2016 – The Highs and the Lows

So I’ve been thinking that 2016’s been the worst year so far. But it was only yesterday that I realised that it’s been rather good for me. I’ve evolved slowly, matured into something more of myself since last year. It hasn’t been easy. But I’ve learnt great many things about the me in me, or rather the me’s in me, as someone told me. And that’s not saying that I’ve not cried and not have had bouts of depression, more than any other year.
January end last year, I joined the PR division of the NGO I work in. I wanted something behind the scenes, but since then I’ve realised that this doesn’t give me my escape card from talking to people, shying away from them. I had to go out, talk with sponsors, be charming and smile and be genuine about it. I learnt team work, the organising part of a successful event, the elation you feel when it’s gone off successfully, even with a some minor hiccups.
Then come June, I’d joined horse-riding. It had been something I’d always wanted to do which I put off for later. I decided to join and next thing I know, two of cousins and my sister, all decide to join me. It had been rather fun. I learnt to take care of horses, the correct way to ride, saddling. Even the back-pain was worth it. A visit to the stables even when classes were not on, cheered me up. Half way to July, college was in full swing and I had to leave horse-riding. But I still felt I learnt something worthwhile and fantasised going about places on horses, saving fuel, helping pollution problem and also helping to bring horses back to their former respect. Yes, yes, I know, a fantasy.
At the same time, dancing had caught my fancy, salsa to be exact. Late June, I began to go to classes, again with my sister here. It wasn’t until September though, that I went to my first social. I’d been so nervous about a room full of unknown people, some of whom I got to dance with. Luckily I found a table with my fellow classmates and sir was the first one to ask me to dance and got me out of that corner. The second social I attended had been after another month, I still felt nervous and awkward but there was an accompanying sense of relief too because at least I knew what the evening would be about. Come December, I’ve barely been to ten socials because of my work schedule but I’m now truly comfortable with salsa, even missing it somedays. Unfortunately, that too I haven’t continued to the next level. But I’ve now a group of friends who make the socials très fun. Every salsa night is my piece of paradise, where I can forget everything and just dance.
It was in August end that I was selected in research internship at my college. I hadn’t been expecting it at all. I had already made plans to give my DELF exam in September, which I didn’t because research took the front seat. The exam and the interview for the internship had been in March and April, respectively. Eight students had already been selected in May. I’d been disappointed when I didn’t get in, because I wanted this internship to find out if this is truly what I wanted – to work in a lab for long hours, researching, figuring things out. Because that’s what I always said when someone asked me what I wanted to do in the future, but you still have your doubts, right?
So first of September, we were briefed on our topics (I had a partner), and we started our literature review. That had been the first of many hurdles – not knowing where to start. We had to submit a list of chemicals and glasswares needed, our final protocol and a timeline planning our schedule till next May. Now, it is January. We’re now in part 3/3 of our little project. After getting fungal contamination more times than we could count, adjusting our protocol and timelines, the frustration with making reagents for the first time and getting it right, we’ve come this far. We are undergraduate students. We’ve always been handed prepared reagents, never mind making those keeping in mind the concentration and pH and what not. On top of that, working long hours at college and asking our friends not to wait for us and to go out and enjoy.
But, I do need to mention here – working late hours in the college, when I left, I left with a feeling of satisfaction and a smile on my face. It was something else to see the college garden look so empty, the open air theatre gleaming under the night lamps. it seemed like a part of college that had been a secret so far had been revealed to us. To see the canteen without any people, not a single person in sight. The corridors seemed long. And we talked about supposed ghost stories. It has been fun overall. Yes, research has been fun aside from long hours, the waiting, and the sheer frustration when things don’t work out.
Then, there is baking. I have always been into baking but each time ended up an experiment. I had no proper knowledge about measurements or ingredients. In late August, I joined a basic baking weekend workshop. I went home and very next day, I made 3 cakes. None of them turned out right – one was not baked properly, the other was burnt black – I couldn’t even cut with a knife, the last one had been burnt from outside and undercooked from the inside. I’d been disappointed to say the least. But I wanted a cake, and I wanted to have my cake. Over the month I experimented with proportions, till I finally got it right. Though, I wouldn’t exactly say perfectly right. I still have days when my cake doesn’t turn out right. Forget about the icing, even the sponge was an issue. I still went ahead to the advanced baking workshop that came up. That also helped in motivating me. Because I wanted to move up from sponge cakes and finally do some icing and decorations and all. I think all this trouble would’ve been saved if I’d just bought some measuring cups. I still haven’t, to be honest.
Suffice it to say, the latter half of 2016 I’ve had enough cakes, sending them to relatives and friends to try or eating all the burnt part. Dad had been the best, I suppose, in this regard. I’m not much of a cook. I stay out of kitchen mostly. I can’t even get tea right. He’s always said it was a good cake. He had the undercooked part or the burnt part along with me, saying he liked it. Of course, he always asked me to have a little more patience next time. He wouldn’t be dad if he didn’t criticise. He’s always been my worst critic, but it’s also been my best motivation. He’d never go all out with compliments ever like mom does. So I learnt through baking about failure and actually learnt the lesson of practice makes perfect; never a sweeter way to learn such a lesson.
So 2016 for me has been both good and bad. I’ve have more downs than I could ever think of. My social life was zero except for the salsa nights. And I’m not someone who’d go out and converse and open up to just about anyone. I had also lost my baby cousin at the very start of the year, something which hit me later when I realised she was really gone. I suppose that start had been a prelude to the kind of year I’ll end up having.
Three of us best friends, during the internship in May, we drifted apart. And no, it’s not nice and it doesn’t feel leave you feeling warm and cozy inside, seeing your supposed best friend ignoring you over a trivial matter. And it causes problems with your other best friend too, who is also suffering as much. I have had no one to talk to in college, it’s the last year. Every day I wake up and say to myself, just one more day, just till March. There are already formed friend circles by last year of college.
That’s not to say some people didn’t talk, didn’t forget to wish me, compliment me, helped me. These are the people who keep me going. I’ve always offered random compliments to strangers or people at signals too. I realised then how strangers affect us in the most wonderful ways. I also realised that in the past two years I’d been wrapped up into my own little cocoon, with my two best friends. I hadn’t noticed these people, who were always there in the background. Even the questions of our ‘unbreakable’ friendship fell away after a time. Only few were brave enough to ask us to our face. But what could we say? That it hadn’t been a single moment that broke apart our friendship? That it had been small, petite, little things which we ignore and let it build till it comes to point you feel you’re better left alone without these people in your life? At first you give it time, but then the other friend doesn’t desire to reconcile a friendship? After which point, you still tried but then finally gave up?
It was at the end of December that I read a friend’s blog which made me want to see if some repair could be done. I had to stitch back the holes in my sky and December was my redemption. I send that friend a friend request on 21st which she finally accepted just an hour before midnight on the New Year’s Eve. It didn’t matter it took so long, what mattered was that the stitches were now there, though done by an amateur tailor.
It also didn’t help with depression that I was unable to write. I have so many half-written posts for the blog. So many short-stories I started and never finished. I was simply unable to write, my muse had left me. But it was also around March that I got a request to review a book. By June, I got an offer to edit a book and I’m happy to say it’s been successfully published. The author had been the most helpful, the most respectful person I have known. He respected and acknowledged any suggestions I made, entrusting his book to an amateur editor. But finally when it was published, it had been a proud moment. I had felt a sense of accomplishment, and it had been everything. I realised I wanted to do something in life which made me feel this way, doing something which I loved and something which also challenged me. Research fits the bill, though I still don’t know at this point where I’m headed in life.
After coming back from a vacation and a ten minute conversation with someone who’d always been there to listen, who let me vent anytime I wanted, who I’d never actually met before – I had my closure with 2016. It was a relief 2016 ended but I’ve never been more grateful for any year of my life.
I learnt friendship doesn’t last, I learnt not to take people for granted, I learnt people fade away – even kids as young as seven, I learnt to cherish the time I spent with my grandparents and my family, I learnt to perceive people better, I learnt team work, I learnt leadership, I learnt how to walk down a corridor with my head held high without my two pillars by my side, and I learnt that I want to accomplish things in life which leave me with a feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day. Not to forget the new skills I picked up along the way – horse-riding, baking, salsa, also learning how to drive a car. I learnt these new things and it expanded my comfort zone. I realised I could have more things still in my comfort zone if I go out of it just a little.
You see, I don’t want to focus on the negatives here in these final lines. Someone told me, some time ago – there are ups and downs in life. But if you go high enough, you won’t notice the bumps anymore. And this has stayed with me. It helped that I had a support system in some people who I’ve never met in my life. They helped me put a different perspective to things, helping as they could.
I’m thankful to everyone who’s been a huge part of my life, especially this past year, those who’ve made me laugh, those who’ve made me dance, those I shared a smile with – even if you and I are strangers to each other, just happening to recognise each other by face. And above all, I’m thankful to my family, for standing by me, for giving me the space that I needed as I learnt to stand on my own and to my best friend, who’s always believed in me and stood by me, no matter what.
Thank you, 2016.

The False Walls I Hide Behind

Today has not been a good day, emotionally. But I realise not all days have to be good.

At first I felt maybe I have extreme mood swings. Even my friends made me believe so. But then I realize that I feel things a little too closely, too deeply and it affected me as such.

I pride myself on being emotionless when I want to, on my face never betraying me. But I realise that in the process of building walls around me, I’ve forgotten that they are made of glass.

The stones thrown are making it crumble and I go on building walls, keeping myself busy, freeing myself from the emotions. I get angry and detached and then I feel no one cares as no one’s coming in, no one brave enough to come through the weak walls I’m pretending to shield myself behind. Then I get angry at myself – maybe I shouldn’t be putting in so much effort to remain aloof.

No one’s caring right now, if I come out a little bit no one would notice and I’d breath in the world. So I told myself. I told myself I’ll only let some people know that yes, I am out and about so I can explore the world in peace but also have company in the process. It is only too late that I realise I’ve made the same mistake again. I’ve trusted the wrong person. The masks are all I see hovering, all the people who’ve betrayed me, sneering at me and laughing, ‘this is your fate.’

I look down my balcony and I see the reds of betrayal slashed through the bushes in my garden. I see the people looming outside the gates asking me to come out. Their voices fading as I go further back in, in the walls I’ve made, the walls I’m now working to make double layered from the inside, making it that much harder for the next person to come through even as I crave in my loneliness for someone to soothe me and tell me it’s okay.

Life in a doll house

You know the thing about time? It happens. It doesn’t wait for you. You can’t catch up to it.

This is what you’ve heard all your life. What if I told you they are wrong? What if I told you that life doesn’t happen? It is us that happen. It is time that is running ahead at bullet speed and will probably crash way too soon than we want it to, incinerating life, us, in its wake.

We are not trying to catch up to time. We are trying to slow it down, to rein it in a little. Time is like the untamed alpha-wolf. It’ll let you be fooled into thinking that you are the leader, the alpha, until you realize that you are just a beta. By the time you realize that, it’d be too late.

It makes us think, no? That life happens, time happens, we happen. What’s the big deal? What are we doing here? We are all trying to comfort ourselves, fooling ourselves in the process, letting relations describe us. We form close bonds with our cousins, our family, friends, some maybe more than that. But a time comes when you realise that it’s all a farce.

The moment comes when you realize the fastidiousness of life. We are in a doll’s house, long forgotten in the attic, collecting dust as we speak. We play this game of life as we rot away, and ignore that yes, that is what’s happening to you. It’s a wonderful game that we’ve lost ourselves into. We’ve forgotten the attic that’s outside the doll house, the house outside the attic, the street outside the house.

Now we’re slowly rediscovering the world again, barely aware that the attic exists – so full of new things, bits and pieces long forgotten. A chocolate wrapper lying abandoned behind the broken cuckoo clock. The long forgotten dinner set gifted to you on your anniversary. We say we’re discovering a new world. But are we? It was there all along. We were just too dense to acknowledge that fact. Only now you realize how small a world you’ve found yourselves in.

And you realize the time you’ve been granted is too small, too short to discover it whole. But does that mean we don’t attempt at all to discover it? We could climb the walls of the doll house. Someone else will take the same way up and continue ahead. And here is the truth of all as you climb up and take your last breaths. Life is a relay. You just pass on the message of how it goes and walk on the trodden footpath. Most of us choose to walk on that worn-out path. Some have the courage to continue ahead and then the others choose to follow that new path.

But take a moment to consider this. If all of us went out to discover the world outside the doll-house and the attic, wouldn’t we discover the street outside sooner?

The Beginning and the End

Half of the the time my life doesn’t make sense and I don’t try to make sense of it. I just end up caught between the tangled web where I am not be able to get the beginning or the end. I think that is how a story ought to be. It should be all tangled up, where there’s neither an end nor a beginning. But, it is upon the author to decide upon the part when it starts and when it ends. Life is such, you don’t know the end or the beginning but you just choose a piece in the middle and start working. Everything else will fall in place.

Amma, the Dancing Angel

PhotoGrid_1453443860216Mrinalini Sarabhai passed away. When I first heard the news, I immediately went to confirm it. Frankly, I am still reeling from the shock. She died at the age of 97. She dedicated her life to dance such that she was one with dance. World has lost one of its finest gems and it’s already feeling the loss.

I think the classical dance form, Bharatnatyam, was always meant for me. My mom used to watch Doordarshan in those days and one of Amma’s shows was on. Obviously my mom told me this, I don’t remember any of it. I just started copying some of the movements and I felt I was dancing. I wasn’t copying her to the T maybe, but I was dancing. And then I just started copying dance from many songs and such. My mom sometimes used to joke that I learnt to dance before I started walking.

I started to train for dance at the age of 4. No, my parents didn’t send me to classes against my will. Nor did I have to drag them there. We had attended one of the shows of my cousin’s and that confirmed it – that I wanted to learn dance. I met my cousin’s guru, eventually mine too, there. She told me she accepted students from the age of 6. But even then, I still used to go and sit in the corner, watching the elder girls dance. Then after a few weeks, my guru taught me the Namaskar to keep me busy. I went home and perfected it, making my parents sit on the sofa. And then step by step, day after day, I started learning dance.

Of course, it was not always music and rhythm. I sometimes feel grateful to my mother that even when I was feeling down and didn’t want to go to class, she’d leave me there at the gates of the class, still crying and throwing a tantrum. I didn’t realise it then, but I learnt that dance accepted you in all your forms just like you embrace all the forms of dance. I wouldn’t have known Bharatnatyam and met such wonderful people, if Amma hadn’t brought the dance form to the people of Gujarat and taught it to us.

She was living legend. For me, she was always a curiosity. We read about her in history books even as we followed her in the activities column in the newspaper. How many people you could say the same thing about?

I met her when she was 92. Just that once.  It was my Arangetram and she was going to be there. Everyone was so excited. My guru, Smt. Kashmira Trivedi, and many of her senior and the junior disciples, were so excited and were equally worried. They worked my partner and I extra hard just to ensure that we didn’t make any mistakes and that our movements were as effortless and flawless as possible.

It is still one of those days in my mind where it feels like it was all a dream and it was the highest reality. She was supposed to be there for just the opening ceremony and stay for maybe half an hour. She ended up staying till the interval and gave a heartfelt speech, appreciating both of my working parents and how they managed to send me to classes regularly to let me fulfil my passion.

Afterwards, she came to meet us in the green room and we talked. Her first comment on seeing me there was, “Oh my, you are tall!” I was in 8th and I was already 5’7″ back then. People I met couldn’t believe me when I said I was just in 8th. And she had that very same reaction. At that moment, I realised, she was just like you and I, like us. We shared our love for dance, but while we choose to run after success and what brings the most money, she followed her heart and made success run after her.

Even with all the popularity she had earned, she was down to earth. She met with all of my senior didis and congratulated them on the job well done in helping me train. My teacher, I remember her in one of those very few instances, had tears in her eyes. She was proud of having us, me and my partner, as her students and she was overwhelmed by meeting Amma in person.

Even when we met her she was so full of energy you wouldn’t even know that she was above 70-75. She walked faster than any of us, her eyes were so full of focus and expressive. It was like she was communicating with you solely when her eyes swept over the room.

This was the only instance where I encountered Amma in person, and it will stay with me forever. There are thousands of other people who were lucky to be taught under her tutelage and have more experiences to share.

I have no more words to say about her except, may you rest in peace, Amma, you will be missed sorely. But now you can finally dance away without the mortal constraints.

Sorrow – What is it to you?

Sorrow is the texture of an old jeans. It sounds like the fans in an air conditioner, a constant reminder – always there. It looks like the bark of an old, withering, bitter neem tree. It tastes like curd – sweet and sour in equal measure; and it smells like a red chilli, in its sharpness and bluntness, bringing tears to your eyes.