyable and fulfilling career. Welcome to this side of the world. It’s big, it’s wild but boy it’s fun!

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Lessons for a lifetime

Quite a few posts on my blog since 2011 have been about cancer and I hope this is the last in the series. 

Lot of people I have met, or know, say proudly that they have not changed one bit. I feel sorry for them because change and growth are synonymous for me. If they have not changed, they have not learned anything from any life experience and have let a wonderful opportunity to grow go to waste.

Cancer, in its five appearances in the bodies of three people I love, has taught me different things. 

The first appearance was a shocker. It taught me not to take people I love for granted. It made me regret all the fights I ever had with aaji (grandmother) and all the times I travelled to exotic locations instead of visiting her. 

The second tryst with the disease taught me that people are very good. I felt this immense rush of positivity. I decided to promote, with a stubbornness that would put a well-bred mule to shame, the inherent goodness of people. I believed with all my heart that mom had cancer to ensure that I start blindly believing in the goodness of people.

The third time around, my teacher decided to take a stricter approach and ensured that I achieve, what at this point in time I perceive to be, a balanced approach to life, people and the games that these two seem to be playing with me all the time.

I’m not the only daughter in the world to see her mother suffer. I know I’m not the first or the last person to go through the gamut of emotions I am going through every day for the last 5 years. However, with all the bones in my body I’d like to believe that the way I’m processing all that is happening, in reality or otherwise, is unique and can be a attributed to only one person in the world. ME, in case I was not self-indulgent enough in the previous paragraphs and you missed who I was referring to when I said one person in the world.

Of the many things that cancer has taught me or rather I have chosen to learn from it is that the only need that is constant is the will to survive. From my mother who revived from what most of us (family and friends and friends of family and their uncles) thought were her last few days, to my younger brother and to me; we all were hell bent on surviving however we could albeit the modes of self-preservation were different. Mom concentrated on becoming better and recovering the quality of her life. Akshat decided that staying away from the situation as much as he could would help and I decided that the only way I could survive was by exhausting myself to bits. As months passed by and she became better the modes of survival became different for all of us. Mom takes on just a little bit more on her plate than any other person feels she can chew. Akshat, continues to stay away for most parts but is available to help out whenever I lift my hands in defeat. I, go out with friends, travel, read just a little bit more, use the camera lens as an extension of my eyes, mostly make the effort to enjoy life by taxing myself just a little bit more.

I have been generous enough by mentioning mom and Akshat in the previous paragraph. Don’t expect me to continue to do so. This is about what I learnt. Clearly, I did not learn much about turning away from the spotlight. I continue to bask in the limelight!

Back to things I learnt. I learnt to be patient. A virtue not many believe I possess. I became patient with people who had no idea what they were talking about because I knew their concern was genuine (at least in that moment). I became patient with people who refused to make an effort to understand what I was trying to explain because…
… well because I’m a nice person.

I have noticed, also, that I have become impatient with I’m so fat because my waist size has increased by 2 millimetres type of people. I feel that somehow by interacting with them I’m wasting precious moments of my life, which I could be spending learning something new—about the world, India, Delhi, a new word, a new way of life or learning something as mundane as which movie will come on TV the coming weekend.

I have learned that I need to learn how to not care too much. To my utter surprise, on several occasions, several people have told me that my major character flaw is that I care too much. How much is too much and how less is too less, I’m yet to learn. But over the last couple of years I have started to put myself first. Things, emotions, actions, people who make me happy continue to be a part of my life. Others, who deliberately or inadvertently make me unhappy or generally add even a pinch of negativity in my daily life, are better forgotten. I must admit, I am becoming good at it. Parle often told me that her biggest strength was that she absolved herself of the guilt that followed the act of making a mistake. I am now absolving myself of the mistakes I have made by giving everyone else’s opinions room even at the cost of my own. Respect, I have realised is a two-way street. People who disrespect me will no longer be excused for their bad behaviour. I, of course, am genetically inclined to be polite and well mannered. So that leaves me with only one option. I ignore. People and situations that do not agree with me or my ways stop existing for me. 

Cancer attacked our lives in its biggest sweep yet in 2014. Mom needed chemotherapy again. We were still trying to device a way to plan and shop for my wedding later that year along with the visits to the hospital that we found out that my mama (mother's brother) was also suffering from cancer. My mother and mama ended up being treated in the same hospital by the same set of doctors. There were days when both were being administered their chemos. Mami and I would be busy running around the hospital corridors managing the paper work and the brother-sister duo would be busy visiting each other, laughing, sharing sweets and choorans. On several occasions the hospital staff would remind them that it was a hospital and remaining silent or in the least soft was required. Seeing these two I often wondered what made them happy even in such circumstances. And another part of me would answer that they are forcing themselves to be happy to survive these circumstances. I have now learned that staying happy is a choice. You can alter your circumstances by being happy. Smiling is contagious. I also know that sadness can be infectious. So I avoid being around people who love to crib and who no matter what the circumstances have the penchant for seeing the negative.   

Cancer claimed two members of my extended family within a week’s time last year. In the wake of their deaths some old lessons were revised. Life is fragile. Staying true to who you are and ensuring your happiness in this lifetime are the most important things. The most disturbing lesson that was taught again was that life stops for no one. You laugh again, you eat again and you go back to the ‘normal’ life again. The void that the dead leave in your lives remains. But the living soon start taking more room in your daily life. The people who leave continue to be a part of your life as tars and memories. 

Monday, February 01, 2016

I wish you bliss!

I remember days when my colleagues/well-wishers would pester me to get married. The sessions would start as a joke, escalate to levels which could be easily sample cases of sexual harassment by co-workers, and would invariably end in one of them wise ladies saying, ‘Jokes apart. I want to see you happy. Don’t get married if you don’t want to but be in a relationship with a wonderful guy.’ The hysteria would die and others would sober up and nod in chorus. The conversations would keep me thinking long afterwards. Somethings that were spoken about, I would share with my mother; doubts I would clear up with one of best friends—P; and the parts that I understood but was too embarrassed to share with anyone I would try to forget. Even though I laughed with everyone during the late afternoon sessions when all of us would be taking a break, to the horror of our male colleagues, these talks left me feeling a little lonely and thinking that I was missing something vital. There would be days when I would be busy in some social engagement or the other and would not have enough time to brood over what was said. Those were good days. However, days when time was a plenty, I would start by laughing to myself remembering something that was said. Invariably I would then move on to being depressed thinking that maybe such bliss was not my cup of tea.

There were many, who, through my twenties told me I was old enough to be married. Others warned, ‘If you pass the marriageable age, all the good guys will be off the market.’ I responded with nervous laughter sometimes. On other occasions I would cheekily quip, ‘Achi cheez banne mein time lagta hai. The boy is getting ready to match up to my expectations.’ I believed in the statement only 5% of the time. I hated everyone who told me to lower my expectations and to not be too choosy. Some would think that telling me that my mother was a cancer patient and might not be around long enough to see me tie the knot was the best way to convince me to cross the threshold. As if that thought did not haunt me every minute of every day.

Now, I live with a man. The world and I call him my husband. He takes care of me. Loves me to the point of cherishing me. I understand the bliss that my colleagues and friends so oft spoke about. Having pop-corn while watching a movie in our house, tucked in the cushions of the sofa, suddenly I get transported in time and I think about what L had said or V had remarked. A smile spreads across my face as I realize all that they wished for me has come true. And how!

I wish the same bliss for my unmarried/single friends. I wish that they find someone they can bully into buying a chocolate for them at the end of the day. Someone they can ask to cook for them on a lazy Saturday. I wish they find someone who makes them laugh and whose eyes well up when he sees them cry. I wish them bliss.

But I want them to wait for the guy who makes the world go round for them. I don’t want anyone to lower their standards or expectations. Finding love in your thirties is better. You can share all the mischief and misfortune of your twenties with your partner. They weren’t there so the bag of stories remains sufficiently full to entertain each other on long, never-ending drives. Since you missed each other during the troubling twenties, you end up valuing each other much more. Doing silly things doesn’t seem too silly if it makes the other smile. I want my closest friends to experience all this and more.

I might sound full of mush. Some might be squiggling their noses at what I have written. Some might agree to what I say and others might define love and marriage based on their experiences. To each his/her own. But for my closest friends I wish bliss. The kind of bliss where you fight bitterly with a person and then rest your head on their shoulder while your tears soak their favourite t-shirt.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Let's Start the New Year!

Is it too late to start the year? Some of you might say yes. Some, I hope, will be sympathetic to the cause of procrastination and say, ‘No. no. Line wahin se shuru hoti hai jahan tum khadi hoti ho. Toh saal kyun nahi.’ And I, gleefully, will choose to listen to the second group. The group of my personal cheerleaders. The chairperson of this group, I am sure, is incontestably my mother. A relatively new entrant to the game, yet one of the most important players around is my partner, V. My friends for life, K and G, will call the moon, the sun if I asked them too. Also, I am sure they will convince others in their lives to do the same if they knew it would make me happy. The others in the squad I am not naming because their role as a cheerleader might make other less fortunate jealous.

So the New Year begins twenty two days into the month of January. I write my first post of the year. And I promise to return with posts more frequently this year than the last. At least one post per month if not more. I promise. Mostly to myself.

Over the last year I have been away from the blog for several reasons. I have been writing and working towards the manuscript of my first book. I hope this year I make sound progress on that front. I have been busy being a homebody. I have enjoyed every moment of being a wife, a daughter-in-law and a sister-in-law. I prioritized, willingly, my new family over almost everything else. And I am glad I did. Earlier I was at the center of my world. Now, my world has expanded. I travelled a fair bit. I read a little bit as well.

There were other stars in my galaxy. However, things are not the same. I carefully took steps to distance myself from some situations and certain people who increased the negativity quotient in my life. There have been certain collateral damages as well. Not that I have not been hurt by the overnight change in attitudes of people I trusted to be my closest friends. However, that is the story of last year. This New Year I want to begin by letting go of what has been left behind or has changed course. I am looking forward to meeting a horde of new people. Making new friends. Retaining a few from the old batch.

I will take better care of my health. My fitness will be a priority for me. I will consciously reduce the junk intake and will gravitate towards healthier food options. I will exercise. I will lose weight. And most importantly, I will stay happy. I will also be particular about eliminating the negativity intake. If last year has taught me anything at all, it is that even the most seemingly positive people can ooze negativity if what you are doing does not fall in line with what they believe is correct. Shedding (weight and negativity) is going to be the motto of 2016.

I would also like to pick up my camera more often. I will post at least once a month on my photography blog as well. I need to rekindle my love affair with Delhi. I must admit it took a backseat over the last two years as I became busy in being romanced by V. I have an ulterior motive in rekindling my affair. I want V to fall in love with the city as well. 

The travel goals remain unchanged. Several old places need to be visited afresh and there are many newer places that are waiting to be explored. I will take at least one trip where I will be in digital isolation—no phones, no internet connectivity and no tabs. Basically, no devices except for my camera maybe.

I will learn more about gardening. This season my rose bush will flower no matter what! And I will not buy kadi pata or dhaniya after June. Six months of my life I will dedicate to the flourishing of these plants.

I will read more. At least one book a month. The more the merrier. I already have three on my reading shelf. I will make some bookmarks. I will invest in good books and in a good bookshelf. I will try to meet/correspond with authors I like. I will surround myself with good books, good readers and good authors. The love affair with words will continue.

I will continue to use colour pencils on paper and try to stay within the lines as far as possible. I will write more letters. I will call more relatives and friends to ask them how they are doing and to discuss the weather. I will watch good TV programmes and good movies. I will not watch Bigg Boss ever again. Season 9 was enough to check it off my bucket-list as something to be done once in a lifetime. Now, I am done forever.

I will invest more money and time in owning board games and playing with family and friends. I will host friends and family for game nights, wine, beer, whisky, tea, coffee, finger foods, lunches and dinners. I also promise to be more creative in giving gifts. Some of the lucky few will receive handmade stuff. The gifts might not be perfect in shape but remember to appreciate the effort and love I will be putting into them. You have been instructed in advance. Feel free to invite yourself over or to ask for gifts. I will try not to disappoint you on both the counts.

I am taking a huge risk by publicly making these declarations. I know of a handful of people in my life who will not let go of a single opportunity to wave this blog post at me every, or any, time I falter on any of these promises. And I am leaning on them to do just that.