What losing my phone taught me about myself

No, it’s not about my pointless Insta stories.

What losing my smartphone taught me about myself | Chai High is an Indian blog started by Shivani KrishanLess than 24 hours after I prided myself on my independence, my cell phone crashed. Ordinarily, this would seem like two separate instances—a woman’s independence and a rectangular handheld gadget—but it wasn’t quite so simple. The fleeting sense of achievement I’d experienced was entirely dependent on Uber, a car booking app, and Google Maps. I was alone in Chandigarh for the very first time, and I was relying on the good sense and navigation expertise of my Uber driver, and my ability to read Google Maps, to deliver me in one piece to my ailing grandmother. And I was mighty proud of myself at that. So, a day later, when my phone died, it took away my independence, sense of empowerment and feeling of being in control. The ground beneath my feet had shifted. And this raised a few questions in my mind about the extent to which we rely on technology today.

It’s interesting how the smart phone has enabled the independence of women. In a new city? Find your way with Google Maps. Don’t have a car? Book an Uber. Hungry? Order on Swiggy. Don’t know where to stay? Book an Airbnb. Want to pay a bill? Choose Netbanking. Unlike paper maps, regular taxis, restaurant home delivery and hotels, these “apps” are accountable if your driver misbehaves, food is contaminated, or room is dirty. And with users giving ratings and writing firsthand reviews, it only adds to the feeling of empowerment, when you make a choice based on your deduction of the average opinion of 14910 others. It’s hard to explain the feeling of elation you get on landing the ideal balance of an above average rating that also fits in your budget. Therefore, it was only natural, that when my source of empowerment and entertainment stopped functioning, I felt like a lost child.

But is this healthy? The fact that we no longer remember phone numbers, that addresses have lost their meaning, that our sense of direction is dependent on an electronic voice, that we constantly need to check our phones for WhatsApp messages and memes from friends, to validate our existence? Many would hands down say no. After all, isn’t it a sign of severe deterioration of cognitive ability to no longer be able to memorize phone numbers or recall directions? Whatever happened to the feeling of joy on locating an address based on a “landmark” from which you were to take the second left, cross the fifth vegetable seller and then look for a black gate–“no not the large one, but the smaller bling-and-miss one”—and then take a U turn to arrive at your destination? Whatever happened to good ol’ talking to people over the phone rather than half-hearted WhatsApp texts and Instagram DMs that are often “read” and not replied to?

It’s hard to argue with the logic.

Nevertheless, all the cognition required in earlier days to traverse new grounds only kept us from venturing beyond our comfort zones. For, if we were lost and didn’t have a cell phone, how were we to call for help, WhatsApp our live location to a friend or google map our way to the nearest familiar space? Unsurprisingly, rarely did women venture beyond the familiar when travelling alone, and even when they did, they’d dare not travel after sunset. Today, we travel at all hours of the day and night, within the country and abroad, and often take off into open roads and unknown streets, by Google mapping our way.

Which brings me to the “godsent” smartphone, a device I openly dissed and loved to mock, until I was left without it, in an unfamiliar city. The thing is, I had always associated phones with phone calls, social media narcissism–#ootds and #wanderlusts, and text messages, things I was happy to forgo as an experiment, for a limited amount of time. What I was unprepared for, was losing out on Uber, Google Maps, Netbanking, Airplane ticket download, E-Aadhar card and the fact that, increasingly, almost every transaction required an OTP. What I was also not expecting, was losing out on my independence.

The sense of invincibility, I’d felt as I made my way in a relatively unknown city to my grand mum’s quarters in an Uber, Google-mapping the directions, was replaced with a feeling of complete disorientation and dread when my phone blanked out. Which made it clear that I am only as independent and empowered as my smartphone. Take it away, and I am a nothing person. Does this mean, I have a false sense of self? That I am not really as independent as I think I am? That I am only as smart, independent and empowered as my smartphone allows me to be? That, by being dependent on my phone, I am simply entrusting a gadget the place previous generations granted their husbands and fathers? That it’s time to end this toxic relationship disguised as a happily-ever-after? That it’s finally time to break up?

Since I respect my phone too much to ghost it, I should probably just start getting really “busy”.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Why we stay and lose in touch with friends from the past.

Note: While I was writing my first story about laughter and forgetting in my previous blog post, I felt this strange sense of liberation. Like this is what I was meant to write all this while. Like this was the topic I was sifting for, through the folds of my brain during languid train journeys and zoned-out moments at work. And that’s when I realised, I would convert all these snippets into blog posts – move them from memory to blog, where they would serve as reminders of a time long past, a time when happiness was real.

I don’t know what book it was (Milan Kundera’s Identity?), but the book basically says our friends are our tangible connections to our past –  If we lose our friends from the past, we lose our link to the past. And we risk losing a part of ourselves.

So we stay in touch with old friends for the mirror this friend holds out to us. And our friends stay in touch with us for the mirror we hold out to them. The mirror to our shared pasts that shelters shared memories –  a proof of having existed in a certain way in a certain period of time. A window to ourselves. A tangible proof of our existence. A key to our identity.

Which simply means, we need our friends to stay connected to the world and to ourselves.

And so even when we grow up into different people, we still look for those who transport us to our foundation. Who give credibility to our existence.

One of the most painful things is meeting a cherished person from the past and realising you have nothing in common with their present self.

At that point, you feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself with the other person. You feel confused, lost and start scrambling around – looking for your misplaced identity – the part of you that went missing with the other person. And in that confusion, you struggle to rediscover your new self. You are subconsciously thinking, “Okay, so s/he is this. So where does that leave me?” And little by little, the more “changed” old friends you meet, the more discomfort you feel. And after this long and tedious phase (that evolves not ends), you become closer and closer to finding out who you really are.

After the initial enthusiasm in the first few years after graduation – life, career and love swoop right in, tearing us all apart bit by bit. At that time, it gets really tough. For instance, in my case, I would lie awake, missing, hoping with all my heart to go back in time. Back to school when there was so much to look forward to. A time, when there was love in our hearts and fire in our souls. A time, when we were invincible.

And so to connect with the invincible part of ourselves, we call our friends from back in time and make plans. We fix a time and place and arrive there, looking sharp. However, take the setting of the past away, and we’re left incomplete. Two incomplete people staring at each other across the table, wondering what’s missing. Like two halves of different apples wondering how to fit together.

Has the mirror shattered? Are shattered pieces of yourself all you can see?

Sometimes, meeting people from the past is a reminder of all that’s missing. 

Meeting an old friend only to realise they’re nothing like what you remember of them, makes you want to do one of two things:

  1. Shut the door to the past with a firm thud
  2. Wish to time-travel back to the past

However, sooner or later, we all realise that we can’t live with one foot down the back door. We can’t keep hoping for some spell to transport us back in time. And we move on. 

Sometimes, when I meet a friend from the past, it seems as though I am meeting a stranger. A new person with new habits and new tastes, a striking resemblance to somebody I knew a decade ago.

We sit across, exchanging pleasantries, awkward silences dissipating only after a few drinks, when conversation drifts to talks of the past. The past is all we have in common. Our memories the only reason we meet. That’s when the pain gets unbearable. So intense that sometimes I choose to distance myself from this stranger I can’t connect to.

I don’t want my enthusiasm in rekindling the past to end up destroying the past.

I don’t want my memories to be tainted by any awkwardness and disagreements we might face in the present. I want my memories from back in the day to stay sheltered like pink and blue bubbles glowing in the sun. Bubbles I can gaze at as they drift away into nothingness. I don’t want to bring the bubble closer. I don’t want to risk bursting the happiest memories I’ve ever had.

Sometimes, losing touch is all I can do to protect the sanctity of the past.

And so I often find myself losing touch with old friends.

But at the cost of protecting the sanctity of my past, am I losing my identity?

Memories sometimes make life worth living. And stories worth telling.

Maybe, once when I have told all these stories and have shared every pleasant memory from my past,  I can safely attempt to rekindle those ties. To mend the tangible strings tying me to the warm, fuzzy feeling of the past. To repair the bridges now lying damaged by the passage of youth and self-discovery. To gaze at the mirror and hold a mirror out, without fear of it being shattered.

Till then, I am going to write. Write till my fingers hurt, and brain drains itself of every shred of hurt and loss. Write till I am empty of past dues. And filled with knowledge of myself.

Will it be too late then? Well, at least I’ll still have my blog posts.


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The blogpost of laughter and forgetting

I don’t know how many of you have read this Milan Kundera classic, but you don’t have to worry about it, as this post (as suspected) has nothing to do with this intriguing-insightful (yet slightly disturbing) novel.

Today, when I heard a colleague laugh it took me back in time to a memory I was on the verge of forgetting. This colleague has a very distinct laugh – one that consists of essentially two syllables or a repetition of one. Imagine a male voice with a slightly nasal twang, go – “Hain, Hain”. Well, that’s his laugh.

Speaking of disturbing laughs, I remember in school, my entire dormitory in 9th standard went on one of those laughter-therapy like sessions without knowing it was a thing. Basically, there was a girl in our class – a skinny little girl with braces and long frizzy hair who had this screechy laugh that would make anybody who heard her laugh, laugh. Her laugh was so funny, and so catchy that once we recognised it, we just wouldn’t stop asking her to voluntarily laugh. Often a couple of us would accompany her on her first “Ha Ha” to ease her into this game, so she didn’t feel awkward starting. And once we heard her, the rest of us would naturally burst into splits, our funny unique laughs causing this gorgeous girl to laugh even louder (and funnier), which caused us to laugh, and then her to laugh, and then us – resulting in a laughing marathon occupying a good party of our 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. rest hours, and disturbing our neighbouring dormitories too.

We’d just laugh and laugh for no reason. Just because it was so much fun. It felt so good, and we didn’t have anybody shoving “laughter therapy” down our throats either. It was something invented in the corner 9th std dorm by us 14-year-olds – one of the many creative games devised to amuse ourselves.

Her laugh started with a loud screech like  – “Haaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin” and would then break into little splutters of “hehehehheheeh” and then again she would take a deep breath and there would be a few continuous screeches like – “Haaaarghhhhhhh- Haaaarghhhhhhh – Haaaarghhhhhhh” – followed by a few more “hehehehheh” splutters –  and at this moment, I would be laughing so hard, holding my tummy with one hand, wiping the tears with the other – that pain itself was forgotten for a moment.

I had forgotten this long lost memory or rather it was buried between the folds of “adulting”stress and brokedom only to emerge at the behest of a colleague guffawing his “Hain Hein”.

Well, let me just say this – the corporate world sure has its moments.

P:S: I know I am digressing from the “Fashion” theme again, but please understand – I am absolutely obsessed with my schooltime shenanigans.

P.P.S: Stay tuned for more “forgotten” stories of laughter and other happy moments from boarding school.

10 incredibly weird things about me that (debatably) make me an unlikeable person.

  1. Me to myself – “Thank God It’s a No-Plan Friday. What? There’s a plan? Oh no, why is life so tough?”
  2. I wish she cancels I wish she cancels I wish she cancels – Oh THANK GOD she cancelled! Now, I can happily be boring at home.
  3. I am ignoring your call not because I dislike you, disrespect you or mean to be rude. It’s just that I am going through something at the moment and I need all the time I can get to heal myself. At other times (that is the times that I haven’t “ignored” your call), I am genuinely busy and may have missed your call, made a mental note to call back, and then forgotten. Again, (debatably) unforgivable.
  4. How can people not like sleeping early? *genuine wonder* I sleep at 10:30 p.m.
  5. As long as I get the luxury of sleeping on time and waking on time and getting a mug of tea first thing in the morning, I will be sane.
  6. The only alcohol I drink is beer, and not because it’s alcohol, but because it’s beer. And I genuinely like the taste. I wouldn’t even mind  if beer didn’t make me high. In fact, it would be better as I could drink a lot more.
  7.  The reason I choose one plan over the other is not because I like one person over the other, but because I choose the plan where I know nobody including me is going to “overstay their welcome” or drag the party till the point where it’s-so-boring-that-we-can’t-stand-it-so-we-end-it. Instead, end it while it’s still fun; like you know how they say, “Quit while you’ve still got a reputation?” Well… something like that.
  8. A lot of my free time goes in devising ways I can: a) fire my maid b) ask for a raise c) think about what business I could start d) design a few perfect outfits e)Not actually doing any of the above (maybe just ‘d’)
  9. I wake up really early so that I can freshen up and have my first mug of tea while watching a random episode on Netflix – I don’t have to complete the episode – I just have to complete my tea. While watching something.
  10. I crib and I crib and I crib not because my life sucks, but because I am cleansing every shred of negativity within me (and dumping it on you) so that I can be happy. Again (debatably) selfish. You care for me after all? Don’t you? 😉

 

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P.P.S: This is supposed to be a style blog, but I like to digress once in a while. It’s a blog NOT a brand, for God’s sake.

P.P.S: I also spend a lot of time staying disillusioned with capitalism, advertising and selling people things they don’t want (despite or especially due to the fact that I have spent all of my career doing exactly that).

 

 

Humans stress me. Clothes de-stress me. 

 

 

Unless ‘clothes’ refers to a short sequinned (read ugly) number. Or worse, a my pure-white shirt has a spot of mustard. That’s when humans become a breeze.

I remember when I bought my first pair of boots. I was 21, in London for the first time. And my father bought me these really chic knee-high black boots. From Aldo. And oh, I was in love.

And, like all kinds of love, with it came a new set of anxieties.

What if, I leave my shopping bag somewhere. What if my baggage gets lost in transit? And with it go my boots? What if somebody steps on it – when I am wearing it? What if, it gets fungus? What if it breaks? What if a pigeon shits on it? 

And I realised, I share a weird relationship with fashion.

Inanimate, material fashion.

A ‘spontaneous anti-depressant’ in the words of Eugene Hutz, an instant excitement kick or a happiness machine – call it what you may, just the act of putting together fresh combinations from my closet is enough to bring on that sense of achievement. “Oh, why I didn’t I ever put those two together?”

 

And, the sheer joy on seeing a movie where the star dresses just like you do!  Keira Knightley in Begin Again, anyone? Or Emilia Clarke in Me Before you?

Clothes.

 

So, I wrote a silly poem about clothes.

Here it goes.

 

Clothes.

They won’t throw a fit if you don’t call them.

They won’t taunt you when you crib.

They won’t leave you for another country.

And they won’t make you feel like you’re shit.

They’ll be there for you when you’re happy.

And they’ll be there for you when you’re low.

They’ll make you feel fabulous,

even when you shed half a kilo.

They’ll bring out your best features

And they’ll notice your new haircut.

They’ll cover-up the extra inches – oh you dark-dark chocolate sundae!

And they’ll show-off all those curves!

 

Well, folks, that’s all for today. Drink lots of tea, wear lots of dresses, and laugh a lot.

Cheers.

Shivani

How I found myself through fashion.

Fashion saves me. Everyday.

Some see it as an annoying intruder, a pointless culture, and a distraction from what’s important. Others see it as an occasional indulgence meant to be partaken in, only during special occasions. And a few, like me, see it as an integral party of the everyday, a constant saviour in the journey of life.

When I was little, my mother dressed me up in smocking frocks with peter-pan collars and puff sleeves, matching ribbons for my hair – little bows, white socks, and smart Mary-Janes. I was the “well-dressed” child in every circle, never without a missing ribbon or shoe, never with snot running down my face, and never in flimsy spaghetti straps and careless hot-pants. I was quiet, well-behaved, and disciplined enough to sit with my shoes and socks, white without a speck of dirt, at parties.

I wasn’t a cute child. I wasn’t adorable or talkative. And I had no special talent apart from being able to draw – not something you can show off to your relatives about. I couldn’t dance or sing or act or mimic. I couldn’t play an instrument or say adorable things that grownups could listen to and go, “awww…”. Nope. I was quiet, I sat in the corner, played with my dolls and read. I spoke when spoken to and answered with a “yes” or “no”.

Then I went to boarding school. And the awkward pre-puberty age set in. I no longer liked frocks and I wanted to look more boyish than ever. I looked at my friends with their jeans and shorts and rubber floaters and that’s all I wanted to wear. I lost my love for pink, I lost my love for frocks and a part of me lost myself for a little while. I tried to fit into boarding school, by borrowing aesthetics from the people around me. Baggy shorts and baggier denims. The more boyish, the better. With my skinny legs, bony knees, gawky face and giant braces, nothing looked good on me. And my school uniform? That looked particularly horrid. No matter how much I tried, the grey pleated skirt refused to sit flat on my tummy, puffing up in an odd sort of way.

My rebellious hair was chopped up – “Maggie cuts her hair” style with no real definition. And I would comb through my hair – a hundred strokes every night, hoping for some semblance of straightness. I would oil, shampoo and condition it twice a week. I would buy the serums “specially formulated for dry, frizzy hair”, as the Livons of the world smiled inwardly , conscious of the giant prank they had played upon frizzy-haired believers everywhere. And none of it worked. Of course.

As I grew older, little by little I realised the reason everything looked odd on me. It wasn’t my genes or the lack of effort on my part – trust me. I tried everything.

It was because I was running after an aesthetic that wasn’t mine.

And subconsciously I began to define myself. I lathered on kohl, got a set of double piercings on my ears, and I got my skirts shortened. I began to tie my hair up in a high ponytail, and wear my skirts an inch shorter than the knees (everybody else was going for the low wasted, extra baggy-long skirt look at that time). And I gave up trying to straighten my hair. I washed my hair less, stopped combing it like an idiot.

I finally started embracing my curls.

And that’s how I made my little mark in the sea of identical uniforms. But, when it came to “coloured” clothes or clothes that weren’t uniform, I was lost. I tried long skirts, short skirts, capris and flared denims. But, nothing… nothing made me feel like me. I felt odd, my body felt sloppy and I just didn’t feel like “me”. The me who wore her smocked frocks with matching ribbons and pretty shoes. The “smartly dressed” me.

I read up the Vogues and the Cosmos, and I tried to draw inspiration… For the longest time, I blamed my weight for making clothes look odd on me. But, then again, I wasn’t really fat.

I knew I had toned legs, and so I should wear shorter silhouettes. But I had a tummy, and at that time, shops were only selling really fitted tees and body-con dresses. So, I struggled and struggled to find clothes that would flatter me. And would make me feel more “me”.

I think, it was only recently, say around 3 years back, that I discovered my aesthetic. I think it was repeated trial and error and a conscious understanding of my body-type. It was finding the middle point between comfort and style. And understanding my mind a little better. That lead me to it. And slowly I knew I was all about cottons, checks, anti-fits and comfort. Of button-down dresses, fit and flare silhouettes and skater dresses. Of bright florals, knee skimming lengths and floaty-breathables – The exact opposite of tight jeans and synthetic tops – my uniform throughout college and early years of working.

And once I found my aesthetic, I suddenly knew, no amount of taunts and jabs and magazine advice could hurt this strong extension of my being – my everyday armour. And even though plenty in India would call my style “jhalla” for it’s incredible looseness, and even though I admire those who can pull off the tight dress and stiletto look, when I look at myself in the mirror, with my  ultra faded-plaid dress and black-floppy-chappals, I know i couldn’t wear anything else – for the sole reason that it won’t fit in with me. It just won’t be me.

The deep-pockets for storing the odd lip-balm. The loose fit to cover the slight overeating at lunch. The knee-skimming length for leg-freedom. The cotton fabric to beat the humidity. And the absence of fluff to drive attention to my face rather than the dress. The dullness of colour to serve as a canvas to my personality. And the detailing of the dress, finally, to ground me sartorially and to pay homage to the talented designer.

This may seem too intense for something as seemingly light as fashion. But if you were to watch the documentary on Bill Cunningham and hear what people around have to say, you may understand things a little better.

Fashion is not just feathers and fluff and an ostentatious display of cloth for thrill. All that is advertising. Fashion is more. It’s advertising (of course), but it’s also style and craft and art and a tool that ordinary people like you and me can use to build ourselves a little brighter.

And as I found my aesthetic – an aesthetic surprisingly similar to the 5-year-old me with her plaid frocks and smart shoes – I found myself.

 

On the importance of being thick-skinned and well-dressed

I first heard the term “thick-skinned” when I was in school. As a gawky 12 year old, hearing a lanky senior (one with braces I think) look at us and yell, “How thick are you”, elicited more smirks than fear. And, then of course, I’d be up standing, punished, with two or three other girls for the “audacity to smirk” while we were being spoken to.

I wish smirks came more easily to me now.

The thing is, when you start working, when you pack your bags and leave the comfort of bed-tea and “Baby khana laga liya hai” (Dinner is ready) for “Dude, it was your turn to get the milk” and “muesli for breakfast- lunch-dinner”,  you change too.

I don’t know. Maybe the food you eat determines your skin thickness. Maybe having domestic help and a “bawarchi” who can bake cookies and cakes and make fantastic grilled chicken, thickens your skin to immense proportions. Maybe, it’s boarding school and 30 other girls who smirk and giggle with you at annoying seniors and turn their noses with you over “dumb bimbos” (yeah, no one told you, even you’d go through the “bimbo” phase) makes you invincible in your mind.

Hell, yeah. What could be worse than being boycotted in school. Right?

Wrong.

I don’t know whether life is indeed much tougher now, or my skin’s just lost its thickness (I think it’s the latter), but a lot of it stems from the mind.

Somehow in our heads, we all have this perfect impression of how life after school is supposed to be. You know. Like you walk into college. And you meet the best friends. You go on an open jeep to Goa and sing songs. You date a few losers but it’s cool. And then you graduate. Everybody is happy. You are nervous about finding a job. You think if you find something good, your “life is set”. So once you find your dream job, you think nothing can go wrong. People at work will just accept you to submit work like you did your assignments. And soon, they shall realise what a shining star you are with your dedication and your hard-work and your brilliant ass from which you shit stars and rainbows…

BULLSHIT.

Before you walk into the corporate world, you’d better make sure you’re skin’s as thick as an elephant’s hide. Yes, you heard me.

Because, girl, people are going to talk. And talk they will of your clothes, your skin, your social-ness and your anti-socialness. Of your secret affairs, your not-so-secret-affairs and of course, the worst, your work. The work you pride yourself on, the work, that teachers in school praised you for.  The work that won you contests and awards. And the work, that the corporate world will reduce to a snigger, a jibe, an-offhand remark over the lunch table that’ll cause everyone listening to snigger and roll their eyes, a certain pride in them not being on the other end.

Yes. that’ll happen.

And no, work won’t always be like school. It won’t always be go to school, come back, read, chill enjoy. You will stress about promotions. You will stress about a bitchy boss, a competitive colleague and most of all, about how you think you are perceived by others. Which is why, GET THICKER SKIN GIRLS.

And, you will see your school friends on TV, you will see them buying a house, shopping at Louis Vuitton, travelling around the world, having the dream wedding, being featured in newspapers, eating out at the fanciest restaurants in the city, their skin like porcelain and bodies like figurines… their daddies like ATMs and husbands like Mr. Greys.

And your parents shall look at you expecting more.

Their one look saying the dreaded, “What did we make you study so much for, if you’re still going to ask us for money?”

So you don’t ask them for money. You don’t get your increment in time. And your maid wants you to pay her more because well, maid problems.

And nobody told you, you’ll have to deal with this.

Yes. Nobody said you’ll go to work and come back so tired that even though the travel websites and the BuzzFeeds of the world yell at you to “quit your job” and “do what you always wanted to do” and other surrealist-inspired nonsense (that you partially followed), you will end up slouched on your bed, passing out in between an episode of House of Cards hugging a bowl of oats lying half-eaten by your pillow.

And bills. Yes. Everybody always seems to forget the bills when they are dishing out “aspirational” advice through movies and websites. Go, join a “water-yoga”class, go “travel someplace to get lost”. Yeah. Right. Who’s going to pay for this? My Daddy?

Or me on my creative person’s meagre salary, a profession, that you advocated because guess what, “Follow your dream and forget the money and do what makes you happy.”

All of life, one big oxymoron.

The example of a handful who’ve “made it” setting unrealistic goals and expectations on those of us who haven’t. And selective revelation of just the candy-flossiness of other people’s lives lead us to find gaping holes in our own.

So, what if, we just did away with all this nonsense? What if we trained ourselves to get thicker skin, and woke up in the morning as though preparing for battle?  What if we armed ourselves up with the hottest clothes, the toughest jewellery and an unshakeable mind?

Cause this isn’t life, girls. This is war.

 

And, you don’t need to walk around town with a silly grin plastered on your face, as the “Be positive” rants online tell you to do. “Smile, come what may”, “expect good and good shall happen”… No, you need to be realistic, cause “shit is going to go down.” Might as well prepare for war, and if you get roses in return, you’ll truly appreciate it as you weren’t expecting it from the start. Know what I mean?

So, tomorrow when you wake up, walk to your wardrobe and pick your fanciest armour for the day. High heels or boots, little dresses or distressed denims, spaghetti straps or silk stockings. Pick your armour, wear it like a boss, and step out of your house, skin thickened, body dressed and mind ready for battle.

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I am sure a lot of people may have contrasting points of view to this opinion feature. Feel free to start a discussion. I look forwards to hearing what you all have got to say.