Belated Happy new Year

So to speak its just the next day after today. But that one date change, that one reset on calendars and minds is huge shift. Suddenly it’s the new year and voila, all the overrated gimmicks are flowing all over. All resolutions are packed up in the brain like sperm cells and are ready to flow the minute its dawn. But I’d like to reflect on the year gone by in a doing this the first-time manner.

2017 was a mixed bag for me. It was my first year from a decade long career break and I’ve felt it every single day of my life. The safe routine of walking into a closed-door office and dealing with the problems of being in an IT company was self-assuring. Despite the hiccups and problems, it was still affirmative of the fact that I had a job that paid. I had my own financial independence and could decide how to spend that money. It intrinsically bought in respect and a certain ego which now that I look back I quite miss. Having a legit job brought in a lot of layers of respect which this year unfolded for me given my status.

But it was also an eye opener of a kind that made me realize the importance of what I had. It made me realize the right I had to my own money and not trusting anyone blindly even if it’s your loved ones. It may sound crude and blunt, but self-awareness is key. If you’re rubbing your ass off that god-awful office worrying sick about deadlines, wondering if you would have a peaceful evening /weekend /month or year you ought to respect the money that you’re earning off it. For too long I ignored my financial investments and not once did I realize that I was too neck deep into them to have any free money to spend. For too long I was hammered by my traditional and financially conservative parents that you should not spend any money and I mean ANY. Just try every trick in the book to avoid spending any money. They were particularly disappointed when my love marriage with a Guajarati guy did not yield in my improvement on financial matters at all. Well I guess I was just wired wrongly. My attention deficit to all matters financial are shameful and I guess I am feeling the pinch each day of my sabbatical. It in fact reinforced my belief that every perceived ending is a new beginning. It brings in many new revelations that we can work on. Its never really the end. That’s perhaps what makes this world amazing. Epiphany has arrived!!

To round up some of the lessons learnt in 2017 and to also safely post them over are signs of aging, and I admit I am. Here goes:

Trust your instincts – When in Rome, do as the Romans do. If you spend a considerable time in a certain field and pass each year loathing its nature you either step back soon enough to not make the cribbing second nature or you absorb the system and become intrinsic to it. Always trust your instincts. Never stick to a career or a place which makes you feel unhappy or misfit. I guess I have evolved instincts and can safely trust them to conclude. The problem with sticking to this situation is that it should not become a habit. Cribbing and whining can become a habit and it can soon become our character which is unhealthy.

Perspective – Always gain a perspective on what you are into. It helps to constantly weigh in pros and cons of your situation, personal or professional and then move ahead. Love yourself, never ever let go off your happiness and satisfaction in any case. Compromise only when your brain lets you coz the heart does not have logic.

Fail and rise again –  Given my stubborn nature, I couldn’t quite fight my inertia to overcome my failure at a given challenge. I guess its time to overcome the inertia and take failure in your stride. Failures are also earned and it’s a lot better than not trying at all.

Power of Now – If anything has been on your dream list or to do list for too long, then there is something wrong with your system. It needs to be done NOW. NOW is a good time to do all the long-procrastinated things. NOW is my key word for the year.

Discipline and Focus – Focus on prioritizing important & urgent things well. An unfinished work is just plain unacceptable. Do not begin anything new unless you finish the unfinished item. Editing can then be effective on something that has been completed. So write-finish it – edit – rewrite- FINISH IT.

Stay hungry and Stay Foolish – Nurturing yourself. Most important, and one must keep inspiring oneself. Take every experience whether good or bad coz that can be a breeding ground of ideas. Like the idea of women sitting outside the trail rooms. Great fodder. Ideation is the second key word. Take every experience and live it. This would never happen with that mother of an IT job that I was breeding on.

I guess I must give myself credit for taking a brave decision too early. I can’t wait to change my course of life. Enough is enough!! #TakeCharge.

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A wonderful evening

Most evenings and weekends are just a part of the mosaic that we survive to pass each day and then there are some evenings that make you smile just by the memory of it. One such evening was when I went to the Mumbai Local session with Shanta Gokhale of the Junoon theatre group yesterday.  The intimate setting of the session really made me feel extremely involved.

Shanta Gokhale is a prolific writer and an even better editor and translator. These jobs are not as glamorous but need a lot of meticulous attention to detail. Its an exhausting job and one that seldom receives credit. It is indeed to her credit that she took up the unusual job and achieved the brilliance that she did. She has been a pioneer in the said field successfully compiling several books on the history of the theater movement,  Mumbai theater and experimental theater movement.  What is worth applauding is the tremendous effort taken to preserve this absolutely enthralling treasure of our culture in wonderfully compiled books. She spoke at length about her chance encounter with her husband’s boss who compelled her to compile their Navy editorial magazine. Reluctant at first she took the task nevertheless and did a wonderful job of it. This involved a lot of editing from the humongous pile of unkempt writing material and cutting out the noise but she managed it despite the hurdles.

This job led her to several interesting opportunities and soon she was the main editor of the Femina magazine. From here she moved on to the Arts and Culture section of Times of India. She shared with us her experiences in bringing new stories to the table. While most editors would wait for writers to send in their pieces, she would call for writers to submit their work upfront. She was willing to get down on the job instead of being uptight and waiting for applications to be sent. She set up some great practices in her office to enable a lot of good content to be accessible. She brought in interesting content from different people with varied backgrounds.

In one of the features of Times of India, she featured a group of truck drivers who wrote poetry in Urdu. The innate paradox in such features is what made her work more interesting. Shanta ji is a prolific writer and a striking woman. Mother of actress Renuka Shahane, she has been an important contributor to the literature of the arts. It must have been an uphill task to collate all the material and compile a book. As a theatre lover I am forever grateful to her since these books gave me amazing insights into the lives of the dynamic people that formed the experimental theatre movement in the 70s. So kudos to her.

Overall this was a beautiful evening chatting with her, and listening to her talk about her career. In a sea of crazy events this wonderful 2 hour session with the Junoon theatre group was an evening that I will remember for a very long time to come.

 

Tumhari Sulu – sublime

Referring to 90s is now 2 decades back and so it should be addressed as a long time ago. So long time ago when we went for movies it was always about watching a family entertainer since movies were like little festivals that brought the family – joint or nuclear, to spend a happy carefree 2-3 hours together and take back happy thoughts before the mundane routine of life began.

Over the years the idea of movie watching and family entertainers has changed so much that one looks for a peaceful narrative onscreen as well as off it.  Most of the over the top exaggerated and pseudo family entertainers are hammered on the television every other day and their southern original counterparts are the stuff of the nights. Amidst this chaos, when a simple sweet film shows up out of nowhere with its poster girl connecting with you instantly, you know this might be worth the 2 hours spent.

Tumhari Sulu from the trailer looked extremely fresh and sweet with a simple narrative but yet effective and long lasting.  Vidya Balan’s natural laughter and equally seductive Hello wins your heart immediately the moment she appears on the screen. The trailer promised me a wonderful movie and am happy to say it does not disappoint at all.

The movie connects us wonderfully to Sulu and her daily routine, her family and most importantly herself. Her happy and mischievous self that is so full of hope and positivity that she immediately reminds us that life is still good, despite its strange oddities and monotonous nature.  She is effervescent, full of life and always looks for that ray of hope even when her closest people try to dampen her spirit. Its a beautiful depiction of how believing in yourself is the ultimate triumph.

The supporting characters too are well defined and every actor does his job well. Be it her husband, the twin sisters, the cab driver, the radio station boss, the poet. Each character is so effortless that the story flows seamlessly and we become a part of Sulu’s journey.  It plays a silent tribute to women and their constant efforts to balance home and career. As a society we look at a woman’s career with much less respect expecting or rather cruelly hoping for her to sit back. And its not just the men who pull her down but women do it too. If we could empower the women who are forced to sit at home either by situation or otherwise, we could create a hugely productive workforce. Unfortunately we have a very deep rooted classification of work assigned to men and women, and that unlearning must happen.

Two poignant scenes in the movie show us so well how we take our women for granted and how an ambition is killed perhaps in every household. In the second half, when the son is suspended from school, the principal summons both Sulu and Ashok to school. Both are shocked and blank wondering how their son got so far with his adventures at school.  When Ashok ensures the principal that he will take care, Sulu’s reaction and that scene is so well done it almost connects instantly.  The instant thought of counting her out since she began working is so on point that every woman in the audience can connect.  Every mistake that a child makes is immediately blamed on the mother. Everyone takes a decision on her behalf that she needs to give up on her career because that ruins the house. This must have been the story of a thousand women in India who quietly sacrificed their dreams and ambitions for the men in the house be it husband or son.

Its a movie that subtly holds a mirror but does not try to preach. Sulu’s journey and her grit to never lose hope despite the hurdles is inspiring and motivating.  Vidya Balan in the title role is top notch, her screen presence is brilliant. Its another message to the audience that a Hindi film heroine does not always have to look a certain way. She sends a strong message that we need to stop the obsession over body image. She looks beauttiful nevertheless and the saree just adds to the beauty. She started a trend with Dirty Picture and Kahaani and Tumhari Sulu is the perfect hattrick.

Here’s to many more fun films like these and more women like Sulu!!

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Color me black

“Wear a bobby pin in the back of your head, and a kala tika behind your ear” said my mom-in-law, “and this thread around your wrist”.

She handed me what looked like a normal black thread but was rumored to have super powers that would control people’s bad vibe towards me. I smiled and realized looking at the watch there wasn’t enough time to go over this again. I was running late for office and the office cab driver called several times to remind me that he had arrived.

I was in the 7th month of my pregnancy and was exponentially growing each day. My foot size had grown by 2 inches and the flexible Paragon slippers weren’t fitting either. My feet had swollen tremendously to the point that my OB/GYN Dr.Kankal had taken some photographs to share with her patients. She wanted to boast about how I still travelled to office despite a heavy body and swollen feet to others. She was very supportive of me working (office) as much as I could and I was determined to too. Everybody around me grew anxious and nervous as I passed each day being pregnant. They would fret about my feet to almost everyone who visited or even called while I would literally put them up and relax.

I was active throughout my pregnancy managing office, travel and everything in between. I would clean, cook and do everything like a normal person. I would return the stares of strangers who couldn’t take their eyes off my belly. This was a phenomenon that I could never understand but it never bothered me to the extent of wearing some extra shield in the form of threads to protect my baby.

I’ve been a spiritual person who never believed in rituals. I never argued with anyone or had armchair discussions with people on religion or rituals to prove my point, as long as I wasn’t forced to perform them. I’m a firm believer of science and never followed any superstition. My hands were all empty with just an engagement ring and no threads or rings crowding the space.

None of these rings or threads brought prosperity or money as was promised by their promoters. Most of them were gimmicks to fool people. Superstition is a powerful tool to make people not believe in themselves and their karma. It has created a hysteria in people to fast forward their luck and by no tangible proof. It finds its major audience mainly in the poor or the rich people who would rather spend all the money on some threads or rings than work hard or save it.

No matter how hard I stood my ground, I was always warned about other pregnancies. Most deliveries in the family were premature due to unfortunate health scares. Everyone had assumed that I too would have a premature baby looking at how huge and swollen I looked. There is no right answer to what could save a health scare during this phase. Surely, not these tools that everyone assume will act like an extra protection. Proving the statistics is unfair too because there is only so much that is under our control.

During my entire span of pregnancy, I did yoga, took long walks and always ensured to eat well. Even when I took my maternity break a month prior to my due date I read books, wrote, watched movies, listened to music. I figured that if I spent my days with a happy mind it would make the pregnancy a lot pleasant and keep the baby happy and healthy. I believed in my own karma that would pave way for my future. If something had to happen it would even if I had a humungous coral ring adorned. At least this way I won’t be living in constant fear.

Life is beyond these phenomena, especially these superstitions that we have conditioned our mind to believe even more than believing in ourselves.

The stoned night

“Do you have fever”, said the nurse at the Ruby Hall hospital’s emergency ward.

“No”, I said.

“Do you feel pain below your tummy”, she asked.

“No”, I said.

She twisted her eyebrows and I sensed that she wasn’t too happy serving a patient who had absolutely no complaints and was yet brought to the emergency ward at this hour. She clearly had her hands full and had no time for my field trip.

It was October 2014, when a tiny kidney stone I assume, had wreaked havoc in my life. I had retired to my bedroom as usual and was reading when a sudden pain erupted in my lower abdomen and few minutes later I was bawling like a baby. A couple weeks ago, my husband met with a fatal accident on the Mumbai Pune expressway that fractured his leg. He was recovering from the surgery hence was bed-ridden. He called out to my in-laws who were in the next bedroom. They were always on guard since the past few weeks hadn’t been very pleasant.

They helped me get into an auto and we went to the Ruby Hospital that was a 10-minute ride from our home. Usually a midnight rush to the hospital should be motivated by some visual injury but that’s the trick with kidney stones. The pain is tremendous and yet there is no visible proof of it. As we reached the hospital, my pain had gradually subsided and by the time I was plonked on those beds in the emergency ward, it had pretty much gone. I felt foolish answering the nurse’s questions who was trying her best to calm me down but there wasn’t much work required. She still gave me an antibiotic and called me the next day for a sonography to confirm if the pain was due to a stone.

My mother-in-law and I waited outside the hospital while my father in law went to get an auto for us to go back home. I felt embarrassed since I had woken them up from their sleep to rush to the hospital for a pain that didn’t even last that long. For the first time in years my mother in law and I took the longest pause in our conversation and I could sense the unspoken words.

Guilt ridden and at a loss of appropriate words, I managed a feeble sorry. The next day, we came in to get a sonography done and surprisingly the sonographer found no stone. I was quite sure it was a stone since all my google search had pointed to it. Google for most of us has been a savior and in some years,could turn all of us into doctors with all the torrent of information around. I came home with the usual dosage of medicine to subside whatever source of pain it was and returned to my world. I had been a lazy workaholic at office. To explain I was workaholic to the extent that I was lazy about having water or visiting the loo for long hours and promise myself daily that I would be better the next day. For a maniac like me, I even downloaded an app on my mobile that rang an alarm to remind me of a water break but it was treated like the usual morning alarm.

After about 3 months the pain resurfaced and this time it prepared to last longer. I called off-sick at work and visited the doctor who asked me to get admitted in the hospital immediately.

“What is your profession?”, he asked while filling out some forms.

“I’m a software engineer.”, I said feeling proud. He smirked and went on to recite statistics of how common it was for software engineers to develop stones and how we ruined our life choosing this profession. Oh well. The next 3 weeks were terrible since it was the first time in my life that I was admitted to a hospital. Kidney stones aren’t life threatening but in a dramatic way my life flashed before my eyes. I even prepared a will of my meager savings and gave a small speech about life, to my husband while at it.

The stone was clearly playing games with my kidney as well as my mind. If only I had taken those trips to the water station at office, perhaps it would have saved me all the drama. I figured much later that a large chunk of my savings was washed away by the stone, it seemed like it had its own will.

About time

We had my husband Brijesh’s three uncles and their entire families over for lunch during Diwali. It was a full house with 20 adults and 3 hyperactive toddlers in our humble 2 bedroom apartment. After everyone happily gulped the sumptuous meal, all the men hastily plonked themselves on the sofas of our living room. It almost felt like a Mumbai local where passengers haggle around for a seat. As hosts this felt very satisfying but after a while the clamor just got bigger. My husband helped us clear the dining table and served dessert to everyone. The men in the group eyed him with a little disdain and called out to him.

“What are you doing going to the kitchen, the women are there to take care of the stuff. Come sit with us, let’s talk about the government.”

He settled amongst them feeling a little helpless to argue with the men. But soon his voice was lost in all the chaos. As I was watching all this I was itching to ask some of the men around why it was such a woman thing to clean the table or serve dessert. It was a chore after all. But being the silent rebel that I was I let the argument die down in my mind. I casually moved into our bedroom where the women had grouped themselves to chat and observed their conversations. Most of them seemed curious about my resignation. Since I had been working all the 6 years that I had been married into this family and the only one at that, they were pleasantly surprised.

I had been working as a software consultant for over a decade. I had never taken a sabbatical or a break so it had become routine for everyone to ask me “How is work?” instead of “How are you” because that’s what I always did. After an entire decade, I resigned from my job within 3 months of returning from maternity leave. After all these years, I had realized that I had a bucket list of my dreams and goals which never got ticked off at all. The corporate world did not really leverage my potential since I could hardly deal with its politics and pressures. I had taken this break to find my passion. It was the perfect opportunity since I could also spend time with my son while figuring all this out.

Most women in the room assured me that this was the best choice to make because eventually this is what we were supposed to do. Look after the family, tend to them and subtly let our dreams fade away. Little did they know that I felt otherwise. I wondered why most women were happy with this settling down. We tend to associate only men with patriarchy but women too are products of it. I often found my mother or mother in law queasy if they saw my husband with a broom or doing the dishes. I would joke with my mother that if I had a son I would teach him all the household chores. He shouldn’t be couching on the sofa waiting for dinner to be served just because he’s a boy.

“No! don’t teach him all these chores. He would be better off playing in the field. Your generation always thinks of parenting like some kind of a mission.”, she would often say.

Suddenly my son, Ishaan entered the room where the ladies had their own little party going. He brought out the broom and attempted to sweep, imbibing from what he had seen the women in the house do every day. Everyone had a hearty laugh at his antics and were thoroughly entertained.

“Ishu, you should have been born as a girl, if you loved doing all these household chores!”, his grandmother exclaimed.

I smiled at him, wondering perhaps this could be the first step in our little change of switching gender roles. As I watched him keep all the washed utensils back to their rack I thought, maybe it’s about time.

Legend of Navatri

 

I often dream of my kid coming back from school on sunny afternoons, and after witnessing a whole year of his life in his sanity, would ask me the origin of every festival month after month. I am dreading those moments a little because that just means I would have to go back to basics very soon. All I remember of most festivals is how we stuff ourselves with food that could perhaps feed an entire village and then crash only to do this even more the next day.

So just as I return from my stream of thoughts, I hear a voice and I know it’s not in my head.

“Are you going for the show this year”, my over enthusiastic sister-in-law jabs me in my tummy and goes on before I even begin to answer the question that she asks me every year. I can almost read her face that says, who is this goofball of a woman our brother bought home as his wife, she has no interest in clothes, jewelry, dance, life all she talks is philosophy.

She turns to my husband and makes plans for the coming week and has designed all her 9 day looks in her head. Her husband who belonged to the same tribe as mine, is in a corner perhaps planning for the coming week and all the nirvana and liquor he would be gulping when the Mrs would be jibing to Falguni Pathak in a faraway land somewhere.

On some of the sane days when I introspect about my choices in life, I almost always hear my head gonging, ‘what were you thinking?’ I come from a home where people have never even danced at their own weddings and they celebrate a happy moment with chaha, (tea in Marathi) I had decided to walk into a gang of people who wanted to just go majja ma all the time just like the old uncle playing carom in Munnabhai.

Well it was the pre Navratri week and as we all know, it is only secondary to women preparing for their own marriage. They go completely berserk during this season being vain in their own vanity and fling open their closets to bring out their best. I have always managed to appreciate the whole euphoria from a distance but to compete with these veterans, I didn’t stand a chance. I was mulling over sleepless nights to my already snoring husband on how we could devise an intelligent plan to get out of the whole thing but try as I could, you cant really stop a true blue Gujarati from going to the event of the year. –Dandiya by Falguni Pathak.

Childhood and teenage years was all about exams, whether the boy in my class smiled at me or was he cock-eyed, whether dad would give pocket money or would I have to eat at home. These problems were worth stressing about, but when the rosy period ends and you settle into marriage, problems like what to wear for a dandiya night with the costumey sister-in-law is just really the tip of the iceberg.

So with a heavy heart I walked into the prestigious and festive air of the dandiya night with the megastar Falguni and her army of crazy fans. I was sticking out like a sore thumb but in a crowd of 2000 odd jumping jacks this was hardly a crisis. The music began and if I ignored some logistical details, this pretty much felt like Michael Jackson doing his moonwalk, and women throwing themselves at him.

My self training for overcoming the loud music playing on every weekend in every lane in Mumbai finally paid off. Once the music hammers onto your head instead of stressing over how loud it is , I just start dancing to it, so it gets out of my system. There I was smoothly sinking into the new environment I had walked into. But I must confess , that as much as I am sarcastic about all of the above mentioned things,I really love dancing. More freestyle than anything else, so I started teasing myself into jamming with all the dandiya experts around. My husband and his little gang of cousins were merrily swaying across matching steps and inventing new ones while I was trying to scientifically angle myself in the group activity. I must have stamped a few feet, unpinned a few dupattas much to my dismay. And yet I didn’t give up, I kept encouraging myself to go for it, and trying to match up with the legends around me.

10 minutes and someone loudly called off “ Aunty, dance nahi aata to baju hato”.I froze for a bit pretending it wasn’t for me. I guess I even saw Falguni pause for a bit and look around, but truth be told that was for me. I looked around to spot if someone heard that and if it was for them but turns out my sister-in-law with 2 left feet was also matching steps with the gang so it was really me. The words just kept echoing in my head.

2 months into marriage and people were already calling me aunty. I knew this day would come, when a grey hair would peep out of my mane and little freckles adorning my eye. I would be taking brisk walks in the society when little kids would start calling me aunty. I was realistically prepared for this somewhere post our fifth anniversary celebration. But this early uncalled for transition was blasphemous and got me red. Of course I couldn’t spot my offender, but my husband was swaying with them and I have a feeling he must have been in the chorus.

I quickly moved myself in the bystander area where the entry age was fifty. And I just swept across propping myself between a pool of grey hair and artificially dyed ones. I felt much at home, and am sure they invented the mannequin challenge on Instagram looking at me since I hadn’t even moved an inch from that moment until eternity.

I realized that day, that its OK to laugh at yourself and have a good time, that its fine, to be vain in vanity and even though age really shows in the curves of your wrinkles, you can eventually get closure by getting back at those “aunty” callers. I’m just figuring out how.