A note: Just do it, already.

I truly miss those days when I would look forward to coming back from a trip or excitedly go through an experience all the while rejoicing in the fact that I can write about it, reflect on it and read what another reader may have to say. Somewhere along the line, PhD happened and there was a lot of writing, reflections and critiques happening in the academic world, I met new people, learnt new stuff about the world and myself, travelled way more than I imagined and loved every single bit of it and my previous blog that I was decently consistent with, became forgotten. I always sought that enticing pocket of time where I could sit down and write to my heart’s content and express myself in the best way possible through words. That, my friends, clearly did not work. The thing is – I just had to do it without thinking too much into making it the best. Somewhere along, the boundaries between writing to express for myself and writing to express to the world became blurred and it is an everyday act of unlearning for. I often struggled struggle to find a balance between making a perfect start and just starting. It baffles me because I can be so impulsive at times and yet there are instances when this spontaneity alludes me and when a false sense of seeking perfection engulfs me. If anything, living through this pandemic, as privileged as it may be, has taught me to “just do it”. The start needs to be made.

Somewhere along, Instagram came along offering the chance to share bite sized reflections and some sneak peaks to moments. They may not capture the entire picture (ha!) but still, it felt good to immediately jot down my thoughts as and when I desired and share a moment as and when I wanted and of what I chose to. But my utter disregard for this space causes a niggling feeling every time I think of it. It isn’t that I have not much to say. Au contraire I have lots to say but I am also aware that writing down sometimes means teasing this jumble of thoughts and lending clarity to them, an act that requires patience and also time. In a way, this sort of commitment has kept me off too, I feel. It takes some dedication to listen to your thoughts, separate them, organise them and lend words to them. The more I think of this, the more I feel this is a basic act of survival and to me, happiness as well. And so it is, that I make another start with renewed vigour.

With this space, I wanted to document thoughts, travels and tit-bits as I manoeuvred through life. I hope to do that more in the days to come. All those travels are not going to write themselves, will they?

I fear we will forget.

Forgetting and carrying on is a double edged sword. There are times I know I need it like so many of you. But I fear it too – I don’t want to forget how these months and especially the last few weeks have made me feel. I have tried to find solace in everyday acts of living and sources of joy and gratitude but there have been days it got harder to bury myself in the mundane. I harbour a fear – a fear that we/I will forget.

There is such an influx of resources and personal narratives everywhere now. People are enraged and so many of us want to do something about it, anything at all, from where we stand. And yet, I fear we will forget.

Moving on and doing what we have to do is unavoidable of course. But there is a power in tragedy, loss, shame and rage that spurs a lot of us to instant reaction that only sometimes goes on to become a part of us. And time and instances in history have shown us that more often than not, we move on a tad too quickly. The learning does not register and especially not if we have been at the receiving end personally. We do sympathise, we are aware of what went wrong, and sometimes even have an idea of what could have been done better and yet, over time, we forget. The impact and trauma of a particularly difficult time fades away or stays as an unpleasant memory that surfaces once in a while only to disappear again.

Now that is indeed helpful if we are coping with loss but eventually need to march forward and make something of our lives. But this ability to forget or temporarily tuck away in the deep recesses of mind and move on, becomes dangerous when we let extremely detrimental practices and systems to carry on too and become evasive of our roles and how pro-active we need to be over time and not just reactive to calamity.

It is a great opportunity to educate ourselves now – there are a lot of resources and platforms coming to the fore and spreading their message. But we don’t need to be overwhelmed. Here is what am striving to do – to listen calmly, drawing parallels to my own experiences, identifying patterns and narrowing them down in ways that make sense to me for starters. We only need to make small changes – little changes to our actions and subsequently tweaks to our thought processes that have been comfortably etched in our minds. We each need to take one step forward and collectively, we’d have moved massively as a community. I have identified 3 things I want to do and act on. It somehow makes it more actionable, less overwhelming and makes me feel useful and proactive. Quite frankly, I could do with feeling a bit resourceful, right now. Alongside, I can continue to educate myself, tease out patterns and processes that are deeply ingrained. It is just making that start and sticking to it that will empower me to empower the community I am part of. I want to move beyond being reactive and stay consistently proactive, responsive and responsible.

Once upon a time during Corona (Chronicling COVID-19) – Part 2: Hopscotch along the sidewalks

As we step out for our walk everyday, we look forward some of the heart-warming, nostalgia-inducing scenes along the pavements that greet us with child-like enthusiasm.

It reminds me of my own childhood as I drew endless pictures and puzzles and hopscotches in our compound. We have a lovely pavement leading to a big square block that leads to the gate, back in our Mysore home. I remember drawing along every inch available with colourful chalks, as ma sat with her magazine and coffee sometimes asking me how I’d play that game. As my brother joined in, we divided the area into two or sometimes even made our combined game. We sadly, like several others, outgrew them. Or so, I thought.

But as we see these along the pavements, years later, now, I am overcome by a strong temptation to skippety skip and hoppety hop, and follow all those rules and when I cannot make it, even cheat a bit and plod on until I reach the star.

Is it strange that children and the child in the adult are playing outside more at a time where we are under house arrest?

This one’s my favourite – it asks the player to bounce 5 times!

To be fair, some children do play and cycle along the streets. I just had not seen these before. And it makes me wonder.

But I decide to not over think this. It is reassuring we have these games around. It is reassuring that children are around. They always always seem to find a solution to tricky challenges. It is reassuring that I retain my love for hopscotch and that I never outgrew it.

Once upon a time during Corona (Chronicling COVID-19) – Part 1

It swept us off our feet even though we saw it coming. I have seen a few outbreaks in my lifetime – SARS, bird flu, Ebola; from afar, one that I witnessed virtually from many many many miles away. So when Corona/COVID 19 happened the way it did, it took me by a different kind of surprise. These are extremely interesting times that we live in and I want to document some thoughts and reflections as we live through them knowing fully well how they will evolve dynamically from a facts perspective, societal reactions and some personal experience. Infact, it is this evolution I seek to capture.

WHO defines epidemic as, “the occurrence in a community or region of cases of an illness, specific health-related behaviour, or other health-related events clearly in excess of normal expectancy. The community or region and the period in which the cases occur are specified precisely. The number of cases indicating the presence of an epidemic varies according to the agent, size, and type of population exposed, previous experience or lack of exposure to the disease, and time and place of occurrence”. WHO defines a pandemic as “epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area”. I believe that terminologies are crucial in defining diseases for several reasons with one of the top ones being how resources are allocated internationally to tackle a disease as a matter of urgency. Inspite of living through the times of some diseases that were epidemic or pandemic, they felt distant to me.

Firstly, most of these diseases seemed to be characterised by severe symptoms. Take for example, Ebola with its fever, chills, diarrhoea, vomiting and weakness or the fever, cough, malaise and respiratory symptoms in higher severity in SARS – that would make spotting of someone infected so much easier and therefore isolate them effectively, efficiently and most importantly, immediately. Contrast that to the mild or even no symptoms that seem to mark the onset of this disease in a lot of infected people. That makes each of us a potential carrier with the ability to infect others of which only some of them go on to become seriously ill and so on and so on until it assumes gigantic proportions as it has, as I write this.

Further, some of these diseases were mainly transmitted though close contact such as Ebola that spread through close contact and bodily fluids and reportedly most contagious towards the end of the disease. Even though the SARS pandemic spread in ways similar to the novel corona pandemic that we are witnessing, infected persons with symptoms were contagious and the symptoms were severe enabling better detection, it seems.

There are of course other factors such has how aware people are and what hygiene practices they follow, medical resources at hand, effectiveness of commercially available drugs and how fast a cure becomes available.

But underlying all this, as we have come to see, is the common man’s attitude. What becomes actionable and most significant to someone is an extremely broad question. More often than not, it is whether something has a personal impact and translates to a personal experience. Unfortunately, many a time it is personal stories of a tragic nature that implore us to act with caution. Many a times, it maybe late. If we are lucky, we may just learn our lesson in time. Take for instance the symptoms with the COVID-19. It does not affect all of us in a similar way in the way it would affect specific groups that are more pre-disposed or susceptible. And therefore, when there was an outbreak and we knew how the disease is transmitted quite early on, there were still dinner gatherings, group jokes in the local pubs and crowded trains to cities. It felt distant. Like the other epidemics and pandemics had earlier felt to me. It felt like something that would happen to someone else somewhere else, most probably someone who was weaker or older.

No doubt, we warned our parents and grandparents, told everyone we loved, to take care. But it hadn’t hit us as we continued to take the trains to work with a sanitiser in our bag. It is a different story about how the sanitisers and every item that had the phrase “anti-bacterial” disappeared from the shelves including baby wipes. We felt we were doing what we could without realising what we had overlooked. Standing to stop and think seemed like the last thing on our mind. Because, it swept us off our feet even when we could see it coming.

But we learn. Sometimes, the learning comes at the cost of several lives. Ironically, it imprints an unforgettable lesson that will live with us. And, we learn. Some of us learn fast, some of us take longer and sometimes at the cost of something more. But the thing to remember is this: we are as strong as the weak and there we are are fast as the slowest.

But we learn and remember. After all that is what we, as a race, pride ourselves on. I just hope we do it sooner and soon enough. For this is not the first and this will definitely not be the last as nature finds her balance.

In the process, I have witnessed several stories. I have been part of some and written some of of my own. I pause to reflect more, it seems. I seem to feel more fearless in the fearful times as I realise how inconsequential some worries are. I pray for all as I pray for my family. I remind myself we are as strong as each other. I feel an unparalleled joy at the goodness of human faith when I see it. I feel a certain pride when I do something right without fear. I feel an incredible shame as I watch our selfishness. I resign to my fate as I approach a new day with no knowledge. Join me as I walk through my life and times during COVID 19.

A 4 PM affair.

Vegetable puffs fresh from a local bakery. A 4 PM affair.

A trip down memory lane. A sense of timelessness. A happy ritual. A silent moment punctuated by the sound of crispy flakes. A yearning for more such moments. A feeling of contentment for the now.

A lack of words. An acknowledging silence.

A child-like glee.

The joy of creating

Last week I signed up for a “closed terrarium” making workshop as part of mental health awareness week because I needed to create something badly. I have been reading and doing so much brain work the last month that I needed to make something with my hands. That experience was cathartic and it made all the sense that it was chosen as an activity for mental awareness week. And in several ways it was what I needed – the joy of making and most importantly a reminder of that.

It was probably what a lot of them needed because despite this “strictly 10 participants only” being fully booked, there were a few more hoping for a no-show so they could join in. I definitely would have done the same if I had not secured a spot. Making a closed terranium – how exciting! I have long admired them on window sills in little cafes and at homes with absolutely no inkling of how to make them or sustain them. A tiny life inside a container is fascinating as it is and then I learnt about how these moisture loving plants like Fittonias actually sustain themselves and you hardly have to do much except for opening it once in a month just to let the air out and water them a bit.

I admit, I gave out a pretty loud squeal of delight when I saw the set-up only to be met by nods that understood my point. Here we were, a grand total of ten enthu-cutlets, taking an hour off work, marking our calendars busy, to make something and meet someone perhaps. There was soil, charcoal, beautiful little pebbles, a pot of charming fittonia for each of us, some moss, a couple more plants and a nice jar to house your little creation in. Walking to this set-up amidst work was just so uplifting, `

I have sometimes wondered why we have activities for creating awareness around something – is it because it encourages people to become aware of the existence of something and ask/talk about it, sometimes raising funds for the cause or is it because the activity by nature of itself encourages a sense of awareness around a topic. It was a bit of both that day. As we filled our jar with soil and nudged it ever so gently, we marvelled at how lovely it felt to be touching something and making something.

As we gently separated the roots and shared our different shades of fittonia, we forgot to hurry our way through things and very gently, very silently got blissfuly busy but never forgetting to stop for a bit and admire another’s creation.

It taught me a lot that day, making these terrariums. Inspite of being aware of how much I missed creating, it made me realise how little I knew of what I was missing out on and how much that meant to me. It is easy to be caught in the labyrinth of activities that one has to do and tasks one must endure, but nothing and absolutely nothing can or should come in the way of creating a little of something every now and then. Only if your heart wants to. And to find out if that is indeed the case, you need to immerse yourself in the very act.

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?