We don’t think enough about friendship. What this word means, what we need from it, what version of it we offer. Maybe that’s part of its charm, the way friendship is a DIY kind of relationship that you can tailor to your needs, your personality and the other’s.
I’ve called a wide variety of people, Friend. My friendship life (we have love lives so why not friendship lives?) has spanned a diverse range of personality types and interaction. I see other people as exciting adventures, ones that may involve treasure chests or spectacular views or life-altering events. So I’m usually open to going wherever the ride takes me. Like many, I like having common interests with other people but I find this doesn’t have to have anything to do with friendship. I also want to think I prize loyalty & honesty but the truth is, I’ve been equally enchanted by people who possess not an iota of these qualities.
If you were to ask my friends what kind of a friend I am, I doubt you’d get a consensus. I play confidant to one. I’m partner in crime with another. I’m a drinking buddy here, a writing partner there. I’m an ego massage, a safe space, a commiserator, a compatriot in a cause. I’m a fellow water sign, a steady date to awkward events, a fun companion for mundane errands, an available voice on the phone, a knowledgeable advisor. I want to believe everybody who calls me friend feels that I add value to their lives. In how this happens though, I can’t discern a pattern.
So what does friendship mean to me? I think the world is a very large and exciting and sometimes frightening place. Companionship makes it easier, more fun. I love having the freedom to design the companionship I want to participate in, for various areas & times in my life.
I’m also a big one for blind spots. We all have them and we miss our own. It takes another person, someone invested in you but not biased. A friend. Sometimes all you can offer is perspective. And maybe that is enough.
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.
I’m saying this to men, to women, to married people, to gay people, to colleagues, to acquaintances, friends, family. I’m going to treat every meeting with you, like it’s a date.
If you were going on a date with someone you liked, you’d prioritise making it happen. You’d be too excited about the prospect of meeting them to keep them hanging. Work, life, health and other people would be valid justifications but you would make sure they didn’t become excuses. You’d ensure you didn’t need an excuse. You’d be on time.
You’d treat the meeting like it was conscious manifestation of what you wanted. Not a tolerable alternative when you had nothing better to do & didn’t feel like the effort of saying no. You’d not turn it into free therapy or professional advice to be more productive because meeting them would be gift enough.
You’d bring your best self. You’d dress nicely. You’d speak with consideration and thought. You’d care about their wanting to meet you again, not assuming that it would be default. You’d make the effort to be good company.
You’d care about their opinion of you. You’d show them. You’d acknowledge the effort they made to please you. You’d be respectful of the thought they put in and that they could have been elsewhere but they chose to spend this time with you.
I promise to treat every meeting with you like this. I expect you to do so too. If you don’t, I can write you off as a bad date rather than internalise your inability to treat me well, as reflection of my abilities. This means I will not have as many dates but that’s okay. I’d rather have one great date with you in six months than ten lousy ones in a month.
My time is precious and so is yours. My emotions are valuable to me. I invest both carefully. If you do as well, maybe we’ll have a great date soon!
We have a warped notion of what it means to be strong or independent. To be strong is not to be unbreakable. To be independent is not to be devoid of need. To be a whole person is not to be cut off from all other people.
We live through need-shaming, connection-blaming. Workplaces hold up those who ask for the least, as paragons of ‘good’ workers, as if the needs they’re suppressing won’t take their toll on health & productivity. Relationships are all about assessing who is likeliest to give most and demand the least in return. Cue, the transactional nature of everything from arranged marriages to the hookup culture. Guilt-tripping is the champion currency of all regular relationships. Perhaps because it feels unthinkable to say let us embark on this journey of realising each other, listening, sharing, helping, asking, always communicating.
The picture below, was shot in Goa a few years ago. Nearly two years after surviving a broken engagement with an abusive person and all the shaming that is par for the Indian course, I said to a friend, “I need to make a trip. It must be outside Mumbai because it has been my cocoon but also the place where all this trauma happened. And it should be Goa because I went there with him last and I need to reclaim it beyond the memory of him. I do not have it in me to travel alone, even to a distant suburb of Mumbai. Will you help me?” A month later, he met me at Goa airport, flying in from another city but also timing his arrival there so I wouldn’t wait alone, staying on the phone with me till I got on the plane and he, on his. In the four days we were there, I read, slept, ate and swam while he worked. I reclaimed my smile, my travel suitcase and Goa. And after I got back, I built a stage career, a body of written work, a new partnership and my own health.
Anybody who shames you for asking for help, is probably not in a position to help you anyway. Because there’s nothing more human than need and the ability to communicate it. And there’s no better way of affirming your own humanity than in the willingness to address that need, without agenda.
I’m sitting up in bed typing this, something I haven’t done in many years. I stopped this to help me distinguish between work and leisure and to establish regular hours. It’s served it’s own purpose but today I give myself a little leeway. I wanted to say this in September and wake up to October on a fresh note.
I’ve been unwell. Seriously unwell. I woke up on Saturday with the kind of sick feeling that you feel inside your cells, painting your very mood green (because this is the colour of bile). It was so bad that for the first time in my life, my doctor paid a house call. And for the first time in a long, long time, I’ve just sagged into my pillows, into the sofa or wherever I’m breathing allowing time, sickness, medication and words to drift over me.
I know I need to get some tests done, given how often I’ve been falling sick lately. But I also know that my body usually echoes what my emotional state is. I think I’ve been unpacking a lot of old traumas since December, starting with the domestic abuse event that SXonomics conducted(very successfully).
So many things have come up since then, like they were just waiting for an outlet — including external factors. This boundary business is a lot more effort than it seems, for me. I struggled with it and now I’m not but it’s brick-by-painful-brick labour.
I’ve written about how there is suddenly an influx of people and references and conversations around me about my ex. He’s existed on the periphery of my thinking, popping up in my thoughts occasionally during PMS or residual bad moods. But the last few months have been an onslaught of being forced to think about him, about the relationship and about what it has done to me. I can only assume that this is good; I have to.
But since my birthday month, other tightly packed traumas have been unravelling. Last year I had to let go of a number of close relationships and I realise now I’ve been carrying the heavy hurt of that all this while. I’ve been struggling for closure. A friend once told me that closure would always have to be one’s own secrete recipe. And I’ve accepted that but how then, does one achieve closure? Now I know.
My closure comes when I give up on the person. Where I can no longer see any value in their being, feel no sympathy, no hurt over their actions, just a mild irritation that they are still standing in front of me or in my mind. It’s very undramatic. One moment they are saying or doing something quite trivial and the next I cannot tolerate another minute of their existence. So I erase them from my world. It’s happened before and I don’t know why I never learn that I cannot force or rush it. It always happens and it happens on its own timeline.
In my birthday month I met someone on a dating app. It was supposed to be a casual coffee and it turned into an 8 hour conversation on politics, music, people, family, culture and more. We disagreed with a lot of friendliness and mirth. And it freaked me out when I came home. He reminded me so much of my ex. The passionate political viewpoint, the quiet sardonic approach, the ideas on consent, even the exact same damn dysfunctional family problem. It was so many things to consider. I remembered what made me fall for my ex and it terrified me that these traits could still hook me in willy-nilly. I tried to distance myself after that. But oddly, we met again. And again. And it was just as bizarrely good. It was really quite traumatic, finding myself enjoying a moment with the heavy dread of “I know how this turns out and it’s not good, not good at all.”
Mercifully Mumbaiker schedules have given me pause and time away to think. I’m in a better frame of mind now, not terrified at the thought of this person’s existence. I’ve had a chance to tell him the reasons for my reticence and he has listened with that mild-mannered acceptance that I now remember can also exist alongside Capricorn’s ruthless opportunism and cold-blooded people-trampling. I will probably keep him at arm’s length (I always thought my ex and I would have made for better friends and now we are nothing but a poisonous, monstrous thing). It’s better for my emotional health this way but I don’t have to fear him so much that I’ve to run away from him.
The person I was in love with last year, showed up on my radar. I gave him one last chance and he let me down again. I didn’t even feel bad. I think I was expecting it and this chance came from a sense of fairness, not affection. I was even able to move into a work discussion with him. And there, he faltered and faltered so badly, I knew I had reached the end. So I opened that door labelled Closure and I walked out.
Recently I met someone on her birthday. All in a flash I suddenly had a name for the unease I was feeling. It’s Libra month, a sign that has always made me uncomfortable with its smooth, diplomatic manipulativeness. One of the biggest traumas of last year came from a Libra person. And here she was again, in another body, the same pretty looks, the same fussing over perfect body proportions, the same artful juggling of classy and relatable, the same charm masquerading as warmth. I held her at arm’s length too. But she slipped into my life in that smooth (I call it sneaky) way that Venus people have.
I told her it was difficult for me being reminded of someone who hurt me in the past. She hmmmed reflectively and said,
“We draw in what we fear the most.”
She pointed out my pattern of violent relationships, comparing it to her pattern of liars. And when I told her I was scared of Libra’s twisting of the truth under the garb of diplomacy, she said,
“Yes, we do that. I’m confronting what my pattern of lying boyfriends says about me. Lies, that’s my lesson.”
See what I mean by sliding in? How can I not like someone who understands and articulates this so? As the evening wore on I relaxed into the conversation, the events around and other people.
I realised much later that some of her habits irritated me already. Venus people are full of excessive fussing over how they look, how other people, how things smell, what colour things are. I indulged it with my previous friend and called it love. And she discarded me like I was a slightly offensive crumpled tissue paper. I’m holding on to this thought now. I can choose to keep these traits alive in my memory. I do my best to treat people well and that includes not judging their personal idiosyncrasies. But I don’t have to be blind in my affections and then left hurt and bewildered when they don’t accord me the same depth of feeling.
I know the adage goes that you cannot love someone when you judge them. But maybe I need a little better judgement and a little less love-bombing. Walls are built between people, from such petty things. But a wall that serves as a protective boundary, does its job well.
I am clearly drawing in situations that I need to examine or which afford me the chance to re-examine my own feelings. It’s bringing up all sorts of feelings of terror (I am such a scaredy-cat) and grief. But curiously, they aren’t lingering as long as I feared. They come up like large signs bearing the names of people who terrify me with how easily they’ve hurt me. And then the signs float by and I realise they’re just paper. I don’t even need to turn them into paper planes.
I haven’t said much these past few months, have I? Most of my time and creative energy has been taken up in the shows that SXonomics has been doing on various themes of gender sensitivity. It has been intense, time-consuming, demanding and emotionally draining. I also fall into habits of writing a certain way and in a certain rhythm.
I remember when I first chanced upon 55 word stories and took to them with such passion that all I felt about to produce was them. I had to push myself to say things with more words or less and stop myself from counting if they had gotten to the exact 55. Something similar happened when I first started writing fiction and I found myself unable to write the poetry that I’d spent most of my writing life producing. Now, three years ago I started performing and more recently gender-politicised commentary in a witty form. It’s proving to be difficult to come back to blogging, this way.
Reading ‘Rust and Stardust’ recently helped. This book is a chronicle of the true crime story that inspired Nabokov’s Lolita. In 1948, a 52 year old Frank LaSalle abducted 11 year old Sally Horner by telling her he was the FBI and was arresting her for stealing a notebook from a shop. For the next two years he travelled with her, posing as her father and repeatedly raping and abusing her. The book actually begins earlier, chronicling Sally’s hard childhood with an embittered mother, herself a victim of a runaway husband, then a suicidal second husband and painful arthritis. Sally is literally starving for affection, attention and validation, not to mention a fundamental right to live. Her sad tale of neglect, abuse and prolonged torture was hard, very hard to read. I spent 5 hours reading through it in one go and crying at regular intervals. I told myself I was reading for research and because I had to review the book.
But also, in this emotion-searing act of reading, I found myself tapping into parts of myself I haven’t accessed in a long time. A place that feels deeply and profoundly. Writers and other creative people exploit their own traumas and personal tragedies for their art and gain, yes. This means as one, I also need to frequently clean out the internal machinery and remind myself to honour the emotions and experiences and not just run them through the creative mill to churn out material.
I’ve already written a review of the book itself here. But it brings up so much more that I don’t feel able to articulate in words. I relived my own intimate tragedies while reading Sally’s story. I lived through the moments that felt like I would not be able to breathe again, experienced anew the situations that held me down choking and I thought I would never see light and the world again. The despair, the desperation, the anguish — all of it sprung forth again. And then, they faded. Do we keep picking at our scabs or do we keep sifting through the mess of our insides trying to make better sense of it? I don’t know.
But today has been better. I met a friend for lunch. We met when we were both 20, through some acquaintances. We lost touch but she found my blog almost a decade ago and we’ve had intermittent conversations on social media and occasionally in person when we’re in the same city. It’s a delicious adventure examining who you were and how far you’ve come, along with another person. From the 90s down to today, we talked about love, about selfies, about the writerly identity, about toxic masculinity, about accents, about personal expression. I told her about being in love at 20 and in devastating heartbreak around the time she met me. Later she said,
“Why did you put up with it? You are so much more intelligent than he is.”
This is a question I’ve answered to myself several times so I had the response. And in its telling, I found a bit more of myself. I hadn’t lost these pieces of me. It’s just as though they had been sleeping (or maybe I was, if it is possible to be partly asleep within the context of certain memories and abilities only). Parts of me felt like they were waking up.
Last week, The SXonomics Show performed its season finale of its three month run. It’s been an exciting, gruelling experience. And in all this growth, all this living, I’ve put my head down and worked hard so as not to get derailed by the hostility, the hatred and negativity around me. Several people I know came to the final show — a teacher who changed my life, a friend who I didn’t even know was a friend until she asked me to come to her mother’s funeral, a former love and a couple. This couple have been my people, as individuals and as a couple, for years now. But I seem to keep forgetting all these people, that they exist in only goodness and goodwill for me. It meant so much seeing them there. Another room in my head opening. It’s been there all along. I didn’t even realise when it shut firmly.
I guess I’m just glad these doors are opening and I’m waking up again.
Yesterday I ran into a friend. The last time we met, this friend visited me at a new home I was building. I was also newly engaged. So obviously, that would be the starting point of our conversation, a picking up where the thread dropped off. I rolled my eyes wryly and said,
“So much has happened since then. I don’t live there anymore. I’m not engaged anymore.”
My friend’s immediate, almost urgent reply was,
“My good friend is close to him so I will not comment.”
I have navigated hundreds of such conversations in the past six years.
I had a (somewhat) public relationship. Given that I write about relationships and the fact that they form such an important part of my existence, I found it hard not to. Shutting up about that would essentially mean to quit blogging, which would be akin to losing a kidney, a limb and maybe a few other vital organs. But my partner was not an open individual (quite the opposite) and I felt I had to respect his privacy too. So I have never mentioned him by name and I have only sparingly offered details of our relationship, while trying to be honest and open about my own feelings and thoughts (these are mine and I’ve never felt the need to have anyone else’s permission to share them). This has been the trickiest juggling I’ve done in all my adventures with anonymity since I began in 2004.
I didn’t have a chance to think about how this would turn out, if we parted ways. And given how suddenly everything crashed, I barely made it out alive, let alone with enough stability to think clearly. The thing with sudden disasters is that you don’t get time to stop and collect your thoughts. The world hits you with life, even as you’re still lying on the ground with your heart ripped open, bleeding from wounds you didn’t even realise had opened up and were being systematically poisoned. You just learn to cope and hope to heal on the fly, as you get carried along on the rollercoaster ride called life.
In six years, I have run into, got back in touch with and in some way reconnected with possibly hundreds of people. Most people in my world have some connection to my narrative through my blogs, my work and having interacted with me on digital. I have tried to keep my narrative as true to myself but it has to be a filtered, edited one, for reasons of safety and respecting the privacy of other people connected with me. This includes exes, even the ones who have behaved in very, very bad ways.
Last year a friend screenshotted something my ex had put up and sent it to me. I wish she hadn’t. I was not even thinking about him and seeing this forced me to remember his existence in an unnecessarily immediate and close way. She said she thought it would make me feel better but it didn’t.
A few months ago, somebody else told me about someone who liked my ex. They said they were concerned about this person and that they were making a terrible choice. I get that concern. But I don’t get what I am supposed to do in this. This story has nothing to do with me.
“My good friend is close to him so I will not comment.”
I felt knocked for a loop by my friend’s statement. Because I was starting a conversation and their response was a very clear iron-curtain style wall. The last thing that was called that was part of something the world knew as Cold War. Why did my friend feel the need to rush in with that statement when I had not even asked for comment? Possibly they thought I was seeking validation, asking for them to join me in bashing my ex. I wasn’t. I was just telling my story.
But, in the very act of writing this down, I feel my balance restore itself to normal. I cannot fault my friend for not thinking this through. After all, they haven’t seen me in years. I can also see the good intentions behind the actions of the other friends. They were offering commiseration in their own awkward ways. They were also trusting that I would act with sanity rather than viciousness and while that is overwhelming, it is also inspiring. Maybe I can be that person if people think I can be. I write a narrative that is one that inspires me. And I can only write it if I live it. I am so glad to be a writer.
The difficulty in writing your own story is having to explain every word and every edit. But maybe that is also the best thing about it. Remembering the story, that’s all that’s important. The story of me.
I found gratitude in February. Here are all things that were life last month.
A conversation on safe spaces – One of Mumbai’s performance/art spaces and Shamir’s former employer hosted a discussion on safety in performing spaces. We shared experiences, fears, ideas and some hopes for this landscape that we are all committed to.
SXArena: The Third Wheel, UnValentined! and Digital Dil – We decided to try a new format that included poetry, conversations and some simple games to explore ideas of sexuality and gender. The topics of our day were polyamory, relationships outside the primary romantic one, love in the times of hookup and connections beyond the commerce.
The SXonomics Show: Touch Me Not – We were invited to conduct a gender sensitisation drive for The Habitat. We rolled this out as a series of 1 hour shows that combine comedy, satire, music, poetry and dramatic performance to address hard questions. Our first show addressed sexual harassment. It received a good response and this very encouraging review. We have since done one more show on gender (im)balance and have another four coming up (every alternate Monday at The Habitat, 7:30PM).
We, The XX Chromosome: Women’s Web and SheThePeople hosted a two day Women Writers’ Festival 2018 and invited us to do a show themed ‘We, The XX Chromosome’. Our 45 minute performance addressed gender stereotyping, the casting couch, rape culture, outdated fairytales and consent violation.
I started a new friendship and that person came to one of our events just as a show of support. Their presence and their ideas expanded our world view on gender, sexuality and love.
I wasn’t nearly as good at the old friendships. I think after 2017, I found it hard to remember that there were still people who liked me and wanted to spend some moments of their lives with me. But friendliness came knocking in gentle, sweet ways. I went to another old friend’s birthday party without a gift because I had just had no time to get one. But on the way, I stopped and picked up a lily because it reminded me of her. She thanked me so many times, I felt bad that I had categorised our friendship as needing the commercial validation of a store-bought gift. And yesterday she told me that the flower had continued to bloom and spread its fragrance all across her house. This is so lovely.
We were featured in the press several times (1, 2, 3, 4). Ironically right after I posted this poem:
Let me just say life is mischievous at times. 😋
There are days when I fear getting carried away and that this will all crash land. I do love how much I’m learning, though. After a recent show, a member of the audience told us that she had seen one of our early performances and we had come a long way from that. That just feels so, so, so very good.
Every now and then, Ishmeet says or does something on stage and I marvel at how a mind can work and how a gesture or a facial expression can be used to convey an idea. It’s like learning a new language and I’ve always enjoyed that.
I am still awkward in my transitions on and off stage. But stage fright does not cripple me as badly now. I’m learning to enjoy even the mistakes I make, laugh at the times I am clumsy. And that’s the same lesson as life itself, isn’t it? Look up at the stars but also find time to laugh when you trip over the stones. And always, make room for the flowers.
Here’s a handful of SXonomics laughs coming your way. This is our first video.
What does the future hold? Well, Aadhar card linkages and income tax returns. But also four new SXonomics shows, SX-on-Mics (our first community event on Women’s Day) and more videos. And a lily or two.
I received a call from an old college friend. It went the way you’d expect such calls to go. A lot shrieking, plenty of laughs, some quiet introspection and a lot more “I am so happy to be talking to you.”
I really am. This is more than nostalgia. We spend our 20s running smack-dab into life and learning to deal with adulthood. It’s jobs, marriage, economy, kids, loans, new homes, first health scares. The 30s have been less frenzied but also lonelier. Slowing down to catch our breaths, realising we’ve taken on wounds that won’t heal unless we do so. It’s chronic ailments, debt, cheating, divorce, career changes, addiction, depression, suicide or at the very least the thought of it. I’m not completely out clear of this decade yet but I’m on the last leg.
My friend talked about some the struggles of the past decade, personal, professional and health and also how people never really understand. My friend thinks he is the only one. Maybe because I always did things on different schedule from my peers (the first dropout, the last one with a boyfriend, the last to get a job, the first sabbatical, one of the few as yet not married, an early entrepreneur), I understand this at some level already. But I frequently forget.
Recently I’ve found myself dropping off revived friendships and conversations, because I don’t feel like explaining a broken engagement or a rising corporate career quit to follow a creative dream. My life feels like such a mess compared to other people. I terminate before it can get to the dreaded question,
“Why can’t you be more normal?”
It is there, if not in words, then in people’s eyes hanging with questions they are too polite to ask. Or in very tense silences when neither I nor they know what to say, and we’re both thinking back to when conversations ran free in a way that we didn’t even know freedom could be.
Yet, as my friend shared, I realised, we’re all living through lives that look very different from the Adarsh Balak posters. Maybe it’s a generational thing, maybe this is real life. We’re surviving (or not) situations that we are unprepared for and for a number of reasons, we assume it’s our fault. We assume that these situations are aberrations from the perfect life, rather than the life itself. We also forget and keep forgetting that all things pass, all things change. And most importantly, we forget in a spectacularly isolating manner that we are not alone. Maybe we go on so long with nobody actually seeing us as we are, that we start to believe the universe does not want to see us. Reconnecting to someone who saw us, at least once long ago is a reminder that we are not insubstantial ghosts. We are. We bear witness to each other’s lives.
In this same group, I pinged someone who used to be a dear friend with ‘Remember me?’. Her instant reply –
“The first feminist of our batch!”
This tickled and charmed and befuddled me in so many ways. Was I? Did I even know what feminism was? I was just muddling through the daily stumbling blocks put in a teenager’s life in the best way I could. Did I carry XX Factor and Sexonomics in me long before these ideas were even conceptualised? Did the people around me see some ideal in me that I couldn’t see? And wonder of wonders, does how I turned out seem ‘normal’ to them? Does my life actually make sense to some others even when it doesn’t to me? This is a profound realisation. Also one that leaves me a satisfied sort of tired. We are not the sole witnesses to our lives.
My friend told me that he reads my daily poetry and that it helps him go on, some days. I can only feel immense gratitude for the technology that allowed my friend to feel my support, even when I was absent in every way. I’ve heard a few people say this before and perhaps my reaction has not been gracious. But to be read is to be welcomed into a person’s mind and heart. It is a privilege, an honour given to me. I should only be grateful. And now I am.
So for all the friends I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet in person and those of you who welcome me into your lives without my ever having seen you – thank you. You bear witness to my life and I am very grateful. If my words mean anything to you, please consider it my way of bearing witness to yours. You are not alone.
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