How going to an all-girls boarding school made me a feminist

When I was almost 9, my parents sent me to a boarding school—the dreaded place where naughty kids get sent to, where windowless, rectangular spaces are piled high with bunk beds, and large gates clang shut, locking you in with stern-looking bespectacled matrons with imaginary sticks in their hands.

But Mayo was different. And I wasn’t naughty.

It was red and ochre and airy and bright and didn’t conjure up the gloomy impression, I’d always associated with the word “hostel”. The glossy prospectus showed smiling girls in navy blue shorts and red check skirts, ochre salwar kameezes and red dupattas, pleated grey skirts and knee-high grey socks, smart tailored trousers and button-down cardigans. Obviously, the clothes-lover in me was fascinated with the idea of having so many uniforms. The turning point, though, was when I asked my mum if the kids there had birthday parties. Back then, birthday parties were the highlight of my life. If a school could host a birthday party for every child, it was definitely not a punishment posting. So, when my mum said yes, I decided to go, no questions asked. Besides, who could say no to cake and wafers?

So, I packed my bags and landed up in the other corner of the country, a little too excited for an eight-year-old who was about to be separated from her parents. Little did I know that the next nine years were going to shape me and my relationships for the rest of my life. 

A level playing field

The most noteworthy of the many aspects of hostel life that influenced my pre-pubescent, and subsequently, teenage years, was the school’s approach towards ensuring everyone had the same resources available to them while on campus. Cash, tuck and mobile phones were forbidden. Uniforms were mandatory even after school hours. And coupons amounting to the same value were disbursed to members of a common batch, every fortnight. This succeeded in removing any money-related obstacles that might have come in the way of two girls befriending each other, were they in an ordinary set-up, where the cars they were dropped in to school or their weekly allowance, might have played a larger role. This also meant that many of us didn’t realise each other’s financial background or familial lineage until much after we graduated school–when social media threw up pictures of a batchmate’s luxury vacation or a large-scale wedding attended by the who’s-who of Indian politics, business or royalty.

School brought together people from diverse parts of the country and even outside, who spoke different languages and ate different cuisines back home, and united us through a common culture. And we learnt that nothing apart from the person you were, mattered. We couldn’t care less about family background, financial standing, caste, colour, language or any other element that determines many high school and even adult relationships today. That being said, I am acutely aware that only people of a certain social and economic status had the opportunity to attend the boarding school I did, and therefore, I refer to my experiences within this microcosm of modern India.

The right beauty standard

A second and significantly more impactful aspect was the fact that most of us were sheltered from media’s obsession with a certain beauty standard. Because 9 out of 12 months were spent on campus, eating the same food, wearing the same clothes, and experiencing the same life as everyone else, plus the inability to go to the salon, watch tv, surf the internet or read magazines, we, or at least I, successfully avoided an eating disorder, a negative body image, or anything that made me feel that I wasn’t beautiful or attractive enough. Looks weren’t important in boarding school–we had far more important things to worry about–like inter house competitions, activity class, IPSC auditions, and strategising how to bunk games without getting caught. We didn’t feel the pressure of a “summer body”. We didn’t need to wear a bikini. We didn’t care about thigh gaps. We could go out with a lush, full grown moustache, arm and leg hair, and unplucked eyebrows for months, without fear of being judged. The only exception was when we were meeting the boys school–oh, the queues outside the dormitory of the one person who had learned how to thread that summer vacation! Back then, we really thought an arched brow and heavy kohl would make the boys swoon. How silly, we were!

Of course, there are several drawbacks to such a lifestyle. Critics say that it was regressive, sheltered and archaic–so much so, that many people, when they left school, either went berserk with their new found freedom, or struggled to adjust for years to come. The confidence of speaking to the opposite sex, for instance, was something many took a while to get. I am not debating their points, for they are valid in their own right. Since, this is a personal essay, an exploration of the themes and experiences that shaped my own ideas towards life, I am, in this essay, speaking only for myself.

A girl can eat

The camaraderie that Mayo girls shared is something I can try my best to articulate, but I fear my words won’t do it justice. We would come back from vacations with a heavy heart on leaving our families, but the minute we’d see each other, it felt like we were back home, albeit a different one. We would chat all day and all night, on returning to campus, about what we’d done, the experiences we’d had, and (most importantly), what we’d eaten. Oh! our obsession with food is something I could write another blog post on (and probably will), for honest to God, we were perpetually hungry. Our school fed us 3 wholesome meals plus a fruit break at 11 a.m. and tea break at 4 p.m., and yet when we smelled Maggi or biscuits, or something brought from a fellow hosteller’s home, we’d ignore our full tummies, and gorge our brains out. Eating disorder, what? If anything, we learnt how to fake-burp and fake-fart, compete on who had a larger appetite, and before you go all “that’s a very unhealthy lifestyle” on me, let me remind you that we had a minimum of one hour mandatory games for 6 days a week, 9 months a year, even during exams.

I still remember the one time, when someone raised a false alarm of a surprise tuck-check. We were in class 6, and between the 13 of us in Sam house, we had 24 packets of Maggi. Oh, what rebels we were! How much strength and spirit we had! We thought we could take on the world. And so, we took on the 24 packets of Maggi, in one sitting, with 3 people making it in the cramped changing room, crushing the Maggi cakes with their hands, moistening it with cold water–the recipe of kacha Maggi–while the rest of us stood guard, watching out for the house matron. We hungrily gobbled up all 24 packets, and at the end of it, there was no tuck check!

A whole new world

School with its focus on sports, activities, arts and crafts ensured we experienced and engaged with different facets of life. From art, craft and pottery to hindustani and western music, from classical dance to folk dance, swimming and diving to water polo, horse riding to actual polo, hockey and basketball to athletics, there was plenty to keep us occupied all semester long. Somehow, themes like marriage, finding a boy, looking good or losing weight were not a part of our daily discourse and therefore we never internalised the need to follow a certain chalked path. By giving us exposure to these varied experiences, it taught us that we could do whatever we set our heart towards. It taught us (or rather it taught me) that I was strong, that I was enough, that I wasn’t lesser in any manner owing to my gender, background or appearance. That even if I wasn’t great at art or sports or dance, it didn’t define who I was. That I could choose what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. That I was accepted for the truest, most authentic version of myself. That I could dream as big as I dared and obtain the means to achieve those dreams.

It also taught me that the most gratifying and happiness-inducing experiences were found in routine occurrences. It was found while waking up to loud, peppy music at 5 a.m. to prepare for a drill competition. While singing songs on the way to a midterm trip. While being treated to a dinner for winning the best house trophy. While being “punished” by the seniors to create endless buckets of confetti because you dared to smile at lineup. While queuing up in twos to go to the fete in the boys school. While cheering made-up jingles during inter house competitions. While having deep conversations late into the night about our families, books we’d read or philosophies we believed in. While having multiple mugs of tea and Maggi during “house breakfast”. While finishing a bottle of Horlicks in one sitting because well, why not. While rushing to the auditorium during PG. Happiness was embedded in the experiences of daily life, and it taught me that there were only a handful of things that mattered: the person I was, the choices I made, the people I engaged with, the accountability I took for my actions and the experiences I had.

When I left school and entered the real world, I admit, it was surprising. Critics are right when they say we lived in a bubble, that this bubble could leave you ill-equipped to deal with life. However, for me, it was this “bubble” that gave me the conviction to reject all patriarchal or prejudicial ideologies because I had become “set in my ways” . It was this “bubble” that egged me to say no to any relationship that I felt I didn’t deserve. It was this “bubble” that gave me the strength to deal with rejection in romantic relationships. It was this “bubble” that kept me positive and inspired me to always prioritise my girlfriends and their important life events because this is what, ultimately, makes me happy. It was this “bubble” that taught me to be independent and self-reliant and deal with many of life’s stresses on my own. It was this “bubble” that helped me “fold my counterpane” in school, and, ultimately, make my bed everyday in Lockdown this year, even when the pandemic conspired to test my resolve.

Sisters before misters

Because of the many measures taken to democratise life, we never felt the need to compete with a fellow schoolmate for someone we fancied–we were all in it together. Women weren’t our enemies–they were our allies. Women were the ones on our team cheering the loudest in an inter-house competition. They were the ones running the last mile with us in a cross country race, encouraging us not to collapse in a heap. They were the ones who stayed up all night to make our birthdays meaningful with fudge cakes. They were the ones who gave up their tuck needs for weeks just so that the coupons could be saved and contributed towards buying chocolates for a fellow housemate’s birthday. They were the ones who risked everything to smuggle a letter to the boys’ school during brothers meet. They were the ones who comforted us when our parents couldn’t make it for Diwali or Holi. Women, to me, mean everything. And I could never side against my own gender.

In the months leading up to the big 30, and the days after it, I thought about what makes my life so special and brings me joy. And I realised that apart from my parents, my girlfriends make up a huge chunk of it. This got me thinking about how most people associate female friendships with competition, and women with “bitchiness”. On the contrary, for me, the very definition of a female friendship has always been something akin to family. Something sacrosanct. It represents a sisterhood so strong that other things pale in comparison. This so-called sisterhood was what was imparted to me through boarding school. And which held up, even when I entered the real world.

I accept my privilege

A lot of credit might also go to my parents for being progressive and incubating the ideas I had before I went to boarding school and during holidays. I also do not deny the incredible privilege I am bestowed with, to use my platform to talk about how I effortlessly evaded negative body image, patriarchal ideologies, caste and class based prejudices and toxic teenage sexual relationships throughout my formative years: not everyone has the same privilege or opportunity, and for this I am eternally grateful.

Even today, when I think back to the 14-year-old Mayoite, standing on the track, pompoms in hand, cheering for her house that just won the best house trophy, I can’t help but draw unimaginable strength from that image. That young girl who felt invincible, who wore her scars like a badge of honour, who only trusted the value of her relationships and the freedom to be herself while measuring her quality of life. Who didn’t care whether her arms were waxed or not, whether her laugh sounded ugly or not and whether she danced like a chicken in a party or not. Who never thought she was lesser than any boy. Who didn’t mind getting sweaty or dirty or acting her truest self. Who didn’t care whether she was popular or “hot” or whether she was liked by the opposite sex or not. Who believed she had the whole world at her feet and was determined to take it by the horns to fulfil her dreams. That girl, that very girl, is who I look up to, even now, when at the age of 31 I need someone to draw strength from.


This is not meant to be a text on feminism and shouldn’t be construed as such. It’s simply an account of my learnings and early -life experiences that shape my opinions and actions today.

Realisations, learnings, insecurities and questions from 2017 – Self-discovery 101

Sometimes happiness simply means the freedom to be who we want to be.

What indeed is a true test of us being “happy with ourselves”?

Is it being able to be alone, cut off from everyone, with just social media for distraction?

Or is it being surrounded by friends and family who play the role of said social media, filling the gaps in our lives with friendly banter, chatter and one too many tequila shots on a blurry night out?

Or is it the ability to be on our own with no social needs at all?

Or is it having no gaps at all, no spaces in our hearts or minds that need filling from family, friends, social media or work?

But then again, isn’t it “gaps” that make us human? And separates us from machines?

We try and fill the empty spaces in our lives with Facebook and Instagram “likes” and appreciation. And the funny thing is, it actually works!

Disturbing, eh? Imagine being dependent on “likes” and “comments” for our daily dose of ego boost? But, then again, what’s the alternative?

Man is a social animal – we need contact with fellow creatures – be it a flesh and blood human or a digital social media “friend”.

Our mothers spent hours on the phone, discussing everything from outfit choices of the 200 guests at the Delhi wedding, to maids and their “attitude problem”. We do the same, but online. We “heart” wedding outfits of fellow friends on Instagram, and post statuses about our maids. After all, we just want to be heard. Listened to.  Really understood. And social media comes in, where no family or friend can – it gives us a mouthpiece to express. A one stop shop to say what we’re feeling and gauge which of our 750 friends really understands our thoughts and “reacts” to it. It’s almost like an experiment. A hotline connecting us to the universe. And if someone responds out of the digital black hole, we know, deep down, we’ve found an ally.

Sometimes I feel, true happiness comes from understanding and being understood.

Not so much in loving and being loved. Or in being solitary – independent of worldly needs.

True happiness comes when our innermost thoughts and ideas are understood by another being. Doesn’t matter if its a lover, stranger,  parent, friend or acquaintance.

 

We are free to love as many people – men and women as possible, yet restricted to “end up” with only one?

Are we really “free”, then?

I spent a lot of time trying to explain myself, To try and make myself understood. And when I failed, when I began to spend my energy explaining why I was explaining, I realised that the relationship was over.

A little bit of sexual energy is good. Even if it’s in the head. It translates beautifully into creative energy that enhances the quality of our work.

Sometimes our families serve as reminders of all that we are not.

There always seems to be an additional something we need to do to make them happy. An exam we need to pass, a person we need to call, a chore we need to do or money we need to make. And the worst is, these expectations come disguised in a set of words we probably have no comeback to –  “for your own good”.

Sometimes a cup of tea can awaken ideas inside me like nothing else can. There’s an energy that bubbles up after a cup-and-a-half, and then there’s no other way but to ignore all duty and start typing.

My relationships often heighten my sense of inadequacy. I start out whole. But at some point, along the way, I look at myself and wonder what happened?

Each conversation I’ve had with myself over the past two years has revealed some fascinating truths about me. About things I like and don’t like. About what makes me happy and what brings me down. For instance, I took two solo trips this year – both of which were distinctly different from one another. While the first was economical and involved zero sightseeing, the second was luxe, insta-worthy, and beautifully documented on social media. And both these experiences taught me a lot about who I really am; I realised I preferred the first vacation simply because I got to meet a lot of new people – and simply be.

So, does that mean I am not really anti-social like I thought myself to be?

Or does that mean, I simply enjoy the freedom that comes with socializing with new people? The lack of expectation to do a certain thing?

I’ve realized that some of the most fun I’ve had is when I’m with people.  But being on my own helps renew my soul. And when I go out into the world with a refreshed soul, I end up letting myself enjoy each moment in a deeper, more meaningful manner.

I need  solitariness and socializing in equal measures – the alternation between the two extremes keeps me sane. One can’t exist without the other.

2017 taught me a lot about who I really am. It brought the process of self-discovery that began in 2015 to a close. The turmoil in my head reached a head and poof – it was gone. Of course, this is not to mean there are no more lessons to be learnt. But until then, let’s keep it happy and shiny.

XOXO 2017

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. 🙂

 

 

 

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?