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*Likely to be applicable for the next 10, 20, 50 years*

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  1. Health is your greatest wealth. Health is your greatest wealth. Health is your greatest wealth. (Repeat this to yourself 29 times, and then another 10 times for good measure).
  2. There is nothing quite as liberating as the first full breath of fresh air that you will draw deep into your lungs after days of struggling with swollen sinuses. Don’t let your sinuses swell like that again. Oxygen is life. Literally.
  3. When you wake up every morning, have a glass of water. It helps you deal with hunger pangs, and mood pangs, and is mildly meditative. It will set the tone for you for the rest of your day, because you’ve already started your day doing something good for your body.
  4. After day 3 of no-exercising, and the alarm goes, and you think you’re too tired and you can get to your workout tomorrow, because tomorrow will come anyway, NO. Get your butt out of that bed, into your workout gear, and out of that door. You will not regret it. Even if it’s a half-hearted attempt, you will not regret it.
  5. Greed and gluttony will do you no good. When your body tells you that it has had enough food, listen to it. You will regret that extra whatever-it-is-that-you-took 15 minutes after you’ve consumed it. Save yourself while you can.
  6. Don’t stop reading. Read everything, and read widely. Even when you’re writing, try to read. Find new things to read. Deviate from what you usually read. You will only be better off for it.
  7. Write a few words every day. Even when you think you have nothing to say, open up the Notes tab on your iPhone and write about what you see around you. Exercise your writing muscles every single day no matter how difficult it is to write something because one day, it will stop being so hard, and it will get easier.
  8. Write to someone you love at least once a month – pen to paper, hand to heart, at your desk with music for your company. You don’t even have to send the letter if you don’t want to, but write to someone you love. Often, the words you share with your loved ones are the words you would also need to hear for yourself.
  9. Never underestimate the power of a good haircut, good colour, and a good outfit. Even when you feel like you’ve been run over by a truck, at least wear one item that gives you some form of pleasure. You will feel that much better about dealing with the world. (P.S: Don’t postpone getting a haircut for too long – it messes with your mind)
  10. You really don’t need to deal with unnecessary, toxic drama. You don’t even need to process it – not yours, not anybody else’s. Delete.
  11. Water the plants and feed the animals every single day. You need them more than they need you.
  12. Get some sunlight often. There is something about being alive in sunlight that no amount of books/tv/art can give you.
  13. Speaking of TV, learn to savour the process of watching and learning about TV. There is a lot to explore, and not everything is worth bulldozing through. Slowly. Savour. The. Process.
  14. Celebrate your victories and analyse your failures equally. You have won in some ways, and lost in others. Both deserve equal attention, and play an equal part in moulding you.
  15. Write lists whenever you feel tired/confused/overwhelmed/etc because they help you to make sense (and even if they don’t make sense, they give you a false sense of assurance that you are doing something to organise chaos and sometimes, that is all you need).
  16. It is okay to cry. Just don’t spend all your time crying cos there’s a lot to do, a lot to see, and a life to live.

An excerpt from my travel journal from my most recent adventure.  Dad always tells me that every single person you meet in life has something to teach you. I’ve understood the truth in these words from my last trip to Kerala. 

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I am walking beside our young tour guide of the day, Manu. He fidgets quietly, while I walk silently beside him. He doesn’t quite know what to do with this firaang whom he’s stuck with and language seems to be a massive barrier between us. Or so, he thinks.

Manu was the first person I saw when I entered the resort earlier that morning. Perhaps, “entered” was not the right word.It had taken us a good half an hour to find the road that led to the place – the car ride had been filled with “Where’s the Letchmi Tea Estate?” in about 4 different dialects before we were pointed in the right direction. Wild Elephant Eco-Friendly Lodge was situated on a hilly area, surrounded by miles and miles of forests, mountains, tea plantations and clean fresh air. When my driver had finally dropped me off at the foot of its entrance (and I don’t use the word “foot” lightly, either), I could do nothing but gape.

No wonder they called Kerala “God’s Own Country”, I thought. Imagine seeing this view and living in this goodness every day.

After I’d hiked to the reception area, which also doubled as the manager’s private office, I learnt that I was way ahead of check-in time, and that I had to wait for the manager. No problem, I replied. I’ll just sit here. Manu gestured to me, asking if I had some kind of reservation, and I dug out my little print out. He read it, smiled, and after telling me to wait, scampered off. In a few minutes he was back, with two big silver keys, and pointed upstairs. The rooms, he said. I nodded and followed as he took off, easily carrying my travel bag by his side. He showed me my room, asked if I wanted tea or coffee with the shyest of smiles (to which I replied, no, thank you, maybe later) and went off.

Then, there was me, all of that beautiful green, blue and green, and silence. A silence so full of sound that I didn’t quite know what to do with it. But let us leave this talk of silence for another day.

Back to present day and time. We are walking, Manu and I, and the others are behind us, talking and giggling.

I turn to him, and ask him in Tamil, “Is this place usually this quiet?”

I catch the flash of surprise in his eyes, and then he grins widely. “Oh, so you can speak Tamil? I thought you didn’t understand any Indian language.”

I shake my head, and tell him I was pretty fluent, and his grin grows wider, cheekier.

The conversation begins to flow.

As we walk, Manu tells me about his life working at Wild Elephant Eco Friendly Lodge. My sister is getting married next month, he tells me proudly. “She’s flying in from Sweden soon, and then it’s her marriage.” I think I hear some regret in his voice, but I don’t pry, and he doesn’t elaborate. He says that he has been working here for about four years now. Ever since my father died, I’ve had to work, he adds. His voice grows quiet. “No time for studying,” he tells me. I don’t have to say much. Once the language barrier had lifted, it seemed that Manu wanted to share his story. He tells me that his mother now lives in Wayanad, even though they are all from Munnar. “After Dad died, it was better for Mum to stay in Wayanad with her sisters.” He doesn’t need to add that it was too tough for her (and maybe, even for him), to stay back in a place filled with memories.

I could understand that. I’d never met Manu’s mother, but I could understand a little bit of what she felt.  I suppose this is what they term to be The Universality of Feelings, that which transcends space, time, language, age. It reminds me that when all is said and done, there is little that separates us human beings from one another. We are creatures governed by the heart, sometimes by the mind, and everything else is just a narrative that explains this governance.

He points out his house to me. “This is where we used to live.” Now, the shack looks dilapidated, forsakened, and I wonder how Manu feels, having to walk by a part of him that is no longer his, how it must feel to be so close, and yet so far to a reality that doesn’t exist anymore. I wonder how he goes through it every day. I wonder if that’s the reason why his shy smile never quite reaches his eyes.

Manu continues, “I really want to study. I’ve even finished some parts of it.”

I open my mouth, wanting to say something encouraging, and instead, my father’s words find their way onto my tongue.

“Once your sister is married, and life settles into itself, make sure you go back and finish your education. When all else fails, it will keep you going.” Father has said different versions of this to me, once, when I was five years old and misbehaving, once, when I was in my terrible teens and angsting about life, and once, when he was lying in a hospital bed while I bawled my eyes out over a heartbreak. Now, Father’s words have found residence in a young man’s heart, and I hoped with all that I had that he would remember it, as I remembered it through my life.

Manu smiles, and nods, and there’s something like relief in his eyes, as if he had wanted to hear this, as if he had needed to hear that it was okay to have his own desires even though he was now the Man of the Family, and had Responsibilities. As if it was okay to have dreams (again).

(Or maybe, it was all in my head).

He falls quiet, and we continue walking in a silence that is a little more comfortable.

It strikes me now, in retrospect, that perhaps, I was the one who was looking for that reminder as much as, if not more, than Manu.

Life, and growing up has a way of creeping in on you, and colouring dark the spots of brightness that we carry around in our hearts – colours of dreams, and desires, and wants, all of which we get used to letting slide, or forgetting, or sweeping under a carpet for another day because “let’s deal with today’s demands first”. In an Asian society, we are constantly reminded of our filial responsibilities more than we are of reaching for the sky. We are reminded of the pressures of society more than we are of the landscape of opportunities that await us. We are taught that settling is all right because it is for the greater good (and perhaps, it is, but this is a discussion for another day).

Coming back home had brought back all the untruths that I had grown up with, untruths that were just that – un-true. Untruths that had started getting under my skin more than I cared to admit. Untruths that had to be broken.

Perhaps, what I had seen in Manu’s eyes had been the relief in my own as I heard my own reminder about education, and dreams, and not giving up (or in).

Perhaps, perhaps….

It might have been an innocuous conversation, and I don’t know if Manu will ever remember me, but I won’t forget this boy from God’s Own Country.

 

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Taken in Viripara, Munnar, Kerala.