Birthdays

Birthdays are special. Whether we admit it or not, we eagerly look forward to our birthday each year. It’s the one-day we are made to feel special and not guilty about the fawning and fussing our mothers subject us to. But, somewhere between the “I can’t wait to turn thirteen” and “oh good lord, I’m almost thirty!” we have started to dread birthdays. At least, I have. I am not exactly sure when I stopped caring about birthdays. Maybe it’s a result of prolonged bouts of living away from home; maybe I just missed home and mom’s special rice pudding that I learnt to suppress my excitement for my birthday. It’s hard to tell when exactly apathy took over.

As I grew older, I began to set goals for myself based on how old I was turning. With each milestone unchecked, a little part of me was being chipped away. Turning 29 was a bit rough, as I sat there in my room that night; I was overcome with a sense of disappointment and unhappiness. Some of the items on my ‘to accomplish’ list were clearly not going to materialize. My pragmatic self reasoned with my emotions, that those items were clearly juvenile and unoriginal to say the least. Yet, like all human beings, there I was sobbing uncontrollably at my failure to accomplish most of my goals. This is probably how it feels like to be a grown up, a series of unaccomplished goals coupled with mini triumphs.

But, birthdays are special. It reminds us and brings together people whom we love and care for deeply. I feel it’s important to remember and appreciate those who take the time out to be part of the festivities. These are your people; the one’s who will bail on you, listen to you rant and hate on your boss and coworkers with you. Value these people. They are the ones who shall wish you at midnight, order your favorite cake and throw you yet another surprise birthday party. Birthdays are days to be thankful. Thankful for friends who are now family. The ones who never bring you a present but stay for the cake.

Birthdays have always been special at our household. My mom and I are two days apart and my dad and brother are only a day apart. The months of January and May signifies cake-a-palooza at home. My fondest memory as a child was to wake up on the morning of my birthday to find our family room decorated with balloons and streamers and my presents laid out on the center table. It felt a bit like Christmas, but just for me! Even though my parents would go all out to plan a picnic birthday for me, I really missed having my school friends over on my birthday. Since we were always on winter break, I never got to stand up in front on my class and have everyone sing Happy Birthday to me. Clearly, I am still upset about it. This feeling of isolation on my birthday disappeared when I went to college and subsequently started working. Birthdays were no longer special. I was an adult, I had to go to class, take the pop quiz, submit a proposal, and sit through conference calls, all on my special day. The grass truly isn’t greener on the other side. I did get cake though. So I guess it wasn’t so bad after all.

Being the youngest at home, I got to celebrate my birthday all over again on my father’s birthday. Given that his birthday was a day before my brother’s they celebrated them together. And as my brother readied himself for the big moment, I stood right next to him, often on a chair to reach the dining table, ready to cut my dad’s birthday cake as if it were my own. I did steal his thunder, even on his birthday. Older siblings need an award for putting up with younger siblings like me. Those birthdays were the best of birthdays that I can remember. It’s been thirteen years since I got to be a part of my brother’s birthday. I see pictures of him celebrating with his family like friends and I do feel jealous. I wish we could go back to 1995 and have one of those simple special birthdays. Surrounded by friends and family, cake, chips, coke-a-cola and a piñata full of candy.

Little Women

Earlier this week I happened to watch Little Women on TV; it took me back to fifth grade when we read the book together as a class. Albeit we didn’t finish the entire novel, but it had a deep impact on most of us. Having studied at an all girls school, this book came to us at a pivotal stage in our lives. It taught us the value of strong female friendships, and gave us an everlasting bond of sisterhood. Some of my earliest memories, of my closest friends are from the fifth grade. In school we were assigned seats based on our last names. The girl sitting next to me in class, had to suddenly move cities, which left me without a bench buddy for a few days. And, when I had just about got used to sitting alone, a new girl arrived. Like any nine year old, I was quick to judge and decided that I didn’t like her. She was the exact opposite of me, always asked questions, and completed her mental math assignments before me, vegetarian and rambunctious! Little did I know, that someone who was so different from me would, turn out to be such an integral part of my life. Dear best friend, I am so glad your last name began with an ‘S’.

As Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March grew up, so did we. While the girls learnt how to survive during the Civil War, we learnt to fight our own. I still remember the day, a close friend of mine, who had recently learnt a new cuss word from her older brother, decided to yell it out from our classroom window. Obviously, we all got into trouble! No one wanted to rat her out. This was our Civil War against the teachers. But, this incident brought us closer, like a secret mafia of sorts; I learnt the importance of loyalty, and building each other up instead of tearing one another down.

I didn’t realize the value and importance of a single sex school till much later in life. Like any teenager, we wished our parents put us into co-educational schools. But, I am glad they didn’t. When I look back at my time in school, I understand why I have the kind of bond I do with my closest friends. We were there for each other, learning, growing and discovering the world together. Witnessed and tolerated the boy drama and how can I forget, the awkward teenage fashion years. They’re probably the only people who still have evidence of my crazy curly hair days. These are the Little Women I have shared my childhood with. I feel that I carry a little bit of each one of them in me. They have helped develop my personality, told me that it’s okay to be opinionated and embraced each flaw of mine, as I have of theirs. In some ways, we’re all Jo. Stubborn, headstrong, career oriented and a rebel at heart. Our school, gave us that, it gave us each other.

As I sit at the brink of turning thirty, I realize how important old friendships are. People, who have been a part of my journey, people, with whom I would have a fight with every month without fail. People who brought extra tiffin (lunch) just to feed the rest of us, people who I skipped classes with, failed tests, bruised knees and got thrown out of the class with for not doing our math homework. Thank you! I feel we don’t say this enough to one another, maybe it’s a cultural thing, maybe this is how old friendships are. We come to a stage where we no longer need to say how important you are to me. Perhaps, that’s why America decided to that the world needed a Best Friends Day aka June 8th to celebrate and cherish our closest.

One cannot talk about friendships without mentioning those friends who we were close to at one point of time. I do think about them and at times miss what I had with them. Sometimes, I can’t remember why we no longer talk; so I just want you to know that I do value your contribution to my life and my story.

Emotion of lines

The first time I heard the phrase, “emotion of lines” was while I was working at my grad school library, and a student came to borrow an Art History book. He was an Electrical Engineering major and I was quite amused at his misery. This phrase came back to me a few weeks ago, and got me thinking about, how the abstract runs parallel to our tangible understanding of things. As I began to explore what the phrase meant it dawned on me, that we as humans tend to draw lines for ourselves. We take a stance and forbid ourselves to no longer invest emotionally. The logic being, that we’re protecting ourselves, heart mainly. These lines that we draw for our emotions is a defense mechanism that is based on past experiences and a promise that we have made to our inner most selves.

In art, the brush stokes depict the emotion that the painter is trying to express. These lines, bridge the gap of communication, they tell us how to feel and react to the image. The artist provides us with answers. This, unfortunately, doesn’t happen to us in the tangible life. We are handicapped in that sense. What we do have though, is a set of complex emotions. Those then, become the lens with which we view everything through. These emotions become our tools. Tools, that we should use to draw our emotional lines with. Therefore, unlike the swift brush strokes of an artist, in our lives we have to determine our individual emotional limitation. We then depict these limitations through our actions. Be it in friendships, in romantic relationships, towards our family, the government even the world at large, how we respond to the emotional heuristic sets the tone for where we want to draw the line.

Drawing a line for our emotional wellbeing is not necessarily a bad thing. As a matter of fact, I believe it’s necessary to do so, especially for individuals like me. I feel deeply. I have strong emotional opinions about a lot of things, human beings and causes alike. If I didn’t set the line for my emotional involvement, I would probably not be able to be a productive member of society.

However, this raises the question, that at what point do we decide that this is my limit? When does it become, okay to draw my line of emotion in a given situation? One might argue, it all depends on the cause at hand; there is no cookie cutter answer. But, shouldn’t my instinct be to stop myself before the lines start to disappear, how else does one protect them self.

I, as an individual, don’t believe in the standoffish approach, I am either all in or out. So, for me to draw the line, within the framework of the complex emotions gets a little hard. This is something I struggle with. It has taken a massive amount of retrospection for me to realize, that while giving wholeheartedly isn’t wrong, withholding some parts of your emotional being is required, at least for my sanity.

Withholding a part of ones self from their near and dear may sound selfish and unfair, but, its not. It’s okay to do so. It’s okay to preserve a part of your emotional self just for you. And you must do so, fiercely. Protect that aspect of your individuality. So, go on, draw those lines, build your fortress protect the emotion that matters to you the most. After all, “ A line is dot out for a walk.” – Paul Klee

Helplessness of death

Death makes us helpless. No matter how many times we experience it, it never gets easy. Much like the heartbreaks we experience. Over the last three weeks, I have heard of and lost several people in my life. Mostly unexpected, and that left me feeling helpless. I am a fixer; at least I would like to think of myself as one. So when these things happen, I immediately start thinking of what I can do to help the situation. Unfortunately in such events, there is very little one can do. Empathy and kind words are all that we have to offer.

I was never good at math. I don’t get math. It leaves me befuddled. And for as long as I can remember, I have tried to avoid it. Middle school math was a nightmare, and when that traumatic time began in my life a gentleman called “Master jee” appeared. Like all real life hero’s he had no cape, or mask nor did he have any special powers. What he did have, was the ability to make his students believe that anything is possible. In school, if you aren’t the sharpest crayon teachers don’t take too kindly to you. But, for my tutor, Master jee, it didn’t matter that I got eight points out of a total of thirty on a test. All he cared about was abhyas, which in Hindi means practice. I fondly remember my last class with him, it was right before my last math test in tenth grade. He rode his bicycle to my house early morning that day and stayed till I left to go take my test. That was Master jee. It makes me sad that I won’t get to see him ever again. He was one of those people you never imagine your life without, yet it happened. Late April this year, Master jee passed away. I felt helpless.

I was just recovering from this news when I found out a girl whom I went to high school with was in a car crash. All our collective worlds came crashing down that Saturday morning. Sonika was no more. My mind drifted to 2003, that’s when I got to know her personally. I became a prefect and was allotted the notorious class 9C. To be honest, it was one of my most fun experiences while in high school. I mean which thirteen year old isn’t naughty? She was naughty, vivacious, witty and above all a wonderful human being. Losing Sonika left me feeling helpless.

Then in quick succession, I lost a distant uncle and grandmother. I didn’t know what to do for it to hurt a little less. How does one give strength to an aunt who suddenly lost her husband, without any closure? How does one tell their cousin who’s in a different country that they just lost their grandparent? It never gets easy, no matter how many times we go through it.

The last couple of weeks have been tumultuous. These deaths have left me feeling numb and helpless. Helpless ‘cause I couldn’t do anything. I keep telling myself, maybe it was their time, and they had to go. But, Lt. Ummer Fayaz’s family could have been spared of this pain. He didn’t deserve to die in the hands of coward terrorists. The level of complacency is appalling. When the new popular government came into power, we thought he was the leader India needed to get rid of these non-state actors in the valley. How wrong were we. If anything, there seems to be an increase in the number of army personnel deaths in the last two years. There’s a popular saying in American politics, that essentially says, that you might have set ideologies and lofty liberal ideas before taking the oath of office, but once in it, Presidents often find them shifting towards political realism. That is exactly what has happened with our Prime Minister. He might want to carpet bomb, but, can’t. Because, we’re a liberal state, with the values of democracy that we must uphold. Plus, there’s always the fear of being hauled up by the ICJ. Therefore, we hide behind the politics of policy and condemn the killing of a solider, who did not deserve to be killed mercilessly. The nation watched helplessly from the comfort of their couch in an air-conditioned living room, while nodding their head in condemnation. We’ve become complacent in our helplessness and that worries me.

It bothers me

I am sensitive.

I have been this way for as long as I can remember. Little things bother me and stay on my mind long after the moment has passed. Not to the extent of dropping everything and being unable to move on, but definitely unsettled. For instance, after having lived away from India for a few years, I realized that I had learnt to respect and treat everyone as equals. Growing up in our social circles, we’ve always had people to do things for us. Be it our cooks, our drivers, the person who does our laundry, our gardener somewhere between being served and expecting to be served we grew up desensitized. I am not chastising people for having help, I love having help, and it’s probably one of the reasons why I will never leave India, again. I enjoy the good life. That being said, when I moved back home, I began to notice a pattern. Our behavior and tone changes when we talk to our help. Curt, dismissive and sometimes derogatory. That’s what most of us have seen while growing up and have emulated too. It really bothers me how some people speak to their help, it’s almost as though they no longer consider their help as humans. Barking orders, disrespectfully addressing them regardless of the fact that they are older or even have them do little tasks that one clearly should be doing on their own.

It bothers me.

We’re pushing thirty, is it really that hard to be compassionate? At what point did we become devoid of the finer human emotions? In parties and social do’s we talk about everything under the sun, health, marathons, golf, and sitcoms, sometimes-even politics. Every now and then someone will bring up the Trump administration, but seldom we talk about Aleppo. Quite frankly, it disturbs people to think about what’s going on in the Middle East, let alone recollect images of little children suffering. This is no dinner table talk; it’s impolite to talk about such things. However, I feel, the reason we don’t indulge in such talk is because we’re desensitized. We as a generation, and I know that I am generalizing, are unable to feel deeply for people whom we don’t know, don’t follow on social media, basically people we can’t relate to. How unfortunate is that. People often joke and say, if you’re not on social media you don’t exist. The sad reality of life is, that it’s actually true. So, on one hand we have the long list of benefits of social media. How great it is, how it’s brought people together, the world has shrunk because of the world wide web, but, it’s also made us a little desensitized.

I understand that it’s a dog eat dog world out there, now more than before. We must look out for ourselves first. Don’t get me wrong, its not a bad thing, perhaps it would be nicer if we could spare a few moments to be compassionate. It’s okay to talk about things that make the room a little uncomfortable, because it is somebody’s reality. One must learn to embrace the different aspects of life, some will come naturally, some not so much, but it’s a start. It is imperative that we pause a little when we read about the atrocities in Aleppo. To really explore the way in which we can help, every little contribution matters. Dialogue is important and it has to start somewhere. Being sensitive is a good thing, as humans intrinsically all of us can feel compassion. Some more than others, and that’s all right. As long as we can feel ‘that’ something.

‘Does this road lead to Aleppo?’

Your answer can be ‘yes’ or ‘no’

Your opinion doesn’t make it so

Consult a map before you go!

~ Rumi

Left behind

My pragmatic self knows fully well that life is not a race. We’re all exactly where we’re meant to be, doing what we’re destined to do. I know this. I understand this. But, for some reason my mind in its moments of space bubbles, tends to go into a semi dark loop of unhappiness. Unknowingly, I find myself comparing my present life situation to people around me. Social media plays it’s part perfectly, reminding me of the things, I could have been doing had things worked out a certain way for me. Reality of life is that things don’t necessarily pan out the way we had imagined. Some of us do get left behind.

Having been unemployed for a little over eighteen weeks, I have had a lot of time to wallow in self-pity. To be reflective, to be naive, to be in denial, to go down the rabbit hole of anxiety, it’s been a rather interesting range of emotions there. Special mention, to the people who have had to listen to my rants and bear with my emotional outbursts, thank you.

This isn’t a fun place to be in, mentally. Because, we want success, and happiness for our loved ones. We want to celebrate each of their achievements, their big moments, be a part of their joy. However, amidst all the champagne and cake and innumerable celebratory brunches, I find a sense of hollow, left behindness taking over. I am pretty sure, I am not the only one who finds themselves in this particular predicament, there are others too, but we’re afraid to verbalize it. Lest, we come across as bad people, unable to be happy for our closest. Believe me, I am happy. My feeling of inadequacy has nothing to do with what you have; it simply poses its self as a reminder of what I don’t.

Someone once told me, the easiest way to set your self up for disappointment is to have a five-year plan. I laughed, because I am all about the five-year plans, typed out, in a binder, with bullet points and a PowerPoint presentation. I like to plan, and work towards mini goals; it’s what gives me a sense of purpose. Yet, I got left behind.

When I look around and see the careers that my friends are having, the places they are vacationing at or even the stage in their personal lives that they are at. I can’t help but feel as though I lost this race. I tell myself, I had to restart my career and life when I moved back to India, and so I am allowed to be a little behind. This rationale doesn’t last for very long. It’s overtaken by a sense of being trapped, a sense of having to walk in the opposite direction of the current, a lack of control coupled with the uncertainty of the future. I wish there was a switch I could hit, as soon as I start tumbling down that abyss, but there isn’t one, and I have to force myself out of that headspace. It’s almost expected that, I shouldn’t be in that headspace. Being an extrovert on most days, I am expected to be a hundred percent enthusiastic about everything. Truth is some days, I cant. There are days, where all I can think about are those exact moments, decisions that have brought me here, to this very moment.

I would sound ungrateful if I didn’t acknowledge the great things that have happened to me the opportunities, and the support that I have received. I have been told, how lucky I was to get to leave the country and follow my heart. A lot of people I know were denied that, and I am grateful for the little things that I take for granted. It’s all about perspective in the end, from where I am sitting, I feel left behind. Someone else, probably feels the same looking at how far I have come?

Facebook Memories

Facebook goes through a gazillion updates every month. They keep trying to make it more relatable to the millennials. Truth be told, a majority of the millennials were toddlers when, my friends and I got Facebook. We were the ones who got on Facebook (thanks to our college email id’s) before they made it accessible for everyone. One of the nicer updates that started sometime in 2016 was Facebook memories. I am pretty sure the idea behind it was to invoke a sense of nostalgia. It’s an attempt to remind you that on this day, each year, what is it that you were doing. Some of the memories that surface are wonderful and puts a smile on your face, some memories, however, don’t have the same effect.

Recently, I have been noticing that a lot of my early 2007 statuses were passive. They sent me right back to freshmen year college and reminded me of certain instances that were the cause of my melancholy. That’s when I realized; why ten years later those status messages are still bothering me. I never got a chance to tell those who are now close friends of mine, how much they hurt me. I taught myself to move on and brush the incident under the rug. Two of the people whom I had met within the first few days of college, after a particularly distasteful conversation had individually written hurtful emails to me. Providence is that, we were able to move past that incident and become great friends. But, 19 year old me was completely broken. Friend A wrote out a lengthy email enumerating everything that was bothering her about me, and friend B sent me a nineteen page word document telling me everything that was wrong with me. I didn’t leave my room for two whole days. They never once came to check up on me. I was alone and broken. The day I was coming home for the summer, they walked into the dining hall and sat at a different table, walked behind me to the dorm and never said goodbye knowing fully well that I was leaving for four months. I was determined not to come back to America. I didn’t want to come back and see them. Those people who had gone to such a lengths to completely break me as a person. Thankfully, I have been blessed with a strong set of friends from school. Sure, we have our differences, we’ve become strong individuals, but, had it not been for them and Hotmail messenger, I don’t know what I would have done. Over the summer, I read a book called “Zahir”. There were these lines about letting go that I find myself going back to time and time again.

As I cried each evening trying to reason with my parents why I don’t want to go back, I couldn’t tell them, it was because my friends broke me from the inside. So, I pleaded, begged, and even told my dad that he didn’t love me till a deal was struck. I would go back to college, provided, that I could transfer out the following year. This also meant that I would have to let go of my scholarship. Dad, agreed. I must have done something right in my life to deserve him as my dad.

I went back to college, semi healed. The only mission I had was to transfer out and find new friends in the city. I managed to do both!

The process of healing can be a long one. Mine has taken ten years. I do get emotional thinking about helpless nineteen year old me, not knowing what to do. Not being able to talk to anyone about it. So I am glad there are books. Certain lines just speak to you. They can teach you to love yourself, even when everyone around you doesn’t. It has taken me all this while to understand, the just because we let go of something, doesn’t mean that it stops hurting you. Certain scars will forever remain.

These are lines that helped me begin the process of healing. I had written it out on a sheet of paper and stuck it to my desk in my dorm room. I’d read it once a day, till I realized I had 6 classes and no time to feel sorry for myself. 😛

“That is why it is so important to let certain things go. To release them. To cut loose. People need to understand that no one is playing with marked cards; sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Don’t expect to get anything back, don’t expect recognition for your efforts, don’t expect your genius to be discovered or your love to be understood. Complete the circle. Not out of pride, inability or arrogance, but simply because whatever it is no longer fits in your life. Close the door, change the record, clean the house, get rid of the dust. Stop being who you were and become who you are.”

― Paulo Coelho, The Zahir