Wednesday, 25 January 2017

On Happiness

Happiness. Ha-ppi-ness. Lightness in the "ha", a sprightly spring in the "ppi" and a serene ending with the "ness".  The sounds themselves embody the elusiveness of this feeling; the word almost an onomatope.

We often glorify this, the pursuit of happiness. We search and search and search through our days to find some pinnacle upon which we can stand, plant a flag and say at last to the world and to the limitless skies, "I am happy!" We swipe through photographs, picture perfect in their quality and composition and imagine our friends and enemies and think to ourselves, "I bet they're happy." We watch videos and TED Talks about ultra-successful people who followed their dreams and did what they loved and now are bathing in some glorious beam of success and admiration. And on those days when in the pursuit of happiness, we find ourselves entirely defeated, we wonder, "is any of this even worth it if I'm not happy?"

I catch myself often dreaming of a different life. Where my life revolves around my writing. Where I write pages and pages of language, read by hundreds of thousands of people and I receive a pay check for doing the thing I love most. I see myself traveling to mysterious places, sitting shoulder to shoulder next to hunting tribesmen and misunderstood artists and child prodigies, listening in awe to their histories and crafting them into compelling stories. In this life I see myself as happy, never wanting more or less than what I have.

I am frequently wallowing in a pit of discontentment. I wonder if I should be spending my life working 18 hours a day instead of teaching English on a beach somewhere and sipping coconut water out the shell.

I feel like we all do this. We imagine some greener pasture, some warmer embrace than we already have. But the truth is, we imagine this at every point, irrespective of where we are - and that is what makes humans move forward everyday. We are not really in pursuit of happiness, are we? We are in the pursuit of bettering ourselves and so we put ourselves in these "would be" situations that eventually motivate us to take that next step or that big leap.

Happiness. Ha-ppi-ness. I don't have to think twice before I swipe my credit card (lightness), I get to share drinks and meals with my family every few months (sprightly spring) and I fell in love with a man who is as good as gold and as warm as a fall fireplace (serenity).

It's not a mountain you climb or some light at the end of a dreary tunnel. It doesn't come by default if you choose a profession you love, it doesn't arrive if you don't make the effort every day to invite it. It's a conscious decision, a high-investment activity that you must willingly undertake. As anyone with some wisdom would have told us, happiness is the sum of minuscule parts, a piecemeal collection of smooth pebbles in a satin pouch.

It is the song you hum in the shower at the end of your day or the chance you give yourself to read a beautiful book. It's the chill of ocean foam on a hot winter afternoon on the beach. It's the tired voice of your loved ones at the end of the day soothing you like a gentle massage. It's the laughter of your brother when you crack a terrible joke or the victory you feel when you outshine yourself at work. It's you're friend's glee when they receive one of your postcards.

I choose now to revel in these little joys. They make my shoulders stronger to hold up the unavoidable drudgeries, the high-pressure decisions, the fears of failure that I face every single day. You may say I'm a fool, but I think I'm quite enjoying being a glass half full kind of girl. :)

Monday, 9 May 2016

The Strangers of Siem Reap

I stepped into Siem Reap airport, after a cramped Air Asia flight, and felt lost. It was the first time I had entered a country alone. I'd read a lot before this trip though, what to expect, what to be wary of, etc. I walked over to the phone counter to buy a sim card (knew what to buy, which company, what plan and all that) and two smiling faces quickly got my phone all set up with a "welcome to Siem Reap, have a wonderful stay!" I'm taken aback by the fluent English, especially in contrast to the broken English which I hear and converse in every day in Bangkok.

With 3g equipped smartphone, I quickly open Google Maps. Then I notice there are no cabs anywhere. The foreigners take tuk tuks out of the airport and I'm thinking, "pssh, tourists and their obsession with tuk tuks". As I wander around the airport parking lot, Friendly Stranger Number 3 walks up to me. He has an airport staff badge on and asks if I need any help. Again in fluent English. All I can manage to say is "how can I get out of this airport?". He replies that I can take an "airport tuk tuk or airport bike" to get out for 2 dollars.

And so there I was, behind the bike driver on a beat up Suzuki one speed bike and the driver asking me if I want him to take me to Angkor Wat the next day. I reply with, "where did you learn English" to which he says, "school". I suddenly became one of those bright white smile, red lipstick English girls at bars that have asked me the same thing and I've given the same answer. I'd felt insulted when they asked me; why was it so surprising I spoke English? And here I was, berating someone else in the same way. Riding on those roads that were more dust than tar, I felt the relative nature of privilege. He left me at the hotel with a bittersweet smile.




Every Cambodian I met in Siem Reap had something in common : kindness drew out from their soul and shone in their eyes and smiles. Despite the immense poverty they suffered, every single one offered a warmth that one rarely gets from friends, let alone total strangers. You notice it all the more when you're alone; I was so much more sensitive to my surroundings. And so, stranger 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 gave way to so many amazing strangers over the next two days, that I I've entirely lost count. But I wanted to tell you my favourites.





Three of the hotel's staff - who offered me a cold towel, a drink and a room upgrade. Then, without invitation, took me through a map of the city, offered me free rides to and from the hotel whenever I wanted, arranged my trip to Angkor Wat, arranged a ride to the airport, recommended places to eat, tidied up a creaky old cycle so I could explore the town on my own and lent me 50 cents when I ran out of change. All services deployed with bows and smiles.







Two tuk tuk drivers - who carried me out the city on their makeshift contraptions so that I could experience the magic of the sun rising and setting in two different corners of the city. Who rode quietly with dust in their eyes and sweat on their palms but still turned back with a smile when I was stepping off or welcomed me with a wave when I returned. Never expecting a tip, but beaming when I forcefully pressed a dollar into their hands.





Shirtless Monk who poured me ice cold water after I'd climbed a kilometre of hill in the midday sun. I'd arrived drenched in sweat and panting breathless at his door. He sat me on his stone bench and told me to enjoy the view, shared his photos of himself in his saffron robes and explained to me in broken English that he'd been living in that dusty, deserted place for 15 years. I touched his feet when he held me by the shoulders, looked into my eyes and wished me a long and happy life always.





Ant loving tour guide - who found me waiting at the top of the hill, just me and my kindle, and started speaking loudly so that I could be part of his tour, eventually getting his Italian clients to smile and welcome me in to listen to his anecdotes. He took a red ant from a tree onto his finger and let it run around all over, showed the ant to tourists and then set the ant back on a leaf saying, "its life is as good as yours or mine" and I cringed, because I'd only 10 minutes ago stomped an ant dead as it scrambled too close to my bag.





Roadside Bartender - who sat with me as I cleaned a White Russian, followed by a Margarita and told me about his day job and best place to find amok. He raved about his cute niece and went on to comment on the similarities between Indians and Cambodians. I don't remember his name. He kept calling himself "Mark" because it's easier to pronounce and he played cheesy Bruno Mars songs and sang along with me like we'd been friends forever.





The last meal I had in Siem Reap was this incredible Lok Lak, a beef and rice concoction that melted in my mouth. They invited me to the kitchen so I could give my regards to "the Chef" and I saw that there was no white hat or sparkling kitchen, but just another guy in a tattered T-shirt and shorts, with that unmistakably warm Cambodian smile. When I told him it was the best goddamn food I'd eaten in Siem Reap, he bowed and his humility brought a lump to my throat.





That same evening, as I rode my last tuk tuk to the airport, I couldn't help but remember all these different people and the tears just came streaming down my face. I didn't know anything about the history or significance of Siem Reap or Cambodia for that matter. I went to 2 temples, because I was too sleepy to do more. I'd just turned up to get my visa renewed. But I left wishing I'd paid more attention, talked to more people, spent more time. What looked like a dusty, crumpled mess of a city, now seemed almost magical in my eyes. I felt this sinking feeling of going back to this awful, money making corporate world. Most of all, I just didn't want to go home, when strangers were so much kinder.




Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Mamma




Growing up, my mother and I were always at logger heads. I remember repeatedly telling her that I would never grow up to be a mother like her. I remember even more clearly her telling me to wait and watch, because I’m going to turn into her without even knowing it and I’ll thank her for it. 
Here I am. As usual, she was right. She’s generally right about almost everything. She was right about the guy I thought was the love of my life at 16, who left at the drop of hat. She was right about not shaving my legs when I was 14 because I’d grow nasty stubble and ingrown hairs. She was right about friendships and the ones that lasted and the ones that didn’t. Well you get it. The woman is always right. You hate it, but it’s the truth. 

Memories of her, of our relationship, come to me in fragments. I don’t even know how many of them I’ve conjured up and how many are real - they’ve all just moulded into the word, Mamma. I’ve slammed so many doors at her and sobbed through the night over words she said and then turned right back and hurt her even more with my own. As I grew out of those tumultuous teenage years, she became less of a torment and more of a security blanket. I realised then, having left the comforting cocoon of her care, just how protected and nurtured I was. I missed it, I sobbed again, and as always there she was - now on the phone or on Skype - mopping up my tears like I was a child. It’s frustrating to always be the child in front of your mother, no matter how old you are. It’s also relieving to know that at any age, you can always be a child while laying on her lap. 

Some things are quintessential Mamma. Her Kochi accent that I’ve inherited unapologetically. Her long, beautiful fingers that toil - cut and scraped and mauled with all the different things she does with them (washing, cleaning, gardening, scrubbing) and yet look as delicate as they did when she was sixteen. Her shock of curls, unruly and dark yet perfectly framing her still-young face. Those earrings she wears and the combinations of colours in her wardrobe - she’s unconventionally beautiful, especially when she laughs. Her draw full of Homeo medicine for every illness imaginable. Mulberries hand-picked from the garden on a steel plate reserved for me. Her sinful kozhikotta and cloud-soft appams devoured in minutes on Easter mornings. Her flower arrangements - white carnations among cypress leaves, a lone gerebera in a clear vase, orchids all over the backyard wall - she made a fairytale garden that has now become my solace, my sanctuary every time I go home. 

Her kitchen - or any kitchen - will always remind me of her. It’s the largest room in our house and it’s one of the most beautiful kitchens you’ll ever see. Flushed full with big windows and natural light. Pure white curtains and tiny money plants on the sill. An age-old stove that she refuses to throw away. Powders and spices of a million scents and colours lining the walls. Marble floors and granite counters cooling you in the tropical heat. The way she has no measurements or recipes, just a wild sense of what tastes amazing. And always, the smell of something mouth watering being stirred into existence by those magical hands. 

My mother made a choice to be at home and raise my brother and I. We were and still are, the apple of her eye. She was meticulous in the way she raised us. She knew every ache, every smile. She gave up a lot to be this mother. She could have had a career, she could have made more money, she could have had more friends, she could have trave
led. She chose instead to be the nurturer and for a long, long time, we never realised how much of a difference it made. She adapted to her life in ways only the very strong at heart can do. Learnt to swim and drive and speak English, all after she turned 26. She’s taken the worst of what life’s given her and made the best of it. It takes a special kind of resilience and a massive amount of determination to shine as beautifully as she does given all the things she’s been through.


So here I am. More adult than child and still calling my mother for every sadness, for all advice, for every weakness I have. From over-the-phone cooking lessons to career and relationship advice - she’s a woman with many masks. And I feel now, more than ever that I am my mother’s daughter. And it’s funny. Because I grew up so much of her opposite and often feeling like her enemy. Now I’m more like her than either she or I would like to admit. 

I cook like her. I throw things into the pan and make them work. I taste and test and follow intuition. I clean up the counters exactly the way she does. I stretch the sheets over my bed every morning, just like she used to do for me. I wipe the bathroom floor after every bath. I smile at everyone, laugh with everyone. Everything I know about empathy and kindness, I’ve learnt from her. How to see life through someone’s eyes, how to talk to people irrespective of social class or gender or language. I dress like her, earthy colours and silver earrings dangling. I want to be a mother like her - caring, intuitive, unconditionally loving, forgiving and always, always willing to learn and adapt. And I find myself wishing she’d gotten the same opportunities and freedom and affection that she gave me. Maybe then, we’d have been even more alike. 

I am my mother’s daughter. I brim with pride just saying it. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Finding Home





Dark bar, my bar, familiar.
Drink after drink
Footsie, fingers tangled
Drink after drink


He spoke my language
Of humour and heartbreak
Of resilience and soft corners
Of scraped knees and swimming

Lost in dusty roads
Among ancient barricades
Through bright speeding trains
And dark, twisted alleyways

What lit the night with magic,
Was it him or just the whiskey?
Couldn't wait, couldn't wait
Just kiss me already


Sentences spoken breathless
Catching up on decades missed
Brown eyes of honesty looked
Into me and knew my soul


I played a song upon his chest.
And he played one along my hip.
Their moods and melodies
Moved as if they were the same.


He left in the dark morning
No goodbyes or fanfare
But for the lingering touch
Of my fingers in his hair


"I hope you got home safe", I said
Wondering if he felt it too
"I'll see you again tomorrow," said he,
"I'm coming back home to you"





Monday, 8 June 2015

The Commuter



If there’s one thing I’ve learned after two years in Bangalore, it’s that commuting is a downright pain. Do not consider living more than 5 kilometres from your workplace or you will resent your decision every single day. Let me take you through the various ways in which the average person commutes in the city.

 Trusty Personal Car

This is probably your best option by far. At least to some extent you feel in control of your destiny (read: commute time). Begin with ignition. Next, turn on music/podcast/radio and cover eyes with dark sunglasses. Set a/c to high. This shall be your igloo for anywhere between 20 and 90 minutes. Before you make this your primary mode of transport, please note you must be well-versed in frequently used swear words and threats which you can promptly return to the auto/cab driver that cuts you off at the signal. Speaking of signals, these are the bane of every Bangalorean driver’s existence.  Trying to avoid as many signals as you can, you find yourself in a small, sparsely tarred by-lane that can barely take two scooters going opposite ways, let alone your vehicle and a mini-lorry.  Try not to overreact when the cow in said by-lane decides to plant herself right in front of your bonnet, exposing her aesthetically pleasing rear end. Breathe a sigh of relief when by blind luck you find yourself on a relatively empty road. Know that this will not last beyond a few kilometres and savour the moment. Congratulate yourself if your numerous time saving tactics (turning right from the left-most lane, giving yourself the liberty of taking illegal u-turns, running red lights, giving cows mild bumps to keep them moving and so on) have allowed you to reach office even 0.23 seconds ahead of time. It will help ease the immense stress you’ve put yourself through during the commute

Zippy Two-Wheeler

You can swerve and weave through any traffic jam on your trusty bike. Of course there are the limitations of only two people per vehicle but for those lone wolves, this is the ideal mode of transport. You may spend an unnecessary amount of time picking out the right helmet, not to mention a hideous raincoat that you'll need if you want to brave the rains. Top this will full length gloves to protect your arms from sunburn and a face mask to avoid the fumes exhausting from the water tanker humming next to you at the signal. At the risk of looking like an alien specimen you are now ready to brave the elements as you ride with the wind in your hair and construction dust in your eyes. Within two weeks you will be required to enroll in yoga classes or visit a chiropractor for your constant backache.

Namma Very Own Metro

I’m not sure this counts as a mode of transport considering it only has five operational stations. If you tried hard enough, you could walk the entire length of the metro and still have energy to spare. Owing to this limitation in stations, Namma Metro has assumed that any commuter must certainly know which way is which without the help of signs. After all, you can only either go up or down! The platforms are named 1 and 2. But of course, no one really tells you which one goes up and which one comes down. While you’re figuring out which platform to head to, you hear the metro screech into the station and by the time you run to the platform, the train has taken its leave. Remember what I’d said about being the controller of your own commute time? If you miss the train, please be prepared to wait another ten minutes for the next one. As most metro riders have learnt, no ride can be tolerated without a pair of headphones or a book. You don’t want to be caught staring at anyone and you certainly don’t want to listen to the incessant announcements telling you which stop is next. And by the way, if the lack of signs leads you to take the wrong train, be forewarned that you cannot just get off and switch platforms. You need to check out and check right back in like a monkey and conduct the entire arduous exercise again. But don’t get me wrong, there’s a silver lining. Unlike your trusty personal vehicle, the metro isn’t subject to the vagaries of traffic or weather and you don’t need to haggle with auto-drivers or struggle to find a cab. Just step on and step off.

The great KSRTC

Considering Bangalore is quite the cosmopolitan city, it is beyond me why KSRTC buses still have signage only in Kannada. Oh, there are bus numbers too. More than a hundred, it seems. Do not bother checking on Google Maps for buses nearby. It will give you bus numbers that never turn up at your stop or if they do, probably not at the time it says it should. Your only hope of ever seeing signage in English is on the new Volvo buses, but they come once every half an hour at best. Your best bet is to get on a random bus to Shivaji Nagar (they all eventually end up in Shivaji Nagar) and then swim through a sea of more Kannada signs until you find a conductor to guide you to the right platform. Try to refresh yourself with a contaminated lime soda or stale popcorn while you wait. This is going to be an adventure. After much sweating and mental swearing, you will reach your destination. You can reduce stress if you try not to wonder how exactly you got there. Instead think about the fact that you just travelled 10 km and spent only Rs. 15. Now that’s a bargain!

Bhaiya Auto? (No, this is not an auto. Can’t you see it’s the latest BMW 3 series?)

You’re waiting at Old Airport Road. Bhaiya, MG Road? He looks at you, completely disinterested. Bhaiya?! ”Nahin Madam” Move to next auto. “100 rupees, Madam” Move to next auto while anger levels gradually increase. You wonder what the magic location is that these auto wallahs want to go. If only you knew, you would change all plans to go there instead.  Finally, after ten minutes of pacing around the auto stand, haggling with numerous uncouth auto fellows and agreeing on an exorbitant 60 rupees to go till Trinity Circle, you take a breath and settle into the auto. Of course, our Bangalore roads are no friends of the three-wheeled contraptions. No wonder these auto guys are always in such a bad mood. They have to rattle and rumble from A to B every single day while avoiding minor potholes and making abrupt swerves to weave through traffic. The cost of your ride is directly proportionate not only to your distance but also to the level of traffic, amount of rain and general mood of the driver. Don’t even dream of telling the auto wallah to take you even an inch away from your initially agreed destination. You will immediately be met with swiftly delivered cursing in Kannada. Any by-lane you enter from the main road will be charged Rs. 20 extra because, “waapas koi nahin milega, Madam”. Auto wallahs are particularly brash to women passengers and if you ever find one who is pleasant and gentlemanly, please pay him 50 Rs. extra to take you to the Ganesha temple and pray for his good health.

 Can somebody call an Uber?

No, that somebody cannot be you because your Paytm wallet is so empty that there’s an animation of buzzing flies every time you open the app. Even if you manage to scrape 200 rupees every day for your daily commute, be warned of the demon that is “Surge Pricing” which is almost always active and invariably doubles (or when it rains, triples) your fare. Ditch Uber and head to Ola? The app has made it a habit to crash every now and then but even if you make it to the booking page, all you will hear are the sound of crickets because lo and behold, “no cabs available”. That being said, Uber drivers are friendly and it’s by far the most convenient way to travel if you have a reasonably high disposable income. Especially on Saturday nights when Auto wallahs take on an extremely pompous air and declare that your trip from Toit to the end of 100 ft. Road will cost you nothing short of Rs. 250.

So what do you do in this situation? It all really depends on what you can tolerate. Meanwhile let’s hope our auto wallahs learn to be nicer, our metro grows a little longer, our Ubers become cheaper and our cars learn to self-drive.


Monday, 3 March 2014

Something Solid


When they first spoke the word "solid"
I am dead sure it was to speak of a man just like you

You are like roots under a tree 
No matter how she sways, 
Or what stirs her fragile branches, 
You hold her to you as your own 
Ever growing, ever changing 
But forever the axis that she revolves upon

When they first rolled the word "solid" in their mouths
They tasted the soul and sinew of a man just like you

Because you are a bed of rock 
Beneath a sea of tumultuous waves 
When the moon tempts the ocean 
And pulls her in to dance, 
She holds on to your firm shoulders 
And anchors herself to you.

When I first used the word "solid" to describe a man, 
It was you that planted the word upon my tongue

Because you are a compass that never fails
A beacon in an inky forest
In these times of fear and trepidation, 
Your firm but gentle heartbeat 
Is the only guide navigating
This wayward wanderer on

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Questions Posed in the Dead of Night


How do you dream
So vividly in your sleep
When I confessed to you
Just before you shut your eyes
That I was tossing in bed
Wide eyed and sleepless?

Did it not occur
To sing me a lullaby
Or whisper a sweet word?

Did it not ache
Even a little bit
Did it not itch
Even a little bit
To leave a comforting thought behind
To help me rest?

Was what I said
So cold, so hurtful
That you decided
I would be punished
With red eyed lonliness?

Was what I said
So unforgivable
That I was cursed with the knowledge
That you lay on your pillow
Your lids dewed with sleep
As mine sit open, following
The creaky turn of the fan?

How unkind it seems to me
How cruel.

I feel like a little girl
Robbed of her favourite
Bar of candy.