Reading my medical file feels like a nostalgia trip & a mystery both in one. Sherlock Holmes & the case of falling blood pressure. Nancy Drew & the mystery of the hammers in the head. The Three Investigators & the missed period. Famous Five go on a sonography.
When I hit 35, I began getting health checks on my birthday. Blood sugar, liver, kidneys, gynac check etc. Since my birthday falls in July, it is a good mid-year check in. It’s building a relationship with my body, understanding its unique needs & learning to interpret its language.
Last year, my mother had health issues & went into surgery 3 days before my birthday. By the time things settled, it was end of the year. I thought I’d start 2020 afresh. Then the pandemic hit.
I had a pandemic birthday, turning 41 undramatically, the way I didn’t even realise I wanted. But not being able to swim or walk took away my health coping methods. Plus having no health checks + pentup stress. I’ve had my share of less-than-wellness in this time, most likely caused by anxiety but still worrisome. Migraines, acid reflux, menstrual cramps (which I thought I left behind in 2002). Sick because of health worries is a vicious circle.
The first day I decided to step out for short walks, I was knocked down by a delivery boy injuring both feet so I needed heavy medicines & possible X-ray which I couldn’t get. That’s when I decided I was tired of worrying about things I couldn’t control.
The emotional toll of the last few years of still weighs on me, making it difficult for me to just jump back into normal life. But last week, I finally got my health checks started. I was worried about what this body, neglected for 20 months would show up. Thankfully there was nothing alarming. The lab reports feel like a prize someone gave me for getting through most of these two yrs.
I got an eye test done, a new item on the medical agenda post 40. I was dreading it because of I’m used to my vanity. How would specs look on me? I need reading glasses. It’s a relief to unravel the mystery. I’ll survive. This body has been good to me.
I was a high functioning workaholic in my 20s. It took me to stress health issues, abusive relationships, bad decisions. A frenzied mind does not have room for joy or the capacity to relax. It’s hard to answer the question, Are You Happy?
It’s called workaholism because it is an addiction, an escape. I’ve been trying to disengage my self-worth from my productivity for years since then. It’s not easy because we live in a world where our common definitions of value at every level are based on efficiency, productivity & wealth. Not satisfaction, contentment or health.
When you ask most people about their weekend, they list things they accomplished or checked off. Or a defiant admission of having slept/drunk/smoked up. How often do you find yourself thinking “I was happy, I smiled a lot, felt very good after a good meal & great sleep”? Those words didn’t cross my lips once in over a decade.
These days I’m seeing a lot of my alter-selves display the same frenzy as we cope with lockdown. There is defiant raging against something called ‘toxic positivity’ which TBH confuses me because how can anything positive be toxic? No, don’t tell me. I don’t have FOMO. If I don’t like something, I exit, switch off, turn away.
I haven’t acquired a new employable skill, notched up an impressive already-read/watched list, baked something pretty. But I have experienced panic, joy, loneliness, relief, irritation, inspiration. After years of boredom & lack of inspiration, I am suddenly feeling. And I’m writing. This is the very stuff of life for me. It doesn’t happen on a plan & the compulsive organiser in me is happy to be taken by surprise. Life is very dull when you know it all.
The next time I step onto a stage will be a celebration. The next time I stand on a beach will be a homecoming. The next time I hug somebody will be ressurrection. The next time I travel by train will be reunion with the city I love. The next time I see some of you, I will get to fall in love again. I can hardly wait. Anticipation isn’t desperation. It lifts me, it doesn’t consume me. I just have to let it happen.
When I was a student, I invited a boyfriend to share a romantic sunrise on the beach with me. I always liked the cleanness of mornings. In Mumbai, it starts early but it’s still sparse enough for every waking creature to give the other space, physical and emotional. Mornings are the closest to peaceful richness (as opposed to exhausted incompletion of late nights). And beaches have always felt like home.
We sat on the sand and talked and waited. It was nearly 9am when the prickling on the back of my neck made me turn around. There was the sun behind us, high above buildings. I realised, feeling very foolish, that Mumbai is on the western coast of the country. The sun doesn’t rise over the sea in Mumbai; it sets.
Sunsets are a reminder of things unfinished, an alarm bell that it’s getting late, the mosquitoes start biting and traffic piling up. I didn’t enjoy sunsets. It bothered me for a long time after that my favourite time and favorite place didn’t coincide.
Over the next few years, I fell into the Mumbaiker rhythm of chasing jobs, deadlines and corporate goals. I spent my favorite part of the day in crowded trains, busy roads, bustling lanes. I was able to visit my favorite place rarely if ever, and only amid a lot of crowd with the residual noise & garbage.
I have since started making an effort to visit the beach more often. I’ve learnt to tune out noise, managed to make these solo trips in safety and minimal intrusion. They’re never in the early morning.
But then, I also found beauty in the fresh sunlight on a broken window pane. I found inspiration on day breaking over a defunct textile mill. Sunrises are great wherever they happen because they signal a fresh start. Wherever you are, whoever you are. It made me realise sunsets aren’t sad. The sun must set if it is to rise again.
And you know both sunsets and sunrises are illusions, tricks of light & planetary movement. The sun isn’t going anywhere. We are. And it’s never too far away. Just a few hours from the next sunrise or sunset.
It makes me appreciative of my island city, just the way it is.
I wrote this post at the start of this year. What a year 2020 is turning out to be.
This is the decade where I lost all control of the plan I made at 17. This was the decade I found myself in a life so strange, I could barely keep up, let alone hold onto my identity.
This decade, I got engaged, got hit and got dumped. This decade I wrote a book and got rejected and wrote other things that got turned into a book without my asking. This decade I stepped up onto stage and I shone. This decade I was silenced and I made that silence my most deafening statement ever. This decade I birthed a community and watched it grow and wither and hit back and die and be reborn. This decade I fought patriarchy and religion politics. This decade my world was ravaged by #MeToo and #CAANRC.
In the last year of this decade, I turned 40. The official onset of middle age. The last lap of my long-term life plan. This year I remembered Y2K after recounting it as an anecdote to slightly bemused Gen Y kids wanting a career in digital.
I truly have no life plan any more. But how well did what I had, stack up against recessions, economic busts, terrorism and wokeness? It kept me calm long enough to deal with uncertainty. It gave me the courage to venture into new things. It allowed me to carry purpose. It was a useful crutch for the lessons I had to learn and now it’s gone.
Maybe I don’t need it anymore. Either way, I’ve already lived nearly half a life and accumulated some things, not the least of all – conviction. Here’s to another twenty years. Share it with me, with dignity, joy & power?
We are so many feelings and experiences and memories and conversations. We refine what fits into a label called an identity, the way our travels fit into a little cardboard book called a passport. Just like a passport, that identity only contains the details of things the world deems most suitable.
I never imagined that I’d be a performer. The stage was for people with a giant ball of magic inside them. A shining sun of purity that obscured such mundane things as fear, worry, ordinariness. I did not have that sun inside me. It’s not that I hadn’t performed before. I first went on stage when I was not yet 5, singing, repeating the melodies that had been passed to me in my genes and training from my mother’s side of the family. It never took. Music was something I was made to do, not someone I was.
I stumbled my way onto stage, being thrown off the path I tried very hard to stick to – of settling down – after a partner violated my rights and identity. I could not live with his hatred, his violent rejection of me. And I didn’t know that it would be in something I’d been indifferent to, that I would find my redemption, my reclaiming of myself. But I say reclaiming as if I have taken back the person I used to be. No, it is as though I have discarded the old Ramya at the foot of the stage when I climbed those steps. And in the being formless and naked under the spotlight, I became a different me. A new personhood.
This picture was shot the night I performed for the biggest audience I’d faced. Minutes earlier I’d run into my ex and almost backed away. A friend hugged me and said GO. I knew if I didn’t I’d never set foot on stage again. So I left him & my old self behind. And I smiled when the spotlight shone on me.
It’s not that I don’t remember what it was to have stage fright, to prefer the safety of anonymity, the comfort of a glass screen to the spotlight. But that’s a story most don’t want to believe because they’d rather think I was born in the spotlight. Maybe I was, this me was. And the other me’s live in my head and that’s all they need to be. I’ve transcended the passport.
I’m forty this year. I’m told I don’t look that age (though I know other people who look similarly so). But I’ll take the compliment because I understand that’s what is meant, under the assumed ageism.
Because 40 is when I’m liking the way my world looks. It hasn’t been entirely chance (though I’ve had my fair share of them along with the challenges). It has also been hard work, compromises, disappointments, bruises, scars covered with tattoos, messes & crumbs. But when I look around my world – my body, my appearance, the spaces I inhabit, the relationships I nurture, the things I own, the ideas I carry, I see a well curated life.
This is not to say that my life is a glitzy Instagram (or Facebook or wherever-you-see-this) feed. I know ‘curated’ sounds like filters and fakeness. But it can also mean a carefully thought out, meticulously chosen selection.
And for the first time, I’m acknowledging that I live my life that way – one that I work hard at choosing, every minute, to be right for me. Sometimes a choice is about being brave enough to pursue a path less trodden. But choices are also the patience to stay with what’s available without resentment. Some choices are joyful selections of novelty. Some are eyes wide open acceptance of consequences. Every one is a choice and I’ve done my best to make the right one, every time.
I’m midway through my most likely life. And this is still a work in progress because with every choice I make, I learn better how to live my life better. A more beautiful life, a more loving life (and loved life), a more fun and healthy and passionate and abundant life. Living is an art and the canvas I am is looking pretty good, the brush still in my hands, my pallette full of colour.
I want my life to be an ode to beauty and power and fun and learning and magic and love. These are the things that I value and want to represent. Think of these and think of me when you think 40. I love being a new kind of poster child because this poster is looking damn fine.
Forty is the new hottie. YEAH!
Is your life a work of art? It’s never too early or too late to pick up that brush.
I crossed a birthday last month. Being born near a decade switch, my every ten years seem to align in personally with the defining traits of the decade.
At 20, I was a newly minted adult in a newly minted millenium, a forerunner of the generation that would come to be known by this word. At 30, the millennium & adulthood had taught me tangible lessons about money, employment and stability. Now, at 40, what do I have to show as a human representative of the 2010s?
I found this photo taken last year in a green room minutes before I’d go up on stage to tell a story of love & flamingos. It had been 3 days since the second heat of the #MeToo movement began, bringing down men of repute, men of my acquaintance, men I’d liked, men I’d performed with, eaten with, laughed with, clapped for. It was amid stories of assault by women I knew, women I admired, women I wanted to protect, women I related to. Earlier that day, I had dragged myself out of bed having spent yet another sleepless night of trauma. I’d judged a poetry event. I’d performed at another venue and collapsed on stage. I’d changed at a friend’s house, tried to laugh and lighten up. And I’d made my way here.
I think the MeToo movement is the most significant thing in my mind about this decade, blowing the cover off things I’d never thought I’d see exposed in my lifetime, traumas I assumed I’d experienced alone. It is also a metaphor for my decade. I began it surprising myself by getting swept into what would turn out to be an abusive relationship. Before I knew it, I was in my 30s with a failed engagement, which sounds much worse than ‘Single at 30’. I’ve weathered much since then and things did eventually settle. They keep getting stirred up again. All I have is this breath.
I look up at my reflection, seeing a tangle of stories. Then I take a deep breath and remember,
The capacity for joy will not be lost to me When I look in the mirror It will be all I see
When I open my eyes again, I’m in the green room alone as outside a crowd cheers for me. I walk out with a story about flamingos in a big city.
Let’s think about regret. Decisive people rarely seem to have regrets. As a decisive person myself, I weigh what a situation is worth & if dithering will help. Regret seems to not be worth it. Who has time to regret the past when a lesson can be gleaned for the future? FOMO life doesn’t allow for regrets.
Yet you may come upon a time when even your speediest, most decisive self isn’t able to escape regret. You call it age catching up. You name it fear or cynicism. You realise that you are no different from others trying to escape people and feelings they don’t like. Your nemesis is regret. Escapism always looks like running away, no matter what the cause.
I am sitting in a garden of regret now. I call it a garden because I’m realising this is a feeling, an emotion that grows in me, from me. I’m trying to keep from bolting. I’m looking around to examine what is growing around me. Blossoming & festering are two words for the same act.
I thought we regret the bad things in our lives. But I’m finding regret in the times I’ve trusted, the ones I’ve loved, the hopes I’ve nurtured. Honest self examination means allowing every possibility to exist. I must admit that regret grows even in the most decisive, courageous, responsibility-taking, careful self that I’ve created.
Regret means admitting there may have been better choices. It means acknowledging your decisions weren’t always best. It means accepting that you weren’t always your best self. And what of the selves that aren’t the best? They cannot be escaped or ignored. They are the bigger part of you. The ones enduring mistakes, making even more. The ones personifying the messiness of living. Of emotions, memories and navigating a way forward.
f I didn’t have these, my life would have been a straight trajectory from adolescence to death, choosing the most optimal roads, going to fixed destinations. The mistakes cost me time and effort and many rewards. In coping, I found other paths, other gifts I didn’t even consider, let alone work for.
Maybe regret is a reminder that living is never going to be a simple sequence of right decisions.
Today is the last day of The Thirty Diaries, a series I started a little over a decade ago. Tomorrow, I turn 40, a number that brings its share of weight in the form of platitudes and stereotypes, some of which I’ve already encountered and battled. I am not sure if there will be a Forty Diaries. For starters, I don’t know how long I will continue to blog and in this manner. I don’t know if anybody else will be interested in the ruminations of an over-40 single woman. I’m not sure that journaling my ageing is going to serve the same purpose it did when I was in my 20s or 30s. And most of all, I don’t see any reason to start a new decade with references of the past.
It has certainly been a hard decade. It only became clear to me in the last few weeks that the past ten years of my life have been marked and influenced by three major relationships – one romantic, one friendship, one professional. All three of them were toxic in exactly the same way. They all started with people who were seemingly enamoured with me suddenly and dramatically. People who did not have a pattern of such behaviour (or claimed they did not). The attention, affection, adulation was heady. It turned my head every time.
In the second phase of this pattern, I fell headlong into some kind of close involvement with the person. Every one of these people told me about what a strong person I was, how they admired/looked up to me. And in every one of those cases, I let that adulation lull me into letting them drive the other parts of my life. I let go of other people because they didn’t like them. I changed my appearance, my dating habits, my ideologies, even my health regime to please them. And some part of me still struggles to see these as bad – don’t we all do things like these for the people we love? Maybe I do it too much and for too long. I am aware of that and how that gets labelled toxic. The thing is nobody is able to tell me at exactly what point it stops being accommodating and starts becoming toxic.
The reason these three relationships stand out as a pattern to me is because of how they ended. Every single one of them involved a violent and sudden betrayal by the other person. Certifiable abuse, lying, exploitation and in one case, physical violence.
The first relationship started when I was probably in the best place in my life till that time. I was 30, financially independent, had quit a successful corporate career and had ventured out into something I felt a lot of passion for. I was also single and not joint at the hip to any friendship the way a lot of women are, being that the one person that might have happened with had got married and moved to another continent. This one I’ve analysed over and over again and I conclude that I fell prey to a carefully planned trap by somebody whose only intention was to exploit me – specifically my gender to keep away social pressures. The plan worked well – charm, isolate, gaslight, control, violate and finally exploit. I guess it wasn’t really that sudden after all if the intent was always to go down this path.
I guess I was primed for another exploitative person who definitely saw me as a trophy. This one was interesting because it made it clearer how a toxic woman operates differently from a toxic man. First the mirroring that made me think we had a lot more in common than we actually did – ideologies and interests. Then the subtle(r) transition into controlling my actions – people and activities. Suddenly there was no one who remembered me from before I met this person, because they had all been distanced. And everyone who I was in constant contact with, had been introduced into my life by this person. They had been chosen for how quickly they’d turn on me with complete control by this person – or perhaps they were also being similarly ‘managed’. I never had a whiff of how I was being manipulated. I can’t believe how completely I was fooled. For instance, this person made astrology a daily part of our conversations, referring to people in conversations as ‘You know, that Taurus thing’ or ‘Typical Scorpio behaviour’ or ‘Piscean? Has to be terrible’. This person’s own sign is known for manipulation and lies and still I went along, semi-indulgently and perhaps because it felt comfortable and easy to do so. I feel like an idiot and a lazy one at that. It really only struck me when during this person’s exit, one of their attacks was “Everything has to be astrology for you. Get over that and take responsibility for your own life.” Libra sure knows how to gift-wrap deceit and spray perfume atop callousness.
My third mistake even warned me that they were going to hurt me. Mental illness is the latest buzzword the way gay rights was about a decade ago. Make no mistake, I believe there is a need for each of these causes to exist. I’m aware (as I was ten years ago) that misinformation and co-opting larger causes for personal agenda are par for the course. And it is still true that there will be people who use their existence in the cause to justify their terrible behaviour. A decade ago, someone stalked and harassed me (including suggesting that I’d change my mind about being straight if I spent a night with them) and when I said no, they put it out that I was a homophobe and lost me some friendships and work. Most recently, I’ve been called insensitive to mentally ill people, systematically harassed out of a space that I introduced the above person to and had strangers sicced on to me claiming that I’m saying terrible things about them. The reason this relationship makes it to this list is that this one also followed the adulation-mirroring-identification-control-attack model.
I’ve spent the first half of this year allowing myself to sit in the wreckage left behind by these people. I have been afraid to speak to anyone or even write because each of those brought on a fresh assaulter in the past ten years. But seeing them in a pattern gives me courage. Patterns have always felt like a safe space to me. This is going to sound odd but recently I’ve been involved in a discussion about how mathematics is perceived and communicated. It made me reflect on what about the subject appealed to me. And it is part of what let me tap into something that I’ve always been good at, something that has given me a profession and an emotional bedrock through things that would have killed me – patterns.
I don’t necessarily know how to break a pattern once I’ve spotted it. But maybe plugging the gaps where a toxic person like this finds a way to get in, is a start. I don’t trust adulation anymore, which probably explains why I’m not as interested in going on stage these days. The trouble is it’s difficult to separate adulation from simple admiration or even affection. It took me long enough to break the terrible pattern of love = insults (no thank you, years of gaslighting Hollywood and rape culture Bollywood). So…I don’t know. But that’s okay because it just means I still have work to do. Maybe accepting that is part of owning being 40.
It occurs to me that there is a cheesy kind of symmetry in there being three major mistakes in the third decade of my life. I also wonder what my life would have looked like without these people. I did a lot of things in this decade but all of these things are inextricably linked to these people – because they participated in these, because they pushed me to these or because I took these on to escape/heal from these people. I suppose there is a lesson there about how they happened for a reason but I don’t want to glorify the existence of toxicity. I am done doing that and I deserve to be happy and successful without having to deal with abuse, manipulation or violence to be so. I guess I’ll never know. Can someone invent time travel already? Maybe by 2029.
A classmate called. He said he missed true friends. I said, “It’s early mid-life crisis after the disillusionment of the 20s. We are all in it.” The 20s are a maniac’s dream. Everything is available & possible. There is an unrealistic shine on everything. It takes a few knocks to realise how harsh it is.
A month before my 30, I quit a job I’d coveted for a decade. I needed to, to be able to look back without regret. I’ll never trade the sense of achievement from my career highs. I wouldn’t exchange the confidence built brick by brick. It would be unrealistic to hold onto these but not the things that made them possible.
I look at my life and then all around me. There’s divorce, suicide, career failure, drug abuse, financial crises, abortions and dead-end jobs. There are also reunions & rediscovering people who were close an eon ago. There are healthy diets, exercise regimes, budgeting, tax planning. There’s cutting back and there’s making time.
I spent a long time wanting many things very much, some of which I didn’t get and much else for which I paid too dearly. I had some bad stuff happen to me which messed me up. But those people are not connected to me by anything but memories. It wasn’t my fault they were bad people or bad decisions or bad luck. Unpredictability is what you sign up for when you quit a career cold-turkey. Or get divorced or don’t get married ‘at the right age’. Or well, are born.
People make mistakes. Sometimes they get lost. Maybe you get to remedy it, maybe not. You just cope better the next time.
My friend said he’d wanted to be a big success but it felt so lonely at the end. I said I hadn’t spent enough time on the things I now know are important – Love. Friendship. A body that works without medication. Food in my stomach before I’m hungry. The safety to walk on the roads by myself.
He said that was the MBA talking. I said, “That’s just one more thing on my resume now, not my identity.” What is my identity now? Who knows? I have a new life to discover. Maybe 40 is what comes after one masters survival and starts looking for life instead.
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