This Fear vs Fearlessness Hoopla.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about fear because over the past few weeks and months, I have been confronting different versions of it – through stories that I have heard from others, and through the introspection of my own life and the choices that I have made over the past 5-6 years.

I knew a boy once. Everyone attributed him to be ridiculously fearless. Or maybe reckless was a better word for him. Fine line there, really. I was terribly in awe of him at the time that I met him; of his zest for life, of his willingness to throw himself into situations with gusto, good or bad, of not being afraid to try new things. In some ways, he represented everything that I was not, could not bring myself to be.

Many parts of me at that time were closed off from the world due to my personal experiences; I was afraid of very many things. Afraid of letting go. Afraid of giving in. Afraid of living. Contented with barely keeping my head above the water, because, safe. Or an illusion of safe, now that I consider it in retrospect.

And yet, not everything was what it seemed, and neither was this boy. After knowing him for some time, I realised here was a boy who was riddled with fears. His actions of being out there, of being “fearless”, were actually masks that hid deeper, more convoluted degrees of afraid. He wanted to be a musician, he told me. He wanted to stand up to his father, he told me. He wanted to make a man out of himself, he told me. He wanted all these things from life, but he was terrified of making choices that would allow him to see these decisions to the end. I don’t know what stopped him. Maybe it was his indecisiveness. Or maybe that very indecisiveness was an excuse, a safety net to fall back on, to blame, for his own inability to step up, to move forward in the direction he wanted.

His story isn’t a unique one. I’ve met many people who are so absolutely bound by their fears that they settle for less in their lives. People who are afraid to be alone and who sink into relationships that don’t fulfill them, people who are bound to desk jobs even though their dreams lie at the foot of the Himalayas. People who are afraid to question convention, because, why go through the trouble (though these will also be the same people who will find a reason to complain about everything under the sun because of their deep-rooted unhappiness), people who know that there are certain habits and patterns of behaviors that are going to ruin them but again, why change because, comfort.

People afraid to fall in love because of not wanting to get hurt, people not wanting to leave their homes because of the fear of change, people afraid of speaking out because of repercussions of severe societal backlash, afraid, afraid, afraid.

There’s so much importance we give to fear in our lives that it is nothing short of crippling.

What is fearlessness, then? Is there such a thing as fearlessness? Can one be completely and utterly be without fear? Is it humanly possible?

Frankly, I don’t know. (I’m leaning towards, I don’t quite think so).

What I do know is this: courage isn’t in loud roars or big declarations. It doesn’t have to be packing up and moving states, or embarking on extravagant adventures. It could be that, if that addresses some inane fear or apprehension inside of you, but it doesn’t have to be that.

A lover told me recently that courage isn’t in the absence of fear, but rather, the acknowledgement that this fear exists, and then making a conscious choice to address it. For me, courage, at one point, was getting out of bed every morning no matter how hard it was to get through my day. It might seem like a completely banal statement, but given the circumstances, that was the pinnacle of my existence.

For someone else I know, it was leaving a well paying job to address the restless in his heart. For a childhood friend, it was pursuing her lifelong ambition of becoming a doctor despite the odds stacked against her. For a close collegemate, it was putting herself out there to fall in love again, to let go, to surrender. For another bosom friend, it was facing his atheism and coming to terms with the possibility that there was a God.

I could go on and on about the brave hearts that I have met, just as I could go on and on about people who have stunted their lives because of fear.

And the best, or the worst part about this, is that the person who decides to pursue his dreams, could also very well be the same person who’s so terrified of love that he cocoons himself and refuses to take risks. The girl who was willing to move to a different state to save forests could also be the girl who has an irrational fear of disease.

There is no way to explain these things.  It just is. It doesn’t always have to be this way, but it is.

You’re not always one or the other. Most times, you’re all of it put together. And what I’m starting to learn, however painfully, is that …. That’s pretty all right.

As human beings, we have a tendency to assume that just because we are capable of doing certain things, and reacting in certain ways, the people around us also have to exhibit similar characteristics. We project our expectations of ourselves onto others, just as we project our fears onto others. What we are most critical of in other people sometimes could very well be what we are most afraid of in ourselves. And we can be terribly unforgiving of seeing our flaws manifest in others, not because we judge them for it, but because we recognize the potential in our selves to make those very same mistakes, and that scares us silly.

I see myself doing this often. And it takes a conscious, determined effort to stop, to be more understanding, to comprehend that every single person that I meet has a different life and comes from a different background, and that influences the actions and decisions of said person. And that if I were in that position with those experiences and ideas, I would possibly have behaved in a pretty similar fashion.

And at the end of the day, I guess that’s what it’s all about. This fearlessness and courage hoopla we keep going on about. It’s about looking at yourself in the mirror in the morning and realizing that there are these gaping chasms of insecurities, and trying to work through them. It’s about understanding that all of this, this entire existence of yours, and your fancy job, and beautiful shoes, and relationship issues, and shiny blogs are an infinitesimally small part of a much, much bigger existence. It’s about facing your insignificance and inadequacy and accepting that it’s all a part of you, and you are part of a ginormous divine system, galaxies, salt deserts and all.

It’s about making mistakes and perhaps, hurting others, and having the decency to be honest and apologetic about it. Not just a sorry from your throat, but from somewhere deep in the gut. It’s about knowing that you have fucked up and trying to un-fuck yourself up. It could also be climbing a damn mountain with a healing tattoo, or it could be telling someone that you miss them. It could be all of that and more. It could be nothing as grand as the above, and… That’s courage too.

At the end of the day, you are going to be lying on your bed with creaky bones and a rasping breath, and you are going to be faced with all the things you said and did and all that you didn’t. You’re going to be facing all that you’ve done with your life, and you’re going to be left with loads of questions and possibly very few answers.  The least that you could do for yourself is to make sure that this list of questions isn’t too long. A life without regrets might be impossible, but knowing that you tried your damned hardest to make the best out of it, probably counts for something. A whole lot of somethings.

Traveling is a lot like Loving.

I’ve just returned from a trip, and as always, I’ve come back to find that though seemingly nothing has changed, everything, truly has. 

***

Traveling, I’ve decided, is a lot like loving. Terribly daunting at first, filled with tremendous expectations, but oh, so very addictive. Each travel expedition (just like each relationship) changes you, the before, and the after of you is unbelievably different – life, is never the same again. And once you start traveling, you don’t want to stop. Same thing with loving, really. Once you’ve had the taste of the ecstasy that love can bring, you are ready to put yourself through the burning fire again, and again, and again, knowing all too well that what waits you on the other side need not necessarily be very pretty.

A road trip of 7 days. Of meeting the new and the old, the past, and the present. Where was I before? Where am I now?

It’s very difficult to tear yourself away from memories when you travel. There’s so much time, so much space, so much peace, that memories squeeze their way into the back of your eyes, and you find yourself reminiscing, without even meaning to. Old memories juxtapose on new memories, and time and space make no sense. This too, happens in loving; time and space become meaningless in the arms of your beloved, and time and space spent apart becomes excruciating, long, painful. Life blends into a series of somethings and nothings.

I first traveled on a plane by myself at the grand old age of 11. Sat beside a European couple who were also heading to London, and who refused to stop touching each other. To my 11 year old self, it was highly awkward. That’s what I clearly remember about that journey. Awkwardness, tinged with the nervous excitement of traveling by myself. And since then, the excitement has followed me through.

More than a decade has passed since that trip. In this decade, it has become easier to leave, easier to find reasons to constantly move, to be comfortable in a state of impermanence. There is a certain thrill in exploring the unknown, in forcibly putting myself in situations where everything becomes a challenge. Almost a triumph of the self, for the self. A surrender to the unknown, a free fall into the abyss that has not been explored.  Quite like love, this free fall, where there’s nothing but the motion of moving, of not being in control, and of constantly learning. Learning about the self, letting go of old inhibitions, discovering new inhibitions, looking at fear in the face, understanding that there will always be fear, and you know what, that’s perfectly goddamn okay. As you unwind, and disintegrate into the essence of you and what you stand for, you will find yourself being rebuilt. Love does that. Travel too, does that.

I’ve written about my travels many times before, but it’s only after this recent trip that I’ve realised that traveling for me, is another way of loving. Loving myself, loving other people, loving this world that I’ve been gifted with but barely seen and felt and tasted and smelt and touched. Loving the journey, and not the end of it. Loving the colours and the sounds and the responses that these new and indescribable things create in the self. Loving, like traveling, is self-discovery.

Love sets you free, and honey, so does traveling. Don’t look back. Don’t be afraid. Don’t think twice about it. Pack your bags, and let yourself go.

Day 2: Delhi-Jaipur Highway

I’ve just returned from my trip, and I’ve never been this quick to post something, but life has changed tremendously and there’s no time to write all of this down. I’ve skipped days; time becomes meaningless in the face of discovery. The notes below are barely edited, written on the second day of my road trip. 

***

delhi-jaipur highway

I’ve forgotten how much I love taking long drives. It frustrates me that I don’t drive, and that I should probably start some time soon because in my eyes, driving is… Freedom. Un-inhibition. Letting go. Penultimate strength of surrender to the journey, not the start, not the end, but the in between. There’s so much seduction in surrender.

We set off at 9am. Mohanji, our driver, the parents, and I. It is a cold morning, mist shrouding the city in soft light.

The first two hours of the drive are quiet. My parents drop off to sleep, one after the other, and I feel myself being lulled into the travel stupor of being on the highway. Patakha Guddi is running through my mind;  I want to hear it so badly. I want to watch Highway again and listen to Alia Bhatt’s lines when she tells Randeep Hooda that the journey is what she has fallen in love with. The journey is what I’ve fallen in love with.

I am in the present of a future I had seen in a film. This is not the first time. This will not be the last.

We are surrounded by big trucks. Big, big trucks so colourful in their glory. All these cheerful, cheeky faces at the driving seats. One of the drivers gives me a wink. I stare back, until my car moves ahead. I want to crawl into his contentment and stay there for a long while.

The scenery changes swiftly. Everything is sepia toned; I take off my shoes, I can feel the heat of the sun on my legs, on my left hand, where my forehead is pressed against the car window. My eyes are greedy, hungry, I feel yearning in the pit of my stomach to see, learn, devour.

Slums. Many of them. Little children with streaked hair, sun, dust colliding on their faces, smiles, one scowling as she stares into the distance. Two girls leaning on each other by the traffic light, talking, waiting for it to turn red so they can start their jobs. Taped together huts in the distance. Holes in the tape, holes in the fabric ceiling.

How do they survive in the monsoons, I wonder. Dad speaks with a voice filled with regret. “If they can be happy despite their circumstances, what excuses do we have?” You tell me, Dad. You tell me.

My mind is so hazy, processing everything at a slow shutter speed so that my thoughts seem over exposed, fragmented, unclear. My heart aches for this place and the more it aches, the more I fall in love.

Two children. Sitting on a well. Their mother is a flash of red chudithar that I barely glimpse before they are enshrouded in shrubbery. Men. Peeing. Near walls, along the road side, by the tea stall, by the crossing of a road. Everywhere. Their penises are the medals they display proudly. I can’t avert my eyes; it is a morbid fascination. Why can’t vaginas have the same sense of pride, I wonder.

Motorcycles with families on them. Three friends sitting tightly pressed against each other, laughing, giggling. Women in bright colours riding side-saddle, heads covered, faces averted, holding onto their partners tightly. There is a woman with a swarthy hand grasping her husband’a shoulder, as they pass us by on his motorbike. She is wearing an orange chudithar with a black motif. What stories does her swarthy hand hold? What hardships has she had? How many children has that hand fed? Did it ever have to wipe the blood away from a cut or from a bruise by her husband? How much love has it known, given?

So many questions. The heat doesn’t help, lulling me into a state where I am barely conscious. Thoughts of the past. Previous journeys of discovery, of learning.

My parents are dozing again. We are in Haryana now. My dabba phone beeps, it’s a message from Airtel welcoming us to the state. Mohanji tells us that now is the best time for farming wheat. We see wheat everywhere. Everything is a dusty yellow, the air is flecked with shimmering dust. I want to lick the air and bottle the gold in my heart so that I can understand something of the contentment that these people carry so lightly on their faces, their hands, their backs.

Contained contentment. Knowing that this is life and that acceptance is the only way forward. I don’t know if I agree with it, this acceptance, but I respect the determination. Women in glittering saris, with their dupattas over their heads, chests bared, this, this I love. There is an abandonment and pride in their womanhood and it makes me want to wear mine with a fiercer smile.

Without saying anything at all, they say, this is my woman. Now, watch me as I triumph.

We drive into a little restaurant by the road for a pit stop, a little time given for us to stretch out legs. Egg samosas, vegetarian samosas and masala chai. It’s always masala chai. I lick my plate clean as I watch an episode of Hatim with the store owners.

Now, we are moving into Jaipur.

Jaipur surprises me. Girls in jeans, wearing their youth with flirty smiles. Handsome, dashing boys with dark eyes and darker smiles that hold promises I want to discover. A big shopping mall, where the young ones hang out, Mohanji says. He laughs.

I’ve heard a lot about Jaipur. And the mystique of Rajasthan. I cannot wait to see all of it in its glory tomorrow.

We go to an arts house, a co-op, we are told. We are convinced into buying things. It makes me wonder how the sellers do what they do everyday, and how these enterprises are kept running.

Eshwar sells us a camel wool handmade rug. He likes my name, he says. Arathi. A connection to God, an offering. I realise at that moment that my name had defined my identity so clearly. Give, give, keep giving.

Eshwar continues. His wife is a housewife, he says. German is his best language, after Hindi, he says. You are like my family, that’s why you have such a massive discount, he says. Father and I can do nothing but laugh at the ingenuity and the convincing character, while Mother haggles. We are served tea, walk on 18000 dollar carpets, or so we are told.

Always, surrounded by men. In Jaipur, men are in the public space. They take over the space, they own the space, they occupy the space. There is a lot of space; there are a lot of men.

Eshwar is still talking; he says his wife is a housewife. A begum, he adds. When she got married to me, all my problems began and hers ended, he laughs. Loud, raunchy.  I wonder whether his begum had a choice in being a housewife. I wonder whether she has a voice and how it sounds like. Eshwar has a deep,  gravely voice. One used to speaking, spinning tales. Does he allow his wife to have a voice, this German-Hindi-English-carpet-selling Eshwar?

We are back in the car. A temple, Mohanji tells us.

Bidari Mandir. For Sri Narayanan. Dressed in black in a temple made of marble. The crowd surges forward to get blessings from the priest as he finishes his aarti. There is a bhajjan in the background, just tapering off. I feel a strange sense in me, of another time, another life, even. Same marble walls, same glittering idols, just me and him, on my birthday. These memories come out of nowhere. Gripping me by the throat and making me choke. I feel the tears now as I did then. I have changed so much, and yet, changed little.

We are heading back to the hotel because tomorrow is going to be a long day. The sun is setting, there is so much colour and sky in Jaipur and I spend my drive back to the hotel with my face pressed against the window, eyes trained on the sky. I want my eyes to drink in the colour, to be inundated with its beauty.

Mohanji bids us farewell. He told he was 51 today. And that he has changed his diet.

I wonder what makes people share what they do.

On Friends, Whatsapp and Choice.

The lovers and I had a long discussion about what I should write about. It began with a “write about me” to “write about what a single, lonely, miserable little bird you are” to, “oh eff off, don’t write, I just want to eat cake.” So, let me tell you about a love network that I’ve been blessed to have, all day, everyday, spread over 2 continents and more time zones than a girl can handle.

***

We have a Whatsapp group. I’m not going to tell you what the title of this Whatsapp group is, only that its (in)famous acronym is SSS, and it was set up in July 2013, when we split ways. The icon of this Whatsapp group is a picture of the four of us, me perched precariously on the laps of two of them, the third, leaning over us with an exaggerated grin. In that picture, we are giddy with happiness. It might be because we had just had a very rowdy ball game (well, they played ball, I was the nominal cheerleader girl) or maybe because we were generally really glad to be with each other. I’d like to think it was a bit of both.

We’d spent the few weeks before our final parting, otherwise known as graduation, lounging with each other. Really, that’s how we’d spent the whole academic year, but these last few weeks were particularly special. We didn’t make any specific plans – none of us were planners, none of us were particularly farsighted enough to organize dates – all of our hanging out sessions “just happened.” And oh, they happened indeed.

It usually involved food. Lots and lots of food, because when you’re a starving student, the only thing that’s on your mind, is food. We enjoyed cooking together, so these impromptu potluck sessions were a favoured activity. So…there would be food. And then there’d be wine. And cake. Lots and lots and lots of gooey, chocolate cake covered in the warmest, sweetest chocolate sauce that we’d share.

Sharing is loving. And loving, we understood.

So that’s what we’d do. Cook our food, bring our food to someone’s place, put on some music, eat said food, drink plenty of wine, and finish off the evening with cake. And talk.

None of us were talkers on our own, but when we came together, we talked. We talked about a lot of things. Highly intellectual conversations ranged from “have you seen the size of Serena William’s thighs, I mean, gawd” to meaning of life, the purpose of our existence, dream holiday destinations etc etc etc.

More than that though, we learnt to be silent with each other. And this, this was truly the pinnacle of our friendship. I remember countless afternoons in the park (if we weren’t in each other’s homes, we were in the park, sun or no sun), sprawled on our backs, staring at the big, bad sky, making occasional grunts while nursing our food babies, and generally, just being.

What I’ve learnt from my little group of lovers is that some of the best conversations can and usually do happen in silence.

Graduation was hard. We knew it’d be hard but it was harder than we thought it was. All of us came from different parts of the country/world, and after three glorious years of freedom and self-finding, we had to make the journeys back to our homes. We were scared. We continued to be scared as we threw our caps in the air, hugged and kissed each other goodbye, and left.

The four of us have not been in the same space since then. I don’t know when we’ll be in the same space again.

8 months have passed since we’ve left each other.

I’m in Singapore, one mate’s in China, one mate’s in Hong Kong and the last mate is in London.

Our Whatsapp group hasn’t slept since.

We struggle with timezones, our individual jobs, our collective emotional baggage, minority issues, family issues, weight issues, food issues, money issues, and all the other issues that normal people struggle with.

We know of each other’s struggles, we send stupid selfies to one another, we try to have skype dates where one of us always passes out (usually me, I confess), we bitch about our individual lives, and we try to keep each other going. We pray for each other, we talk to each other, we are silent with each other, and we know that we have each other.

The distance of it all used to scare me. I’ve lost a lot of people to distance. I used to blame distance for a lot of things in my life. For taking the love of my life away from me, for taking some of my best friends away from me, for keeping people I’ve known for years and years away from me, for not allowing me to have opportunities that I’d otherwise have had if I had been in a different place, in a different time…

It doesn’t scare me as much now, though, this distance.

These past 8 months have taught me that like everything else, friendship too, is a choice.

Where you are (physically) might not be a choice.

But, what you want to hold on to, and what you want to let go of, is a choice. Who you want to hold on to, and who you want to let go of, is also a choice. And most times, it’s not just about making the choice once. It’s about making the same choice over and over again. Sometimes, it’s about making a different choice, either to hold on tighter, or to loosen the hold.

But always, you have a choice.

It’s hard. Of course, it’s hard. Love, in any form, shape, or size is hard. Love, over seven seas, is that much harder.

Sometimes, people move to different places in their lives and they start to forget to give time for their friends who aren’t in the same space. It happens. You’ll be that person too.

Sometimes, you’ll come back to a place and realise that all your friends have moved on from where you left them. Your friends will meet the new you and wonder how people can change so quickly, in such a short time. You’ll think the same. You’ll drift away, make new spaces for people to come in. You will feel like you’re all alone. It will happen, and it will pass. This is life, after all.

I’ve learnt that the only thing that you can be sure of, is what you see in your immediacy. The people, the place, the smells, the love, the colours, the sky, the trees, the river by school…this is all you can be sure of. And you sure can be thankful for all that you have.

In an ideal world, my lovers and I will live in a tiny cluster of cottages on a lone mountain, do communal farming and have about 10 cats between us. (And that too, is my ideal world. Who knows what they want.)

It’s probably not going to happen for a long while. Till then, though, I’m content to live with my daily Whatsapp messages, my occasional skype dates, the possibility of  reunion in the near and far future, and the surety of more love than I can imagine.

At least, that’s the choice I’ve made. And that’s the choice I intend to keep making, over, and over again.

Today isn’t Friendship Day, but I doubt you’d need a reason to tell your friends how much you love them. Go on then, go and give them a hug. Or two.

And me? I’m going back to my virtual hangout, where we’re currently discussing racism, culture, and men.

 

 

 

Her smile, like sunshine.

Wrote this for something else, decided not to send it and posted it here instead.

***

The doorbell rings, and she answers the door,

her smile, like sunshine, welcome,

welcome, she says. Let me bring you tea, take a

seat, she says. By the coffee table, they converse,

this stranger, and this lady with her grey hair knotted,

her hands gnarled, but always, her smile, like sunshine.

She asking questions, him answering, this man with a

slightly receding hairline and a rounded stomach,

his smile, a little less bright.

Thank you for always coming to visit me, she says, there

is nothing more an old woman likes than love, she says,

and still she smiles, like sunshine, bless your parents for

your loving heart, she says, and the man,hugging her with

his smile, a little less bright,

whispers to himself, oh mother, if only in the graininess of your

thoughts, you remember me, you remember me,

and she returns his hug, her smile, still like sunshine.