Monday, January 2, 2017

Fuck you Hillary Clinton

I primarily blame Hillary for putting USA in the shitstorm it's in right now. 

She's like the Lance Armstrong of politicians. The one who wins not because he goes home and trains hard every single day, wakes up, lives, eats, breathes sport, constantly pushes his boundaries of what's possible, and gives back to the sport (even when the cameras are off, and there isn't a paycheck in sight). No, he's the one who wins because he cheats, because he sabotages his opponents, because he plays dirty, because he gets the entire billion-dollar-industry of sponsors and establishment-heads (whose own career ambitions are vested in riding his coat tails) to handicap and crush any usurpers thru ANY dirty means necessary, because he wants the prize, the glory, the fame, he wants to be number one AT ALL COSTS, because he believes he entitled to it because he's Lance fucking Armstrong, bitch.

This isn't to say that the cards weren't stacked against her through misogyny and sexism and outside interference from Russia and whatnot. But they didn't write the damn emails; they just hacked the damn things and exposed the ugly things that HER campaign and the DNC colluded on to somehow, by hook or by crook (and mainly by crook), sabotage any worthy opponents and free her the debate questions in advance and whatnot, so she gets an unfair advantage and can coast to victory because she's CLINTON, bitch.

No, she fucked it up all on her own, despite her billion-dollar, biggest-ever bankrolled campaign to date. She fucked it up despite the alternative being an orange-faced fascist buffoon who can't even string a sentence together, let alone a coherent policy for advancing America. She fucked it up because she acted like an entitled prick who's above the law because she's owed... for what exactly?.. for being a woman in politics for this long? 

She fucked it up because she was so unpalatable that people just couldn't get themselves to swallow their pride and just goddamn vote for her to keep the crazies away from the nuke codes (no, it wasn't all misogyny- she lost because far fewer people turned up to vote for her, not because way more people turned up and voted for that racist, sexist, orange asshat). 

And Huma and her ilk and all the sycophantic nitwits who ran her campaign and social media presence like a giant, pearl-clutching, eager-to-take-umbrage, entitled twat can go fuck themselves because they got exactly what they deserved and were too blinded by ambition to see just how high the stakes were and just how dangerously they were playing with fire and risking burning up the country's future in the process. 

Of all the goddamn, stupidass shit to tweet and share, in the midst of serious, policy-oriented debates, they chose instead of pearl-clutch and manufacture outrage that Sanders 'manterrupted' her, or trump shuffled behind her to 'mantimidate', or some other stupid thing to focus on instead of the real issues at stake here. 

If they had gotten their heads out of their asses long enough to stop playing identity politics and start seeing why Sanders was so charged-up, so energizing, so inspirational, so CAPABLE, of *truly* making America great again, maybe they would've learnt something. Maybe they would've seen the same fire within him that captivated the people and catalysts them to come out and vote in droves, for hope and change and positivity. Maybe they should've shut up and listened more, instead of trying to sabotage any opposition and spin the media to focus on how he's white and male and 'manterrupts' and so oh-my-god-are-you-really-going-to-NOT-vote-for-Hillary-you-must-be-a-racist-sexist-woman-hater! 

Hillary Clinton is an entitled jerk. And she has no one else to blame but herself for setting the country back into the dark ages. 

And when everything is burnt to the ground and all that's left is ashes, there they are licking their wounds and STILL acting like entitled, finger-pointing assholes without an ounce of self-reflection or ability to take responsibility for fucking things up so badly and screwing over everyone in the bargain. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Principles


So I've been reading Ray Dalio's Principles. I haven't completed it yet but it's a very interesting book.

For the uninitiated, Ray Dalio founded the world's biggest hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, with more than $100 billion in assets and one of the most crazy-successful investment firms in the world. His fund has also been accused of being something of a cult. And one of the main reasons for this is his life and management principles, that he's put into a book (aptly called 'Principles') and is required reading for anyone trying to work at the firm.

Google it. It's wacko. But also strangely fascinating, and almost inspirational. This dude must've been smoking some high-quality shit.

Anyway, there's a ton of principles in there, and his rationale behind them all. But the central premise is this: pursue the truth unrelentingly, suspend your ego, be exceptionally direct and critical of yourself and others, strive for constant and relentless self-improvement through knowing your weaknesses and improving upon them. Yeah, sounds like a fun place to work.

But anyway, once you get over the initial WTF... then it gets interesting.

These aren't just management principles. They aren't just investment principles. They're fundamental life principles - at least for Ray. There's a lot of other stuff in there too, and I don't know I agree with all of them, and they've been vehemently disputed by many others, but anyway... let's cast that aside for now. I'm more interested in the 'Suspend your ego' principle.

So I got thinking... what if I applied it to a different scenario? A life situation.

Imagine this: two people meet up for a drink. They've been friends and colleagues. They respect each other, have crossed paths with each other at work, never worked so closely together to be considered buddies, but that's probably more from luck and circumstance that any lack of interest or inclination. So generally they have a pretty warm opinion of the other person, based on their limited time working together. Most of our colleagues at work probably fall into this camp.

Now let's say they meet up after many months (or years) when they've both moved on to other jobs. It starts out innocently enough... a catch up over drinks, they shoot the shit, chit-chat about old, forgotten office gossip... Meanwhile it's a dimly-lit bar, thumping music, lots of drunk, crazy kids.

And then they're thinking.. hey you know what, this one, he/she's not so bad... she's actually pretty cool. So they loosen up a little bit more, grab a few more beers, laugh a little louder, sit a little closer.. their emboldenment in direct proportion to blood-alcohol levels. The chemistry is palpable. He leans in closer, she lets him. He puts his arm around her waist, she moves in. All the signs are positive... and then he kisses her. Major mistake.

Did I mention they're both married to other people? Ok, that's critical to the story.

Alright, so... that's where our story ends (or begins). Say this happened. What do you think happens next?

Ok so here's what I think most people would do (and I almost wish I could draw a little flowchart... oh wait, I think blogger's gotten less shit in the years I've been away. I think I will draw a little FC!)

Anyway, these are the options.


So you panic a little bit. And then you either shut it down and never-speak-of-it-again (It's beer, we were drunk, shit happens... move on dude) , or get all cut up about it and agonize over it. Now when you agonize, the best way to reach closure is to find something to blame. That someone is either you, if you're the type who internalizes (I'm a total shit, I don't deserve to be married to my wonderful wife / husband) or the other person (He was totally out of line / She was asking for it, egging me on).

In both these scenarios (deny or agonize), you never actually think about what really happened. Not objectively at any rate. Trying to discover why something happened is probably not something you'd want to do... and you don't want to do it, because it's painful to think about.

Yet, it happened, and as humans we want to move on from unpleasant things. So you either
1) Deny it (it wasn't me, it's the beer, it could've happened to anyone, I don't need to change)
2) Try to protect your ego (she came onto me / he's a real dog)
3) Totally give in to your emotions and wallow in self-pity (I'm a bad husband wife, I knew this would happen, I don't deserve happiness).

#3 sounds strange. Why do we beat ourselves up? Aren't we pre-disposed toward self-preservation? Well, my theory is that we rip into ourselves because often it makes us feel like we're achieving something... even if all we're doing in beating ourselves up, it makes us feel in control of the situation.

Now let's say we cast aside ego and emotions for a while. If we were a detached, third-party.... or some alien being observing this purely out of anthropological reasons, how would he see it?

Probably something like this.



(I must say I'm a little pleased with myself with all this flowchart business)

Guy meets up with girl in bar. They have a little too much to drink. They're having a good time, all the signs are positive, he pulls her in for the kiss. Major mistake.

So far those are the facts. Now let's come to the judgements -- all the should, musts and oughts.

Here's the tricky part: what is this invisible line that he just crossed? Where do you draw it? At kissing? At knee or waist touching? At leaning in over-close? At witty banter? At fucking?

The truth is there isn't a line. We just kind of make it up as we go along.

A lot of what happened in this situation arose from primal, subconscious emotion-based motives. We're programmed to want to impress other people. We're programmed to walk to please other people. We're programmed to seek validation.... it makes us feel desired, and that's a heady feeling.

Take the girl. There's fundamentally two sides of her in conflict here. There's the side that's practical and grounded and sorted in her life priorities. There's the side that's impulsive, a little bit devil-may-care, and rebelling against the safe, even-keeled temperament of her boring other-self.

(Sidenote: Everyone's probably got different sides of themselves that surface at different times or with different people. So what's the side that gets stronger? Easy. The one you feed.)

Anyway. Back to the story: so here's a woman in conflict with herself, her impulsive side fighting against her boring self and getting stronger under the influence of alcohol... till the situation escalates to a point where it jolts her sensible side out of its exiled corner, and brings it full-fledged to the fore.

Great, so we've analysed the situation. What does this have to do with Principles?

Glad you asked :P

First, if we suspend our ego, it's a good way for us to confront coldly and objectively, situations that have happened in the past and see them for what they are. It also prevents us from running away from them (because we're afraid of what we might find), or trying to make sense of it in a way that preserves our ego (it's all his fault!), or giving us the illusion of control (I'm a shitty wife, I will berate and punish myself, if I feel sufficiently shitty about this whole thing, then I feel like I've done penance for my crime, and I can move on). All these usual tactics (deny or agonize) is our ego and emotions hijacking the thinking part of our selves.

Second, and probably more importantly, as far as life principles go 'Suspend your ego' is probably as good, or much better in fact, than a value like 'Be faithful to your partner' or 'Always be good'.

Why? Because whereas core values like 'always be...' and 'never do...' impose rules upon us and tells us what we should do or must do or ought to do,  'suspend your ego' merely asks you to look at yourself without anger, without defensiveness, without judgement... and then learn from the situation, fix what needs to be fixed, and move on. It is almost, ironically, close to self-compassion.

So there you go. My take on a hedge fund's management principles applied to life.

When the time comes would I actually be able to apply this tho? Or will I be reduced to a ball of raw emotion? I don't know... I'll have to go through it and see if I'm able to suspend my ego at the very moment when I want to cling to it the most. It would mean that I make myself the opposite of vulnerable... that I make myself almost ego-free.

And that would be a brave, new world indeed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A whole year


I just realized I've gone a whole year without blogging. This is both somewhat heartening... and somewhat sad.

Many years ago I started this blog, and not a lot of people know this, but this was mainly a blog for myself and it arose out of a need. It was meant to be sort of like an online journal. Something to write in, reflect on, untangle thoughts... maybe share with a few close friends... but mainly for myself. 

The anonymity of the web made that possible. 

I could have a blog, tag it to an email, put up some cryptic photos and posts... but mainly some ramblings of a confused mind... and no one really cared. Now with linkedin and amazon and google and FB and all these other sites pulling togethers bits and pieces of your online-offline identity and making it one big house party that you can never leave, it feels like a luxury to have been able to get away with posting random stuff on the internets with some secretive(ish) little blog somewhere. 

Anyway, I digress. 

So, about that somewhat sad comment... It's sad because I haven't blogged in a year. I've been posting other stuff on other places. I've been FBing and LinkedIning and whatever else we do these days (except instagram... cuz I'm old :P). But those are posts for an audience, and thus, distinctly different from a blog. By now everyone has probably seen the 'wait but why' post on reality vs expectations, and how our carefully-constructed image of ourselves and curated experiences from our lives suitable for sharing, does basically nothing but drive a big, fat, spike of cortisol and envy into each other. If you haven't read that post, google it and read it cause it's great. 

Wait... who am I talking to? 

Literally no one is reading this. Sigh. You're a ghost, and now I'm recommending articles to a ghost. 

Anyway. 

Point is, I agonize over what pictures to put up, how my statuses sound, what impression I'm creating. And even when I don't agonize.... I at least care. Even if it's just an itty-bitty-bit. 

Not so here. 

I don't care. And so sentences can go haywire. Grammar can be ignored. Even basic normal beginning-middle-end constructs can be thrown out the window. 

Because in the end... it doesn't matter. It's for an audience of one: me. And so by virtue of that, it morphs into a kind of extension of my brain... a friend and confidante, an inner voice, a place of comfort and solace that I can slip into and commune with myself. It is the quintessential safe space. 

Ok, so now you're sold on why this blog is such a little gem. 

So why is it heartening that I haven't blogged in a year?

The year when I started blogging, I was going through a rough time. Looking back, I now recognize that I was severely, clinically depressed. I felt like my life had no purpose, no meaning. The days morphed into the next with no incident. The very act of getting up from bed felt pointless. Just why? After all its the same thing every day, day after day, and then you die. 

I recall days when I would wake up crying... because I realize I'm still here.  

In those darkest moments... I found comfort and solace in a blog. It didn't actually start out with that purpose; one day, I just realized that I have so much time on my hands, and I'm not really doing anything, and it's frikking boring as hell not to mention bloody anxious to see everyone else racing past me, while I'm stuck in a dead-end situation, economically dependent on (at least one) very insecure, controlling and abusive primary-caretaker figure. 

So I started to write. 

And at first it was rubbish... things I saw in my day, songs I heard, stuff that I dreamt of. And then, little by little, stories began to take form. Real stories and imagined ones. Articles took shape. The blog posts suddenly started having a definite beginning-middle-end. And it was exhilarating! 

I would come in everyday and look forward to whatever it is that I wanted to write that day. Many times I didn't know what it would be. Sometimes I wouldn't even know till I started writing the first line.... and then the story kind of wrote itself. 

It felt cathartic because it was cathartic. The act of writing, of giving meaning to greyness, was healing. 

So it's heartening... because I no longer need the crutch. 

Fast forward maybe 8-9 years, and here I am. 

I wake up pretty much with a to-do list in my brain. Sometimes I groan because its drudgery. And sometimes I'm up and already my brain is going a hundred miles an hour, and I'm frantically sticking my arm out of the shower to make a note in my phone before the thought evaporates. 

But most days I just get on with it. Gym. Work. Life. Whatever. The things we do to fill up the spaces. 

And so in all the doing-ness and busy-ness... life took on a certain rhythm of its own. There's an anxiety that comes with being in charge of your own life and finding your own purpose... especially if you're not working for some large, established company, or playing a society-approved role that you find fulfilling... but that anxiety is nothing compared to the sheer bleakness of staring into a future that's no future at all. All this doing and running and being may be pointless... but it's gotten a certain momentum now, and the momentum carries you through the days. 

And so it was... till today. 

Nothing happened today actually. There are good days and bad days. Productive days and the-universe-is-against-me days. Today was a frustrating day. A day of trying and doing and waiting, and in the end I end up with a to-do list that's exactly what I started out with. 

But then something happened. 

I got sufficiently frustrated and anxious enough to take a walk. Literally just take a walk around my block. Looked at squirrels and dogs being walked on their lease. Noticed trees that were in bloom. Found it even refreshing, the heavy cloud that falls upon the evenings of a hot day. 

And then a feeling overcame me, my old forgotten friend, a feeling as comforting as the silence shared with an old friend. And I realized what it was that I had been missing.... solitude. 

In the last 7 years my life has drastically changed. Yes, I got out of my depression, found little joys in life that turned into bigger joys. A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and all that kind of thing. But basically, serendipitously, I stumbled into a life that was everything that I wished for in my darkest days: a place where I fit in, a job that gave me purpose, a companion whom I loved. 

A reason to wake up. 

I would never turn back time. 

And yet, till today, I didn't fully realize just how much this new life did nudge out vestiges of my former life. It took away the darkness and the loneliness of course.... but with it also went the solitude; that sweet, comforting feeling of being well and truly happy as a clam with yourself. 

Jobs are demanding, marriage can be hard, and sometimes even merely existing seems to take up so.. much... work! What with all the FBing and twittering and keeping-up-with-the-joneses. Add to that, a teething puppy to take care of, and your day is just about filled to the brim taking care of other people and their needs (and I suppose, your need to please them). 

It's strange, and fitting I suppose, that it almost took a crisis to nudge me back into my former state. 

Ah yes, the crisis... but that's a story for another day :) 

And we shall have time for them all, all these stories... for this is just the beginning, once again. 

It's good to be back. 





Saturday, December 27, 2014

End of the year...

Turning 30 has its advantages. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Go back to America then!


Five years ago I met a friend who described himself as a coconut: brown on the outside, white on the inside. He said it laughingly in a self deprecating way. Five years later I understand exactly what he meant... With one wrinkle: my love-hate relationship with India (which was low on love to begin with in the first place) is now primarily a hate-hate.


More on that in a minute... But first, let's address the thing I should've started this with.


I've been gone for the better part of 5 years without blogging. I mean yes, there's a few posts scattered here and there, a story or two churned out in the time since then... But that's not really the same thing as journaling.


Chronicling all the little ups and downs of my life has served as a wonderful reminder of how far I've come and how I've changed - sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse - but in either case, my blog has been my unwavering companion through thick and thin, my strong, silent confidante... my proverbial book and pen. Sometimes I've ranted, sometimes I've reflected, sometimes I've written seeking redemption, justice, acceptance, a kindred spirit out there in the ether... What-have-you's... And it's stood the test of (internet!) time, a stoic reminder of my own evolution over the years.


Why did I stop?


Lack of time, mostly. Increasing work and social life, too. I got busier, and I grew my circle of friends. I met a guy and we fell in love and we got married. I moved to America. My weekdays were filled with interesting problems to solve with interesting colleagues, and I filled my weekends with fun and laughter and brunches with good people and good food. It was catharsis of a different sort. In the process, my love for solitude slipped away with little fanfare. 


However, despite all the people and the work and the major life transitions, my need to vent, reflect, pontificate and occasionally wallow in self-pity, never quite went away.


Insidiously, over time Facebook became my poison of choice because 

1) It was convenient and built for sharing what's on your mind  
2) All my friends were on there (and a whole bunch of random folks I've met in corridors and hallways and parties)
3) I was on it the whole time anyway, plugged in by default through that appendage, my iPhone

Still, it was an insidious thing because Facebook was never really meant to be a safe haven for ranting. Sharing photos yes, cat videos yes, even the occasional article with commentary wrapped around it. But it is, by and large, your narrative, your face to the public at large, your best attempt at crafting a public persona that is at once authentic and relatable to the lowest-common-denominator of your 500-odd 'friends'. That and of course, the world's largest field study that we've silently opted into and signed away all our digital (and increasingly real-world) privacy for.


Surprisingly, in the US, I rarely felt the urge to express anything more controversial than was appropriate to a 500-member motley crew of friends, family and odds & ends. The occasional work-stress,the once in a while rants about US flights and airports, even the sporadic rant about an article I read or some injustice that's riled me up or comment from family, friend or foe that sent me straight off to the status bar.


But it wasn't all a Debbie Downer situation. I over-shared, yes, but it was mostly benign stuff about standing in lines, or over-paying for dresses, or a verbal barb at some aunt-once-removed-on-my-cousin's side who made an off-the-cuff remark about a social issue that's one of my hot-bottoms, all the while chewing peanuts with her mouth open (or some such other annoyance like wearing horizontal stripes that I'm sure I would've included in the post)


Since I've been back, all of that has changed.


People often complain about Indians; the middle class are a desensitized lot, they lack a civic sense, they live in a self-imposed bubble shuttling from air-conditioned car to carpeted room. These critics are mostly ex-Indians (coconuts! Haha :p) or non-Indians.


I think I know why the middle class is so desensitized: to worry endlessly about things you can't change or control, is a recipe for depression.


What things? Lack of consumer advocacy groups, pathetic legal and judicial system, corrupt or non-existent law enforcement agencies, openly corrupt, nepotistic and mercenary "oversight" committees, zero regard for public safety from matters ranging from 20x permitted dosages of pesticides in food (you think I'm making that number up? Google deformed babies and pesticides in India) to the level of air pollutants and how it affects a city-baby's lungs, hierarchical and authoritarian (and many times, downright unethical) work cultures, argumentative, oppressive patriarchal society, and a dog-eat-dog and brutish hivemind.


These structural inefficiencies and institutional failures percolate an Indian existence and affect you in a very real, very everyday way.


Well yes, you say, somewhat sheepishly and squirmy and growing defensive and emboldened by the minute.... we are a developing nation after all. Our judicial systems are slow, our consumer advocacy or public safety groups may be slow or unresponsive... But surely that's not the case everywhere! We have some instances that work. And besides, how does this affect me on an everyday basis anyway? Why am I ranting in the middle of the night, blogging at 3am after a 5 year hiatus, about those far-off things like big government and corruption... What does that have to do with the now and here? How does it affect me anyway? 


Systematic and institutional failures breed the petty (and not so petty) frustrations in everyday situations.


Take for example today: I should be getting a night's rest ahead of tomorrow's big day but instead I'm writhing in pain and agony, throwing up every 2 hours thanks to unhygienic preparation of restaurant food. Never mind this was a so-called reputable restaurant chain. Well why didn't I just eat in then! Sure, that's what I did the first few months, and I still had food poisoning every 3 days. Was it the spices? Was it the level of pesticides and toxins? Was it bacteria in the tap water? Who knows! As long as we as a society choose to turn a blind eye to the long-term consequences of our immediate actions, we are doomed to a wretched and willfully-ignorant existence. 


At any rate, all my stomach woes did was lead to a visit to my family's prescription-happy doctor, who often times will not deign to speak to me like an adult or a thinking person, to even walk through: 'here are the side effects, here's why we'd like to start you off on this dosage etc' because as a doctor he believes he's above reproach and how dare some peasant question his authority. I spent month after month of living on a cocktail of drugs everyday, because Indian doctors apparently missed the class in med school where they suggest you start the body off on lesser drugs before moving up to stronger antibiotics.


But no; many Indian doctors that I've seen believe they're God (even through the reality is that no American hospital would touch even them with a twelve-foot pole thanks to their blatant disregard for sound medical practice and inflated egos)


No that's not it... The central question is: Having seen so many patients (never mind that the Indian doctor has no way of knowing how successful his course of action has been vs another approach) hasn't he earned the fight to make blanket assumptions on your lifestyle, diet, habits etc and prescribe heavy duty drugs without checking with you first if his assumptions are valid? God help you for being so presumptuous to think you have rights over your own body. And if you react badly to his advice... What outrage! Who's the authority here, him or you? After all 99% of his cases (and he'll make up this statistic on the spot because he really has no data since neither a government mandate nor societal pressure requires it) have had no complaints.


And if it were the case that true medical malpractice or criminal negligence happened - like in the case of an unnecessary and traumatic surgery performed on my husband, under duress and coercion - what course of action have I? Good luck with our courts.  


And the nail in the coffin? The nosy, opinionated Indian who will show up everywhere from your neighbor's house to your local newspaper's 'readers comment' sections irate that you have gone against doctor-God. And now you will have to bear the ire of short-term focused "citizens" who will berate you for wasting your time on these "attention-seeking" tactics measures instead of something more productive (like procreating or cooking I suppose)


Which brings me to...


A jibe that a "friend" repeated in the first few days that I was back in India, alternating between allergies and stomach upsets and a cocktail of antibiotics everyday for the first 3 months of my coming back: Go back to America then!


Well, maybe I should.


But ask yourself this: friend and all the other internet trolls out there. Why then rail against us 'traitors' who've abandoned our homeland's ample bosom in search of cleaner, safer shores?


Yeah I thought so. So shut up. You can't have it both ways.


For Indians in India your options are two: 

1) Fight the good fight, with nerves of steel and a life dedicated to correcting all the minor injustices that stem from institutional failures. Many of you will not succeed. I would have said none of you, but theoretically it is possible so I will concede that. But persevere anyway, and suffer the thinly-veiled assaults of a disapproving and intrusive community that will think nothing of walking up to you on the street and berating you for dedicating you time to "all this stuff" while your wife silently toils making ends meet or your husband sits by his lonesome self at the kitchen table eating food that his wife neither prepared nor lovingly ladled into his sippy cup, or
2) Preserve yourself and your sanity by creating a protective bubble, shielded from the outrages of middle-class life. Move from air conditioned car to English-educated convent school or college to air-conditioned malls to beauty parlors to a beautiful home hidden behind a curtain of street garbage to a home-cooked meal and a battalion of servants and maids and cooks and drivers. You will suffer the self-righteous outrage of the educated ex-Indians for coasting on the backs of the servant class, for being complicit in your tacit self-imposed ignorance and unwillingness to change the status quo. But in the end, it is a small price to pay for your sanity... For finding your will to live, in a sea of hopelessness and ugliness.

There *is* a third option: quit India. 


And yes, your Indian-Indians and soon-to-be ex-brethren will wail about how you're done a disservice to your country, while they sit sipping from an glass of ice water humbly served by their maid, and waxing eloquent about what changes the country needs and what to do about all this brain drain tsk tsk.


But you wouldn't care would you? You're miles away and surrounded by positive people, and a positive energy, and a will to fix what's broken and question what can be improved. And a healthy regard for human life and for the dignity of labor. It's not all peaches and cream, but viewed from India, it's damn-well paradise.


And all it takes is the occasional bitching and moaning about standing in queues, and delayed flights, and snowstorms.


And all the ice water in the world, straight from a machine.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

2013



I’m almost coming to the end of my India trip and surprisingly this time I haven’t written anything. So, my neglected blog is benefiting from the sudden interest of my idle, fickle mind.

When I started this blog almost 7 years ago, I had no idea what it would be. I still have no idea what it is. My most fecund period was some time shortly after graduation from undergrad, although that spurt of writing was probably triggered by a conflux of restlessness, ennui and existential crisis. Reading those posts now surface mixed emotions; partly relief at how distant that past is, and partly wonder at how different a person I am now. Julian Barnes has said it more eloquently than I can matter to muster, in his ‘Sense of an ending’, but I’ll paraphrase: we grow and change and evolve constantly with time, our ideas, personalities and even memories of past events. We know this, and yet we overestimate the objectivity and singular point of truth with which we view the world.

Reading some of the posts I wrote early on is a bit like re-living the past… only, unlike flipping through a photobook of memories that evoke a certain memory or emotion, it’s like conversing with your former self as she looks through the photobook. The voice of my former mind’s eye, the thinking, the beliefs I held betray a person so wholly different from who I am now. I read an article recently that said we underestimate the extent to which we will change our beliefs and personalities as age. This is apparently as true when participants are asked at 50 (to regard their 20-year-in-the-future-self), as when participants are asked at 30. If nothing else, that alone is reason enough to keep a blog.

Speaking of blogs… why did I keep and continue to keep a blog? To what end?

First there was the general brain-dumps and emo-outpourings borne of boredom and frustration and what-have-you’s when you’re 23 and restless and panicky at the pace at which you’re friends are leapfrogging ahead in life while you twiddle your thumbs in a forgotten corner of a dusty, empty office out of sight and out of mind of anyone who might be bothered by your presence. A way to keep my sanity I suppose… although what prompted me to do so publicly I don’t know.  

And then an evolution: posts that made a slight attempt to be mildly entertaining to anyone who would bother to read.

And then a further snowballing toward ‘audience-worthy’ posts, some random, look-at-me facebook-duckface-selfphoto equivalent interspersed with (sometimes) forced entertainment-value stuff – mostly harmless, nonsensical post about that and this and everything in between.

And then there’s the brooding, no-one-loves-me-dramz posts…. which, oddly enough, were perhaps the most satisfying of the lot. Not to read (they’re horrendous) but while writing, it was cathartic. The blog was perhaps my silent, unquestioning friend during those times, with endless patience and sympathetic ear as I untangled the mess of yarn in my head and reeled in those ratatat-semi-thought-darts flying helter-skelter. 

This was the time when I thought the least of my audience, that laughably pompous belief that you owe your blog readers something worthy of their attention, and my blog became little more than a simple journal. No editing. No narrative. No purpose or moral of the story. Just stream of consciousness and perhaps a little navel gazing. But it felt good. Especially to have the comfort of a blank page to untangle one’s thoughts, and in many cases, just to understand one’s thoughts by forcing oneself to put down on paper what hitherto has been thought-seedlings, part inner voice, part emotion, quickly to be knocked out of mind and memory by the next shiny new thing. Capturing those wispy rascals and nailing them on paper was one way to know what I felt about things at least.

And then there were the stories. And poems.

And then the random updates, sometimes betraying some deep-seated belief/ fear/ desire, sometimes borne of out guilt at having not posted in a while.

And then the brief marking of milestones, when lack of time prevented a longer post.

And then… what? I don’t know. What is this post, for instance? The closest I can come to describing it is as some sort of palate-cleanser between pieces of introspection, or actual writing and thinking and sms-ing and facebook updating. Maybe it’s an untangling, maybe it’s a conversation with self, maybe it’s just nonsense. Who knows. What. I don’t even.

Here. Potato. For you, dear reader.

The funny thing is that the last few times when I’ve thought of writing on my blog, I’ve stopped because I didn’t have anything to write. Correction: anything worthy of an audience. Between the lack of time and the self-imposed standard for audience entertainment-worthy posts, it brought about an ink-drought in this blog that dried up any remaining readers. Ironically, I now I find myself comfortably disinterested in writing for the benefit of readers.

I only wish I had reached this state of mind (not to mention, exhibited a smidgen of self-discipline) and chronicled random thoughts, updates and blog posts at the time of my being in B-school. Suffice to say, much change has happened, much soul-searching, and questioning, and breaking down and firming up of beliefs held. I probably changed more (and for the better) as a result of leaving home and living an independent life, far from the maddening family and madrasi crowd, than I did as a result of getting married or any other major transition in my life. Anyhoo. That’s that.

My thoughts stop here and I realize I have nothing to say, except that I’m enjoying basking in the warm afternoon sun by the window after a particularly satisfying home-cooked lunch. Few things can match being fed and pampered at home on vacation.

That, and cricket matches, and books, and lazy sunny naps, and dogs, and the comfort of old friends a stone’s throw away.

Speaking of friends, it’s inevitable I suppose, but I’m still surprised by how quickly this city has emptied out all the familiar faces. Marriage, kids, higher ed and careers or what-have-yous (although I’ve lost far more to the first two than the latter) has made bumming around the beach and random Sunday morning drives to moonrakers a tad more complicated than before. Such is life I suppose. We’ll always have books at any rate. Dear old Ankh-Morpork.

Still… we managed a few good times, both over much cheering and downing of kingfishers, as well as in the quiet, sticky sweet madras night air of a friend’s balcony, chatting up books and movies and current affairs and the-state-of-the-world-as-it-were and much finger-wagging and tongue-lashing and clamoring for tea at the end of all that sound and fury.

So all in all it’s been a good trip, and this has been a satisfying palate cleanser. No real thought-knots to untangle, no points to make, no epiphanies to reach…. Just the satisfying, familiar clattering of fingers on keys.

There are still stories to write, and ideas to capture before it get overrun by the fearsome inevitability of work and laundry and to-do lists… but that’s for another time and another post. For now, there’s something to be said on the joys of re-discovering the adventures of Asterix and Obelix by a sunlit window.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Kept

He always had been a creature of moods. So when he wakes up in the morning with a half-mumbled grunt and leaves wordlessly after drinking the coffee decoction from his steel tumbler, I think no more of it. He'll be back, sometimes it takes two days, sometimes three... But he always finds his way. And when he does, I lie awake in bed, feigning sleep, cursing my deafening heartbeats for giving me away. He's always known that the best part of my day is the sound of his key turning in the front door.

Somedays I like to laze in bed after he's gone. The sheets carry our shame in their telltale stains. The pillows, a trace of Old Spice sliced lazily by the slow blades of the overhead fan. I wonder if he smells of turmeric from my skin and the coconut oil I paint my hair with. I love how his odor taints my skin, burying itself in my forearms, my shoulders, the creases of my eyelids, the folds of my crumpled sari.

If the dabra of coffee is untouched on the kitchen sill, then it would mean a week before he's back. I play these games with myself sometimes, trying to guess when he'll be back. Two or three days, if he leaves without waking me up, a week if he leaves his coffee untouched, and if, like this morning, he loops his arm around my waist, draws me close and presses his morning erection against my back, then I know he'll be back by evening.

The breaks arent always bad. Some mornings I take a long, hot bath after he's left, scrubbing my skin with the hamaam soap I've used since childhood. Even as it eliminates every trace amount of him from my body in cool, efficient strokes, I relive the memories of the last time I saw him. I burn the forbidden pleasures of the night into my brain like an emblem, locking away every detail, every movement, recollecting the taboos of the night in the stark nakedness of morning light with a boldness that surprises me even after all this time.

He is moody most days. But at night, he's a different beast - menacing in his silence. Sometimes i think he knows how much the anticipation kills me and he makes me wait just to kill me a little bit more. For a heavy man, he walks with the grace of a cat, taking slow measured steps, leaving his bag on table, loosening his shirt, resting his whole weight on the side of the bed as he takes off one shoe and then another like he has all the time in the world, as I lie face turned, in my pretend-sleep, sure that I will implode in excitement.

And then when I cannot take it anymore and fear I will give myself away, he loops his arm around my waist and pulls me into him without a word. He always waits for me to make the first move, and I always break my promise to myself and give in to his temptation. Once I have drawn first blood, he moves in like an old jungle cat, pinning me down with the firm muscles of his forearms, lightly nudging my knees when he is ready, and ravishing my mouth while his hands search my body like I was his property. I bet I do things to him his wife would never allow.

In the mornings, like today, I reminisce in the bath and walk in the cloud of my thoughts, as I dab a dot of coconut oil and sink my fingers into my soaked hair, massaging it from the roots to the tips. When I spread a clean white towel over my hair and make a neat bun resting on the nape of my neck, then the night has ended and my day begins.

I scrub the home, change the sheets, wipe the grime from behind the stove, between the bath tiles, sweep the floors and launch a projectile of fresh water outside my front doorstep to signal my cleansed home. Then I light the camphor and release hoops of smoke around the cut-outs of gods from old calendars decorating my kitchen wall.

Sometimes I wonder if the gods are pleased with me. They have kept me happy, and I have never been in want of anything, and i always pray for forgiveness for the sins of the night, and in the morning the crows come to eat their share when I call out to them before sitting down to my own steaming plate of ghee-soaked idlis and coconut chutney. So I think they are pleased with me, for what I do to him and the happiness I bring him.

And in return, he grants me my afternoons - a private luxury that he would never invade. I nap, I read the Tamil tabloids, take a walk outside or sit on the parapet, watching the street kids playing gully cricket. If I feel like it, I walk down to the beach, even in the sizzling heat of the midday sun, and sun myself like a lizard on a rock or maybe indulge in a flavored ice-goli or cut-piece of raw mango dipped in chilli powder and washed down with yeleneer.

I love yeleneer, always have, ever since I was a child and rewarded for a good report card with fresh eleneer from the coconut seller outside our home. I'd save the coconut after I drank my fill so i could ask him to slice them open for me to scrape and eat its delicious, white flesh as I sat on the stone wall flanking his coconut cart and swung my legs out from beneath.

He knows this. Which is why some nights, when he comes back after a long absence, he brings me coconuts, or a sheaf of freshly-strung jasmines, or - once - a new packet of bindis that he opened and put on my forehead with a look of expert precision. His wife doesn't wear them apparently. That's the only time he spoke of her. I didn't ask if he bought them for her and gave it to me instead when she wouldn't wear them. Its mine now, and I keep them carefully folded in my almarah between the creases of my red silk sari, like a guilty pleasure that I can peek at whenever I want, take it out and rub between my palms knowing that this is something in this world he picked out for me - me! - and wonder how he must've imagined them dotting my face in his minds eye as he chose this pack of bindis, over all the bindis that he could have picked.

Thinking of bindis reminds me of the market place, and this afternoon I think I should like to head over there. There is something about the noise and the crowd of pondy bazaar and the sickly sweet smell of wilting jasmine garlands mingled with the stench of rotting city garbage. My madras is this: the din of west mambalam, the crowds of pondy bazaar and t nagar, the life of marina beach and the soul of kapaleeswar temple. Everything else is just walls and roads. I've seen the new mall, I've gone into it once - not with him, he'd never take me to places like that - but on my own, on a whim one afternoon when I convinced karpaiya to take me on a joy ride in his auto in exchange for a small steel dabba filled with fish curry. We walked around the gleaming white building, even though the watchmen shot us dirty unwelcome looks. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. They had a huge market in the basement - who would ever keep vegetables in a basement? - with stacks of fruits and vegetables and soaps piled up high, and carts on wheels that you could take with you to put your things in. What a strange idea. Why would you need these when you bring your own jute shopping bag? And the food. enough to feed all the street children that live in the slums outside our colony for a week. And counters of shampoos and talcum powder and soaps I'd never seen before. A small girl in uniform and a namebadge followed karapaiya and me everywhere we went. When I touched something or picked it up she would loudly tell me how much it cost. I would turn it around and around and look at it like I was considering it but not fully convinced and finally keep it back on the shelf; but I knew she saw right through me.

And why wouldn't she? I bet she shops at her local fancy store too. I would rather shop at the fancy store down the street, where Ramu gives me credit on days I'm short, or sends the boy whenever the bags get too heavy to carry alone, where everything i could ever need is laid out within his small store an arms length wide, and Ramu would see me walking down the street and by the time I've reached the small countertop he stands behind, he's already laid out a fresh bottle of parachute oil and hamaam and anything else I might need with the familiarity of an old friend. Why would I need ten bars of soap to choose from when hamaam has always served me well? No, my Madras starts and ends with the beach and the temple and the bazaar, and everything else is nothing but shiny, gleaming distractions.

Today I yearn for the familiar din of pondy bazaar, its heat and its grime fighting for significance over makeshift stalls and carts filled with jasmine garlands and new slippers and shiny plastic hairclips. Besides, I could tell he was not satiated when he left this morning, when we fucked last night without taking off my sari, when he held me to him a minute longer than usual before he dragged his carcass out into the day. He will be back tonight - and I will wait for him in a neatly pleated sari and a fresh bindi on my forehead and jasmines woven in my hair.

I am so engrossed I almost don't notice his car as karpaiya and I make our way to the bazaar. I fear our auto can't catch up to the car's speed, but a red traffic light saves us as we snake our way close enough to see one slender arm looped over the open drivers-side window, a lit cigarette dangling from her fingers.

'Karupaiya, anda vandhi-a follow pannungo please'

Karpaiya shoots me a disapproving look, but follows at a considerable distance. I have thought about his wife many times, wondered what she looked like, what kind of a person she was, did he touch her in the ways he touched me, did she know I existed? She existed like a distant memory, or an unsolved crossword puzzle in the back of my mind, to be picked up and solved at leisure another time. I never imagined I would meet her. Suddenly I feel I must know everything about her, and urgently.

We dart through the cows and the chaos of t nagar, through the leafy parts of nungambakkam, through the
tree-lined streets of haddows road where every home had a gate and a watchman. She turns into a small Spencer's daily and we turn behind her. Karpaiya is still disapproving but I beg him to stay and wait for me.

Spencer's daily is not as big as the basement market in the mall - but it is still gleaming and white, with rows of multi-colored scented soaps. The smells make me dizzy.

I watch from a distance and start to mimic her actions. She picks up a shopping cart, and I do too. She stops at the soap section looking at a few, turning them around reading the instructions and sniffing them before picking one that she wants. I go up to the shelf, pick the same ones she palmed a few seconds ago, bring my nose to the same pack she sniffed and put into my bag the one similar to what she chose. I continue to follow from a distance.

I do not know what I had imagined she would look like. Maybe a little like me, maybe shorter, maybe not, I dont know. But this woman was more girl than woman. She wore a thin white t shirt and black ankle level pants that showed off her smooth calfs and hairless forearms. I look at my own arms and the dark hair dotting my skin. Did he ever notice? How horrid they look. She reaches on the top shelf for shampoo and puts it into her bag without reading the back. Maybe it is one she uses often. I hurry behind her and reach for the same.

Through the light from the window behind her I could see the smooth outline of her taut stomach. I flush at the thought of my own stomach, and the numerous times his hands have searched my waist to find and play with my little pouch of belly fat that he strokes and tickles when he wants to hear me laugh. Does she have the same deep throaty laugh as me? I grow jealous thinking of him tickling her in bed, in his bed with her in it.

She walks a few steps this way and that, picking up a Cadbury fruit and nut, a small tube of facewash and finally a box of gum at the billing. I pick up the same, in the same order. My hand hovers over the face wash as I look at the fair and lovely face cream innocuously positioned by the side. I feel ashamed of my own skin, the back of my hand tinged with turmeric and still faintly smelling of hamaam. No amount of face creams will ever make me as light as her. I look to where she is, her sunglasses perched on top of her head, her manicured and moisturized fingers tapping some absent- minded tune on the counter top. In the afternoon light, her tumbling locks of oil-free black hair, the sharp nose, her painted lips, that jawline... She looks like a movie star. And here I am with a basket full of soap and shampoo and face wash. A small girl in a uniform comes up behind me and asks if she could take my basket up to billing. What can I do? I give it to her and pray that I have enough money to buy them all. She has left by now, getting in the drivers seat of her car, no cigarette this time, but her fingers still splayed out her driver-side window, strumming a tune on the side of her car.

"madam, 310 rupees"

I take out all of the money I have in my purse. I buy it of course, and I walk away with my bag of treasure but immediately I feel a pang of regret as I think of all the jasmine flowers and coconut water and cut pieces of mango 310 rupees could have bought. The shampoo alone was 100 ruppees. Why, when shikakai has always worked well enough for me all these years. 310 rupees - probably Karapaiya's whole earnings in a day. I burn with shame when I think of it. Anyway, the money's gone now, so that's that. and in its place I have the magic things that will make me like her.

Karpaiya is waiting dutifully where I left him. He shoots me an darkly ominous look.

"Sugunya, nee pannrathu yennaku konjum kuda pidikalai"

I sit wordlessly in the back of his auto clutching my spoils, wrapped in his gloomy disapproval, as he takes me back home. I am like a child with a secret toy.

At once, when I reach home, I empty the contents of my bag on my cot, hurriedly grab the soap and shampoo, and go in for my second bath of the day. I think of his face and his look of surprise and joy and - maybe pride even. I'd tried shampoos before - I'm not some village bumpkin you know - and I always powder myself down with ponds talcum face powder to stay sweat free thru the thick, madras summer days. But this was different; this was hers. Her scent that I would be erasing from his memory and replacing with mine. I think of how I will wear my hair when he comes home to me tonight, loose and unencumbered by the tight, oiled captivity of my usual thick plait that snakes it's way down my back.

And then when I am washed and scented and clean - I wait. My mind wanders and I think of my first time with him, knee-knocked shy Sugunya, too shy to even look at him in the filtered moonlight while he kneaded me with his firm, gentle hands. I blush thinking of me then - what a country bumpkin I was! Come straight from the village, wide-eyed and trusting of everything and everyone in the city. How far I've come! How much I know now. How much I've seen of the world, and done, and know now.

I sit cross-legged on the chair and balance an unlit cigarette between my fingers like I'd seen her do. It's a strange position, but I am eager for him to see the new, bold me. The hours pass.

At ten, I hear the familiar jigglin of the keys in the keyhole. I am a bag of nerves. I arrange myself in the position I adopted before, my newly-washed and scented hair trailing loose down my back. He comes into the darkness, dropping his shoes with the heaviness of the day, and almost turns into the bedroom... And catches himself. I catch his perplexed gaze with a nervous smile, get up from my chair and move into the bedroom. I can feel his eyes follow me, confused with this apparition before him.

I lie back and look at him full in the face. Why did I do that? I've never looked him in the eye before, always bowing my head till he lifts my chin with the tip of his fingers when he's ready for me, always walking two steps behind him in my own home. But tonight... I feel different, alive, defiant somehow - for the first time since the time we've known each other. I grow bold and lift my chin a little.

We wait, and gaze upon each other with the comfort of old foes. Finally, he breaks the tension, taking the first step. He moves in over me, silent as always.... but tonight, even the silence is different. His arms dont search with the firm resolve of a hunter, his knees dont nudge that which he knows will give way without a fight. For the first time there is a hesitation, a temerity as he starts to tugs on my hair and loosens his grip when he sees me lift my head on my own accord. We kiss without feeling, and I am angry and confused and frightened at the same time. When we finish, we both lie back in the emptiness. I spend hours thinking if I should break the silence; what will I say? What happened here tonight? Why are we like strangers? I wait for his familiar deep breathing to fill the room, the sound I wait for each night, the sound that tells me he has spent his last dregs of energy for the day and sleeps now with the deep sleep of a man with the weight of the world lifted of his shoulders. The hours pass, and I don't know when it is that I finally fall asleep out of exhaustion and waiting.

In the morning, I wake for the first time in an empty bed. Confused and bleary-eyed, I stumble into the kitchen and my hands start moving with a purpose of their own, going through the morning routine like they have for all these years. I boil the milk, ground the coffee seeds, strain the dicoction and pour the steaming stream of milk and coffee from one steel tumbler into the dabra and back again, working up a froth. I put it in front of me and stare at it, as the strong smell of filter coffee fills the house and slaps my sleep away.

It sits, like an innocent on the kitchen counter. Alone. I hesitate to pick it up.

But who will drink it now that he's gone? And it is freshly made, perfectly good coffee after all. I gingerly grip the tumbler in my hands and peer into the dark brown pool of milk, coffee and froth. Outside the crows have started their cawing for the morning meal.