I am 34

I love birthdays. I really do. It used to be the presents. Then the thrill of a disposable income. Some years the wishes. But by and by, it’s just the concept. I love it.

I love squeezing as much as I can from the day. I like to wake early and have a small chat with myself. Preferably over something to eat (croissants from Oven Fresh yesterday for lunch. Define ‘Early’). Birthdays are mile-markers and I like the team to think about what we’d like to do with the rest of our time here.

Heart, is there some stuff you want to let go of? What’s filling you up? Stomach, rethink your lust. Spirit, stay awake. Intuition, thank you; we’ll put it on the memo to trust you more. Fear, we’ve got to boss you down. Lungs, we must be kinder to you and rely on you to slow us down in stress. I like to think of all the great stuff that happened and bully myself to stay on the path. Mostly, I like to take deep breaths and say, “It’s my birthday!” Feb 14 is, “It’s not my birthday anymore.”

34 is farther than I imagined. I didn’t have plans beyond 20 (Turn of the century! I’ll have a boyfriend!). 34 is no landmark year. 34 does not have a ring to it. 34 is neither here nor there. 34 is too many candles on the cake. 34 is just the year before 35.

But I am 34. Isn’t that fantastic?

Third thoughts

I have a lot of time to think about writing now. I also have a narrow window of emotional availability. Don’t be surprised if I call! Third thoughts is where the rich material is. I’m digging there.
Allow me to illustrate: When I learnt about the samaadhi system as a child, I was fascinated.

1. How admirable that someone could have that kind of determination and dedication.
2. What if (s)he changed her/his mind? What if (s)he started banging on the rock/door (?) and shouting in panic and nobody heard?
3. What if they did hear and didn’t let him/her out to protect the image? What if the invested powers stood guard at the samaadhi for a pre-calculated number of days to make sure the saint did not escape?

From what I know about the world now, the last is more likely to happen. Epiphany about religion. It’s one of the best things I like about my upbringing. We were not brought up in religion. We were aware of a higher power but it’s representative on earth and chosen vessel of manifestation was my mother’s right palm. For an omnipresent god, in charge of all known and unknown creation, he seemed overly concerned with whether I obeyed my mother or kicked my brother.

Some author, I think it was Neil Gaiman, said somewhere that when you have the courage to write out what makes you uncomfortable in your head, that’s when you are close to good material. I paraphrase, but I hope you get what I mean. It’s one of the things I worry about — what will my parents, family and friends say if they know how my mind actually works. How unsentimental it is. How poor in romance. It’s what I ask my writer friends: How do you camouflage the characters?

2013, I’m coming to getcha

So. We’re surrounded by babies and it’s troubling me. In the back of my mind (in my mother’s voice), I always thought I would feel differently about procreating when I reached the other side of 30. Now I’m nearly 33, surrounded by charming children whom I love being mimmie, maushi, aunty and aatyaa to but I don’t feel like having any. I’m starting to panic. And then I realise that I am starting to panic because I didn’t believe I could be right. I am not by biggest supporter.

The only way I can rationalise this is as much as I love food, I never cook. Why fuck up a dish you love and enjoy? Again, I am not winning any brownie points with myself. If I have to be a pleaser, you’d think I could start with myself.

So anyway, 2013. A month in. Just in time for my jayanti. I actually ticked off a lot off my last year’s list without intending to. Turns out if you write something down, you mentally push into the conscious part of your brain. I wonder if anyone else has noticed this. Maybe I should write a book.

So this year, I’m making another set

1. Don’t worry about money
When I intended to become Financially Secure, it’s was not the inflow of money I need to worry about. That is plentiful, as evidenced by the shoe collection. I need to stop worrying about when it’s all going to go away. Or where the next cheque is coming from, in the current circumstances. Deeper still, I have to address my feelings about stuff.
Stuff does not make me happy. When I get stuff, I feel a stab of guilt coupled with a slap of self-loathing. I don’t get the ‘I deserve it’ high, nor the ‘I am worth it’ feeling ; just a little ‘Look what I found’ strut.
I’m not in debt, nor do I shop at the cost of savings. I am actually very good with planning finances. I should allow myself to feel happy about the pretty. And love self flagellation a little less. Which brings us to…

2. Give yourself a break
I have a terribly good memory in a personal context. So I remember every tiny mistake and the smallest of humiliations, and have long scathing talks with myself all day. It’s got to stop. This year, I say sorry, shrug and move on. Unless your child fell on its head on my watch. May I push a human being out of my vagina so that you could drop it on its head? No matter how remorseful I am, no one takes me up on this offer.

3. Let her have a massage
I am sensing a theme here. I think massages are a waste of money. I’m not a salon regular goer. It bores me so much that I even procrastinate depilation. It’s part of my charm. I won’t spend 600 bucks on a massage (which I need because I run and I sit at a desk for long hours; and I like the gentle but firm touch of East Indian girls on my ankles and the conspiratory ambience) but I have no problem springing that amount four tees. No more.

4. Talk to me
A lot of this would go away if I had conversations with myself. Sometimes, I think if I tell someone about my intent (“That’s it, no more sugar for today”), I think it is done. I don’t need to tell others, I need to tell myself. Nicely. I’m going to pretend I am Golden Retriever. I’d never be able to say no to a massage if a Goldie asked.

5. Write for fun
Though I love writing for fun, it is still “content” with an intention. Write when there is no pay per word. You know what that means.

Wondering

1. So in Tushar’s household, they make this awesome kheer. It’s immovably thick on account of reduced milk, condensed milk, ghee roasted almond slivers and vermicelli. It’s angel semen. Wouldn’t it be awesome if biofluids could be engineered to taste yummy? You Stanford, MIT-wallahs, are you on this?

2. I have a business idea. Ganpati is big right? You’ve seen the pandals. There’s a Subhashchandra Ganu, a baby Ganu, headlines Ganu. I sense an opportunity. Dashboard accessories — chattri, havan pind, scroll, mouse, turban, crown, etc. Different figures — student Ganpati, scribe’s Ganu, long-distance traveller Ganu, gunning down terrorists Ganu. Different costumes. Who’s got China on speed-dial?

Dusting the life-list

My bucket list is irritating me. I don’t like it. It’s all over the place and not very well thought out. I’m firing it. What I want in its place is something more precise, less elaborate and lesser things to strike off. There are so many smaller, less grandiose plans I have for a fulfilling life and I can’t let go of them.

1. Get a job that makes me travel
Most of the bullet points on my list are about going somewhere. However, I hate the planning; the evaluation that follows of which place is better, more suited for activity, more satisfying. As if I can know that without going there. Plus, I don’t get too many holidays and planning for them makes me so stressed that I’d rather stay at home and spy on Rio.
On the other hand, I get excited about going anywhere — even to Satara or Pune. I am not partial to modes of transport, or comfort elves. So Universe, land me a job that send me everywhere. Make me complain about living out of suitcase.

2. Ride a 360 degree roller coaster
I love amusement parks, and scary rides. 360 degree roller coasters have always amazed me, especially since I consider the laws of Physics a kind of magic.

3. Exercise every day
Fuck the weight loss and looking pretty. TB’s genes will ensure that he outlives me by at least two decades and I want to be around as long as possible to make sure he doesn’t have much fun. My vices are slowly leaving me, without much effort on my part, but I need to be healthier. So I must take the stairs, walk when I can, eat better and sleep right.

4. Dance to Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Like full scale throw-me-over-the-shoulder-to-that-other-guy kind of synchronized dancing. I love dancing, right? But I never do it unless I pay for a class and turn it into serious business.

5. Visit every state in India
So far, I have been to: Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim, Bengal, Goa, Pudducherry and so briefly to Kerala that it doesn’t count.

6. Be self employed.
To see more sunlight. To do more things. To make time my own.

7. Be financially secure.
Who do you think is going to fund the adventures, you stupid bitch?

8. Work in another city
While I love Mumbai, I think it’s a bit myopic way of functioning having lived in only one city in India.

I’m keeping it short for now. If I have to remind myself to commune with animals or take a stupid risk, I am not the person I think I am. For now, I need to strike these things off.

2. Do a dog training course
10. Taste fresh blueberries
11. Taste fresh raspberries
12. Taste avacado

20. Be a good mentor
31. A roadtrip with doggie and TB
42. Para-sail over a valley
44. Give a dance recital on stage as an adult
47. Meet Devdutt Pattnaik (mythologist) for coffee
54. Be rid of financial insecurity
56. Live on a kibbutz

I wish a Boo on all of you

Once in few weeks, when Boo’s health takes a turn for the worse, I find myself distancing from him. It’s an inbuilt reaction to shelter myself from the inevitable pain. It’s easily justifiable — I have no household help for the summer, I work 12 hours six days a week, I go to work earlier than before. It’s much more efficient to tackle the laundry while TB takes him for a walk. Besides all the medical help we provide, what can make this better for Boo? Just three things:

1. Walks (or car rides). Long walks. Allow him to lead. Let him smell everything. Let’s sit on the grass and watch.

2. Cuddles (or just an elbow nook, a paunch, a thigh to nuzzle into. With half a face gone, he’s very vary of strangers and doesn’t allow anybody to pet him. But he still drills into my stomach, allows us to apply hot and cold compresses and pick his nose. Dogs maim you with trust)

3. Watermelons (or any crunchy fruit and peel)

Just three simple things. It’s not so hard.

Projects that lasted a day

1. My dad was never big on imparting his “culture” to us, much to our handicap. When people ask why we’re matriarchal, he says marriage to a g***** is unconditional surrender. Now I speak to him in Gujrati and he answers in Marathi.
But that Thursday night in 1989, AS was staying over and my loving, malleable father thundered: “Fruit of my loin! Thou shall learn Gujarati! Tomorrow we commence your training at 9 am sharp! Okay, 10 am.”
My brother was harbouring adolescence in his room and learning Gujarati was not going to help him further his career as a GI Joe.
So me and AS gathered in the morning in front of my cupboard. The doors were painted black so that I could draw and play teacher-teacher on it.
My father wrote out the alphabet and the numbers one to ten. We copied them down studiously and repeated after him. Then we broke for lunch and he suspended lessons for a nap.
We went out to play hopscotch. He never mentioned the lessons again, even though I wrote about them in a composition on ‘How I Spend my Fridays’.

2. During the 1991 Gulf war, we (mother, brother and I) were sent back to India for a few months, like many other Indians. That was a tragically wrong move because those were the best days to be in Bahrain.
Destruction was imminent so life was tuned to Full Swing — there were random days off from school, US troops brought excitement, shops went on sale and when we came back, everyone had these really cool Gulf War tee-shirts.
We landed mid-term in Navi Mumbai and my parents were keen on us continuing our CBSE education. The only school was in Nerul, three towns away from Vashi, where we lived. It only had classes up to Eighth grade and my brother was in Ninth. My parents didn’t want to separate us as I couldn’t travel alone.
So they enrolled us and we got brand new uniforms. A tie and belt would seal our admission. I was really excited about them because 1. I had never worn a tie before and it looked very official 2. My skirt kept falling off.
But by the end of the day, my parents decided that it would not do for my brother to lose a year, nor for us to be separated.
That’s how I was in ApeeJay school for one day.

3. 1994-1995 was a bad year for concentration. Over every class, ever conversation gathered dark clouds booming the importance of Board exams. They thundered stress and guilt. Everyone was fine-tuning their approach to distinction. I found I could “study better” if I went to the terrace in the evening. Between reading chapters and drifting off, I caught sight of birds flying right to left.
I would study their patterns, I declared to my rapt inner audience. Present a paper on them after my board exams were done. Look, they only fly out in pairs! No they don’t! They head only in one direction! I could count them and see if they number tallied over days! They might be a rare, undiscovered species! My life had a purpose! Up yours, Board Exams! The inner audience stood up to applaud.
I forget to go up next evening.

Anti-anxiety mantras

1. Just because you saw it, were told of it or were present there, doesn’t make it your problem. It’s your problem only if it affects you directly.

2. People are not thinking about you. They are thinking about what you think of them.

3. Cog in the wheel. Cog in the wheel. Cog in the wheel.

4. Staying silent is better than being rude. Or talking too much. Or answering back. Or expressing anger verbally. Or defending yourself.

5. If I don’t like you, I don’t have to have you in my life.

6. Money does not equal love. Effort equals love.

Naam ke waaste

Context is everything, particularly in fashion.
Take this blouse, for instance. Some advertising house will put it on a white girl, pull up a pencil skirt, tie up her hair, put on glasses and make her follow a pimple-y boy who sprayed a deo named after a tool.
In India, it’s synonymous with christians or pao-wallahs. It makes most of us think of the Ravan and Eddie parallel. Educated but humble folks living in chawls or villages of Bandra, Mazgaon, Byculla, Borivli or Kalina, wearing synthetic clothes from the ’70s, imported by a neighborly smuggler or sent by an uncle or brother from the Gulf.
Lavender (never purple) or mauve is the sophisticated name of the colour and the blouse is probably worn only to church. The wearer is a company secretary or gives English tuitions.
There’s a reversal when NRIs wear Indian clothes. Most of them choose costume-y clothes far from what we wear here every day — inspiration coming from movies. The materials differ; they prefer synthetics, when in India, synthetics are only worn by the daily wages class or those with no sweat glands. There is little identification of motifs or handiwork. The difference — textural, technical and aesthetic — between bandhej and a bandhini print.

Did I miss the bus?

I read this on Broom’s blog and thought it was a great way to measure how far I’ve come. So…

2000: I was in the final year of college. There were six students of English Literature in the final year and were a close-knit bunch. We brought in the year at Romel’s new home and I was terrified that I didn’t know what to do with my life. Everyone else had their careers marked and if I wanted to study further, I’d have to finance it myself. I needed to start earning soon and I had a portfolio clicked. I did one assignment for Frazer and Haws, made twice the money I invested in the portfolio and never tried it again. I was in a long-distance, long-term relationship with a boy. I was content but unstimulated. We broke up by the end of the year because his parents refused to pay his med college fees if he continued to date a non-Sindhi. I started freelancing for a local newspaper by the middle of the year and by November got a job as a copy-editor with a computer gaming magazine. I also got my first column, met a bunch of geeks who opened my mind with a crowbar; and worked in what seemed then like a concentration camp, but in hindsight, was the best journalism school I could go to. I learned to use computers and the boys are among my favourite people today.

2001: I turned 21 at my first job and have celebrated every birthday at work since. Met merlin. Blown away by his talent. Magazine discontinued in August. Devastated. Fell irreversibly and irreparably in love with a drunk and drugged poet. Broke my heart in eight months. Hear of new snooty boy at work whose MSN nick is Scrotum. Start working at architectural magazine. Travel from Panvel to Bandra every day and cry at night for the poet.

2002: Decide to get a Masters. Move out of home with college-mate into our own row-house. Series of rebound mistakes follow. Roomie pines for Malabar Hill artist, I for poet. Ally McBeal soundtrack tape is worn down. Get a job with technology magazine in old office. Brother moves to America, I move back home. Almost marry Wrong Guy because I’m lonely and heartbroken. Seek counselling.
Learn Scrotum’s name. Offers money to see me in a skirt. Insult him at office Diwali party. Briefly date Married Man with Child while simultaneously dating Scrotum. Leave when I see turds in toilet bowl. He isn’t particular about flushing because he lives alone.

2003: Feel strangely young and mostly happy. Start blogging. Dissatisfied at work. Pine for poet. Go to Sikkim with best-friend from college.

2004: Scrotum asks me to marry him. Say no. Say yes. Say no. Say okay. Go back to poet. Come back to Scrotum. Get engaged. Quit tech magazine. Join Animal Rights organization. So happy about what I do, even if it means travelling from Panvel to Juhu every day. Go to Pondicherry with two girlfriends.

2005: Become Mrs Scrotum. Boo comes home. Get fired from Animal Rights Organization by insecure boss AFTER she calls my husband for tech advice. Spend three months at home, swimming free-style in anger.

2006: Join newspaper. Resentful. Directionless. Worked to the bone. Start three blogs to kill time. Start investing in tools of trade. Buy Macbook, nice camera and tripod.

2007: Swasta Ani Masta becomes a newspaper column. Consider switching to writing from editing. News to features. Join dance classes.

2008: Apply to volunteer on a kibbutz. Put Cassie to down. Lose grandmother. Start writing more, editing less. Put Boo in car and go around Kokan.

2009: Lose Cookie, Rusty and Dumpy. Tushar taken to ICU. Loses gall stone two weeks later. Tushar’s grandmother hospitalized for one-and-a-half months. Comes home, leaves earthly abode two weeks later. Spend first NYE in seven years away from Tushar.

ps: I didn’t know the Married Man was married. Neither did anyone else. His family was in his hometown and he’d been pretending to be a bachelor in Mumbai for 6-7 years.