English Mem Desi Babu

Waiting at Dadar station with mum, minding my own business, when:

Random guy next to me: “Is this your first visit to India?”
Me (replying because I am a slave to my love of absurdity): “Um no. I live here.”
Rando: “Where are you from?”
Me: “Mumbai.”
Rando: “Nonono. From from?!”
Me (desperately trying not to laugh): “Well I’m half Malayali and half Maharashtrian, so I guess India?”
Rando: “Oh! You are Indian only! Then why is everyone staring at you while passing?”
Me: “People who stare have very little work.”

Well, that was fun. And I was a little overdue for weirdness anyway.

[Title is a reference to a Bollywood movie from the 90s. Although, in that movie the couple end up together. In my case, I ended up with a hearty chuckle.]

Heckle Again

Many many moons ago, one of the things on my bucket list was to attend a live comedy show. [Please don’t judge the ease of my my bucket list item; this was one of those throwaway tasks that I could cross off and not feel awful of a ginormous list of unfulfilled hopes and dreams.]

Yes, the comedy show. I was following a Twitter handle that advertised a for-charity comedy event for stray dogs. The tickets were 500 bucks apiece, and my boyfriend at the time and I decided to go.

It was in a fairly upmarket restaurant, with a little space, for events such as these, at the back. I forget the name of the restaurant though. Anyway. Off the august line up, I recognised nobody. The opening acts were nice: the first being a rank newcomer, who stammered a little poor thing, but had good material; and the second being, Sapan Verma, a fun comic, who we thoroughly enjoyed. The main attraction was Aditi Mittal.

Now to be fair to her, I am not really well-read in terms of pop culture, and it isn’t a reflection on her that I had no idea who she was. She is a fairly renown comedienne, and props to her for that. Her material was mostly feminist, and I found it quite fun overall. My boyfriend? Not so much.

He didn’t mind the feminist stuff, because he was a feminist too. What he objected to was that she sort of heckled (probably not the right word) me.

One of her bits was about this vaginal tightening cream, 18 Again. She asked if anyone had heard of it, and before my dearly beloved could react, I had raised my hand.

The reason I had heard of it was because, when I had spent 3 weeks in Bangalore a few years prior, I saw advertisements for 18 Again lining lampposts. Now, I am a huge ad junkie, and I love trying to reverse-engineer the creative process in my head. These ads immediately stood out to me, because they were 1) Exclusively marketed to women; 2) Clearly a cream or gel of some sort; 3) Contained no explanation of what 18 Again actually was. I was intrigued. The only other ads I have seen with this level of vagueness were for contraception. More specifically, for condoms. And while there was a blurry, softly lit picture of a caressing couple entwined on sheets, I think it is safe to say that condoms are meant exclusively for men.

So what was 18 Again? Was it a contraceptive a woman could take? I was not on the pill, and I figured it might be a good option to explore. So I Googled it: “Femininity restoration cream.” Yeah, no. Pass. That’s how I knew what 18 Again was about.

Back in Aditi Mittal’s audience, of course I wasn’t able to explain all that. Also, I am well aware audience members get heckled for comic purposes. And so, it was no surprise when Ms. Mittal looked at me in feigned outrage and shock, and said I needed help for going looking for that sort of product. I get it, it is funny.

Except, I would never heckle anyone. So it wasn’t my idea of funny. Embarrassing someone for a few laughs is a cheap shot, and honestly really good comedians don’t do it.

I shrugged the whole episode off, but the French Student was super pissed. And eventually, I wasn’t all that impressed with comedy scene after all. How disappointing.

Agonising Aunt

I’ve previously published a post from my old blog, and I hope to resurrect some of my old writing in this way. In this post, I am combining two old posts: cause and effect. It should also serve to demonstrate this particular stance.

In 2011, I was 27. Some people are young and immature at 27; others have conquered mountains and the corporate world. I was in neither of these groups. I was young, and found myself in charge of a team for the first time. I only had empathy as my guide to being a good team leader. It didn’t help that one of my team was exactly a month younger than me. She was also married and had a two-year old daughter. There were definite moments where she had more experience than I did.

The first post is when her husband contacted me. He was about nine years older than her, and he said that she was very attached to me. (I was attached to her too.) He was asking for my help, because his marriage was breaking down.

Life? Take a breather already.

I have spent a nerve-racking day, trying to figure how to tackle a difficult situation. The situation is NOT of my making, and yet I have the most to lose by it. However, for the sake of everyone involved I can’t talk about said situation here. All I can talk about is why I am currently so close to tears.

I am a private person. In the sense that I share my life’s joys with the world – mostly anyway. I present a genuinely smiling face to everyone around me. I crack jokes, play the fool, work hard and enjoy life. But heck, that doesn’t mean my life is easy – this couldn’t be further away from the truth.

My life lacks stability. It lacks security. And that, my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Today I listened to someone worry about his world crashing down around him – as though I have all the answers and somehow my perfect little life would rub off on him; little knowing that is the state of my life every. single. day.

Not that I didn’t sympathise, but the situation was such that any help I extended to him would have looked inappropriate. And if everything was out in the open, it would have damaged my working environment severely.

The reason I am so close to tears is that there is no way I can feel 100% comfortable with the outcome. I believe in being above board always, and I have had to choose a path that I am not happy having chosen.

I am not making any sense; not even to myself. Although I sometimes wish I could hide away in a corner, and let the world pass me by. It is tiring being strong and weathering all the crap that life throws at one. And believe me, while I am grateful for the beauty in my life, there is HELLUVA lot of crap that life has seen fit to shovel into my lap.

Leave me alone already. Tired of being a cosmic punching bag.

What an entitled ass I sound like. The guy was genuinely desperate enough to try and patch up his marriage the best way he could. I was kind to him, of course, but the thoughts in my head are all about ME. I was NOT the person with the most to lose. That was horseshit.

The trouble with him confiding in me was that it was the first time I knew anything was awry in their marriage. She had deemed it private enough not to discuss with her boss, and her husband had laid bare. I guessed (accurately as it turned out) that her pride was the reason she was quiet. And I wanted to respect that. I told him, as gently as possible, that I couldn’t help him and be fair to her. I would have to tell her that he spoke to me, and that would have made matters worse.

And then I wrote this whiny post. And he read it. And he guessed it was about him:

“I read your blog and I am very shocked and sorry to have put you in such a tight situation. I had a horrible dillemma and was desperate for help. And didnt think of the consequences. Please forgive me for that. I think you are a great person and J has a lot of respect for you. I wish I could undo what I have done. Please dont let my stupidity change anything with you guys. I want her to be happy. If you still want to get this off your chest I will not hold it against you. Dont worry about it anymore please. I have already contacted professional help. I pray that we will work it out and we will remain friends always. I hope the plans for Js birthday go as planned. Take care and God Bless.” [via Facebook Messenger]

Shame. I apologised profusely, nearly crying because of my stupidity. He was sweet enough to forgive me. And I posted a retraction, of sorts.

In my usual headlong and heedless fashion, I’ve managed to convey an impression far from what I was feeling. Yesterday’s post was all about how I was in a difficult position – and looking back, I am appalled and ashamed that that was the thought uppermost in my mind.

The true reason for my immense disquiet was actually a deep sense of sadness. A person I cared about was in a rough position, but I was not in a position to help. The reasons for this are multiple and highly complex – but the fact remains that I AM SAD.

I also feel sad for the other people involved, and for the deep trauma they are undergoing or going to undergo. I see a relationship that has broken down, and a lack of clarity and maturity to fix it. I am afraid of the consequences if irrevocable steps are taken and lives are damaged as a result.

Like I said before, life has never been a cakewalk for me – but I’ve managed to stay positive most of the time. When this hit me out of the blue, I confess I was really upset and I did NOT handle it well. To the person who confided in me, my last post would have given the impression of resentment. I am profoundly sorry about that – there is no resentment AT ALL. Please forgive me.

I wish I had the answers; hell, sometimes knowing the right questions would be a start. My only recourse now is to pray very hard that people who have lost each other find ways to be together again.

God, you’d better be listening. You freakin’ owe me.

Well, luckily for me, I wasn’t a complete douche.


Epilogue: In case anyone is interested in the couple’s story, they separated soon after. She did find out he told me, and that probably contributed further to the breakdown in her trust.

He professed much love for her, but he did a lot of things that I found incredibly unpalatable. But that’s not my story to tell. I guess what had to happen, happened.

A Spring-Summer Connection #5

In this fifth and final chapter of the SpringSummer Connection saga, I fast forward to April 2015. And to Facebook.

When I left England, I didn’t know I wasn’t going back for university a few months later. I had a seat in a computer engineering program at the University of Kent, and I was due to start in September. So when I said my goodbyes, I assumed it was more au revoir than farewell.

When I parted ways from him, I asked him for a photograph. He said that he didn’t have any that he would like me to have. So, although I didn’t know it then, it was the last time I would see him.

On and off in the intervening years from 2001 and 2015, I searched the internet for him. I wasn’t sure what I was hoping to achieve, and truth be told I didn’t like to think too much about it. I tend to be very emotionally attached to my memories and the people from my past, and subsequently tend to forget that they have changed in the interim. People rarely remain stagnant, and the fondness with which I remember them is not typically reciprocated with anything other than surprise.

Then, in April 2015, I found him on Facebook. I sent a very tentative message reaching out to him, fully expecting no response or perhaps a cold one. I was absolutely floored to get one overflowing with warmth and affection!

I was thrilled to say the very least, and we started exchanging stories about our lives. He was married with four children (two from his wife’s first marriage, and two adoptive), lots of dogs, a huge house, a thriving business, and so on. I was engaged to the love of my life, working with people I cared about deeply, and so on. It was wonderful to see the years falling away, and I hoped to rekindle the close friendship that existed before feelings occluded it.

We talked over a few months, messages going back and forth every few days. I was comfortable and happy. And then we started scratching the surface of it all. Big mistake. We talked about his girlfriend of the time, his friends, my landlady, and so many more people. He told me many things of which I was completely oblivious. how his girlfriend cheated on him, and that’s why they broke up. How his friends were afraid that I was alone in the house with him because of his philandering nature. How my landlady tried to sleep with him a couple of times, and that’s why she was so inquisitive about my involvement with him.

I am no innocent now, but these revelations blew my mind. There were moments where I sat agape, staring at Facebook messenger in absolute horror. I am very aware of consistency bias, so I knew that although I had fond memories, it wasn’t an effortless cakewalk at the time. But this? This was just incredible. I got over it eventually, and we continued to chat.

Months and weeks elapsed sometimes, because I am terrible about keeping in touch. Unless I have something concrete to talk about, I can rarely keep a conversation of trivialities going. Then, we started chatting in earnest again. And it finally came out that he cared for me deeply when I was living under his roof. He told me about the struggle he had to keep his distance. This confession was followed by many others, mine included.

Now, whatever I may have felt at the time, I knew that a relationship of any kind between him and me was inappropriate. It would have been tantamount to child abuse because of my extreme naivete. I see that now, and I am profoundly thankful that he at least was cognisant of it at the time. I was an airhead and couldn’t be trusted to make any difficult choices sensibly. And I said as much to him.

Somehow this veered the conversation in the direction of now. Although he was married, apparently he wasn’t completely happy. I on the other hand was ecstatic about my love life. He started being very explicit and described in detail the things he would like to do with me. He wanted to fly down to Mumbai and meet up. He was prepared to chuck up his life and start anew here. In short, he was in love with me.

To say I was gobsmacked and terrified would be a colossal understatement. I didn’t want any of this, and again being the trusting sap that I am, I took all of this at face value. Of course, one year later, I know that it was complete hogwash. I slowly distanced myself from it, and extricated myself as gently I could from what had become a black hole in my life.

After a few months of being brief to the point of unresponsive, he finally stopped. I had the urge to rekindle a friendship but I smacked myself hard about my sheer stupidity. A few months after that, I realised he had unfriended me. And I felt such profound relief.

Moral of this story was that nostalgia is dangerous thing. Especially for me. More stories later.

Luv vs. Love

Earlier this year, I took my father to an ashram in Kerala (incidentally the state he from) for a cure of his illnesses. That sentence probably raises numerous questions, and each of those questions deserves a post at least in answer. However, this post is about a boy I met there.

Brij was an attendant to the swamiji of the ashram, and was hired to help with the day to day activities of swamiji’s manic schedule of seva. Being in his early 20s and from a relatively rural part of India, he not surprisingly presented as a shy person, not completely at ease with young women. Of this latter category, there were two at the time: I was one, and the second was an American devotee.

She is a wonderful person, around my age, and I grew to love her dearly. This is the time I lost my father, and she was by my family’s side throughout the ordeal.

(The ages are relevant to this story, so please bear with me.)

One morning, she came into our room, looking half amused and half stunned. Apparently, around midnight, she had been doing yoga to get to sleep, when she heard a knock on her door. She opened it to find Brij on her doorstep, blitzed after drinking copious amounts of alcohol. He then proceeded to claim undying love for her.

Now, she has some experience with drunkenness, and knows well enough that it is never the right moment to negotiate with someone. She quickly dispatched him, and went to bed.

My mum and I listened to this story in open-mouthed astonishment. Regardless of anyone’s belief in God, we can all agree that an ashram is meant to be a haven of peace and spirituality. Women should feel safe within its confines. Anyway, I digress, but of course she felt the same way, and she was going to talk to swamiji about it when she got the opportunity.

Brij of course panicked in the morning, and went rushing to her room to apologise. She forgave him, but she insisted that she still needed to have a word with swamiji. Brij begged her not to, but her stance was unwavering. She did tell him that he should do it himself, as it would be better all around if he admitted to making a mistake. He of course did not have the courage to do so.

Soon, we left the ashram, and she did have a word with swamiji about the incident. He shook his head sadly and admitted that this was the problem with young boys. It was the age with them, and he would deal with Brij. Long story short, Brij was asked to leave.

And we thought that was the end of the story. Apparently not.

A few months later, I received a message from an unknown number. It was, no prizes for guessing, Brij. He had left the ashram, but had somehow gotten my number from there.

I was surprised to hear from him, and thought that perhaps he was looking for a job. Oh, how mistaken I was. He was messaging me to declare undying love for me this time. Because, of course.

I have nothing against relationships that transcend great age barriers, but I reckon there needs to be some meeting of minds to make it work. After I stopped laughing, I told him as gently as possible that I didn’t return his love. And because I realised what a sheltered upbringing these boys have, where they aren’t allowed to interact with girls naturally, I also said that he was certainly not in love with me either. Remember what happened in the ashram? I asked. That was a mistake, he averred. Oh brother.

Brij is clearly not a person of means and also absurdly young. So he kept calling and disconnecting, in the typical fashion of missed calls that college students use to communicate. I refused to call him, because I was working at the time, and I didn’t have time to deal with this sort of childishness.

In the rare moments I had free, I spent time and energy trying to reason with him. He unfortunately took that to mean that I was interested. I finally gave up in a couple of days, and stopped responding to his texts.

It was a lesson for me too: luv is sometimes more tenacious than real love.

Extreme Navel-Gazing

Any newcomers to this blog and, well, to my life, would be forgiven in thinking I was a cataclysmically depressing person. That would be true because I am currently going through the worst year of my life.

The year started with my boyfriend of three years and my family falling out in a major way. This may seem like a small thing, but I actually live with my parents, and it boiled down to a choice between him and them. That was not really a choice. My parents are getting older, I love them dearly, and I am an only child. I spent two months desperately trying to knit together what I thought was a torn relationship. My family has had massive fights before, and we’ve always repaired it and moved on stronger. I thought the same thing would happen with my boyfriend. It didn’t.

Finally, in February, we called it quits. The sheer exhaustion got to me. It got to him. It was over. Officially, anyway. I couldn’t wipe away the true feelings of love in an instant. If truth be told, I still harbour a little love for him in a dark corner of my heart.

Then, my father fell sick in March. It became our top priority to get him better. We tried everything. Nothing worked. Then something did work, and he got a little better. We rejoiced, and the next day he died.

Shocked? So were we.

Then, in June, I sort of lost my job, without any alternative lined up. Were we going to return to our financial troubles? I had no idea. I picked myself up, and I was fortunate to have a project fall into my lap. I have been hustling as far as possible, swallowing my dignity about unacknowledged messages and phone calls, doing terrible work because that’s what the client wants, and fighting my team’s battles. All this, while my mother’s jewellery line is making fledgling moves to take off, and it requires more and more capital pumped into it.

All the while, I wonder if the money I have saved through the months of work will carry us through. I’m not worried, because being destitute isn’t as bad as losing my dad, but it does make me a bit of a grump. Sorry.

The worst part about all of this is that I lost my best friend when I broke up with my boyfriend. My mother will never understand why I miss him, because of their disagreement, and I can’t confide in her. My friends have lives of their own. And the one person I can talk to is still in the process of learning about my personality, as I am his.

That leaves my blog. An unresponsive blank canvas for my rambling thoughts. Eventually, I hope to write myself into a good mental state, sort of like therapy.

So, if I seem like I am a downer, it is because I am, fictional reader. I am sorting out the jumble in my mind, hoping that thoughts swirling with ferocity in there will dissipate and resolve if I type them out here. It is a hope.

Manoeuvred

My office was a funny place to work, and I had a love-hate relationship with my job. I loved my colleagues (most of them, anyway), the comfortable office, my salary, the two-day weekend, and so much more. I hated the arbitrary policies, the ineffectual management, the tendency to micromanage, and SO much more. But, I had decided to stick it out for the time being, and not be goaded into an impulsive resignation. As of June 2016, I had been there two years and seven months.

And then I was goaded into resigning.

One fine afternoon, I was asked to step in for a meeting with my team lead, a new import from the US. He asked me how everything was going, and we started talking about work. Somewhere during this increasingly heated debate (heated from my side), he said: “Content doesn’t seem to be working out for you. Is there any other team you would like to move to instead?”

To say I was taken aback by this salvo is an understatement. To recap, I was the whole Content team in my organisation for my entire tenure, barring two separate short-lived stints, when I briefly had a team member. To be told, albeit in a roundabout way, that my work was not up to standard was a rude shock. I have a short fuse at the best of times, and I had controlled my temper magnificently during office hours, but this lit my fuse well and good. I let rip. I didn’t shout, but the fellow wasn’t left in any doubt about the incompetence, micromanagement, and sheer audacity I have endured over my time there. I tendered a verbal resignation then and there, but refused to put it in writing till I met one of the founders – the person I was reporting to before this import came in.

The next day, I did meet the boss. And he negated the attack on my work, saying that they were restructuring, and that Content ideally forms a part of the marketing team. Since there was no ETA on that happening any time soon, there was no work for Content – a fact that I had mentioned several times. (I’m not used to sitting idle.) The boss then proceeded to offer me another role in a new team, Customer Success Team, which was a growth spurt from the existing Sales support team. I said I would think about it, and went to give my mom the news.

After calming down enough to stop shaking and a quick pow-wow with mom, I went back to him and accepted the change of role. I didn’t want to leave because of someone else’s impetus. However, the boss then said that the import wanted that day to be my last, and that I would have to rejoin the company when they set up the team.

No. Just no.

I packed up my things, told the HR I would be in the following Monday to hand in my laptop, and walked out. On good terms, certainly, but I refused to join this new team. I was done.

Almost two months later, I know that the import manoeuvred me out, with the full blessing of the boss. I bear no grudges, but my sudden exit sent shockwaves through the company. Remember what I said before about my colleagues being friends? Yeah, this didn’t go down well at all.