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Fighting like a girl

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Some Happy Thoughts

Musings of a Newbie in Mumbai

 

Photo Credit: National Geographic

 

“Job Offer” read the subject of an email I had been waiting to receive for over two months. I finally had a job in Bombay- a city I’d wanted to move to for two years. I was ecstatic, and then of course, terrified. You see, I have a special knack for always finding the bad in the good, but never vice versa. How would I ever pay rent AND afford to eat on my salary? What if I don’t make any friends? What if I’m terrible at my job?

A month into my stay in Bombay, I don’t think I’m too bad at my job, but I continue to worry- about money, the future, relationships…to name a few. Though I have to admit, the city is slowly wearing my cynicism down.

Every evening after work, I take a short walk by the sea (yup, I live close to the sea- thanks to some VERY good luck and an extremely kind landlady). It’s the favourite part of my evening- the rest of which is spent Netflixing.

I look forward to the walk every day. I’ve learnt to appreciate sunsets (!), and it’s also a great time to people-watch and play with some dogs. The best part, however, are all the couples. Young and old, I get to see a lot of hand holding and hugging (and sometimes quite a bit more…).

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to sound creepy, but there’s something so refreshing about seeing two people in love, in public, and unafraid to show it. In a country that’s in denial about anything to do with sex and sexuality, where there are “squads” specially formed to humiliate consenting couples in public, public displays of affection become profoundly political acts. It makes me so happy to see couples find their own space, out in the open, to just be in love- a little act of resistance.

Often I still find myself wondering if I did the right thing by moving to Bombay. Should I have held out for better opportunities, moved to a less expensive city (I walked into a juice store the other day and it cost 200 bucks a glass…guess I’ll just stick to drinking water)? The doubts come and go. But, at times like these I remind myself of the good things (a principle I’m trying very hard to follow in my life in general).

I remind myself, of the many auto wallahs who didn’t lose their patience with me whenever I lost my way. I remind myself of the popcorn vendor next to my house who was willing to give me a free bag just because I didn’t have any change. I remind myself of the many times I got home in the middle of the night, unafraid, of the times I walked down the street in summer dresses, unafraid.

Or, I just take a walk by the sea, and that’s all it takes to remind me that in Bombay, love truly is all around.

To Staying Curious

I read an article in the newspaper a while ago, about the ‘worst things to put on your online dating profile’- one of them was ‘loves to travel’-because who doesn’t? Saying you love to travel is kind of like stating the obvious- very few would give up the chance to see the world if money was no object. Its one of life’s greatest gifts, yet a privilege that is accorded to very few.

I myself am not very well traveled-in my childhood, summers were spent at my grandmother’s house in Kerala, apart from an occasional trip to the hills-though that seemed like more than enough at the time.

When I was 18 I went on my first trip abroad, to Singapore. I could barely contain my excitement-but I remember feeling a sense of disorientation while I was there. The flashy airport was impressive, but it did nothing for me. I was a bit taken aback at the artificiality of the place, the perfection, the harshness of it all. I got used to it in a few days though, and I ended up having an absolutely wonderful time-yet it felt like something was missing.

My next trip outside India was to London three years later, and I’m lucky enough to have visited this city a couple of times after. I felt like a wide-eyed five year old when the flight was landing, with my face against the window, looking down at the city trying to spot the landmarks that I had so far only read about or seen in movies. I was fascinated with the city even before I got out of the airport-Heathrow was like a microcosm of the world. While standing in line at immigration, I looked around in awe-I had never seen so many people of different races and nationalities in my life.

In front of me stood a tall American man in a sharp suit trying to hold on to his briefcase while he took calls on his two blackberries-the Wall Street kind of guy yelling about stocks and shares and other things I have never bothered to understand. Ahead of him were a group of African women in colourful headdresses and kaftans talking loudly and animatedly in a language I couldn’t follow. Right at the end of the line stood a group of Saudi men in their white ‘thawb’ and ‘keffiyeh’.

Each time I’ve visited this city, I’d been very excited to do all the ‘touristy’ things-visiting the Big Ben and Houses of Parliament,Buckingham Palace, walking around Trafalgar Square, Notting Hill and so on. Looking back though, its not these places that have stood out for me- the city has revealed itself to me in much smaller, yet profoundly amazing ways.

Watching Coldplay live was a dream come true-and I will cherish the experience all my life. Yet the standout moment for me didn’t take place while the concert was on- it was right after, a sense of pure unadulterated joy that I felt while walking from the stadium to the tube, along with the massive crowd of spectators, singing, (or rather yelling) Viva La Vida. It was a feeling of freedom and belonging I had never experienced before-it didn’t matter that we were on a busy street in the middle of the night, it didn’t matter where we all were from-we had all just witnessed something beautiful-and that’s all that was important.

The first time I took the tube alone, I remember feeling quite self conscious and anxious. I was relieved that I’d managed to get on the right train, and I sat down trying to make myself inconspicuous. A few stops later, a girl got in, she would’ve been about my age. She had very long platinum blonde hair, with yellow, pink, green and blue streaks, and her black sweater had stars on it in all the same colours. She sat down and proceeded to apply the brightest pink lipstick I’ve ever seen in my life- I caught myself staring at her, and realized I was being rude/creepy. Nobody else seemed to notice, nobody gave her as much as a second look. Coming from a country where appearing anything apart from ‘normal’ invites stares, comments, or worse, this was so surprising to me-such is the level to which we are conditioned to fit in and make ourselves invisible, that the simple act of a female just being herself, and not being judged for it came as a shock to me, it felt like a privilege, or rather a right that I wish I had.

I’ve been to a few museums here, though only a couple stood out for me. The first time I went to the Imperial War Museum, I was looking forward to it. It was something I was interested in, and I walked around for hours as everything I had studied about in my World History lessons in school came alive before my eyes-displays containing the uniforms worn by Germany’s SS (Schutzstaffel) during the Second World War, newspaper cut outs announcing the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie- the immediate cause of World War I, a Union Jack unfurled behind a glass case, that was unearthed from the rubble that was left of the Twin Towers after 9/11.

Seeing these things has a way of giving you a sense of perspective-something that I do need from time to time. However, the hours I’ve spent in that building have given me so much more- I spent a lot of time in the Holocaust exhibit-trying to understand what drives people to do the things they do-and the last time I was there I witnessed something that I don’t know how to describe- a group of Orthodox Jewish men (Hasidic, I presumed from the way they were dressed), standing in front of a glass case full of little things-spoons, bowls, combs and so on-that belonged to the prisoners at the Chelmno concentration camp- I couldn’t even begin to imagine what they were thinking-standing in front of concrete reminders of the way in which lives of 6 million of their own community had been erased. There are some moments for which words just won’t do.

Every time I visit this city it surprises me in little ways-each time someone stops their car to let me cross the street, the way in which everyone is spoken to and treated equally regardless of backgrounds and occupations, the way in which my personal space is respected even when I am out in public-and so much more.

Maybe that’s the purpose of travel-to make us realize that there is an exciting world outside whatever it is that we’re going through, to remind us that there are still so many experiences that will leave you wide-eyed, and most of all, to remind us to stay curious-because in the midst of dealing with the crap life throws at you, that’s always the hardest part.

travel

To When Cynicism Was Just A Word

A lot of free time tends to lead to a lot of self reflection, and though I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, today seemed like a good day to put up this post.

I remember this time last year, while preparing for an entrance that I thought  was the most important exam of my life, I got a call from my best friend’s little sister. She was very stressed, wondering what subjects to take up in class 11. A few days later, when the board results were out, I tried to console her over the phone, because she didn’t think she’d done very well (though I thought she’d done just fine). I tried to explain to her that it wasn’t the end of the world, though a part of me knew she wouldn’t believe it.

Cut to two months later, and I had failed to clear the exam I had been killing myself over. Needless to say, it felt like a punch in the stomach. Everyone thought it would be a piece of cake, and I was already ‘in’.  But as I scanned that list over and over again for my name, I felt like I was dying inside. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me, that someone like me didn’t have anything to do for the next year. My friends were all going to the places I dreamed of studying in, and I felt like I was stuck in the same place.

I don’t want this piece to sound too preachy, and I can’t really claim to know anything about life, but having survived the last year and come out on top, I feel like I could have something useful to say. To everyone who got their results today, I just want to say, congratulations if you’ve done well, that’s brilliant! But if you haven’t, it’s definitely not the end of the world. The results will stop mattering in a year and you will soon realize that this never really ends-you always think you can “enjoy yourself” after your class 10 exams, but then in the blink of an eye, class 12 rolls along. And then comes college-and then entrances. And then a job- and you realize that in waiting to enjoy yourself, you’d forgotten that there’s more to life than just exams (or maybe you did realise that earlier because you didn’t have your nose buried in notes for the entire duration of college like I did!).

You will never be this young again; you will never again be in the place you are in now-where, to use a cliché, the world is your oyster. You feel like anything is possible-you can be whatever you want to be.  Where friends are friends forever, just a phone call away, there to greet you when you walk through the gates of your second home.  Where the world ends and begins with that boy you’ve been crushing on for ages, and the highlight of your day is seeing him outside school. Where the biggest problem is wanting that guy you can’t have (actually that’s always a very big problem!). Where you don’t have to wonder what the hell you’ll be doing in six months, or a year-because you know that the next day you’re going to wake up and go to a place with familiar faces, who are there to share your happiness, your grief, and just to get you through the day.

Now I don’t mean to sound like a cranky old lady whose life has passed her by, but all I’m trying to say is that when you’re 22 and nowhere close to being a Victoria’s Secret model, or to living in New York or London, it’s tough not to get a little jaded. You realise that maybe you won’t get that job as a BBC anchor, where you get to read out the news with the London skyline behind you. Maybe you won’t be a millionaire by the time you’re 30. Guys will come and go and maybe you won’t end up with the one you want. And when you have access to something like Facebook, where everyone else seems to be living an impossibly glamorous life, it can be hard to get up and face the day. But here’s the thing-it’ll all be okay. You will end up somewhere great-maybe not where you wanted to be, but somewhere even better.

Its taken me a while myself to realise this, but there is so much more to life than exams and jobs- there are so many wonderful things just waiting to happen-there are so many experiences yet to be had, there are so many places yet to be seen, and so many amazing people you are yet to meet. So please, savour this time. It won’t come back. Soon, the shit is going to hit the fan, and cynicism won’t be just a word anymore-but even then, know that grades and jobs don’t define you-and hold on to your sense of wonder.

mhs

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