This morning at Waterloo

Today, as I walked out of the Waterloo Station, I saw a slightly elderly man sitting at the intersection of the several crossings (that I cannot wrap my head around) when you exit the station. It was drizzling and he sat by the sidewalk with an umbrella and a small red blanket. The blanket covered him and as I walked closer, I saw a beautiful tricolour (black, white and tan) dog resting his/her head against his chest with a vacant stare. It broke my heart into a million pieces and I felt sick in my gut. I walked past hurriedly because I need to tear myself away in such circumstances. It is so hard for me to talk about such things that typing them here is the closest I can come to baring how deeply I get affected by certain moments and sights. But as I crossed the street, I wanted to go back. I wanted to go back and see the dog. It reminded me a lot of how Mili rests on us when she is being cuddled or when she is sleeping. She loves contact and somehow I keep thinking it was Mili there on him.

So I walked back.

I always like to help in anyway I can. It makes me a little less guilty and in my own selfish way, I feel a bit better though certain times, it takes me a few days to tuck it away in a corner of my mind.

I carry the whole world in my backpack, so I stopped under the roof near the station and took out a 5 pound bill. I did not know what else I could do. I walked upto him and handed it and told him to take care, very quickly trying to catch a glimpse of the dog but failing. I was too overcome to say more. I wanted to ask him to please buy a little something for the dog. But I could not bring myself to say it. Why would I want to say that? Here was a person who was holding an umbrella and covered the dog with his blanket. They had each other and kept each other warm this cold morning as everyone hurried with their tall and grande lattes and with their own challenges and tasks to conquer. He and his dog were a team. Who was I to tell him to care for his partner? He smiled with a clear, “God bless you and love you.” I remember nodding with a very tight lipped smile and walking away. I do not remember what he looked like when he said it, I do not recollect what I was looking at either. All I remember is I had crossed all the traffic lights and walked across the bridge before I even realised it.

The guard who stopped the train and made my morning

I made a dash with hesitation (do you know what am referring to? Like, when you run but also your legs give way and your heart wants you to try a bit more?). As I hurriedly bought my ticket, I saw the train doors closing along the platform that was about 20 steps of a run, maybe less. The guard at the barricade told me I can probably make it to the train and as I punched out, I saw the train guard standing out, keeping a door open and urging me to hop into that cabin. I foolishly tried getting into another wondering why the door did not budge open. He patiently called out, “Madam, this one! This one, I have it open.” That’s when I realised I had to get into that compartment and I gave him the most grateful sheepish look I could. The next train was a longer route and 20 minutes away and meant missing my first meeting with a senior at work (who probably would have kindly understood my predicament but that would have made me really guilty throughout our meeting). Anyway, I hopped in, he gave me a small smile as if this was nothing.

As I got off at Waterloo, I walked up to him. He probably thought I was lost and meant to ask for directions. And when I told him, it was beautiful what he did and am so thankful, he gave me the most beautiful smile and shrugged with a, “Ah no problem. Don’t worry about it.”

Almost always when I walk away from such people, the world around me stops. I have tears from God-knows-where spring into my eyes. I tell myself repeatedly, how beautiful people are. It makes me so emotional that I spend the next hour or two smiling at everyone and creeping them out. K has seen me do this multiple times. But really, it made my morning. I have lost count of how many times I have said this, but the people in train stations and the staff who work for the London Underground and South Western Railways are absolutely fabulous and everyday heroes. I mean every one of them. They have let me in when my app conked off, sometimes walked me to the correct exit, drawn a virtual route on their palm to show me the way, redirected me to better and shorter routes and just been absolutely wonderful with other fellow travellers every time I have passed by.

I thought long and hard about how I must title this happy event of mine that happened this morning. I quite honestly could not think of any way to do it. It really is as simple as that and yet so profound.

Distant.

… turns out, I am not going to have much of a break.

The last few days have been transformational – things have come my way when I least expected them to and how! I am now caught in the several labyrinths of choices with each of them offering me a way to reach where I see myself.I am euphoric and thrilled and all that but the paradox of choice has never struck harder before.

Now that I know I have something coming up, I would not mind a reasonably long break. It is funny how this my mind works. I always prided myself on being cool about not having a certain place to go but I guess somethings change. As much as I am a homebody (I am that person who will proudly will tell you she cannot make it for a Saturday night out because she wants to stay home and do nothing), I love people. I love feeling connected and having an opportunity to care for others and be there. And going out, meeting people, hugging friends and then meeting some more makes me insanely happy when I feel like it. And the opportunities I have now will enable that, at least the way I see it.

Over the years I have come to view things and act on things in two ways: the first type is where I let go and just get into something with gay abandon, without so much as a care for the why, how and what ifs. These are times when my mind tells me, “go for it. I mean, why not?”. So every time I act on this impulse, I do not spend an iota of thought on it. The second type is where I really start thinking of why should I do something, how does it take me where I see myself, what purpose does it serve and how and why am I adding any value to what is out there already? How is my action making someone’s life better (mine included)? And I have a good mix of both these and being a Gemini has nothing to do with that (ask me tomorrow and my answer may change). I adopt these two approaches for equally important decisions so it is not a case of when I use what. Sometimes I just act on a whim even if it is something that can have big consequences. Without much overthinking, I view this as a strength. It lends a strange sense of balance and comfort to me knowing that there is no secret to figuring things out. Sometimes you just do what feels right to you then and really, things eventually work themselves out one way or the other. All the more reason why I have come to appreciate and value different approaches to living and learning. It has made me more tolerant, accepting and even appreciative of ‘to each her/his own’. It has made me less judgemental of how people approach challenges and made me less inclined to hastily suggest but rather be more empathetic and just listen even if I have nothing to say at all. Many a time, I have come away learning a bit more about myself when I have listened harder. I will even go so far as to say that learning to listen has made me like myself a bit more and be a little less critical and that includes listening to myself as I write this and the train of thoughts that emanate from something so distant.

Distant is the vision I have for myself. But I can see a path. It is really hazy and not without curves and tricky bends and straight paths I can tread with my eyes closed. I will have to make some choices. Sometimes I will just walk without a care and sometimes I may tread with caution. Maybe I will take a detour and try a different destination or a pitstop. I don’t know. I think I will never know. But that is the whole point. How is it fun otherwise? And why would you be excited for tomorrow and next week and the year after?

Where next.

I have no idea where to begin and how to say what I want to say. Some days trigger a deep rooted nostalgia and a strong craving to be more purposeful in life. It tickles me, inspires me and excites me so much that I want to spend time thinking of how to get around doing it and not start right away. I see it as a blessing but on some days I just cannot. The last few days have been transformational for me.

As a PhD candidate, my work and research formed a big core of my focus. I was/am proud of it, I mean I dedicated 4 years of my life and jumped on it with a lot of zeal and naturally wanted it to be truly insightful to others in the field. I wanted to discover what worked and most importantly that did not. And amidst all this, I was involved in a lot of other things. So, having a big focus but never letting it consume all of me was something I was proud of. So when that went really well, I defended successfully and submitted (Thank you God!), I find an urge to do something more. To push a boundary and to fight. There is a gap now and I want to be able to fill it with more things to pursue, to wake up to, to constantly have in the back of my head (at least most of the times). You see, breaks are good only until they are not. I never have had a ‘break’. I always told everyone and myself I would take a break after PhD, a break to do just “other” stuff. But the truth I have come to realise is, I do a lot of stuff when I have a lot of other stuff to do. It is just how I am wired. I do not think I can be productive if I am too reflective for too long. I love myself a good 2 days and then I need to have things to work against time.

But what makes this all so much weirder is how I take longer breaks and walk away when it gets a bit much. So, I have a very innate unique sense of balance that I am trying to understand, one that I cannot summarise or share in words but one that my body and mind dictate according to circumstances. That is a good thing. Yes, it is a good thing, I guess.

Which brings me back to where I started – I have no idea where to begin or what to say. I have a vague picture of things I want to try my hand at and I have already started on it. Somewhere amidst all this, we are moving homes again (I know!) but we will still be in the UK, so that seems like a pretty minuscule task compared to the big move last year. Right? Anyway, moving homes, shifting our physical locations has stopped affecting me. To me, they are things to be done and get done with. All other decisions on moving and whether we are moving to a place that makes us happy is something you can dwell on but never really know until you have given it a shot and tried your best to work with. And this sort of compartmentalising actions into, “what is under my control” vs. “what is not under my control but I can do my best with” offers a delightfully relaxing perspective of sorts. I save some of the overthinking for other things that prove me wrong (delightfully so) and ones that did not require any of it (as K always warns me). Most importantly, I have come to realise that one can start from anywhere and anyplace. 10 years ago, I had an entirely different set of plans and without giving you too many details, I’d have been sitting in an office in rural India. Five years later, I wanted to be providing services in a rehab clinic and that is what I did. Because at that point, that was what I wanted to do and to me that felt purposeful. So for a while, I wondered to myself of all the possibilities that could have been if I had pursued my first dream. And then I realise, I would not have it any other way. Being what I became and doing what I did opened up a lot of myself to me and helped me understand others better.

And today, I am here. A different purpose but serving a similar dream from a different location. It does not make me as guilty anymore (I still have bouts of guilt and that constant nagging feeling of missing being closer to my family but that is not something for today). I know I am in a place I am meant to be. Perhaps I can fight it and change it, but I don’t want to. Not just yet because I need to harness my energy positively. There is so much to do, so much to see and so much more to learn.

Secure in that knowledge, I will not dwell on the “where next” for now. For now, my mind needs a break. And after all, what are tomorrows for?

Of welcoming and bidding adieu to our first winter in UK

What excited me us most about moving to UK was winter. We love Europe and had always read and heard of the gorgeous English countryside but our hearts screamed for winter and just the thought of experiencing seasons. Singapore’s tropical weather and rainy-humid climate all through the year meant that we escaped to cold climates during winters. Such was our need for the cold. Naturally, we felt ecstatic. Also, while I love myself flowers and fall (oh, I love fall!), winter really is my aesthetic. I cannot get enough of feeling cold, being wrapped up in layers that leave me feeling perpetually in a state of “hug”, spending a good portion of the day brewing coffee and tea, forever having my kaDai out for that last minute bhajji/bajia, huddling in the warmest corner with a book, stepping out only to be met with a fiercely cold wind hitting and numbing the face leaving you feeling noseless.. I could go on.

So when people told us very politely about how we will now be facing “London weather”, we did not flinch a bit. We are somewhere amidst the last traces of winter now and I already miss it. None of the weather was remotely as “dreadful” as people made it out to be. On the contrary, the winter has been soothing and except for the short daylight, we loved every bit of it. I missed a good chunk of it as I was away in New Zealand for a good time enjoying spring and its blossoms but I was back for Christmas to hop on the winter bandwagon.

As I write this, it is getting to spring now. The super markets are full of petunias, tulips and a diaspora of blooms. The wild flowers in our yard have started to bloom from nowhere! I was not even aware that there were plants with such gorgeous flowers and to watch them appear miraculously on one fine morning, out of nowhere obvious, has been beautifully surprising. The root vegetables are replaced by berries and lots of fresh greens. Those big boots and huge cloaks are replaced by thin cardigans and denims and sandals. The entrances to the super markets are lined with the essentials for barbecue.

And all this has been utterly beautiful to witness. I really miss the winter but I love myself a spring and the joy it brings to so many people. There is nothing quite like watching people being happy for the weather. I cannot believe I am saying this, because a year ago, I used to wonder what it is that makes people talk of weather all the time. But I know and appreciate it better now. To be observant and perceptive of the changes around you is indeed appreciable. And in a way, that has made me very thankful for the weather and for all the privilege I have to experience the seasons comfortably.

A few days ago, we walked along the Ockham and Wisley Commons with gay abandon. After more than a week of warm sun, that day was quite chilly. We being us, headed out to enjoy that chill. We got our large coffees from the local bakery at the entrance and walked endlessly. Some days make you happy for no reason at all and this is definitely one of them.

The dry-fruits box ritual

I wrote this on Medium sometime last year. But something in me stirred and I wanted to share it again. That is the thing with memories – they are so random. Randomly beautiful. Beautifully random.

For some reason today, I am again reminded of the little ritual of filling the boxes with dry fruits. Every month, Pa used to bring home 200 grams of anjeer, raisins, cashews, almonds, dates and pistachios from a local store at the fresh market. He’d announce his arrival with a “Tan-ta-daaa, look what I have got!” and we always knew. We always knew that this meant only one thing — filling up the boxes with dry fruits. After getting refreshed, we would all go to the kitchen, get the almost empty boxes of dry fruits and then carefully set them on the dining table. We’d huddle together around Pa. Meticulously he’d open the packet of anjeer, they always went in first, those rings stacked around a fibrous cord. This was followed by the raisins and every time he would take extra care while opening the packet of raisins always tsk-ing away at why they staple these packets and how one has to be very careful lest the pins get mixed with the raisins. And we’d chorus, “We will eat them one by one and not stuff them in our mouth at once,” because that was what we were always told and we knew when we had to give him that reassurance. It was a joy watching him struggle with pins because he had such short nails that it was impossible to say if he had ever had them any other way. Finally, he’d manage to get the pin out (always stubborn to use his fingers). The dates, almonds and cashews followed. What always excited us were the pistachios. Somehow they were the most enticing of nuts, the one that gaped through the gaps waiting for the shell to be broken. The pistachios were always eaten 6 at a time. We did not want to finish them soon. It did not really matter a lot if we did, but somehow that was how we wanted to pace ourselves always. Once the boxes were all filled, we helped Pa carry them to the kitchen and place them on the rack — the second row from the top, just about the right height for us to reach for it if I tip-toed or stood on one of the chairs at the dining table.

For some reason, I thought of this and it made me smile and also sad at the same time. I miss the predictability that still always had an element of undiluted happiness year after year. I visualize Pa’s smile as he filled each jar with a small announcement and it was and is easily one of the happiest moments we have had together.

Grand 2019

Let’s face it – everyone seems really kicked about 2019. At least that is the impression I get from all the inspiration and happiness that seems to emanate from social media. And I mean this in a very very positive upbeat way – I love New Year. Who am I kidding – I love all the New Years and we have a fair share of them as Indians. So yes, I love festivity, new beginnings, the fervour that accompanies these beginnings and how it seems to make everyone look forward to a brighter time. I am a sucker of sweetness and mush.

With that out of the way and acknowledging that some why‘s can never be answered, let me tell you what I am most excited about 2019. I am excited because I want to make it grand. I want it to be fabulous and I will go out of my way to make that happen. Infact, we already made a beginning – because, as I sit here writing this, I see the most fiercely loving pair of eyes look at me beseechingly to get her off the sofa and onto my lap. While I have spent my fair share of nights we have spent our fair share of nights wondering if and why we deserve this unconditional love, I am not going to that territory again. I rather focus my energy on giving all of my love, even if it means falling short of what we are receiving, Because let us be honest, we are basking in the love and glory that Mili has brought with her and showers us with so generously. I cannot believe I denied myself of this happiness for this long and K had to talk me into just taking the plunge.

And that exactly, that is my plan for making it grand – taking the plunge. Not over-thinking it. Not do a pros-cons analysis. Because that is how it works – you make a decision and then everything works around it. Of course, this shifts things, moves your other ‘plans’ and all that, but it will still come together beautifully inspite of some challenges along the way.

So yes, that is my plan for 2019 – to make it grand. And that, sweet reader, is my wish for you.