My love affair with locals – one year and counting

Pretty long for an affair, don’t you think?

Mumbai Local train stories | Chai High is a blog by Shivani Krishan

My relationship with the Mumbai local trains started last September when I took up a job on the other side of town. At first, I assumed it would be a temporary arrangement, moving closer to work being the general idea. But laziness and fear-of-seeing-ugly-houses kept me committed to my tiring routine.

Home -> Auto -> Train -> Cab -> Work = 1 hour 40 minutes

Work -> Walk -> Train -> Auto -> Home = 1 hour 55 minutes

Day in and day out for more than a year.

A couple of my colleagues have looked at me pointedly and said – “Wow, you must really love this job.”

But like most relationships, my affair with the local train and therefore my job, is not based on “love” alone.

Like any affair, my tryst with the locals came with its own set of stages.

First came the adrenalin – I can do this. Travel 4 hours a day and survive, I mean.

Then came the tiffs – little hiccups in the journey (like missing my train), that made me reconsider my decision to live so far from work.

Then came hatred – with the Mumbai rains – that made me want to quit. The job, the city, the world, everything.

Then I got used to it. It became routine. A habit. I began to love the little quirks, stories and happenings in the ladies compartment – so much so, that I realised, I may miss it if I quit.

It’s funny when you think about it. How can you hate something one moment, and absolutely love it the next? How can you bitch about it for hours, and then defend it vehemently when another suggests you cab it instead?

A love-hate relationship, that in addition to making me feel really proud of myself – when I realised I had completed a year of this gruelling schedule and survived, it also opened my mind to the world in a whole, new, different way. There were days I teared up with joy on seeing acts of kindness between fellow passengers – the world can be a happy place sometimes. And there were days when I came home bursting with stories of large insects creeping up under salwars and burkhas, driving entire compartments into mayhem.

The local trains can brighten up your day in more ways than one. If you let it.

Also, I lost a shit ton of weight. 😉 One does NOT simply give up on something that helps you stay fit without actively trying. On second thoughts, maybe it’s fear of getting out of shape that’s keeping me addicted to the locals, but that’s a thought for another day. 😛

Over the past year, I have written about these little instances and observations on my Facebook page. And plenty of my friends who’ve read it have asked me to write a book, create a vlog, or simply come up with a comic series on the same. However, I think, for now, let’s keep it on this blog.

Have a look, and hope it keeps you entertained.

Cheers.

Mumbai Local train stories | Chai High is a blog by Shivani Krishan

Mumbai Local train stories | Chai High is a blog by Shivani Krishan

Mumbai Local train stories | Chai High is a blog by Shivani Krishan

Mumbai Local train stories | Chai High is a blog by Shivani Krishan

Mumbai Local train stories | Chai High is a blog by Shivani Krishan

Mumbai Local train stories | Chai High is a blog by Shivani Krishan

Mumbai Local train stories | Chai High is a blog by Shivani Krishan

Mumbai Local train stories | Chai High is a blog by Shivani Krishan

Mumbai Local train stories | Chai High is a blog by Shivani Krishan

Mumbai Local train stories | Chai High is a blog by Shivani Krishan

Mumbai Local train stories | Chai High is a blog by Shivani Krishan

Mumbai Local train stories | Chai High is a blog by Shivani Krishan

Mumbai Local train stories | Chai High is a blog by Shivani Krishan

Even if you’ve never been on the local, these updates will vicariously let you live the local life. 🙂

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

If only someone could understand my angst at finding fungus growing on my Theobroma Rye bread – An essay on the importance of Understanding

And the extreme pain I felt while throwing the nearly-perfect loaf into the trash can.

Last night, I got home to find a thin layer of fungus growing on my neatly-stored Rye bread. That loaf was particularly tasty, and my almost-2-hour commute back home had been spent imagining eating the rye bread for dinner with all sorts of toppings – a warmed-up slice with a generous slathering of peanut butter, or a sandwich with hummus, cottage cheese, bell peppers and a boiled egg thrown in.

So, while my brain was merely disappointed at finding my Rs. 85-a-loaf bread spoiling, my taste-buds were devastated. They had to settle for oats with milk. And that in itself was punishment – one does not simply swap hummus and rye with oats.

Now the thing with this problem was, if I’d shared it with anyone else, chances are they’d tell me to calm down and just order something. Which, let me explain, IS NOT THE SOLUTION.

I don’t want to order something else. I want my rye bread back, un-fungused. And ready to be heated and layered with peanut butter. But, one can’t reverse fungus-growth, just like one can’t reverse time.

So, let me say it again.

If only somebody could understand my angst at finding fungus growing on my Theobroma Rye bread. 

I don’t want a new rye bread. And I most certainly don’t want to be taken out to dinner as consolation. I just want somebody to understand what I mean when I say I am devastated that my bread has fungus growing on it.

Which brings me to the point of this story.

We all seek someone who understands us without us having to explain ourselves.

There is this powerful quote from Murakami’s 1Q84 – If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.”

Let me repeat.

“If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.”

Of course there are some things that need explaining. GST for instance. Or the Aadhar card. But that’s not the point of this essay.

So, what do we mean by understanding? Does it mean agreeing, accepting, unconditionally believing?

Not quite.

Understanding is more in the realm of empathy. It’s when you may completely disagree with another’s point of view, but you have the imagination to put yourself in their place, and view the world like them. For a brief moment you’re able to switch places with the person in front of you, becoming them, thinking like them, inheriting their likes, dislikes, and quirks, and therefore being able to emphasize with their feelings – however silly they may be.

Like getting upset about fungus, in my case.

As I meet more and more people, it becomes glaringly clear, that most people are not empathetic. We’re a judgemental class, however much we’d like to claim otherwise. We try and look for flaws in people. And if we can’t find any, we pinpoint the least appealing of the person’s personality (or physical) traits and make it seem worse than it is. Especially when the subject is a smart and beautiful man or woman. Is it jealousy? Is it self-preservation? Is it a manner of boosting our own egos by putting down a seemingly better person?

I don’t know.

But, this lack of empathy is turning us into an unhappy class of people. When you begin to judge people from the place they shop from, the texture of their hair, or the tone of their voice, you’re unknowingly exposing your own insecurities.

You’ll rarely hear a secure and happy person discussing another person’s “disastrous” fashion choices.

Of course, I don’t mean to say, we need to become serial do-gooders, forcing ourselves to feel something alien. Because, that would be dishonest. Sometimes, like in school, or in a disciplinarian workplace, it’s almost cathartic to bond with one’s peers over a particularly tough teacher or boss. Or, with your friends over a particularly horrid ex.

When I say we need to be more empathetic, it simply means putting yourself in anothers’ shoes, understanding their life-experiences, motivations, fears and hopes, and then seeing if you still feel as harshly towards them. Their choice of shoes, style of talking, whatever.

Our opinions of others are subconsciously influenced by our opinions of ourselves.

When we are insecure about certain aspects of ourselves, we unknowingly project these insecurities on the people around us. We disguise our insecurities as their flaws, to make ourselves feel better.

When you begin to empathise with others, you’ll begin to empathise with yourself. And then your own flaws won’t seem so bad either. After all, nobody is perfect.

Understanding helps create stronger bonds.

Ever feel you’re surrounded by friends but can’t seem to discuss your innermost feelings with any of them?

When we empathize and understand the people around us, it helps them break down the walls they’ve built around them. And when they open the floodgates to their honest emotions, that in turn breaks down your own walls. And voila, true friendship is born.

It’s as simple as that.

Today, we are guarded. We are reluctant to share our feelings. We are worried about what others will think, primarily because we, in our heads, have already judged others for those very same feelings we are experiencing. If we don’t judge others, we don’t judge ourselves. And that paves the way for years of self-love and happiness.

So, let us (me included) start understanding others and through them, understanding ourselves.

Enough preaching. Now go have a happy (and judgment-free) Sunday.

Cheers.

 

Dear #SomeMen, here’s why #MeToo is not just a fad

In a few weeks, cynics – men and women, will look back and say “What good did any of that do?” or “See, I told you, it was just a trend”.

I can’t say that speaking up about this on social media is going to stop rape or sexual harassment. Because it probably won’t. It might not even reduce it. But, I’d still go so far as to say, that this online discourse is good. The seeming overload of “feminist ads” is good. The “rants” are good. The “crass”ness in stand-up comedy, Aditi Mittal, AIB, and other “women oriented” chatter that offends the perpetually-offended is good.

It’s not enough.

But it’s good.

It may sometimes feel “too much” even to a “feminist” woman. It may sound like noise to #SomeMen. A “fashionable” movement. A “trend”. Something that women find “cool”. A way to grab attention. The next “in” thing. “Wannabe”. Whatever.

But it’s working.

It’s not stopping a man from committing a crime but it’s empowering a woman to speak up about it.

10 years ago, we’d think 10 times before sharing an instance of abuse. We’d hide it, repress it, ignore it, blame ourselves for it, forget it, and “move on” from it.

10 years ago, we were ashamed. Especially when an instance of abuse involved a family member. So we stayed quiet. And “sucked it up”.

10 years ago, familial rape happened and was forgotten about, never to be brought up again, save for a counselling session years later, when the incident reared its ugly head disguised as relationship trouble or depression.

But today, with #MeToo, we are refusing to stay quiet. And this refusal to keep mum is a step forward. Let me repeat – it may not deter the perpetrator just yet, but it will help us speak up, share our stories, and therefore heal.

When a stand-up comedian brazenly talks about the roadside creep, when ads talk about “sharing the load”, when “consent” is the subject matter of a feature film, we know we’re moving forward. If not in the minds of men, at least in the hearts of women. “I am not alone”, being the starting point.

Healing starts from knowing that we are not alone. 

Plenty of times, we are hurting because we blame ourselves for what was done to us. We call ourselves naive. We assume that if we were smarter and more prudent, we wouldn’t have to go through what we did. We think we “lead them on”. That we must have done something wrong to deserve this. In other words, we beat ourselves up about it. And this embarassment, this feeling of “What if it was my fault?” prevents us from sharing our stories of abuse, stops us from loving and accepting ourselves, and ultimately keeps us from healing.

With #MeToo, with the voices of everyone from celebrities to our own mothers speaking up on social media, the part of us that blamed ourselves has finally gotten the courage to speak up. To pull ourselves together, get on social media, and talk about our stories. Without shame. Without fear. Without guilt.

This coming together of women from all parts of the world for #MeToo may be presumed to be just another short-lived online cry, superficial, rootless and removed from reality. But to a teenage girl, the knowledge that she is not alone, that she isn’t wrong, and that there are others like her who are fearlessly speaking up, can come as a welcome relief. A message that one day, she will be OK. That there’s hope.

And sometimes, hope is all you need.

So is #MeToo a symbol of hope?

#MeToo means different things to different people. For some it’s a form of release, of letting off steam and pent-up anger. For others, it’s an acknowledgment of the crime followed by self-acceptance – “it was not my fault”.  And then of course, it serves as encouragement for those of us who have been too quiet for too long, to finally stand up to our perpetrators – if not in person, at least in spirit.

I don’t know what #MeToo means to men in general. The one or two friends I spoke to said they were surprised that so many women were speaking up and posting. They said they were shocked that almost everybody on their lists had put up a status #MeToo. That they hadn’t realise how messed up the situation really was.

Well, it is bad.

And anything, even a tiny hashtag goes a long way. Think of it this way – any activity that helps at least one person heal, is good.


 

If you feel you have an opinion you’d like to share please do comment. 🙂

 

 

 

12 beautifully honest letters written by women to their body parts

I don’t remember what inspired this idea. What I do remember, however, is that it was a regular afternoon at work. And that I was jumping with excitement when the thought struck me.

I remember texting all my friends. I wasn’t sure if they’d be up for it. I remember being delighted when many responded positively – they seemed excited. “Sounds fun” were the words many used.

This was a month ago.

My solo trip followed, and then I got busy with work. I received 3 letters.

Last weekend, I decided to step this up. I sent frantic reminders to my friends – and they (enthusiastically) replied with their letters.

Today, I have 12 beautifully written letters – all of which will make you smile.

As women, we share an important relationship with our bodies. There are parts we love, and parts we grow into loving.

This post is an attempt to help us all make peace with our unique body-types, one body part at a time.

I am sure you will relate to these letters, and if not, at least they will make you laugh out loud.

Happy reading.

Dear Miss Chubby Arms, Why you gotta be so stubborn? Can't you like chill a bit like the other parts of me? The others all listen and react to my workouts, but you just stay there the way you are. Maybe I'm stuck with you forever? Maybe you love me so much you don't want to leave? Oh well.  

Dear Curlies,    I hated you as a kid, well my bad! I hadn't realised then, that standing out is way better than fitting in.    As kids, you can be silly you know. I love you more and more each day. Stay as crazy and badass as ever!    PS: Boobies, I love you equally, but em curls deserved a special mention.    With Love, Maith~

Dear Mr. Long Legs and Mrs. Wigglebutt, Just want you to know that...  Baby if you strip, you can get a tip 'Cause I like you just the way you are I'm about to strip and I'm well equipped Can you handle me the way I are? I don't need the G's or the doubleDs Boys I like you just the way you are Let me see you strip, you can get a tip 'Cause I like, I like, I like.   Stay classy!

 

Dear Right Hand...I love you! Yes I do... and that is because you are the means I get to create beautiful things. You help me make art, you help me feel and understand, and you are who I hold a fork with to eat. My god, will you look at me? I am using you to send you love! That’s how much I need you! I know I know, I sound like a desperate lover but well, you are my favorite (psst...now don’t go telling Ms. Lefthand that!!). All the love and kissis... Mama!Dear TUMMY, I know I feed you daily (most times I am told I am pampering you way too much), I do take care of you but I get this feeling that you don't love me much. Why do you stop me from looking at Mr. Feet? And why do you love gravity so much? Because of you, I spend more time in the trial room and less in the actual store. Hope you reduce your overstuffed ego and help me! Love (yeah, sure!) Your mama!

To my dear eyes,  Hey baby how you doing, you are the best thing happened to me, with you I can explore anything and everything, you both are my apple of my"eyes".muahhh

Dear girlfriends,   I remember when you used to be big, bold & beautiful. Now you'll are delicate and dainty.  But here's what I want to tell you, I loved you then and I love you now.   You make me feel like a woman and I carry you with pride.   With love to my boobies

Dear belly....  How are you, how's life on your side, I am sure you are having a great life ahead. You look like wobbly jelly, I just don't understand what to do with you, you have taken an oath of not reducing a bit. But you know what though I don't like you so much, I am still proud of you. 

Lately, the thing that has been bothering me the most is my arms. It makes countless outfits look entirely awkward.    On the upside, I love my breasts!! They are full, tight and the perfect size! (Not too big and not too small) Well, what more do I want ;)

Dear fat, It's about time we had a conversation about my supposed hatred towards you. Let me clear the air, I don't hate you even though you overstay your welcome often. I don’t want to get rid of you, I want to let you go respectfully as your true self: power; power that helps me stay warm, power that helps me build my muscles, power that helps me get things done when I have not eaten all day! I apologise for all the times I have cursed you in front of my friends and family for you are family first. It took me a while to understand that... Lots of Love

“Dear Saggy-Bottoms While other bottoms are full and round, Why do you two lean towards the ground? When I see models and actresses on the screen, Showing off a behind so clean, I wonder if you’d look so flawless, If I posed on a boat with all my prowess. Well, what do I say, you have left me no choice, For you are all I have to show to the boys, Who’d be caught staring at you without noise, Thus, I guess I should rejoice. After all you are not all that bad, You do have reasons to be kept clad, Even if it means a trip to Victoria’s Secret PINK, I’d do it gladly, without a blink. Xoxo E”

And lastly, the showstopper to this entire piece – do take the time out to read this – it will surely make you laugh.

Dear lower tummy, You are mine and you have always belonged to me. When I look at you in all the old pictures, I find you the cutest among many of your fellow mates from section F (fat). Section F was the one with most students and yet there was no teacher to train you guys. But I don’t regret it much. The few lessons that all of you got were ones on living your life and working it out the natural way through running and dancing and walking. I remember the one time when all your friends left you and went to Section T (toned) while you struggled as the only kid in the block. But still I loved you and will always do because you are my family heir! Yes, may be you never knew it before but you my house sigil. You have siblings and a bigger family back home and far away, all hanging like you do in me, stubborn yet adorable and symbolic of the family shape as ever. You used to bump into them very often until recently, jiggling and playing with glee. Now that you are far, you might miss your family but I assure you all of them are well and growing healthy just like you. You are the undying symbol that everyone recognizes from far away, the symbol of my house and living the words of House Tummy- what is there may never go! Today you are at your strengths best. I am happy for you. You have defeated tummy tuckers, diets and exercise. But too much honesty and pride in the house can get one killed. You know what happed to Ned Stark, don’t you? I don’t want to lose you, though I know you are rather immortal. But if grandpa realizes you are getting bigger, he might use the hi-tech weapons to melt you and I will then be helpless. Moreover you have to remember you have become a part of House Tall now. House Tall takes its pride in height, not tummy shape. I managed to fit in somehow and I am happy here. But you have to cooperate too, just like members of House Tall are giving us company by growing their tummies by the day. You have to give them time to catch up. So it is a humble request to stay low key, especially this time of the year when there are so many weddings and events to attend. I promise you we will have other battles to show our assets, but we need to be more strategic. Let us all work together, alright? I love you and you are still as cute as ever. You are mine and you always will belong to me. With love Queen of House Tummy and Lady of House Tall

There were many others who were supposed to write in, but got busy. Maybe, I’ll do a round 2.

Till then, let’s work towards beginning a conversation with the body-parts that exasperate us and those that delight us – just like these 12 incredibly strong and self-aware women have done. And let’s not forget to tell our bodies that we love them.


 

My first solo trip – A firsthand account by a self-confessed Shy Girl

For my 28th birthday, I took my first solo trip. Nothing too fancy; a nearby locale, a hostel, and one-way airfare paid with miles. I paid next to nothing to go on this fated “solo trip”. Saying it was full paisa vasool would be an understatement.

There was no four-poster bed, air-conditioned hallway, gilded elevator or picturesque pool. No bathtub filled with bubbles, no breakfast buffet, and definitely no flatscreen TV installed in the room. None of it.

It’s not that I am a fan of ‘simple living’ or anything, I’m no Gandhi. I love humongous breakfast spreads and springy-white mattresses, and ask anyone who has ever lived with me, how anal (bordering on control-freakishness) I am about cleanliness. To the point of clinical, hospital-like starchiness!

So, in addition to travelling solo, the fact that I was choosing to live in a backpackers’ hostel, was also a BIG deal for me.

I reached early – 7:30 in the morning, when the hostel was dead AF. They were partying all night, said the host. I nodded, looking around at the minimal arrangements. “Have I made a mistake?”, I asked myself. The pathways were mucky and slushy after a bout of heavy downpour, and the hostel was barely stirring, its inhabitants passed out.

I took my bags to the assigned dorm. Empty. I was the first and only occupant in the girls’ dorm for the day. Relieved, I dumped my bags, and inspected the loo. Not bad, I thought to myself – an attached bathroom was more than what I’d hoped for.

I settled down for a nap, a hundred thoughts racing through my head. My family was panicking – their daughter was travelling alone, that too to a place that’s been in-the-news-for-all-the-wrong-reasons. My friends were curious. And their incessant calls and messages were, to be honest, making me anxious. I decided to ignore all that, and get some sleep – the anticipation (read the pukey, restless feeling in the gut) had not let me sleep a wink the night before. And having a 5:25 a.m. flight hadn’t helped either.

A short nap later, I woke up, attacked by a severe bout of FOMO – I was on vacation, and here I was, holed up alone in a dark, dorm – I needed to go out and explore.

I walked around the hostel premises, inspecting the immediate surroundings, and then stepped out, retracing my steps through the slushy, mucky pathway that had lead me to the hostel that morning. I found my way to the beach, barely 5 minutes away. An old woman tried to sell me cigarettes. An Indian couple on a scooter asked me for directions. A few passerbys’ stared, curious.

It was a bright sunny day, and the sea didn’t disappoint. A friendly bluish-green, it lapped around playfully, laying at least some of my apprehensions to rest.

I attached myself to the Indian couple, and followed them to the only open shack – they were sweet enough to let me tag along. I found myself a separate table there, and pulled out the Murakami book I was reading, and ordered a beer to go with it. It was beautiful. The yellow sun, the noisy sea, the chilled beer, and the book. I looked at the view, calm and happy. Yes, this was worth it.

That afternoon, on my way back from the beach, appropriately lightheaded, I ran into the now awake fellow hostellers. Being the awkward, shy person that I was, obviously it was they who called out to me, introducing themselves enthusiastically.

After exchanging pleasantries, and discovering that at least 3 of us were from Bombay, different parts though – Bandra, Andheri and Borivli (+ cracking Borivli jokes – obviously), I decided to retreat once again to my room for a leisurely afternoon nap.

I woke up refreshed, showered, and wore a long, gathered skirt and a crop top – suitably boho. I stepped out in search of chai (my favourite) – there was none, and then decided to swap it for beer instead – there was plenty – Bira White even (surprisingly). We sat, talking, drinking, and that evening a bunch of us went to Anand for seafood. Which was so delicious that I came straight back and passed out before the clock struck 12.

So, there was no “bringing in my birthday” – 2 cans of beer, tons of rice and pomfret in coconut gravy had made sure of that.

The next morning was spent answering calls and birthday wishes, explaining to my friends that yes, I was in Goa, and yes, I was alone, and no, I was NOT joking, and yeah, it’s been great – if a little slow. And as I talked with all my friends, once again I began to doubt my decision – was being on my own, surrounded with strangers on my birthday a wise decision? I pondered over it in between calls that morning. Plus being low on cash in a card-agnostic place didn’t help. By afternoon, I was food-deprived (no cash), friend-deprived (most others had taken a cab to the beach), and was chanting to myself “What the hell was I thinking?”

However, as luck would have it, around 5 that evening, I heard a hostel-volunteer mention he was going to the supermarket. Wasn’t that where the ATM was? 

And so, I sat awkwardly behind him on the scooter, sideways, because I was wearing a long straight skirt that did not let me sit normally (I tried), holding onto his backpack with one hand, clutching a handle-like thing below my seat with the other. I had the ATM cards of two other people in my wallet, who also were low on cash – I wasn’t the only unprepared fool.

The scooter spluttered over speed breakers and narrow roads, the sky drizzled tiny raindrops on us, the hills rolled to one side, the green of the trees made more intense with the intermittent rain, pedestrians turned to look at us, other scooters with other people scuttled past us. It was beautiful.

The trip to the ATM was the defining moment of my trip; everything before was shrouded in doubt, and everything after – pure joy.

I got back to the hostel, a spring in my step, a smile on my face – I never knew a few thousands in cash in my wallet could make such a difference. I got myself a Bira and joined the backpackers’ in the common area.

That night we went Salsa dancing – I didn’t dance, the next morning we went out for breakfast and lunch. That evening I went, once again, to the beach. And that late evening, we simply spent sitting in the common area, chatting till the wee hours of the morning.

The conversations I had in those 3 days, if inspected in itself, were nothing groundbreaking, but together they made me feel painfully aware of how large the world is, and yet how small – we all have similar battles, fears, apprehensions, hopes and dreams. We may be from different countries, but we’re connected by NETFLIX (we all watch NARCOS). We could look different, and talk different, and dress different, but we are connected by our love for CHAI and Cheese Garlic Naan. And, there’s nothing quite as fun as getting together and teasing a young couple on the brink of romance – yeah, you heard me – the methods of pulling somebody’s leg remain same across geographies.

I don’t know, how, from doubting my decision, I went on to have such an enlightening experience. Maybe it was because I had spent the first day and a half adapting and understanding what living in a backpackers’ hostel meant. By the time I left, though, I was ready to take another trip solo.

When I left the hostel, it was with a heavy heart. I was consumed by feelings no words can describe. Let’s just say they were different from happy, sad, romantic or nostalgic. It felt like my heart was being squashed and torn and pulled apart from all sides – travelling solo aroused something in me, something akin to a hunger I didn’t know existed. It felt crazy.

And I? I felt alive.


Have any questions on travelling solo? E-mail me at schivany@gmail.com

 

 

 

How having the right conversation can change our lives.

Ever been to a reunion? What do you think people say about themselves when they meet after a decade? Chances are, more people than not, talk about their achievements. “I did this and this, went to so and so university, work at so and so, won X number of awards, and here is my website and contact details if you want a customized outfit.”

And there’s nothing wrong with this. Firstly, it’s “networking”, and secondly, as friends and batchmates, we are all interested to hear about each other’s journey to the present.

So, yes, this is an essential conversation to have. Though not necessarily, the only one.

Last weekend, I went back to school for our 10-year-reunion. Some of us met each other after 10 years, others I’d bumped into a few times in between, and a handful had been in constant touch with me over the years.

Between catching up and listening to each other’s fascinating, and sometimes transformative journeys – the quiet girl – a tough lawyer, the science geek – a costume stylist, the backbencher – a successful entrepreneur, I had a conversation with someone about battling depression. It was a short conversation, which in itself was pretty regular, but it sparked in me a crazy idea – what if we were all to sit in a circle and talk about the 3 most challenging periods in our lives?

What if instead of rattling off our awards, we spoke about our fears, our troubles, our battles, and our failures? What if we spoke about the things that keep us up at night, the monotonous job we struggle to maintain, the abusive partner we managed to shrug away, and the ongoing battle to get paid the amount we deserve?

Crazy, right?

But think of it this way. We have all heard that “hard work”, and “believing in yourself” and “fighting for what you believe in”  and “following your passion” are the “secret” ingredients to success. But have we ever spoken about the challenges that come in the middle of an all-nighter at work, the doubts that come in the way of self-belief, and the various everyday circumstances that distract you in your fight towards your dream?

Imagine, you’re sitting in a circle with your classmates. A girl who looks “happily married”, speaks about how she maintains a “happy” marriage, even when 5 out of 10 days she has doubts about her partner. She speaks about how, no relationship is as “perfect” as it seems, by giving real life examples from her life – of good and bad moments, of things that reiterate her belief in her marriage, and things that make her doubt it. And then she talks about how she deals with it.

Next, imagine a girl who has recently started her own company. It seems glossy with all the features in newspapers and blogs. What if in addition to listing all her achievements, she talks in detail of the challenges she faced while starting up, and the challenges she still faces. She talks about the emotional impact, the physical impact as well as the financial impact of starting up.

Or, imagine a person who is employed in a regular job with regular hours. And she talks about the feeling of monotony that often haunts her daily life, and the occasional desire to pack up and leave. She then talks about the techniques or methods she employs to keep herself motivated on the drabbest of days.

Think about it.

Won’t these conversations actually help us in learning from each other, and possibly change our lives? Won’t it equip and inspire in us the skills to deal with real issues? And, fill us to the brim with the fuzzy feeling that says – “you are not alone”?

It’s radical, yes. And most people will be reluctant to “air their dirty linen” in public – yes. Some may argue that we should inspire each other with positive stories, rather than dissuade with the negative. And, there may be some who are extremely uncomfortable with the idea.

But, I believe these conversations are important and the learnings indispensable.

Don’t we, as a community of women, deserve to know about each other’s struggles as much as about each other’s achievements? Won’t it help us all grow if we pool in our individual learnings and use it to help one other? And, isn’t awareness and preparation far better than rosy-eyed ignorance?

Most of us fail in various aspects of life because we go into it expecting it to be perfect.

Because nobody ever specified the challenges in a happy marriage, a successful business, or a white-collar job. We’ve all heard “marriages” are tough. Or start-ups have challenges. Or jobs are boring. But, nobody ever added body to the words “tough”, “challenging” and “boring”.

Words without description sometimes lose the power of meaning.

Especially when the voice that says these words, in the next breath, follows it up with – but “nothing is impossible”, and “be passionate”, and “it’s on how you make it”. And this is problematic because the slightest hiccup in a marriage, job or business causes us to blame ourselves.

Because didn’t they say ,”It’s possible and if not – you’re not doing it right?”  

We are so scared of scaring our children that we tell them fairytales.

Sure, we should inspire each other by saying “everything is possible”. But we should ground the fairytale by adding a “when”.

We should say “everything is possible when you...”, and then list all potential challenges and potential solutions to braving those moments of despair.

I have worked in 5 jobs and lived in 5 cities. If there are a few things I have learned, it’s this.

Any thing is possible when:

  1. You know what you have to give up to achieve your goal, and you’re willing to part with it. [for example: parties, friends, family, popularity, sleep]
  2. You can deal with a 100 rejections, and yet come back the next day bright-eyed and enthusiastic.
  3. You can say NO to the things you like
  4. You can be positive even when things are going down
  5. You are willing to go the extra mile to read up and educate yourself while everybody is drinking beer and chilling
  6. You become OK with feeling alone sometimes
  7. You can push yourself out of your comfort zone and do things you may hate
  8. You are willing to change yourself to fit the image you want to portray
  9. You can accept that success at work doesn’t always mean happiness in life
  10. You are able to decide whether your sacrifice is worth the gain

For me, personally, I believe in being true to myself. So, I made my choice – I am willing to accept points 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and to an extent 7. But not point 8. So, for me, my dreams are stuck at that – and I am OK with it, as for me, happiness lies in being true and honest to who I am.

For you, different principles may apply.

If we all share our learnings, like I shared mine, I believe our conversations would be far more empowering.

What do you think?

 

 

 

How asking the right questions can change your life.

Don’t ask: “What should I do that people will be proud of me?”

Ask: “What should I do that I will be proud of me?”

Disclaimer: This may not be relevant to a lot of already self-aware people, but I’d like to share it with those who are still looking for answers.

 

We often, unknowingly, choose our goals and careers based on the perceptions of people around us: they could be friends, family, or simply the strangers on our social media feeds. We often view ourselves from the perspective of the world, rather than the perspective of ourselves, and this is one of the primary mistakes that lead us into making the wrong choices.

The better part of our life is often spent in trying to gain the approval of others.

We do this by enrolling ourselves in fancy-sounding colleges, travelling to fancy-sounding places, getting married in a fancy-sounding destination, and doing fancy-sounding things. We think, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I did a scuba diving course off the Havelock islands?”, and so we do it, and then we wonder why it didn’t make us happy. Or we think, “Wouldn’t it be so cool if I worked at VOGUE?” and we do it, and then we wonder why it didn’t make us happy?  Or we think, “Wouldn’t it make me so happy if I won all these awards?” and then we win it, and after the momentary elation we wonder why it didn’t make us happy? And similarly there are a hundred things we do that sound amazing, and as a result make us, momentarily, feel super-proud of ourselves. However, after the initial phase of excitement, when we are back at home at the end of a long day or on a weekend, we feel a void – and we can’t understand what’s missing. We try and talk to others, but they often don’t understand – they either tell us that we are “overthinking”, or that we are “cribbing”, that we need “therapy”, we need to “meditate”, “workout”, “go out”, “get married”, “calm down”, “accept ourselves”, and a myriad other suggestions, that while sensible, may not be an accurate response to our predicament.

 So, how do we fight the nagging voice in our head?

It’s definitely not easy as most of us blame ourselves and over-critique ourselves by assuming we are in the wrong. That if people around us are going ooh and aah at our seemingly “cool” achievements, then we ought to be happy. That the dissent is in our heads.

While, we are in the wrong, the reason for it is often different from the ones above, and difficult to place, and stems from the inherent need in some of us to “appear” a certain way, rather than “be” a certain way.

Start by asking:

“What should I do, that will give my life purpose?”

“How should I be, that will make me happy?”

 

There is no easy way of arriving at the answers. We may take days, weeks or even months to come up with an answer. And even then, we may not be sure.

From starting a family, to teaching children, from social work, to lawyering, from travelling the world, to starting up, from aiming for CEO, to making art, every person has a different life problem to solve – and none of them should be looked down upon. If a person believes shattering the glass ceiling is what will give her a sense of achievement – she should do it. Or, if another person believes shattering the glass ceiling, while “cool”, is not for her: she’d prefer having a simple job while concentrating on her family – that’s great too.

The toughest part is eliminating all the noise, until our true purpose stares back at us.

And even after we’ve figured that out, it’s going to be tough. Easier than before, but still an uphill walk. Our families may want us to get married, our husbands may want us to devote more time to them, our friends may think we’re being childish, our boyfriends may think the path we’ve chosen is not how things should be, and even the random colleague at work may have an opinion.

And we may, at our weaker moments, succumb to the pressure: After all if everybody feels something is wrong with our paths, there must be, right? Wrong. This feeling is dangerous because it leads us to over-critiquing ourselves to the point where we can’t decipher which way is up. Where life seems to be a constant rumble, and we seem to be drowning unaware of the surface.

In these moments, what we need to understand is not everybody is built like us, and so, not everybody can understand the pulse of what we feel. What is just a “job” for the next person, is a “life purpose” for us. Sure, it may seem like a first world problem, and it probably is. For somebody fighting for her survival, her life purpose is obviously different. But for us, who have luckily gotten the basics sorted, we need to do what we can to contribute to the world in a way that makes us sleep better at night. And the definition of this “contribution” is different for all.

A 10-year-reunion at my school where everybody from my batch shared their stories, helped me clarify and arrange a lot of thoughts in my head. It helped me understand the meaning of doing something one genuinely loves, and it’s often not what you think you love – which is often the idea of a certain profession rather than the profession itself – but what you actually do – the difference is massive and often requires a lot of work to decipher.

I am just starting to ask myself the right questions. And little by little, beginning to answer them. However, what I am learning in this process is that I will have to muster all of my strength and go against the wills of a lot of people: to be honest, it’s scary. But I do pray, I don’t give up, and that I continue fighting for what I believe in.

I hope you can too.