New city, new me?

Where Sarah lives, the weather is unpredictable and unwavering, although the people of her city would veritably disagree with that description. Her city has a rather flattering reputation for pleasant weather all year around. Personally, she loves the soft sunshine, slightly breezy weather and this city does deliver that, more noticeably, on Sunday early afternoons. On such days, she is inevitably transported to a fantasy she has held close for the longest time – “new city, new me”. It has only grown stronger with time, drifting further away from a fantasy and getting closer to plausible reality.

As a 14 year old, Sarah vicariously experienced living independently in a new city. On a Friday night, when the world was fast asleep, she lay awake staring out of her window trying to catch a clear sight of all the airplanes carrying dreams of moving to a new city and going back to an old one. That night, for the very first time, she felt devoured by this fantasy.

For years leading to her adulthood, people asked where is this new city? “Where do you want to go, Sarah?” her mother too asked one evening. “I don’t know ma, I just want to go”, she responded, irritated. This constant badgering had her second guessing what she felt on that Friday night, years go. Did she really want to leave this city? Did she want to move away from her parents? Was this an escape, and if so, from what?

Now, 10 years older than she was that Friday, watching airplanes take off and land dreams, it was time for her fantasy to take off into reality. It was proven to be a dreadful journey, moving to a new city, living alone. “You will feel lonely. You have to be strong to survive let alone live all by yourself. You will miss home. Your family. Your friends. You will have to cook, clean, earn, and pay bills.” Everyone from the city to relatives thousands of miles away advised her. And of course, the most used, as though to subtly discredit one’s journey, “it is not how they show in movies.” She patiently nodded along to all and after too many conversations with the anxious voice in her head on countless nights, she decided to board this plane after all.

After a long flight, she arrived with a painful jet lag to her new city. She was rather quick to call it home. She found her way to her apartment. It was slightly distant from the noisy part of the city, on a quiet street, a one-storeyed building. She is absolutely exhausted at this point, carrying more bags than she can manage, yet has the brightest smile take up her full face. “Welcome home, Sarah.” she greets herself, as she finds a dusty, old, not so well furnished as she was told, apartment. But there was no time for feeling crestfallen.

She worked at the University as a research scholar/teacher and spent early evenings at the library or a cafe she managed to call her own a few blocks from the University. She would walk as much as she could, everywhere. On some evenings when she feels particularly confident or adventurous, she joins her colleagues at the bar. By now, she has a couple of good friends, has met a friendly neighbor and teaches a bunch of avid students. She calls home every now and then and her mother ends every call with something she used to never say before, “Miss you Sarah.” After innumerable homesick days and being terrified of whether she made a mistake, Sarah had now become good at missing home and creating a new one at the same time.

For months now, her apartment has looked disturbingly chaotic. On some days, on her way back from work, she would buy some lilies or sunflowers or tulips and put them in a vase on a dusty table in the foyer to light up the place. Apart from the occasional flowers, the apartment was poorly kept. Finally, on a long weekend, she decided to sort this out. She spent days after that asking her waiter-friend at the cafe, her colleagues, her class, her friends, the florist, the checkout employees at the grocery store, where she would find curtains, cushions, quilts, duvets, utensils, cutlery, some pleasing artifacts, maybe a flea market for archaic collections, what she should hang on the wall, paint samples, the best internet connection, and more. Sarah has a history of planning more than doing and after an effective intervention from her friends from home, she simply set out to set up her new home. Weeks later, she still felt like there were a few items missing but all in all, a cozy, comfortable, pleasing home was built.

Her first six months in the new city turned out to be exactly and nothing like how she imagined it would be and she wouldn’t have had it any other way. 14 year old Sarah is taken aback to discover who Sarah is now. She eats by herself at restaurants and cafes. She sings at open mics on Fridays in her favorite music store. She is part of a writer’s club and they gather every second Wednesday of the month to discuss and exchange what they’ve worked on. She lets men buy her drinks and serenade her with flowers, their cooking skills and occasional sex. She loves her job and she is an excellent teacher. She has trouble paying bills and maintaining relationships with men for a significant time but it doesn’t bother her too much. She lives life as it comes.

Every Saturday, she decides to walk aimlessly and discover a new part of the city. She is lucky on some and on others slightly frightened that she is lost. Regardless, it keeps her going. Sundays are usually spent waking up late, spending most of the day in bed and wondering if she is becoming boring and not fun and speculating why she isn’t earning more or is still single. Her friends back home are still receiving i’m-all-over-the-place-i-made-a-huge-mistake-i’m-so-scared calls every now and then. Not entirely different from the Sarah she was back home.

During spring break, Sarah decides to visit her first home for a couple of weeks and is surprisingly excited and a little downcast to leave. When she is back, her parents and friends make sure she forgets about her 6 months old home.

On a Sunday afternoon, she is having brunch with friends she has had since school and realizes how deeply she misses them. She has come a full circle, from sharing what seemed like a silly desire to live alone in a new city when she was a teenager with these friends to sharing stories of people and places from her new home with them. “I’m failing to articulate how I feel when I’m there but I can sense a revolution emerging from within.” she tells her friends. They let her go on. “It feels like I’ve given my younger self what she lacked for the longest time – the space to be who and how she wants to be, without judgement or fear. It is exactly that. I feel fearless. I am not afraid of myself, of what I think, of who I am, of my judgments, of my stupidity, of who I love, of my insecurity, of my inevitable failure. Today, I feel okay. I feel okay knowing that throughout this journey, if I fall and break or rise and shine, I will be okay through it all.” That night Sarah comes to a rather unsettling conclusion, she feels the same way about herself in her old city and new, around people old and new.

The following week, she is back to her six months old home. She spends the next two years in this city, falling, rising, breaking and shining. Making mistakes, making love. Discovering herself on Saturday afternoons and reflecting on Sunday nights. She has found more than one cafe she calls her own. She knows multiple florists in different parts of the city. She has studied, earned, hustled, read, written, sang, cried, laughed, drank, cooked, eaten, slept more than ever before. She has also tried her hand at pottery, gardening, and painting.

On one Thursday afternoon, when she is studying at the library after work, she comes across a new book in one of the shelves she hasn’t had a chance to look at before. She spends the rest of the evening, enjoying this book. She pauses in between, decides to read more the next day and heads back home. On her way, she buys a bunch of sunflowers, says goodnight to her friendly old neighbor, puts the flowers in the vase kept on the table in her foyer and cooks herself some dinner.

The next morning, 21 year old Sarah wakes up half asleep tired from staring at airplanes in the night sky but still devouring the dream she just had. In 7 years, her fantasy has slipped into her subconscious multiple times but today she realizes that her fantasy is tied more to herself than to a new city. It is a reminder that she wants to escape not from where she lives, or whom she is around, but from how she feels about herself. Sarah now knows that old cities and familiar people have enough to offer to be who she wants to be as much as a new city and unknown people do.

The Face of Hope.

I’ve come to understand that loss, tragedy and chaos will be your rocky companions your whole life and the only way to carry their weight is to break each piece of rock into smaller stones and measure your ideal weight for the day and hope to be able to do better the next day.


Hope this year hasn’t looked so promising. It is amorphous, sporadic, and on some days, simply absent. Every day, you wake up, choose your stones carefully and hope to return with the same number at the end of the day, if not less.

When I was young, my mom first taught me how to stack the washed utensils in the shelves. I used to carry more than how many my tiny hands could so I would have to make minimum number of rounds from the utility to the shelves in the kitchen.

Every time I carried more than I could, I dropped few on the ground and struggled to pick those up while still carrying some or fell midway and was forced to start again. My mom used to say angrily, “Carry only how much you can. It’s okay if it takes longer. Don’t be in a hurry.”

I can hear this voice every morning when I am deciding what goes in my bag that day and somehow, I still manage to miscalculate.

What is the hurry?

Most days, you will return with the same weight you started with, if not more and if you’re lucky, on some rare occasion, your bag will feel lighter when you unpack and your back, less strained.

We do this every day hoping we will unpack fewer number of stones every night.

And when these rare occasions do occur, they will come to you as unknown, unfamiliar experiences, they will be brief, they will not impose, they will just be and if you pay enough attention, you will manage to hold this moment in your palms tenderly, like a piece of cotton and keep it safe.

So on a not so lucky day, you draw some cotton from your bag and your hands remind your back that moving forward, one day, you will have enough cotton to make a stronger bag to carry the stones.

My dad and I don’t have an expressive relationship, we just do what we know and hope that it makes the other feel better. He adjusted his routine slightly in the last 7 months, so we can have a cup of tea together in the evening. One day I found him having a troubled conversation about work, his voice heavy and that day I left my room door open the whole day.

Every evening, my neighbor along with her children feed the stray dogs and few others gather every Friday evening to cook a meal for the security in my apartment.

My best friend baked pizza cupcakes for my birthday because I don’t like desserts. Another one gifted me, “Adult children with emotionally immature parents” so I can learn to process how I feel in a healthy manner. My mom forgets almost every other thing I tell her, except what I want to eat.

My friends and I take turns in feeling dejected and consoling each other from our homes as companies come and go. My therapist, whom I see irregularly, suggested a TV show and it is a blessing. It was almost a “I can’t always be there for you, here, take this” kind of a gift.

Other friends and I check up on each other frequently and remind ourselves to take a break by simply taking a walk around the block and laughing about something funny on the internet. My domestic help fills my water bottle when it’s empty and I’m busy studying, sometimes.

I found a letter I had written to myself during a difficult time and the last line read, “thank you for being who you are, you’re going to love who I become” and it’s safe to say that I concur with my younger self.

The thing about a piece of cotton is everyone has it. Some have more, some have less but we are allowed to share and this year onward, hope will look like this – that you will collect your share by yourself or if you permit, someone will share their pieces with you.

My suggestion? From what I’ve learnt, let people help you build your share, most of them are willing to.

Hope does not eliminate the unfortunate. It cannot ensure that loss, tragedy and chaos will go away and never knock on your door again. It will not replace the weight of stones. It can, however, make you believe, that one day, you will be the chosen one and you get to use some more cotton to strengthen your bag.

Until you find strength, hold on to hope.

Instruction Manual of my love language

Recently, I’ve taken up a new and a deeply lacking skill – to teach people who love me, how to love me. We have to, and I’m not saying this lightly, give the people who love us, instructions on how to love us. It’s very similar to teaching a child your medium of communication. You don’t expect to speak to a child without teaching it the language you would like to communicate in, do you? And if you don’t, you will find it picking up any language that falls on its ears. Expecting our loved ones to “figure us out” silently, does something similar.

I’ve found myself feeling unloved and misunderstood precisely because of this. I have been too afraid to ask for what I want and how I want it because does it qualify as love? It seems to be far away from the love we have been taught. Love has been taught to us as something impulsive, telepathic, mysterious, and magical. If someone is able to pick up on our subtle yet desperate and sometimes, even unreasonable needs, we credit their arduous efforts to a “vibe check”. But is it really only that? Do we really go about leaving this responsibility – to make sure we are loved – up to mystery and magic?

As adults, we are able to distinctly recognize our needs and desires which are often close to what we experienced in childhood or nothing like it. We develop a sense of autonomy in all aspects of life including the feeling of being catered to and loved.

As species capable of loving and giving profoundly, we owe, this carefully curated instruction manual about our love language, to the ones who love us. Most importantly, we owe this to the child in us who was incapable of telling our attendants that we are crying because of the itch on our leg not because we are hungry, sleepy, tired or bored. This is an attempt to fulfill my responsibility.

Dear one who (wants to) love(s) me,

I love staying in but I want to go out and see the world, the one closer to me and the one encompassing all our worlds. Come with me. Call me if you want to talk. I’m not a texting person. Approach me shamelessly for help or just to be around. I love being needed.

Be clingy, I like it, I have been left alone way too much. When I’m upset talk to me I don’t need space that time. Unless I tell you I do. I’m really just ranting half the time. When I want your advice I’ll ask for it. I love being asked questions. I feel like you’re really interested in knowing more about me.

Send me songs that remind you of me. I like taking space in your mind. Especially in the form of music. I like checking-in messages. I feel good knowing I cross your mind occasionally. I don’t like chocolates, most of them. I only like Ferrero Rocher, Snickers, KitKat but not too much. Anything sweet, actually. Not a big fan.
I like fruit ice creams a lot. A lot. Coconut, jackfruit, custard apple, litchi.

If you’re being critical of me, be gentle about it, I’m fragile. I don’t take criticism or accountability given bluntly. I’m scared of doing anything new even if I really want to. I’m trying to change that. If you recognize it, push me harder.
I don’t really know where does healthy attachment end and clingy begins. When I need you or want you around for something, I think I’m being clingy. I’m working on it. Tell me if I need to lay off a bit.

I love being cooked for. Anything food related, I’m game. Tell me about things that had an impact on you. Tell me your stories. I love knowing you want me to know things about you. If there’s anything I said or did that you didn’t like, tell me, I’m always trying to be better. It’s my favorite hobby.

I probably have never said this out loud, but I absolutely thoroughly enjoy your attention. I freak out, panic, stress out quite too much, bear with me while I’m at it, even if it annoys you. I’m working on it. I am a huge fan of anything that smells good.

When we are together and if someone says something ill about me, I stay quiet because I don’t have the courage to stand up for myself. Help me that time.
I need reassurance regularly. I believe everyone around me has a reason to not like me or hurt me. Reassurance helps.
I am still learning how to ask for what I want. If I leave you confused or you want to know what I’d love, read this.

Waiting to receive your instruction manual.

one who loves you.

Shades of my lockdown

March 2020 marked the onset of the season of healing and growth for me. In fact, it paraded around the globe calling itself a divine blessing for the burnt out. Despite my awareness that its predecessors had proved to be quite destructive as they unfolded each day and that March would follow, this intimidation, however, stopped at my front door. I had set out to embark on an all-rounder glow up.

On day one I decided I’m going to use this time to grow in all possible ways, that I’m going to come out with a more stable mental health, as more skilled, more creative, more fit and more kind; put all my more-s in one basket and set off on this journey.

By day six, after brain storming every other day, I designed a new polished routine to commensurate the gravity of the apparent nature-human healing period. The outside of these four walls seemed effervescent and full of life(metaphorically) and change was calling out to me.

By day thirty, I had finished reading 4 books, written ten odd pieces, completed one project, done yoga regularly, tried 5 new recipes, applied for internships, came up with ideas for two papers and one more project.

By day forty five, none of it mattered and I was now making room for sporadic despair, loneliness, less sleep, fighting prior coping mechanisms, more frequent arguments, rejection from companies, weeks of unproductive patterns, mercurial behavior, and tragedy.

Yeah quite a range right?

By day sixty two, I allowed privilege guilt to take over. Being hopeful was the only task on my to-do list while I shared a few moments of comfort and peace with some friends. I had had a glut of conversations about feeling helpless with them and my new routine now became whispering “you can do this, you can do this” to myself in the morning and throughout the day.

By day seventy, I realized the outside of these four walls is dark and filled with misery and the only light I am hoping to receive is confined to my room. I wasn’t beguiled by the thought of saying these someday anymore – “Anna yerdu filter coffee kodi”, or “I’ll have one peg Dewar’s white with coke”, or “hey come over, I’m making fried Maggi and sandwich today”, or “let’s go to taco bell today”, or “I’m gonna go for a swim today “, or “I’ll be home late today, stuck in traffic”, or “let’s go clubbing on my birthday this year”, or “aunty extras ashte thegibeku” and all other derivatives of these.

By day seventy five, I had made a note of every gruesome act, tragedy, tendentious news I’ve read in the last seventy five days and I found myself thinking if the world has always functioned in this much agony? COVID-19 and its gruesome effects, the BLM protest, the dire situation of migrant workers and daily wage workers, Climate change, the arrest of students who participated in the CAA-NRC protests, USA bleeding in a pandemic due to a social virus, the unfathomable effects of lockdown, unemployment and food and water paucity, downturn in the economy, lack of treatment for the poor, oil spill in Russia, animal cruelty, cases of domestic abuse close to home, the tortuous statements by ministers, US-China’s dreadful relations, – and just a few others started lingering on my mind.

By day eighty, I reached a stage when I began associating guilt with everything I did. How was I blithely discounting the daily lives of million others while granting myself sensual pleasures? Protecting my mental health felt “selfish”. My privilege didn’t stop at getting acknowledged but now it evaded every resting, breathing moment.

In these eighty days, I also came across few moments of empathy and unity as people all over the world came together to fight institutionalized oppression, affluent individuals helping migrant workers go home, NGOs and non-profit organisations providing basic necessities to the destitute, and more importantly more people learning and unlearning about dissent and its desideratum for change.

Today is probably day eighty five, I assiduously look for scattered yet powerful stories of generosity, solidarity, victory and peace and hold onto them with one jarring hope that this period although dreadful will be revolutionary. I express gratitude even more profoundly now, I pray for the ones in torment. I am taking care of myself so I can create opportunities to be selfless. My to-do list uses vile language when conversing with me now but I gently brush it off and do what I can.

When it will be,
day number “we-have-begun-living-something-close-
to-normal-routines”, I intend to walk out of my front door with this helpless energy and channel it into working hard and being generous so I can, one day, make the outside of my four walls slightly brighter and safer.

Being hopeful

As a child, I used to think, that wars, disasters and death were anachronisms; restricted to my textbooks and they abated as each chapter came to an end. With time, I could feel the harbinger of torment making its way closer to home. I could just find one of them waiting on the other side of the door one morning and it would mean the end. While a home behind another door could be rejoicing a dear one’s beginning.

One moment you are occupied with the meteoric rise in the “total count of sufferers”  and the next moment the internet offers you something wholesome. The unfolding of this uncertainty every day is nerve-racking.

But I want to hope. If we decide to separate tragedy from peace, it would be an unkind day. For it would mean having to compete with the only evidence that nature in its purest form exists – balance.

Being hopeful is the only thing irrefutable of all things that are not. We will grieve and mourn for our kind but we will also hope.Lift the corners of your mouth. Wash your hands. Feed yourself. We will get through this.  

First day of ‘Normalcy’

From today, we are no longer prisoners of nature, we have been forgiven. We experience, freedom once again. I say again, trusting that we finally learnt how to free ourselves from our lives that preached being busy in order to have a purpose. Today, freedom speaks a different language, it demands the courage to surrender to faith and compassion- how do I  lead myself to the possibility of failure and lead the inferior to the possibility of contentment?

From today, some of us are no longer restricted to four walls and some continue their struggle to have at least one. We experience, kindness once again. I say again, trusting that we finally learnt about our helplessness without the underprivileged contributing a diminutive yet crucial portion of their life to us. Today, kindness looks different, it’s more refined – how do I make up for my lost time and money and help the ones who may have sacrificed the option to make up for endurance?

From today, some of us will cross oceans to embrace our loved ones and some will mourn on the shore for theirs. We experience, love once again. I say again trusting that we finally learnt, our insignificance without someone to love, and to hold, to live for. Today, we are students of love – how do I qualify the distance between my heart and tongue and break the hesitation to reach my hands out to seek warmth?

From today, we are no longer strangers to elements like and unlike our kind. We will experience, empathy once again. I say again trusting that we finally learnt, about the absolute disgrace it would be to compete for space in this world. Today, empathy has resurrected, it is unfamiliar to prejudice and apathy, it believes in generating altruism – how do I introduce my greed to gratitude and the oppressed to the doors of revolution?

Ode to music

I first recognized love in when I was six,
in a small room filled with artless, ardent receivers,
all attempting to garner what love has to offer,
mastering the art of listening to love.
Love talks when asked to. Love has a voice but
no face. Love has meaning but no matter. Love rides
on the soul of the listener. Love screams,
love cries, love laughs, love tries. It tries
to mince your voice as its own. Some believe
love is discriminating; love appreciates
bathroom acoustics as much as an ornate
stage. Love has made it easier to believe,
love has made it harder to leave. I have
used love
to replace a lack of
love from the world.

I have despised love,
treated it with contempt, but love
held on in all the a-z ways that it
likes to hold one: some days owing
to the voice of its genres and
some days to the voiceless
nature. My love loves all, every and
each. Love doesn’t come with
prerequisites, and is not
parochial. Love is versatile, it runs
back and forth from
background engagement t
embracing the spotlight, and
sometimes love
is quiet. Love likes stillness as
much as the sound of a second voice
talking over it. Love drives you to
find yourself in its voice and
recognize it in others. My love stays.