Sunday, 16 July 2017

Home Is Where The Heart Is

There's a house somewhere in Behala that I call home. What's so special about this place, you ask? Have I known its inhabitants for a long time? Do we share some special connection or common interests? Do we speak the same language or share the same childhood memories? The answer to all of those would be a resounding no.

My morning begins with my phone buzzing me awake for my first meeting of the day. I find my spot, silver Mac open, on the orange plastic chair in the kitchen, the only place in the house where I can yell and not risk waking up my house mates. The first person I meet every morning is Smacky. He ambles into the kitchen, in the same clothes he's worn for two days, searching in slow panic for his morning cigarette. Once it's found (holy mother of all that's good and pure), Smacky sits across from me on the floor, offers me a nod and begins his scrolling on the phone. He gives me a smirk - a combination of mockery and admiration - as he watches me clacking away at the keyboard with my eyebrows scrunched up.  Every morning I looked forward to these few minutes of sleep-dewed companionship. Not very many words spoken between us, and yet some soft comfort in occasionally smiling or raising an eyebrow at a friend. Smacky's few minutes with me in the morning, unassuming, unintrusive and comforting, was the first Selfless Act of Kindness I experienced in that house.

Next was Vats. Vats, the giver of great hugs. Vats, the hysterical laugher. Vats, whose friendship was offered to me so unconditionally that it humbled me. And of course, I am not the only receiver of Vats' generosity. However late the night before was, however many khambey we had demolished, Vats' was there at the stove the next day making adrak chai for the entire house, permanent and temporary members alike. And so, as if I was home with my mother, a loving hand would pass me a scorching hot mug of chai to start my day. Selfless Act of Kindness number 2.

As more of my housemates wake up, more sleepy men walk around me, always quiet for the sake of my numerous calls, someone making eggs, someone brushing teeth, someone doing the laundry. The house comes into motion. In the way that house is run, I see no lists. I see no taskmaster. I see no one pointing fingers at anyone else. Someone fixes it, period. Dripping tap. Overflowing garbage bin. Absent maid. Dirty toilets. Sheets that smell like beer. There's a bearded man somewhere in the house who silently volunteers to get it fixed. In my eyes, these were all Selfless Acts of Kindness. Because no one asked them to, and someone else would have done it eventually.

I remembered myself as a housemate. How selfish I was, always counting my chores, always berating the ones who slacked, always keeping it fair. Watching them work, I found myself wanting to be more generous and more giving with even the tiniest things.

As the day sunk into evening, Unnati finally awoke from her slumber. Of course, she was awake for short periods throughout the day. Most often to smoke (and surreptitiously offer me) a citrus cigarette and then subsequently curl herself back into a swathe of blankets. In the evening, as I was winding up my last few calls, Unnattee would arrive into my day, full of energy. It was her infectious spirit that kept me awake despite having sat in a single position staring at a screen for the last 10 hours.  If there is anyone who is benevolent with her Selfless Acts of Love, it's this sprightly young woman of all but 24. Her hands bring to life everything from boring toast to elaborate fish curry and make them crazy delicious. She will cut onions with the bluntest knife I've ever used, prep masala the same way her mother did, bring from the store every ingredient that's needed, stand by the stove sweating for hours and make sure that the rest of her hungry flatmates sleep with an insane meal in their belly.

And while all of this is happening, the buff and ready Rum Boys (Pankaj and Dhankani) would have promptly set out on the bike to begin their night's search for our choice of poisons and multiple varieties of crispies (Uncle Chips carefully rationed).

You'd think that it would get tiring living packed like sardines within the four walls of a two bedroom house. But recreation was aplenty, whether it was  uninhibited dancing to the most ludicrous songs ever made (Tenu Suit Suit Karda and Naja Naja), crooning John Mayer love songs to the strum of the guitar, binge watching standup comedy on Netflix or cooking adventurous recipes off Youtube.

That's the thing about this house in Behala. Everyone in that house does things primarily for the happiness and pleasure of those around them. Where else would you find a full grown man (my own Josh, of course), cuddling Smacky unapologetically with his legs wrapped around him because hey, you guessed it, cuddling feels fucking awesome for everyone. Or the numerous massages offered through the day, as if we were a pack of monkeys just taking turns eliciting oohs and aah's and some rather sexual moans with our skilful fingers.

Every act, it seems, is drawn from an inherent love and brotherhood. What's mine is yours. What makes you happy makes me happy. I will give those you love, the benefit of the doubt always. And fuck what people say, love is what it is and no one gets to tell me how I express mine for you. Hugs are distributed with no scruples, foreheads are caressed with no inhibition and laughter is a free resource that all can partake in.

So there I was, beginning my journey - at first, as stranger, an observer and an admirer of those beautiful friendships and then finally, being drawn gently towards the heart of that warm family.

I learnt that language may be a vessel of communication, but sharing a language isn't necessary for communication. A south Indian walking into a den of north Indians sounds quite like a sheep walking into the slaughterhouse. Little did I know that broken phrases and sign language and hilarious translations can be the planks that build a bridge to the other side. Our childhoods were all so different, as were our adult realities. If you put our parents all in one room, you'd probably come back to a communal riot. And yet, there we were, 7 ridiculously different individuals, listening to each others stories of pain and loss, of love and the lack of it, of happiness and crippling tragedy. There we were, 7 ridiculously different individuals, finding commonness only in our mutual love.

I learnt that selflessness isn't forced, it simply occurs when no boundaries exist between you and I. It sometimes takes years, sometimes days and sometimes minutes to find those people for whom no sea is too rough to brave.

I found a place, somewhere in Behala that I call home. No, it's not its' geographical location or the beauty of its architecture that enamoured me. It was the unconditional love that fell at my feet as I stepped in the door.

For you, my dear friends, I would walk a thousand miles. And crazy, selfish, ambitious queen of the corporate world that I am, you reminded me that there is no greater joy in life than to give oneself to the happiness of another.  However long I spend wearing my many masks, as a resident of this home, I know that I will always have a place where I can give all my love and never fear for it being returned.

Vats, Unnattee, Smacky, Pankaj, Dhankani - I love you so much that my heart will burst. Thank you, for showing me the true meaning of brotherhood. 

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 your 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. :)