On un-ambition, the bigness of small things and a love affair

I know. I meant for this to be a new year post, but looks like time has run ahead of me already.

Every year in December, WordPress  sends me  ‘my year in blog’. It’s a pat on the back that includes statistics: how often I had posted, how well the posts had done, how many  new visitors had there been, how many old ones had kept coming back, how many comments, shares, likes, reblogs, and all the things people do to show you virtual love.

This year, they sent me nothing. It’s the sort of thing we do when we don’t have much to say to a friend. We stay quiet, hoping they will understand.

Perhaps they were too embarrassed to point out that I had, indeed, had a more or less abysmal year in blog. At best, there were a few guest posts or travel blogs that I had committed to do. I didn’t post enough, I didn’t engage enough, I didn’t share enough.

Somewhere in the course of 2016, I decided I had nothing to declare.  I felt nothing. No bylines I wanted to flaunt, no articles I wanted to pitch; I was tired of having opinions, a point of view on everything. I was tired of trying to stay relevant. It was as though I wanted some time to be in a state of un-opinion.  I wanted to be the audience, the reader, the observer.  Perhaps after years of putting myself out there: columns, features, reviews, this blog…I felt depleted. It reached a point where I felt I was at the tipping point of social media, as though the boundaries between real life and virtual life were blurred. I had an epiphany when I read this article.

I had discontinued my column, stopped posting on my blog and decided to watch my life go by. It had been a while. I hadn’t given myself the time or the luxury to grieve all that had gone wrong with it. Yes, I was sad, but the tears just wouldn’t come. I was on autopilot mode. I was a get up and go girl, how could I stand still? Stillness was unimaginable. Movement kept me sane. Do this, fix that, plan this, post that.

Plus there was Re. His conversations, his wisdom, things he wanted to share, his energy, his enthusiasm, his never-ending desire to always collaborate with me for things.

But last year, I held his hand and allowed him to lead me. The world also seemed interesting through his lens. Sometimes we have to un-parent to become better parents.

He is an artist; I wanted to learn how to draw and paint too. I joined a small art class. I found joy in watercolor. I was always fascinated by it but too intimidated to try it. 2016 was about trying everything.Like this Shakira song, which Re and I often danced to whenever either one of us needed a pick-me-up.

I found that water was forgiving. And generous. And that even if you never ended up with what you envisioned, it always gave you something to smile about. And that when things dry up, they become different things.

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The earlier competitive me would have said: so when do I get really good at this, start selling my art, illustrating books and whatnot?

The me now said: Wow, I can make a hollyhock. Tomorrow, I’m going to try roses.

I also started taking violin lessons with the same teacher who teaches Re the piano.

The earlier-me would have wondered when would I be able to compose my own tunes, figure chords of songs.

The me now said: Lalli, as long as you don’t touch the second string while bowing on the first one, you are doing fine.

In another time, I wouldn’t have factored these in as victories or even milestones. But now they were big. They mattered.

I became diligent about homework. The earlier me was cocky. She didn’t believe in practice. She thought she was beyond homework. The new me couldn’t wait to get home and do her homework.

I think I like the new me more. I’m falling in love with her..

And there was Amma. When I was tired of being the parent, she let me be her child.

The universe was kind. Kindness came from lovely places. Old friends who I thought I had lost. New friends who I never knew I had. Strangers who wowed me with their generosity.

Whenever I was low or too clammed up to say so, someone always picked me up. Sometimes, all it took was a ping on my phone. A comment. A message in my inbox. Food. Tea. Silence. Words. A mosaic tiling workshop. An evening in a yacht. Goa.

And then there were letters. Postcards.  Books.

A friend sent me Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection and it was perhaps the best gift of last year. It was a letting go of what I was supposed to be and an embracing of what I truly was. With all my glorious flaws and imperfections. I wrote more letters to my future self, in the delicious stationery a friend gifted. How did she know this is what I had to do?

There were many more gifts and several random kindnesses. The universe opened its arms, big and wide, and welcomed me into its lap. It was a year of going back into the womb. Of submitting to the universe  that I needed nurturing, that the child in me wanted to look out the window because she was so tired of looking within, looking after.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned last year was from my friend Jo. I was sharing with her my concerns as a single mother – that I couldn’t orchestrate things beyond a point , that I was beside myself with constantly curating like-mindedness: whether it was friendships for  my child, or myself, that something felt wrong when friendship took so much work. And she said to me what will perhaps be the most valuable parenting advice anyone can ever receive “It’s not about like-mindedness or finding people-like-us. It’s the random kindnesses from people. And it’s mostly people you have nothing in common with.”

She was right. You can’t count on PLU. There is a demand-supply situation out there. What you can count on is the kindness of ordinary people. They may not get the books you read or the shows you watch or the movies you like, but you can count on them when you are trying to raise a child. They are your village.

Some invited me to their homes for a holiday. Some fed me food or words. Some played board games or had meaningful conversations with my child when I was too spent. Some listened. Some spoke. There were free EFT sessions. Inspiring podcasts.Videos. Cake. Jam.

My body was forgiving too. After years of inaction, it was delighted to be stretched,  twisted and contorted by yoga. It was forgiving when my backbends didn’t turn out as I had planned.

I often wondered why people posted shiny happy posts on instagram  while they were actually sad. I know now that they were sending affirmations. Or just expressing  gratitude. And there’s always plenty to be grateful for.

So dear 2016, thank you for all the small things. You deserve a hug. And some roses. Better late than never.

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Absolute imperfect: Why I’m like dad

IMG_1622.JPGA few weeks ago, I was bitten by wanderlust, a disease I have inherited from my father, and duly passed on to the son. Just the words “choo choo train” or “let’s pack a suitcase” is enough to send Re into a frenzy. So we took off to a Himalayan village under the pretext of watching documentaries for three days. Two trains later, we were at Kathgodam, filing into private taxis that would take us on the three-hour ride to Sonapani, our destination. As the signs for Ranikhet, Nainital, Corbett, Bhimtal and Almora flashed past, I had a sense of dejavu. I had been on the exact same road with my father over three decades ago. And almost in the tradition of my father, I was abandoning the known for the unknown. My father never told us where we were going. “You will see,” he would tell us. We would end up at Ramnagar or Kausani or Dhanolti or some such and my mother would always ask why we never went to Kulu-Manali or Darjeeling or at least some place people had heard of. My father would say, “Everybody goes to Darjeeling!”

I feel grateful to my father. For a childhood full of journeys, never mind if some of them never made it to the destinations. Our means were limited, but our hearts were full and our lungs always had more oxygen than they could handle. My father got off platforms and missed trains, he had a tough time keeping track of three children, he forgot to confirm reservations, he showed up at Lucknow in winter at 1 am without a hotel booking and didn’t blink an eyelid when the porter suggested a dormitory, he made us ride back from Dhanolti to Dehradun on a truck laden with peas, as we missed the only bus for the day (we ate a lot of peas on that ride). He lent money to a co-traveller in Pondicherry who pretended to be robbed even as my mother was muttering through her breath that he was faking it. He ended up broke at the end of that journey, still optimistic that the man who duped him would show up. We went without food on that train-trip and ate Horlicks.

In our quest to be the perfect parent, we often realise that it’s the imperfect one who leaves a mark. I always wished my dad could somewhat fit in, be like my friend’s dad, ask the right questions, nod at the right places. But secretly, I was happy that he allowed me to be the person I was trying to be. My father never read us books or told stories or gave us advice on money or careers. He took us to markets, nurseries, made us work in the garden, taught us bridge and cricket, travelled and trekked with us, and helped facilitate my life-long affair with food. He was hardly around at annual day functions; he couldn’t deal with the sham of small talk with other parents. I never missed him. He encouraged me to bunk school so we could watch test matches together. I was allowed to buy him ciggies from the local paan shop, till the paanwala and my mother collectively conspired not to sell cigarettes to a ten year-old.

He is 74 and mostly on a farm somewhere in Belgaum, hoping his green thumb will make him a millionaire. He is a maverick, but he is the maverick I aspire to be. He is the parent who set me free.

The perfect parent messes you up. I am still trying to outdo my mother. I can never be as non-controversial as her, never reach a state where I am blessed by an absolute lack of cynicism like her, never do things with the same consistency of purpose as her. She woke up early, kept a good house, baked, cooked, sewed, knitted, worked, was hugely respected by her students and colleagues, managed finances, did family, friends and synchronised her life beautifully and is the mascot for “nice”.

The thing about having a child is that it makes you love everything about you and hate it in equal measure.  I looked at parenting as my chance to redeem myself. The childhood I wished I had. The mother and father I wished mine had been. It was unfair and stupid of me and it took its toll on my sanity. But I couldn’t have been half the parent I am if my childhood had been any different. We end up who we are because we are more than what our parents made us out to be. And no one gets points for a bad childhood.

As I pointed the snow-capped peaks to Re from our cottage in Sonapani, he stood in attention and started singing the national anthem. My father would have so laughed out loud, I could almost hear him reverberate in the mountains. I felt grateful again.