The Completely Bearable Lightness of Being 35

35. I’ve been that for a month now. It tastes, smells and feels much better than I thought. I feared the implied mundanity of the phrase ‘settling down’. But I’m learning that it’s not mundane when it happens naturally, when you want to do it.

I met someone I had a crush on back when I was 13. We didn’t meet often so it stayed what it was — a mild fluttering in the stomach when I saw him, the beginning of a blush when he glanced in my direction. I saw him off and on over the years but always from a distance, like from a bus window or across the street. And a quick nod of recognition is all that passed between us. I was young and surrounded by too many distractions to give it much thought. And even if I had, I think I was not confident enough in myself to have done something about it.

So much has happened in these twenty odd years to each of us. We are past the panicky gawking of adolescence, past the frenzied social rituals of the twenties. Now, I think we tend to be okay with not always knowing what we feel. We’ve learnt to not let the awkwardness of a situation stop us from moving, from talking, from responding.

That doesn’t sound like the conventional definition of ‘settling down’ but in a way it feels like it. It’s the feeling of solidness (I wouldn’t yet call it unshakeability) that comes from knowing an uneasy situation will not stop your life.

Oh, another thing that has happened with 35. This was probably seeded in my mind a little earlier but it has grown into being me only now. When Jinal was here, I was talking about my close friendships. I told her I loved one of our common friends and that I liked her. She tilted her head and said,

“Don’t you love me?”

I grinned and told her,

“I do! And I thought it. But as I started the sentence, I thought you’d find it a really weird thing for me to say. That’s why I changed it to I like you.”

“Silly,” she grinned and added, “I love you too.”

And I realised that the weird thing is NOT telling people who are close to us, not telling members of the same sex, not telling friends who are not spouses or partners, not saying ‘I love you’ to them. Love is not bounded by relationship status or gender. It’s a free emotion, a good, nourishing one. And it only chokes and turns into other weird things when it is forced into restrictive expressions or not even that.

I say ‘I love you’ much more easily and more often now. :-) I say it to a lot of people and I think that doesn’t make me a bad person; it makes me a lucky person. Every person I identify that I love, reminds me of how much abundance there is in my life, of support, warmth and affection.

Oh, here’s something about being 35. Everybody is nostalgic again and wanting to reconnect with their past. It’s now twenty years since I finished school, a decade since I finished b-school. I think nostalgia goes in 10 year cycles. And because of this, it seems that ageing happens abruptly rather than gradually. The skinny girls sported post-pregnancy fat when I saw them last and now they’re back to looking the same (we are at a health-conscious age now). And the men? Most of them look exactly the same except, without hair on their heads. 35 looks the same as 25 but minus hair. :-D

Then there is the being okay with fighting and anger. I’ve tried to be all zen about violent expressions, especially after my break-up. But I realise I am a high-strung, emotional person and I attract people like that too. Friction and clashes are bound to happen. I’m realising it’s okay to not always resolve the fight. And I’m realising that disagreeing, however violently, need not have to do with how much you care about the other person.

I had a rather raucuous argument yesterday with someone that I have a complex relationship with, but whom I care about (now why should this description even be a surprise?). We sat in stiff silence for about 25 minutes. Then, just before it was time for me to leave, I realised I didn’t want the heaviness of not knowing the right way to say goodbye. So I just put my hand on his shoulder and said,

“Hey.”

I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to say after that and I think I started off with some version of

“Go home safe and sleep well. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”

But before I could finish, he hugged me. And just like that, all the animosity vanished and what we had been arguing about, seemed like nothing more than hot air left behind in the place we were at. The situation has not been resolved. But our friendship has not been impeded because of it.

These are fun things to discover about 35.

Magic In My Soul

A couple of weeks ago, I was doing the guilty random-online-surf-to-avoid-work thing, when my video chat icon began flashing with a call. I looked at the clock. It was past 3 a.m. I answered the call to find this guy at the other end, yelling,

“Tu kya soti nahin hain, kya??!”

Then he turned to his wife and said,

“See, I told you. She never sleeps!”

I laughed, he nodded sagely and she shook her head at the absurdity of it.

It occurred to me that I belong the privileged generation that has these magical experiences. The generations before ours scoff and think we’ve lost it, that we haven’t known closeness, that we don’t understand life since we spend it behind glass screens. The generations after us, having been born into a digital era, don’t see anything particularly remarkable in this.

But to me, with my single Doordarshan channel and landline telephone 80s childhood, my adolescence that proved its cool with cable TV, Khatiya songs and Indipop and my young adult self that saw the dreams of the future in chatrooms – all of this is magic. Talking to somebody in a different country, with such ease (and I can even see them!) feels like magic. Being able to see bright daylight outside the window of the person I’m speaking to, while it’s past midnight where I am – this is magic. Relationships that have vanquished time and space – how can they be anything but magic?

My online association with Devesh began in June 2008, when a common friend wrote to me asking if I’d speak to her friend who was looking for some information about my industry. I was still mostly anonymous then, visible only as Ideasmith, a blog, Twitter, Facebook and an email address. I agreed and we connected and had a chat. We followed each other on Twitter, he occasionally commented on my blog and I responded. He was a slight acquaintance that it was not unpleasant to converse with.

In August 2010, I was going through my annual Facebook Friends list pruning, when I noticed a familiar name and face. I remembered him from that chat conversation but I couldn’t place why he looked so familiar. Finally, I shook off that nagging feeling of ‘Stupid, it’s all in your head’ and I wrote to him.

“This is probably a far shot but were you ever in XYZ college, Mumbai? You look a lot like someone I knew back then and he had the same name.”

“I was for 1 year! Did we hang out? I literally just knew 2 girls then

Bingo. I was a science student but with enough teenage angst to keep me out of the classroom and in the canteen. I used to hang out at that window on the ramp and was often seen with a girl called A. And if this helps, I used to call you Dave.

Jesus! Yes! It was the 3 of us that used to hang out!!!

Now cut to February 1997. I was in my first year of college and hating every moment of B.Sc. I loved reading, music and art. Nobody around me did; they were more interested in beakers, parallax removal and calculus. I’d drift around the open space in front of the canteen, in a semi-daze that only teenagers can pull off. And I’d go in and out of surreal, intense conversations all day. One of those conversations led me to Dave. He was a friend of a friend of a friend. I don’t remember what we spoke of. I barely remember him as a stranger being introduced to me. But I clearly remember him as a close friend then.

Then summer vacation came along and we drifted back to our homes. When college begun again, I didn’t see him. I didn’t know his last name or anybody else in common. This was before everyone had an email address. And in 1997, only super duper rich kids had mobile phones (well, actually it belonged to their dads and they brought it along to show off to their friends). I never forgot Dave but I had no way of reaching him again. Somebody told me that he had shifted colleges, someone else said he had moved to Australia.

In 2010, that reply from him sent tingles down my fingers. It still does. Reconnecting with old friends over Facebook, I know everyone has one story. This is mine and it’s special to me. And since we’re part of the generation that experienced half our lives without digitalia and the other half with it, it will always feel like magic.

I wondered what he was like, 13 years later. I found out a year later when he came to India for a visit. I figured we’d have a coffee together and chat about old times for, oh about an hour? How long does one need to catch up on a 14-year old friendship that only lasted two months? We ended up yapping through coffee, another coffee and one more. I paused wondering if I should tell him I’d only thought I’d hang out for an hour and I should call home to explain why I was late. He pulled out his phone and said,

“Wanna grab dinner and talk a bit more? You know I thought we’d only talk for about an hour or so.”

We ended up talking about life and work and relationships and friendship and technology and so many other things. It wasn’t like meeting a great new person. It was exactly like meeting an old, old friend. It felt like we were teenagers in college again, a notion that was laid rudely to rest when a bunch of ‘cool’ teeny-boppers walked past us, making a lot of noise. We made fun of them and talked about how much better we had been, at being teenagers. Then we laughed and told each other that we’d gone old.

We don’t talk often. There’s a message now and then or a tweet. Occasionally he calls and hangs up. I know it means,

“Hey, I was just remembering my friend but I don’t have anything to say right now.”

Other times we talk and he tells people that he likes listening to my ringtone more than he enjoys talking to me, so he prank-calls me.

On that videochat two weeks ago, we ended up talking about the directions our lives have taken. He told me he used to enjoy reading my blog but that he doesn’t anymore. Then things only a friend should tell you! I say ‘should’ rather than ‘can’ because the internet is full of presumptuous people and trolls. But I only take it seriously when someone whose opinion matters to me, says so.  He also told me that I was wasting my life away stuck in a deadened situation. But he didn’t say it unkindly. He said it in the same breath as,

“You’ve got people who believe in you. Everybody needs a push sometime. And I’m giving you one.”

If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. And I don’t think it’s got anything to do with geography or medium.

His words made me realise that most of what I do stresses me rather than invigorates me now. Blogging, once a welcome reprieve has become a ball-and-chain around my neck. Social media, that seductive beast that once promised grand things for what I was already doing? It’s now a crass, pretentious beast full of the vultures that I thought I left behind in the corporate world. Enough now.

Last week I cleared out several social apps that I was keeping active on, ‘because I’m a social media/content professional’. I decided to stop letting my Twitter followership have anything to do with my self-esteem (so loserly, no? I know) I still love writing, even if it is not soul work. But my readers, (the real ones, not the ones like the new Twitter followers who follow me for a day and then unfollow when I don’t follow back), the people who find something about my writing resonates with them, they come here for me. Not for the snazzy template or the shareable content. They come here to connect with a human being, me. And that is what makes my world of Ideasmith, magical for me. It took a friend to point that out.

This completely unedited, messy, meandering, less than perfect post is for you, Dave. You can prank-call me now.

Love, Learn, Live

You never stop growing. Never stop marveling at how little you knew last year or ten years ago. I wonder if it’s just me or everyone feels this way sometimes. Like I’m so different now than I was a few years ago, if I went back in a time machine, I wouldn’t recognize myself. Who was that stranger? Why did she think the things she did and do all that was done?

I wrote a post, years ago about loving silently, about the agony of caring for someone who didn’t know or seem to care. One of my commenters remarked that perhaps someone felt that way about me. I scoffed, so supremely arrogant in my ability to read people, so confident in my own sensitivity.

I spoke to someone I knew years ago. I had a dim idea that he was a ‘nice guy’ who was generally nice to everyone and so also, to me. I also realized, equally vaguely that we were friends for awhile and then we weren’t. There wasn’t a fight, a grand parting of ways but I realize now that that’s not everyone’s style. Some doors shut very gently and it’s years before you realize who walked out of them.

He was in love with me. That thought should send me into a thrill of delight. After all, it is terribly flattering and comforting, knowing that someone gave you that precious emotion. But it doesn’t. It makes me uneasy, restless. It’s not that I treated him badly. It’s that I was so caught up in trying to get my life to go on plan, protecting myself from anyone or anything that could derail it, that I never realized what was right in front of my eyes, every single day for months.

I always thought of myself as a good listener, but it seems I must not be. I listen, when it’s someone and something and in a way that I’d like to hear. But real listening is unfiltered, nonjudgmental, unencumbered by ego, isn’t it? He let me know enough of times. Not in wild, flourishy strokes which may have been my delusional idea of love at the time (well, perhaps even till very recently). But in quieter but definitive ways. The message seeped in occasionally but since it didn’t fit my plan, I found a way to not make it be by focusing on what I thought of as his indifference and commitment-phobia. I don’t even know if he was commitment-phobic but should that have mattered? Knowing someone cares for you, even if it may not amount to marriage, is not the worst realization in the world. And I might have treated him more gently. I really should have.

I’m so determined, so focussed, so driven by what I want. The world tells me that’s a good thing and rewards me with achievement at most times. But I’m only now realizing what I’ve given up all the time I’ve been doing this. I don’t know how many people or situations or things I’ve missed simply because they got in the way. I have no idea how many emotions, dreams and gentle words I’ve run over in hobnailed boots because I was chasing something else on the horizon.

I told him how sorry I was but he just smiled and said it was okay, that he had enjoyed knowing me. Really, I asked him, I’m so bossy and compulsive, must have been even worse back then. He smiled, ever so gently and said, no I never thought so. Then he asked me if I remembered the walks we used to go on. Who was I back then, who was that girl and what made people fall so much in love with her?

Realizing you were wrong, that you’re as capable of cruelty is an uncomfortable realization. But it’s not unbearable. Perhaps that’s growing up. I also always imagined that growing older was like a race, where you ran to a definitive finish line and then there was no more left to run. Turns out, there’ll always be further to go on this and I don’t have to do it all running. Stopping to look around might be a good thing for me to do.

This is to slowing down. To the poetry of beautiful walks and the excruciating gentleness of people who preserved the memories I was too busy to remember. And to the richness of life, always learning, ever growing.

Long Distance Is A Bitch

*Sigh* Ever have those days when you’re just hit by a gargantuan wave of emotion? Today, that emotion for me is missing people.

I’m really missing a certain set of people. These are the ones that I’ve had conversations with, the ones with whom conversations pick up from exactly where they left off, even if it was years ago. My life’s most fundamental truths, some of my biggest decisions and the real heart of all my stories come from my conversations with these people. Books have come out of those conversations as have ideas, inspiration, laughs and a few tears. A lot of me, a lot of growing up too.

Remember that speech that was circulated on the internet, oh, about a decade ago? ‘Tips from a speech never given’ or ‘Wear sunscreen’ as it was more popularly known after Baz Luhrmann created a song from it. There was a bit in it that went,

‘Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.’

At this very moment, not a single one of them is in the same place as me. The closest is across the country, everybody else on a different timezone even. When I get over the awesomeness of technology that lets you speak across time zones, it occurs to me that distance calling and email are like paneer substitutes for meat – inadequate. Long distance is a bitch.

I am a gigantic bowl of soppy soup right now. I know nostalgia is so, well, old. But I also think that you can never tell the people who matter to you, that they do, too many times. No such thing at all. So here for the zillionth time, drowning you in my maudlin, soppy, clingy attachment, Lakshmi, Sensorcaine, Adi, E Vestigio & P – I miss you.

P.S. – Even before I finished this post, I received a call from Ajay (based on a similar status update), which made me glow. Then he said, “So what’s wrong?”. ARRRGGGH! Can’t I just miss my friends without anything being wrong? What’s wrong, indeed! Everything is. Because you aren’t here and I miss you.

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