Walking My Blues Away

Lazily, I stretched across the bed, willing my eyes to remain shut for a little bit longer. It was another glorious Saturday morning, which meant I could sleep in as long as I wanted. I flipped over, then flopped back. Nope, the wings of slumber had lifted off and I was indisputably awake.

It had been a long week. Tremors of fatigue pulsed out from various muscles, invoking a general sense of soreness. Mentally, too, I felt sapped. Inert, I stared blankly out the window. The mango tree was peeping in. A bird, nestled within, whistled. Drops of morning sun fell into my room. Against this friendly canvas, a pall of grayness threatened to dim the sunniness of the day. Why was I feeling melancholic?

No, this would not do. I shook myself out of bed and decided to go for a walk. It was still early, so there would not be too many people out and about. The air would be fresh and untouched. From experience, I knew a walk would chase away the heavy clouds gathering over me.

I slipped on my chappals and stepped out. The air was crisp and cool, a perfect winter morning for Mumbai. I started walking, aimlessly. I didn’t have a goal or a destination. I let my feet decide where to turn, which street to dive into.

A man on a bicycle rolled by, relaxedly. He looked like a night watchman, recently off his duty, homebound. He pedaled casually, as if, like me, he was in no hurry to reach anywhere. A milk truck parked itself down the street. Morning walk enthusiasts, on their way back, stopped and picked up milk pouches. A young woman strode by. She looked like she was on her way to work.

I felt the heaviness lift. Passing under old, large trees, I felt a sense of revival. There they were, steady and calm, thick trunks supporting numerous branches and a heavy scattering of leaves. I reached up to some low-hanging green shoots. They danced at my touch. I took a deep breath.

The sun broke through my clouds. I saw, with clear eyes, the beauty of a new day. I felt the tension in my shoulders melt. My skin was tickled by a playful, gentle breeze. I caught the eye of an old man selling newspapers. We looked at each other and spontaneously broke into smiles.

Walking is a wonderful thing. It injects you into the world and allows you the space and the pace to observe what’s around you. Passing under trees and by the flower shrubs, making small, spontaneous connections with strangers, walking reminds you that you are part of a larger story.

I turned into my building, a different me.

 

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A Most Thoughtful Gift

The other day, my brother told me that this year he is going to send me one book a month. I squealed in delight. It is one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received.

He knows I love reading. I have a curious mind and I let it wander in all kinds of directions. I read about stuff I know nothing about, happily, because it destroys my ignorance. I also read about stuff I know something about, and the joy I get from these books is to go deeper into a beloved topic. So, in deciding his gift, he has done so keeping me in mind.

Knowing that I like discovering and learning about new ideas, my brother has talked about books with me freely. He likes to read and he generously exposed me to the writers and writing he was getting to know. In the process, he unlocked many new idea spaces for me, opening up unknown vistas.

He introduced me to Zen Buddhism and Charlotte Joko Beck. My lens on life and living fundamentally shifted as a result.

Then, he told me about behavioural science, giving me a few audio books on the subject one Christmas. I devoured them. And now, I’m convinced that behavioural science is key to creating personal and social change.

As if this was not enough by way of transforming me as a person, he revealed Robert Wright’s “The Moral Animal”, which helped me understand the institution of marriage and Darwinian evolution theory; “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari, which finally gave me an understanding into why the West colonized the world despite India and China being more advanced on the science and cultural fronts; and Alan Watts, who I am still appreciating for his awe-inspiring intellect.

Everyone needs someone like my brother. By this, I mean someone who expands your horizons, pulling you out of the rut and showing you that there, beyond the fence, lies a wondrous world of intelligent, divine ideas. Over the years since he’s been doing this to me, I’ve re-examined and reinvented myself. I think I’m a better version of me. All these deep thinkers and philosophers shaped my thoughts, beliefs and views of the world. I only got to know them because I had someone who knew them and who thought I should meet them.

I hope you’re lucky enough to have someone like this in your life. Even if you don’t, you can be that person for someone else. You won’t necessarily know it, but you can take my word that the impact you will have on that person will be life-changing.

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When An Old Man Catches Your Eye

The old man shuffled across the street and paused at the divider. He caught my eye as I waited across from him for the signal to turn green.

He was slight in build, maybe about 5’2″, a hint of a hunch as a result of age. He must have been about 70. He wore a red bush shirt, neatly buttoned down and tucked into his tailored pants. With the bend in his body, they came up his waist, making him look even smaller. He wore glasses, behind which I could see intelligent eyes. He held his mouth firmly closed, as if to guard against miscreant flies that might wrongly venture into it.

I watched him, unable to take my eyes off him. What was it that drew me so enigmatically to him?

On the face of it, he looked ordinary. Yet, he had an unmistakable air of dignity to him. This, despite the slight tremor in his face that was making his head shake uncontrollably. His hand shook a bit too. I felt the urge to run across and help him, my heart swelling in the way one feels when shepherding a lamb to safety. He did not need it. He looked intent in making his way across the road independently.

As I studied him, I perceived a man who had led his life his way, on his terms. He had an understated defiance to him, the air of someone who has stood up to the world for his principles and, ultimately, emerged victorious. Yes, he would have borne many bruises in the course of these struggles, but he also struck me as someone who would be too proud to acknowledge them. Like a lion scuffling with other lions to defend his birthright, this elderly gentleman carried the gashes, openly and without making too much a deal out of them.

Back erect, he stood patiently, waiting for a gap in the traffic to finish crossing the road. Here too, I could see that he would move only when it was his turn, expecting others to hold back as he made his way. This was not someone who would squeeze between screeching cars, apologetically stretching out his hand to beg for their indulgence to let him pass. No, this was someone who knew right from wrong and knew his rights as well.

I felt an admiration for him. As he walked past my car, I bowed my head slightly, in respect. You don’t see too many true characters anymore.

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Why Do You Get Up In The Morning?

“Why do you get up in the morning?” my friend asked.

“Oh, because I want to write my book!” I exclaimed. The words fell out of my mouth like puppies tumbling out of a shoebox, messily, easily, excitedly.

“I have things I want to say,” I continued. “And, I think they might be interesting to at least a few folks out there.

“I hope so, anyway,” I added, with a self-conscious grin.

Later in the day, I reflected on this small exchange. For such a big question, I had a seemingly small answer. It was very simple, at any rate. The clarity astonished me a bit because I’m one of those types that frets about most things, ready to over-think straightforward affairs.

A few years ago, I would have been dissatisfied with my response. I would have chided myself for not expressing greater ambitions, like ending poverty or creating gender equality.

Not so anymore. Writing stories is what I want to do. It’s how I want to spread joy.

When I was growing up, I got a lot of happiness from other writers and their stories, often, at crucial times when the world looked bleak and I felt dejected. At those times, these stories lifted me on light wings and took me to worlds that were nicer, kinder, funnier. They made me feel good about myself so that when I returned back to my own reality, I was revived in my spirits and ready to be my own nicer, kinder, funnier person.

I want to pay it forward. Maybe, after reading something I write, some girl out there will feel a renewed sense of belief in herself. How amazing is that? It certainly works as a compelling reason to get up in the morning.

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Coming Home

It’s the holiday season, which means many of us are going back home. From however far afield we have thrown ourselves – for the sake of a job, love, or whatever reason – we reel ourselves back in every year around this time. Diwali, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, the occasion doesn’t matter so much except for the gravitational pull it has on all of us to return homewards.

For me, the physical sensation of coming home is overwhelming. My mum’s tight hug locks me into a long-lost sense of belonging, much like how a round peg feels when finally pushed into a round, not square, hole. As I touch my father’s feet, he gently pats my back, sending forth an electrifying rush of blessings; they swirl around me like a protective halo. I embed myself further into familiar surroundings by moving through the rooms of my old home and ensconcing myself into the memories that still linger within their walls.

Being at home is increasingly a feeling that feels elusive; the aspirational ideals that are blasted at us through various media make sure we don’t feel at home with ourselves. That’s why going back home for the holidays is so important. It is a tonic that cleanses out all the self-doubt, insecurity and anxiety that the world at large imposes on us. It is an assured reminder that we are just fine as we are.

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Making Friends With Myself

After almost a month’s hiatus, I returned to my yoga class this weekend. As I spread into my favourite warrior pose, I had a resounding feeling of coming home.

My mind and spirit filled into the dusty, forgotten physical nooks of my inactive, contracted limbs, like a bloated river gushing onto newly opened tracks. Hamstrings tugged, muscles stretched, fingers reached out. My breath led the way into the expansion. Instead of cowering in a small, tight, dark corner, I billowed out in blazing, bright glory.

With each moment of staying still, I occupied it with growing confidence. I was like a new tenant in her borrowed flat, exploring each room with a recognition that this was not borrowed from someone else but her own.

We spend so much time being someone we are not that we become strangers to our own selves. Nothing rings this message more loudly than the alienation I feel with my own body. Sitting hunched in front of a laptop every day, followed by a few more hours in glacial traffic means I don’t move around much around my body. Yoga reintroduces me to the muscles and nerves that go neglected for most of the week. As I fill into each asana, I feel like I’m making friends with the forgotten corners of my being. I say “hello!” amicably and with gratitude; my body has not deserted me despite my neglect. Every tissue, ligament, muscle and bone, big and small, responds cheerfully. No judgment, only acceptance and friendliness.

As I bent over to touch my toes, releasing my upper body, I realized that it works so hard all the time, keeping me upright. I let it relax and hang, even as my lower body kicked in to support it. It too deserves a break.

To me, yoga is about making friends with myself. I felt this all the more so after a long break. And just like it feels when I meet old friends, it felt like coming home.

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Imperfect, Happy Holidays

It’s the holiday season, a time when joy is permeating all over the world. I love this time of year because it means boisterous family reunions, time off for self-reflection and personal growth, and festive cheer everywhere.

Of course, things don’t work out the way we want. Flights are delayed, dishes get overcooked and burned, squabbles break out with relatives overcrowded in small spaces. 

These are moments that carry unintended joy within them even though they feel like anything but. The airline agent is also a person, albeit a person standing between you and your flight. Talking to them with friendliness has often elicited a spontaneous grin, when I’ve done so in the past, which made my time at the airport feel a bit more worthwhile. There is just nothing comparable to an unexpected, unforced smile shared between two strangers. The burned dish caused many jokes to be cracked, deepening ever so slightly my bond with my relatives. I remember the time my turkey just wouldn’t stop being pink, no matter how much I cooked it; the entire Thanksgiving group of friends rallied around the problem. It became a laughing point on how many MBAs did it take to bake an edible turkey.

The holidays feel like a time to be perfect. I have gradually learned that it is the imperfections that make the holidays perfect. 

So, here’s wishing you imperfect, happy holidays! 

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