New beginnings…

There comes a time in everyone’s life, when they can’t have what their heart truly desires. At such a time, any sane individual would walk away and give up. I did that too. All those years ago, when I realised that Adam would never truly be mine, I decided to walk away and give myself a chance to live my life without him. He didn’t want me to leave, but what could I do? Between my expectations and his commitments, our love quietly slipped out, unnoticed and without protest. If anyone had asked me then, I would have promised them, and myself in the process, that I was sure of what I was doing. I’d have convinced then, without really convincing myself that going away from him was the best thing to do in the circumstances.

That was 8 years ago. In these years, we’d both drifted apart, focused on career, become successful, made money. I had followed his career and his life closely, to the point of obsessively stalking his Facebook profile, refusing to accept suggestions from well-meaning friends that I should perhaps try to talk to him again. I couldn’t possibly do that. I couldn’t possibly reach out to him again. The fear of rejection was too strong. No. Scratch that. Rejection, I could take. What if he ignored me? That is something I couldn’t take. I knew from my passive stalking that he occasionally dated. I also knew he wasn’t married yet. Yet, something stopped me from reaching out.

And then, out of nowhere, I ran into him at the local supermarket yesterday. Pushing the cart along for my monthly groceries, I was busy trying to find my favourite brand of pasta when I literally ran the cart into him. Looking up to apologise, I froze. I couldn’t move. Or speak. The emotions of the past 8 years came rushing back, filling my eyes. Here was the man I’d have given anything for. Here he was in person, in front of me, his face lit up like a Christmas tree.

All I remember of the next 30 mins was billing my purchases and getting to my car, still sane enough to drive. As I got home, the realisation hit me. I had walked away, for the second time, from the man I loved most in life. I had walked away with no words to say, with no explanations. Not even basic pleasantries exchanged. As I dumped the shopping bags and turned to shut the door, I saw him again. At my doorstep. With an unspoken invitation to step into his arms and his life once again. Perhaps, this was how it was meant to be. Perhaps this second lifetime would finally last.

For the love of the written word…

This is a special day. This day, 10 years ago, I began a journey that became one of the most important journeys in my life. What began as a protected blog under the name of “A Space of One’s Own” evolved to what it is today. I’ve blogged under my real name, moved on to a pseudonym, slowed down, written furiously, then slowed down again, and even considered quitting. Yet, this space is something I could never complete let go of.

The journey that I began ten years ago has been adventurous, exciting, depressing, and difficult at the same time. Yet, I’ve never really felt the need to stop or turn around. Maybe it’s love. Maybe it’s a need to express things I wouldn’t dare speak about in person. Whatever it is, it’s an important part of not just my life, but a part of my growing up.

As a 24-year old, I was idealistic, full of zeal. I wanted to change the world and believed that my writing had the power to do so. I wrote furiously, and with a frankness than amazes even me when I re-read those posts a decade hence. I wrote in sheer outrage around what’s happening in the world around me. I wrote, because I didn’t know any other way.

As time passed, my blog evolved. From speaking of politics and society, of the ills that we face and the injustices of life, it evolved into something more personal. It gradually became a refuge from the world. A place where I could cherish the small things, and speak of things close to my heart. Of art and literature. Of love and life. Of desire and longing.

Today, ten years older, and slightly more mature, I no longer blog because I’m outraged. I no longer react as spontaneously to news or happenings around me. I watch, I wait. I observe and analyse. And most of the time, I choose not to speak. I don’t speak because I feel I have nothing to contribute that hasn’t already been said a million times over. If I do feel like adding something, the 140 characters usually suffice. I find today, as I look back over my journey, that my blog’s tone and content is actually a reflection of how I have evolved as a person. And I am happy to say that it’s no longer the quantity, but the honesty and the intensity of my writing that’s become important.

Here’s to the next decade of writing. May this love for the written word never fade!

Seven random things…

I wasn’t planning to write today. I wanted to pick up a book and read, until I finished at least a couple to justify the reason for my leave. But I happened on Lakshmi’s post detailing seven random things about her. It’s so much fun to read, and she insists it’s revelatory as well. So let me try.

  1. I used to be an extrovert. The kind who forever seeks out human company. The kind who can’t be alone with herself. Over the past decade, that’s changed, slowly but surely. Now, I no longer crave company the way I used to. Of course, I continue to socialise, meet people, go shopping and the like. But, I am no longer an extrovert. I call myself a selective extrovert. Perhaps the term ambivert will suit me better.
  2. I am a compulsive reader. I read anything from bus tickets, to newspaper clippings, to literature that comes packed with medicines. If something is written, I’ll read it. I’ve always been this way, but over the years, I have also begun to try reading something every day as a deliberate step. Books, articles, poems, blogposts…nothing is off limits.
  3. If someone hurts me, I pretend to move on and forget. The truth, however, is quite different. I tend to hold on to the hurt. I become resentful of the person. I realise it’s not good for me, but the hurt me has a great difficulty in forgetting. I may even forgive, but I tend not to forget. And to certainly never trust that person again. Like a broken glass that can never be mended.
  4. I have an innate curiosity about things that makes me need to know. For me, ignorance is not bliss. If I don’t know something, I’ll make an effort to find out. Not knowing something that directly affects me or my life is just not acceptable. This could be the side effects of a medicine, the workings of a light bulb…anything really…
  5. I don’t particularly crave for children. I don’t have any, and it doesn’t trouble me. Of course, I’d love to have them if I can. But, if I can’t, my life wouldn’t collapse. It annoys me, nay, makes me furious when people say motherhood makes a woman complete. I’m complete in myself, thank you very much!
  6. Art makes me emotional. I can’t draw or paint or sculpt. I’m not remotely artistic. My creativity is purely verbal. But engaging with art in its myriad forms makes me feel things I can’t quite explain. Given a chance, I’d spend the rest of my life in art galleries. Not the techniques, not the theory, but art itself makes me crave for more.
  7. Friendships are sacred to me. I may not speak to my friends on a daily basis, or engage with them regularly. But, if they really need me, I’d drop everything and run. I have a handful of friends I truly care for and I wouldn’t give them up for anything in the world.

Phew! That was hard… So, what are the random things about you that people don’t know? Go on…do share!

The power of art…

Have you seen the statue of the Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre museum? Or David in Florence? Or Venus de Milo? There’s something about art, particularly sculpture that makes you want to lose yourself in it. I’ve never been a great connoisseur of art. Primarily because I could never remember all the different styles and textures. Although I’ve been a student of art history for over 15 years now, I’ve never really bothered with the technicalities of art. But, there are days when I see a piece of art and wish I could lose myself in the beauty. I wish that time would stop. That I could just stay there taking in the piece of art in front of me with a sense of awe and wonder.

Each of the sculptures I’ve mentioned inspires a different emotion. The first time I saw the Winged Victory of Samothrace, I was awe-struck. I felt small, insignificant in the presence of something so powerful. With Venus de Milo, it’s pure love. The kind of love that makes me want to stop time. The kind of love that makes me want to experience life all over again, just to relive that moment I first saw Venus. David is a different matter altogether. It’s a marvel, a testimony to the sheer genius of Michaelangelo. David. The perfect man. Created by Michaelangelo. The perfect artist. And then there are dozens more, sculptures, paintings, even charcoal sketches. Pieta, The Last Supper, and many more.

Sometimes, I wish I could at least reproduce these beautiful works of art. I wish I could paint. I wish I could immerse myself in the world of art and lose all sense of time and space. For now, I will have to content myself with just the written word.

On love…

I need to say this. Love is not what holds you back. It’s what sets you free. Far too many people, young and old alike, confuse possessiveness for love. If someone tells you not to do something or go somewhere because they can’t bear to be away from you, that’s not love. That’s the need for you. And need is certainly not love.

Over the past few days, one particular post on Facebook has caught my attention. A “love story” where the boy calls the girl two days before she is scheduled to leave for higher studies abroad and tells her not to go. He tells her that he can’t live without her and she should stay back in India for him. And I see too many young men and women share and re-share this story as an example of “true love”.

Let me tell you this, true love would let you pursue those dreams. True love would strive to help you get what your heart truly desires. If someone tells you not to do something because they don’t want you to be away, it’s not love. That’s selfishness. They don’t love you. They love what you do for them and how you treat them. And that’s not true love.

I’ve never understood the term “falling in love”. How can something what trips you up and makes you fall be a good thing? Love should elevate. It should empower. It should make you want to stay by setting you free. As the saying goes, let it go. If it comes back, it’s yours. Otherwise, it never was.  

For the love of the written word…

Ever read a book that transports you into another world? Ever read one that makes you wish you inhabited that world instead of the one you actually do? One that makes the pages of history come alive in front of your eyes?
If you’ve never known what it feels like to get so involved in a book that you even forget to breathe, then you haven’t really lived. The written word holds a magical charm that’s hard to resist. It’s a world of its own, with no barriers or expectations. A well-written book is equal to a thousand movies rolled into one. It’s magical because it gives wings to imagination. 

My first tryst with historical novels was Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan. Ah! Who can forget the handsome Arulmozhi, or the stunning Kundavai. I don’t know if these people actually looked the way I imagined them to be. But, for me, it’s the image that will remain forever etched in memory. Since then, tens of historical novels have fascinated me. The Ibis Trilogy and The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh, White Mughals by William Dalrymple, even Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. Each of these books have made me fall a little deeper in love with history. 
Don’t believe me? Just pick up a book and read. Let go of inhibitions. Let the story carry you forward. You’ll never regret it. 

Of marks and grades…

It’s that time of the year when the marks and grades frenzy grips every household that has a student old enough to ponder over questions of career. And every year, unfailingly, we see and hear reports of students choosing to end their lives over their perceived failure. It’s depressing and disheartening to see that so many teens view this failure as a failure in life itself.

There’s something seriously wrong with a system that encourages rote learning and privileges grades and marks over a true understanding of what is taught. Somehow, every year, the focus shifts a little further away from learning and towards the result. So much so that we’ve moved so far away from learning that we no longer recognise the true purpose of education: learning.

What drives children to end their lives over something so trivial as a few marks lost here and there? What makes them believe that they’ve truly reached the end of the world and there’s really no way out of the mess? Haven’t they ever heard of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? Or are such motivational stories just stories that bear no resemblance to the lives we live? 

I am not qualified in any way to talk of education, its quality or the way it’s delivered. But, what I do know is that this is not what it should be. Learning should inspire, not terrify. It should bring joy, not stress. If our system brings so much stress that we no longer feel or experience the joy of learning, maybe it’s time to change the system, one brick at a time. And perhaps, we should start by telling our children that it’s ok to fail sometimes. 

Questions of identity…

The elections have just concluded. Much discussion has transpired on the various things politicians said to get votes and seats, from free laptops, to Activas at half price. But, for some reason, one election promise hasn’t been discussed in the mainstream as much as I would like: that of giving primacy to Tamilians in Tamil Nadu. This election slogan of “Tamil Nadu is for Tamilians”  is neither new, nor entirely unexpected. What is, however, disheartening is the number of educated and seemingly sensible people who seem to think this attitude is acceptable.

I do not quite understand how someone can be so determinedly nationalist in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. I do not understand how nationalism and exclusionism is not a negative quantity in a world where most products we routinely consume are produced outside of the geography that we occupy. How can someone who boasts an Apple iPhone, a Fossil watch and a Ford car think that only people who “originally” belong to a state/region have the right to live there? How can anyone, in the same breath speak with great pride of Satya Nadella and Indra Nooyi, while simultaneously wishing to deport all non-Tamils from Tamil Nadu? What does nationalism or regional pride even mean in today’s world?

Questions of identity are extremely complex and difficult to resolve. This questions is one of special personal importance to me, as I have spent the better part of my life trying to give myself a single identity. And failed. Am I Kannadiga, when my knowledge of the language is limited to the dialect I speak at home, and that of the state limited to my few visits to Bangalore? Or am I a Tamilian, when my mother tongue is a language other than Tamil? Who exactly am I and what is my relationship with this place I call home?

When someone asks me where I am from, the first answer I give is, “Chennai”. Because, it is true. I am from Chennai and this is home. I certainly do not speak Tamil as a first language or mother tongue. I belong to a tiny community of Kannada-speaking people who migrated into this state several centuries ago. I am married to a member of an even tinier community of Marathi-speaking people who also migrated several centuries ago. If someone asked us to go back where we belong, where do we go? To Karnataka, whose language and people are so alien to me that I return from each short trip to Bangalore with the joy of pup returning home? Or to Maharashtra, which I have barely visited except for a few times for official reasons? For me, home is Chennai. Even if I were to go a few generations back to trace my origins, they would go no further than Coimbatore and Theni. Then, who am I?

If mastery of a language is the criteria for qualifying as a “Tamilian”, then would millions of my co-inhabitants of Tamil Nadu qualify? How many native speakers of Tamil actually know the language they call their mother tongue? How about this generation of urban youth, which is more comfortable in English than in their mother tongue?

These are questions that are extremely hard to resolve, or even attempt a resolution at. Yet, we do not hesitate to call someone an “outsider” just because we feel entitled. Can we try, at least, to build a more equitable world? A world that, in Tagore’s immortal words, has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls? Try?

Welcoming a new year…

I’ve always said that the new year is a tad overrated. That said, a new year is an opportunity. It’s a chance that we get, year on year, to start over on a fresh page, leaving the mistakes of the previous year behind. It’s a chance to look ahead, to hope for a better future. After all, what’s life without hope?

Like everyone else, I too have a bucket list. Many elements of this list have stayed on for years, even decades now. Some have been struck off to be replaced with other things. But these are not resolutions to be broken by the end of January. These are things that change with time, with baby steps, taken one step at a time. These are little drops that will one day form an ocean.

First on my list, is to forgive myself my shortcomings a bit more easily. I am perhaps my own worst critic. There are days when I look around me and see a messy house, an unmade bed and dirty dishes and curse myself for being worthless, constantly telling myself that I’m no match for others who manage to keep a spotless house. This year, I’d like to be a little kinder to myself and try not to feel inadequate all the time. 

The next on my list is to take some time off for myself every week. To start doing what I love to do: write. To spend time with my thoughts and words, because they’re important to me. 

And finally, to tolerate crap a little less. To speak my mind without being rude. To be strong without appearing insulting. This is perhaps the most difficult of my tasks. But I’d like to try. 

What’s on your bucket list?

2015: The year I rediscovered the joy of reading

2015 has been a roller-coaster in more ways than one. But, if there is one good thing about this year, it is that I rediscovered by love for the written word. Reading is homecoming. It is joy. It is getting lost in a world of words and becoming a part of it. Today, as I look back on the year past, I realise I’ve actually managed to read more books than I even thought was possible when I embarked on that challenge a year ago. So, here we go, with a list of books I’ve read, in no particular order.

Some were great, others were mediocre. Some others were simply bad. But, no time spent on a book can ever go waste. So, take your pick and share the love.

  1. Shikandi and Other Stories They Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik
  2. God is a Gamer by Ravi Subramaniam
  3. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  4. Aavarana – The Veil by SL Bhyrappa
  5. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  7. Sita’s Sister by Kavita Kane
  8. Ajaya: Roll of the Dice by Anand Neelakantan
  9. Rise of Kali: Duryodhana’s Mahabharata by Anand Neelakantan
  10. Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh
  11. Yagnaseni: The Story of Draupadi by Pratibha Ray
  12. Domechild by Shiv Ramdas
  13. Mistress by Anita Nair
  14. The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan
  15. Asura: Tale of the Vanquished by Anand Neelakantan
  16. The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
  17. Never Go Back by Lee Child
  18. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez