Oxymoron

When I see a pair of birds glide across a pink setting sky, I think to myself that there could be nothing more beautiful in the world in this exact moment – that it must have taken the forces of the universe all their power to conjure this precise sequence of coincidences  – for nandi to look up, for the building to remain standing in the same spot that it was in yesterday, for the only two birds left in gurgaon to fly overhead, for the curtains to be drawn, for nandi to have typhoid so she’s actually home at this hour. I mean statistically speaking this kind of larger-than-life moment creation is pretty rare right?

And then two days later three birds glide across marshmallow clouds and my brain, despite years of inculcating rational thought and reasoning, jumps to the same ‘this must be the moment where everything changes’ conclusion. It doesn’t change, but for like three seconds into my dramatic background violin track, it really does feel like it will.

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Despite the stereotype of dimly lit wooden cottages and dusty typewriter keys, where writer folk grow old in self-contained, yet content, isolation, I have found, much to the chagrin of a potential vintage-instagram post, that I really really need to get out of my bed to form any brain thoughts at all. I grew up a fairly introverted child. My Pillsbury dough body, and general disposition to pick fights with boys who stole my tazos, kept me away from your everyday playground politics. Sangs tells me now, that I was the most well behaved seven year old she knew, because while my brother was throwing washed laundry off the balcony edge and hiding in refrigerators (true story), my wandering attention would be easily distracted if someone handed me a piece of string. “Apparently,” and I must use words that throw fact into a debatable realm of ambiguity (because otherwise I would have to admit to being that weirdo kid) I would twist and turn that string around my chubby little fingers with utmost wonderment. My acceptable adult-explanation is that I was an undiscovered child genius exploring the theoretical groundwork of string theory, but my high school physics marks usually give me away. I think my imagination is a gift on a lonely doorstep, the consolation prize Santa leaves with the cookies when there aren’t any other presents under the tree. For the longest time my cardboard kingdoms, and ceiling-fan helicopter blades made for adequate evening company.

Until suddenly, they didn’t anymore.

Good writing, or so they tell me, relies on a certain internal logic and consistency. Arguments lead to other arguments, and if one were to map the trajectory of thoughts into a line graph, it would be smooth, seamless, slipping like butter from metaphor to wisdom. People, unfortunately, don’t always grow like that, and we wake up one morning to realise that we really aren’t the person we’ve been telling everyone we are. I made sense to me growing up – certain attributes pair well with others, like two peas in a pod, I have found that insecurity and self-deprecation are often secretly in bed together. Unchecked ambition and selfishness raise a glass of champagne on a balcony railing every evening; and kindness and humility drop pennies on floors for others to luck upon. See it made sense – to be a writer and lonely, fiercely independent and kind of sad, introverted and insightful. My sense of existential anxiety never stemmed from this quest to ‘find myself,’ but rather an unwavering fear that there was no purpose in this world for someone like me. ‘Someone like me’ – I knew who I was, and naive childhood principles made me believe that the integrity of my centre was free from environmental circumstance. I would remain steadfast – unchanging, always a person I could identify in the mirror.

Purpose is a strange thing, sometimes we try on costumes with the misguided belief that we’re merely role-playing. But when you wear a particular role long enough, the seams get stitched into your skin, and you become, for all intents and purposes, what you do. I was the fixer – spending 10 years of my existence acting as the knot that held my parent’s marriage together, and then the next ten as a magician trying to untie the ropes from around my neck – the knot had begun to suffocate me. And then my parents’ volatile marriage ebbed into a resignation that comes with passing life, or rather life passing you – there was no time to fight anymore, no energy for my home to fall apart – and as a consequence, there was nothing left to hold together. My cardboard kingdoms only provided escape when there was something that needed escaping from. Shit now there was peace, and I had friends can you believe it, and I lost the Pillsbury belly, and fell in love, and got into college, even started making stupid scrapbooks – God, none of it made sense anymore. Suddenly people would laugh when I said I was ‘socially awkward,’ and I’d feel angry that they didn’t believe me, because it had to be true, it had always been true – it was who I was remember. My patchwork armour had become so familiar, that when I finally needed to, I couldn’t even admit to myself that it was I who was coming apart at the seams. Who fixes the fixer, where do doctors go when they catch a cold? I’m okay, see I’m always okay because I’ve always been okay, because Nandita’s headstrong independence will see her through everything.  Three years spent studying literature in college would sometimes make me forget a real-world existed outside the walls of my mind – it was slipping away, the materiality of the moment, the understanding of a world beyond these books I read, and I worried that I would vanish into an imagination that had become too strong to control. I didn’t want to write myself into oblivion, that kind of privilege is only reserved for ex-lovers. But I never made that call, to ask someone to ground me again.

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I have spent 22 years of my life holding the past as leverage over my own head. All of us, after all, want to be beautiful pieces of writing – effortlessly flowing from one logical argument to the next to retain the central proposition of our souls. The truth is, and maybe two typhoid laden weeks in bed have actually made me crazy, that I don’t have a central proposition to defend anymore. I want people – to talk to, and hold, be angry and happy with, and I also don’t sometimes. I got stuck trying to live up to a version of myself that no longer existed – and that’s okay, I’m merely human, and I must remember that I’m allowed to exist within dissonance – to still be whole in the face of internal contradiction. I can be fiercely independent and in love at the same time, have strength and need help – be a fixer and need fixing. After years of denying myself the courtesy of change, I think it’s finally time to let myself be. To not have to explain or justify incongruent pairs of characteristics, and to also not believe that I am somehow obliged to be the same person tomorrow that I am today.

We don’t owe our yesterdays to anyone, not even ourselves.

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Retired Superheroes

I’m not a very good processor of brain thoughts or heart feelings. For someone that claims to be the number one agony aunt in the business, I am absolutely terrible at listening to or following life-changing pieces of advice that I so often give to other people. See maxims are only ever impressive when articulated through slanted text on a vaguely depressive Instagram post, because we rarely actually experience the magnitude of life while discussing the idea of love over tea. That kind of introspective soul wrangling is preserved for lonely nights at 3am, I mean come on, revelations are far less romantic on humid Sunday afternoons when the plumber is checking the leaky tap you promised you would fix three weeks ago. To think profoundly invariably means to suspend the mundanity of daily existence – to rise above the every day in order to give purpose to it, because fixing leaky taps is a fairly weak motivation to wake up in the morning.

Sometimes we stumble our way into a purpose our hearts aren’t big enough to carry. We aren’t born knowing what we’re great at, and as we grow older, our limbs stretch and our shoulders broaden to fit into the ironed clothes waiting at our bedside to be worn every morning. It’s strange to think that our lives are already laid out in front of us, just waiting for us to be ready. When I was a chubby little apple-of-my-mothers-eye, you know back in the day when onions were cheaper and we weren’t on the verge of nuclear war, I would keep having this recurring dream. My dreams are fantastic by the way, a small perk of an exhausted brain that works overtime is that it does not know when to quit. Living on the second floor of a small dusty house in Safdarjung Enclave, I would climb outside my unconscious body every night and tiptoe to the balcony. I’d steal a bedsheet from the common cupboard, put on a kickass pair of sunglasses, and then pretend, like any normal seven year old would, that I was Batman. Holding onto the four corners of fabric, I would jump, and I would fly. Gliding past that grumpy uncle who would refuse to return your cricket ball, the fancy house of the fancier neighbour who always seemed to have more money than everyone else, over the wilting trees of the health-hazard children’s park, and under every heavy cloud that halted its rains just for me. As a child, I was Batman on Sundays, and an astronaut on Tuesdays, an ice cream taster on Friday nights, a fashion model on Monday mornings, and a part-time veterinarian whose main job was to pet and play with fluffy animals on like every single day of the year. I had not yet encountered my greatness in the mirror, and that made me unfathomably free.

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Somewhere along the way I bumped into compliments, and stitched together a suit from the fabric of my superhero capes. I had to learn how to fly on Wednesday afternoons, and my dreams had not prepared me for the very real laws of gravity. Purpose had to have a name, and before I could I hold it, before I could understand that life was happening to me, I was already good at putting words into seemingly beautiful sentences. It was almost as if greatness was a discovery rather than a decision, because I can’t for the life of me remember choosing my costume. I looked great though! A harmless attempt at trying on clothes in the dressing room had turned into a red carpet appearance at the premiere of my future. Look at all the applause, A+ report cards being thrown in the air like confetti, coupled with a parade marching to the moment in time when you are finally introduced to society as a potentially contributing citizen. It happened almost overnight, but suddenly I was someone, or at least, I had been told that this someone really suited me. Human beings tend to repeat patterns of behaviour that are positively reinforced, shit I wonder if the overused analogy of a universal rat-race is even partially creditable to Skinner my main man. We wake up one day to find that the line is no longer distinguishable, and that we’ve successfully convinced ourselves that the thing we’re good at is what we’ve always wanted to do. If our brilliance then is merely a consequence of the efforts of your do-gooding neighbourhood search party, then I wonder what might have happened if they had spent a little longer looking. How many trial rooms we might have visited before deciding to cut-up our superhero capes. Don’t get me wrong, I love to write, I love to see my acid-trip dreams take on tangible life on this electronic booping machine, but on Sundays, I also miss Batman.

It’s as if my talent were a shot in the dark, a literal light at the end of a very long tunnel, and it’s taken a lifetime of dieting and exercise to continue fitting into the clothes that wait for me every morning. I don’t know if I’m alone in this feeling, but I can’t help but think that there are days, and most nights at 3am, where we sit in a pool of panicked fear, convinced that somebody is going to see through the carefully constructed confidence we zip ourselves into. I worry that I have spent the last 22 years of my life deceiving people into buying a mediocre product with good packaging. I fear that somewhere I believed all the compliments, and that to stumble on the red carpet would shatter not only everyone else’s idea of who I was born to be, but my own. Most of all, I fear our dreams may get too big for the stitches to hold in, and someday, we’ll wake up to an armour that’s slowly coming apart at the seams.

Maybe I should sleep earlier. I mean if Batman got a good night’s rest I bet he’d be half as less broody.

put a big bird in a small cage

Palermo, Sicily
Day 22

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I used to be very sick as a child. My closest friends know this in passing, a stray sentence picked up with the cheque after dinner, stored in neatly compartmentalised folders to keep track of your expenses: how much was dinner worth, how much can we quantifiably say we know about another person. It’s exceptionally difficult to describe human beings honestly. Every adjective carries with it the lingering shadow of an unstated backstory that no one really has the time to tell or to hear. I mean it would be incredibly inefficient if we had to corroborate every piece of our knowledge with supporting evidence, conversations would become testimonies on witness stands. The jury of life is out on most days.

When I was about six, I spent two months in a wheelchair. I remember my brother’s friend had come to spend the night, we were all very excited about this at the Singh household, because sleepovers back then were like a whispered secret only the cool kids were in on, a dangerously thrilling step outside the cushions of your parents arms – for the first time, the idea of home become marginally flexible. There was a slight pain in my right thigh, almost unnoticeable, manageable, a small limp easily hidden amongst the distraction of getting to watch T.V past 11pm, because watching Bugs Bunny made it almost fun to hop around the house. I couldn’t get out of bed the next morning. 8 hours of sleep had changed everything. I can’t accurately describe it now, but I remember the room, the uneven bookshelf I fixated my eyes on, the panicked hovering of my parents as I screamed out to them. Hopping was now my only option, the pain was just too much. Hip fluid. It sounds lame now, and I could google the medical terminology, but all this meant for me was missing recess for close to ten weeks straight. Watching bicycles wheels turn the street corner, watching the seconds of a clock tick, watching the fan spin, watching life move around me – round and round and round – while I stayed paralysingly still with my leg elevated. I wasn’t jealous of Bugs Bunny anymore, I didn’t want to watch T.V till eleven.

A few years later, let’s say two, I couldn’t pee without crying. Everyone likes to pee. We don’t talk about it, because apparently natural bodily functions are disgusting, but honestly, if you’ve never exhaled an incredibly satisfying sigh of relief after having needed to hold your pee for some time, then my friend, you really aren’t living. Reflux. The bladder is a glorious bag where all the excess water of your body is stored after the other parts are done absorbing and processing it. My bladder was not a very glorious bag, it was built a little special. The trap door on top of it would refuse to shut entirely, so the pee it was holding would casually swagger back towards my kidneys. The problem is, kidneys absolutely love pee until it’s kind of messed up. They want the pee to be perfect, clean, pure, all kinds of awesome, and sometimes when my pee would fall short of this exhaustive checklist, my kidneys would rebel with rejection. Kidney’s don’t like being infected, and children my age don’t like the sound of “possible need for a kidney transplant.” The tests hurt, so much that I would sometimes black out with the pain. Childbirth scares me less than others, I feel strangely prepared for it.

Tuberculosis. I was only pretending to be unwell to miss a few classes. A child in the 4th? grade just wants to nap sometimes man. The nurse said I had a mild fever, and I mentally high-fived myself. School was ending early for Nandi today suckers. The fever didn’t go for two weeks. The doctor said they needed to admit me. More tests, lots of blood. The doctor came into the hospital room one afternoon, called my mother out rather sketchily, said “I need to talk to you outside.” I thought I was dying so I cried until the room shook and they rushed back in and told me to shut up. It wasn’t cancer, phew. More tests, big loud machines that made noises as the tray carried you inside them. Hold your breath – 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 35 seconds, 50 seconds – Mom I can’t breathe please make it stop. Later, as a side note, it also turns out I had asthma, but that’s not a biggie. The medication would make me nauseous, so when Sangs wasn’t looking I’d throw it out the window, hide it in plants, leave it in dusty drawers. They started setting alarms for 6am so I could eat it and go back to sleep.

Enlarged liver due to the same medication, with a side dish of pancreatitis. Eat bhindi cooked in water, eat everything cooked in water because your body can no longer process any fats. It was disgusting, but hey I lost weight.

PCOD. Irregular periods, acne, abnormal hormone fluctuations. Makes you fat. I was almost great at basketball, almost. I almost got asked out to graduation, almost. I almost didn’t get bullied, but sometimes I did.

There’s more but I realise I am fast venturing into a feeling-bad-for-your-seven-year-old-self abyss and self-pity, even in retrospect, is something I like to avoid, so let’s carry on from here.

My mother tells me I am obsessed with documenting my experiences, so much so that I forget to live them sometimes. I tell my friends I take so many pictures because I am preparing for the day I get Alzheimer’s, see they laugh but I’m only half kidding. I am terrifyingly afraid of my body. It has betrayed me for a large portion of my short life and I often worry that’s all my life is going to be – short. I am waiting for my luck to run out, almost as if I’m currently on some unheard of winning streak at the local lottery and soon enough the authorities will realise that I rigged the game. Travel isn’t an Instagram hashtag for me, it’s a decadent last meal on death row. I sound fatalistic, and maybe I am, but my insistent need to see almost everything, to touch, to taste, to feel, to smell, to hear, to be in every memory worth keeping, comes from an understanding that it is just as easy to be in a state when you physically just can’t do these things anymore. My mom tires, tells me she can’t keep up with me, that I’m selfish and pushy, but my inconsideration is only testament to the alarm clock ticking constantly in my brain. When someone tells me I’m beautiful I tend to cry, and when someone tells me I’m strong, I stand flexing my non-existent biceps in the mirror for ten minutes that day before I sleep. My body is a stranger to me on most days, and it has taken every ounce of my determination to make myself love it.

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And so I push back, against everything that tells me I can’t do it. Against the medical form asking me to list any lung weaknesses before I go scuba diving, against my doctor who said I can never keep dogs if I ever want to get rid of my allergies, against exam papers that prove I’d probably be bad at statistics, against those very statistics proving that going out late at night is unsafe for women, against men that expect me not to be decent at sports, against myself on sunny beaches when the voice in my head tells me my stretch marks are ugly. I realise, I am a fundamentally defiant person, and I often argue in opposition to an opinion that I agree with just because, well, it is the opposition. See independence for me is an extreme idea, it is the complete absence of all dependence. To be stranded in an uninhabited forest with nothing, and need nothing to survive. I never saw it before, and maybe I never understood it well enough, but when people talk about being commitment-phobic, or flighty, or difficult to hold, I think they’re often speaking from one end of a see-saw. Maybe they’ve seen life from the other end of the playground, and found that vantage point to be exceedingly disappointing. To rely on something that could let you down, a person, an object, your own body, the doctors promises of an ultimate cure, are just words that never match your own lived experience. I spent close to ten years of my life depending on somebody else to keep me alive, and I just can’t do it anymore. This fear of waiting, of watching, of feeling absolutely powerless to something you can’t control seems to have permeated into all aspects of my life. See I only always want the option of a fire escape even if the entire building is made of magical fire proof material. The illusion of an option, a bus-stop outside my airbnb. I am afraid, of cages.

Because they have a strange tendency to remind me of wheelchairs.

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Brown Girl

London, Definitely-not-United-Kingdom
Day 15

Disclaimer: potential rant that makes less sense than most rants on the internet, which probably means it makes no sense. I’m working through thoughts that aren’t entirely developed, I would write a disclaimer saying *my views only, but it’s a fucking blog guys, that much should be evident.

Our first night in London had my brother and I sprinting out of a black cab, running shamelessly through human traffic on Covent Garden, jumping over street performer’s stage sets and yelling at our old parents to hurry the hell up so that we could make our Broadway show on time. London has a red light problem, no not the district get your mind out of the gutter, but literally, a problem of red lights on its roads – the car moves three inches and an Indian family of four cheers “Woooo” from the back seat, when 20 seconds later, even before our exclaim has died down, the car comes to a standstill in front of the fifth red light on this 120 metre stretch of land. “Woooooo…oot the fuck.”

A very funny play and an overpriced dinner later, we hail another taxi to go back home (my parents it seems are averse to public transport, more on that later) and soon enough my father mentions the exciting pigeons we must see on Trafalgar Square. We really like our pigeons, I was more excited than I should have been to see pigeon point at Gateway of India. “Oh those pigeons left many years ago. Trafalgar square was cleaned up, it was probably due to construction but they haven’t been in seen in almost a decade, haha I hope they didn’t kill them all.” Needless to say, we were very disappointed, and I secretly put back the plastic bag of bread crumbs I carry everywhere I go for lucky pigeon feeding opportunities. “Dad what about the opening scene of DDLJ, where are those pigeons?” I ask, channelling my photographic memory of literally every Kajol-Shahrukh movie ever made. Dad doesn’t say anything, but four seconds later, Joe the cab driver (let’s call him Joe) chimes in with “Oh that happened right in Trafalgar Square, you’re talking about Amrish Puri feedings pigeons in the morning yea? Right around the corner from here.” I have never been happier in my life.

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Joe it turns out, is a second generation Bangladeshi immigrant, whose mother has a house in Assam and has grown up watching “more Bollywood movies than you can count…Jitendra, Amitabh, Shammi Kapoor oh I know them all.” Perhaps if I had paid more attention to his features I might have been able to see traces of his ancestry, but at night time, in a dimly lit cab, hearing his British accent and noting the pale complexion of his hand holding a steering wheel, I assumed Joe to be Joe and not Qaysir (his real name).

I wonder if this helps him somehow – looking like a white person, or does his name become a thorn in his side during introductory handshakes. I could obfuscate real life experiences with intellectual abstraction, and trust me, writing long answers in Delhi University English exams has taught me how to do exactly that, but this time I won’t. I apologise if some of this appears blunt or unpretty, but that’s because that’s exactly what it is – not all thoughts are poetry.

I met one of my closest childhood friends in London the other day, and she tells me that she’s finding it difficult to get a job. With a reputed degree in design from one of the best colleges in the field, she spends her days filling applications only to reach the third question listed on most of them – “Are you allowed to live and work in the United Kingdom after your student visa expires?” – Apparently, this is the new, and hyper efficient, first-round selection process of potential and wanted candidates – “Are you a citizen?” She tells me her white friends are out on summer breaks, travelling with abandon because they know “a job is waiting for them when they come back.” You should see her art, her dedication to the technicalities of her craft are unparalleled, and I see her working to get better every single day of her life. My mother, during polite dinnertime banter, comments that she thinks the world is becoming a more progressive and inclusive place, and does not understand why I get angry.

I don’t often feel Indian. My Delhi girl Hindi, ‘liberal lifestyle’, anti-national opinions, and affinity for baggy jeans makes me look and sound like everything that I probably am – an elite, largely westernised private school by-product. London, therefore, should be built for someone like me. But you see, 5 acid attacks took place within 47 minutes on Thursday night here, and the first thought that came to my mind was, “who were the victims.” Only one of them is named so far – Jabed Hussain. It’s probably a coincidence, they were just a group of teenage thugs stealing mopeds and causing a commotion, it’s probably a coincidence.

I roll up my car windows now, and for someone that loves to stick her head out of moving cars to feel the wind on her shivering face, this feels like a cage someone else built for me. 

Why aren’t white boys attractive anymore? The second question every person asks when you come back from a #Eurotrip is “Sooo did you hook up with anyone?” Feeling the pressure of fulfilling these slightly pre-pubescent expectations, I joined Tinder, for about five minutes, till I realised that either all the white boys have somehow morphed into a collective puddle of eh-ness or my white-tinted glasses have finally come off. I have always wondered why we view sexual encounters with fairer skins as a mark of an almost accomplishment, congratulating our foreign returns on near-unbelievable conquests – we don’t need to be thankful for this, for being given permission, for being granted the wonderful favour. Some would argue, and they have, that this is purely to do with the thrill that comes from experiencing anything that is new or foreign or different, thereby making it more exciting than your everyday dal chawal, but see the trouble is, I don’t hear similar questions being asked when someone returns from the Middle East, or Japan, or Cambodia, or Egypt, or Kenya, or Thailand or or or, how many non-white foreign tourists are offered the same focused courtesy when they come visiting the Taj Mahal. Luckily I suppose they also don’t get the stares. I sound bitter, and maybe I am, because standing on London bridge, looking out onto the Thames, I couldn’t help but feel a strange sense of resistance coming from within me. I have infiltrated the heart of the Empire, and my backpack is burdened with a history of colonial oppression that we all assume is so 1947. It’s not, because my mind still stretches a hand for validation, constantly hoping I can set a good precedent for all Indians to follow. See I do not have the liberty to make public mistakes. Our democracy is young, (and brown, and poor, and in Asia, and …add intersections here) and this newness carries with it the weight of a developing, yet also largely pre-decided, expectation. I want to carry my country with pride, but a lack of historical privilege denies me the right to represent only myself. No one wants to be a small anecdote of failure in their global history. Almost every single thing I say will get attributed to my Indianness. This is why I wonder if Qaysir is free before he says his name. Often, our task is not to show people who we are, but somehow prove everything we’re not.

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Perhaps I am too extreme, fighting battles no one even asked me to, but since I can remember, I have always over-compensated for an internalised white supremacy I see in friends – the liberal educated, English speaking millennials that speak of patriotism but feel happy when someone tells them “You don’t look Indian.” White people and their features are more attractive to the world because they decided they’re more attractive, and if you’ve read any history you will know – that is always enough. Perhaps I am too extreme, searching my suitcase for a salwar-kameez and bindi to remind the world of an Indianness too many of us secretly hide when we travel. There was a cute boy behind the cash register, brown skinned and warm, I don’t know why he felt like home, I don’t know why I wanted to talk to him. Is self-segregation a real thing?

I don’t often feel Indian, and yet I find myself reacting against everything that belittles me for this identity. It’s not always visible, see you don’t need someone yelling “curry scented bitch” in your face to realise that the lady at passport control is taking a lot longer to look at your passport than she is at those of others. The ice-cream man didn’t put a chocolate biscuit on my strawberry shortcake scoop (so good btw) when I saw a British girl literally right before me get one placed on top of her single scoop of strawberry shortcake (to ensure the facts are straight and you don’t later come to me and say “oh maybe she ordered a special edition double scoop chocolate biscuit royale”). I just really wanted the chocolate biscuit guys.

I miss home. My word document autocorrects Qaysir to Mayfair and I wonder how many other invisible immigrant cab drivers have stories to tell. Don’t misunderstand me, my battle is not with white people, it’s with myself, because I’m slowly realising, maybe I don’t feel Indian often enough.

PS: You can’t steal the Kohinoor back, I tried.

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Melancholy Hill

Edinburgh, Not-So-United Kingdom
Day 11

Edinburgh is built for writers, and perhaps not entirely without relation, also a fortress for the marginally miserable. In literature, we use the term pathetic fallacy to describe the phenomenon of human attributes and conduct being transferred to inanimate objects of nature. There’s a reason why Wordsworth’s clouds are lonely, or why we secretly imagine ourselves to be in a Bollywood movie when it rains – human beings cannot help but try and find echoes of themselves in the environment around them. People ask me why I started writing poetry, and I can’t explain to them that I’m simply attempting to put into words the experience of a perpetual yearning – to be heard, to be understood, and to not be alone. We create metaphors because comparisons with things outside of us creates a mould within which we are comfortable. The parts of ourselves that we do not quite understand, and thus cannot articulate in conversation, often remain ungraspable sensations in our chests – the goosebumps you feel in the warm winter sun, the pain in your calves from a long day of walking, nostalgia for places you haven’t even been to – how do we talk about things they haven’t yet created words for?

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The walls whisper secrets here, of forgotten tombstones, burnt witches, suppressed rebellions and a time that has been lost. With three days of relentless rain, and bent shivering backs inside thin sweaters, I find myself with a winter’s heart on a summers day. You see sadness is never scheduled for July, let alone when you’re #eurotripping with your family for a month, and so my deviant emotions are quickly absorbed into more acceptable narratives. Society does not, and can not, tolerate dissatisfaction because it is the most obvious form of direct critique – I mean what would cities write on their tourism brochures – “Come here! You may or may not be happy, but it’s worth a shot!” The only logical option remaining when the majority is giving you the evil eye for being a black demerit in their chart of perfect gold stars, is self-doubt – “Is there something wrong with me? Am I not made from the same cotton candy like the rest of them?” For someone that has struggled with, and largely overcome, clinical depression, moments of anxiety are only cause for more anxiety. Alarm bells go off in my head whenever the slightest pain in my chest returns, forget happiness, it has taken me tremendous effort to be okay with not being okay. Sitting on a park bench on the first day of sunshine is sunny Scotland, I am processing the life I have chosen ahead of me. I don’t talk about it much, because we never talk about it, but I am sometimes paralysingly afraid that I have made a series of bad decisions from which I can never turn back. I don’t know if I’m meant for the job I have gotten, or if I let go of friendships that might have meant something, or if I even truly know what my passion is. I met a wonderful woman a few days ago and she told me she lives a life governed by the content of her eulogy – What will people say about me when I die, did I truly live? Sometimes I fear people won’t say anything at all, because no one will remember to show up for my funeral.

God Nandi take a Xanax, what is wrong with you. *Snaps back* It’s all Edinburgh okay, it’s not me I promise, ask my three friends, they’ll tell you I make jokes all the time (which are great by the way, don’t believe everything they say). You know the strangest thing though, I absolutely love it here. The walls hug you with a faint familiarity, like you’re meeting a long lost friend who has been through similar struggles as you have. I believe that this might actually be one of the few places that puts “Maybe it’ll be okay” on IMG_20170711_170003_01its brochures. Edinburgh is okay with not being okay. It’s a city designed, factually, to be the first line of defence. Paris, Madrid, London and other large capitals are cities born into beauty, their walls are glossed with a certain perfection, and as you curve your way around the bend, the streets move with you – flowing with effortless charm and charisma. Edinburgh is rough around the edges, literally. Every building is jagged and sharp, with greying brown walls and sky-high spikes that warn approaching armies of a toughness, an intimidating exterior to protect its fragile heart. Its walls, like mine, are built tall with fear – you only need to protect that which is actually vulnerable from inside. It stands as the imperfect testament to a perfect defence mechanism.

Kate-and-Williams-coat-of-armsThe English, often patting themselves on the back for being brave and strong, very surprisingly chose the lion as their national animal, and in response to their occupier, the Scottish looked for animals that were the lion’s enemy – thus finding, the elephant, and the unicorn. They chose the latter, because it was the only animal that Noah could not coax onto his ark – it is untameable, indomitable and can technically never die, because well, it does not exist. On their coat of arms, you will find this symbol of fearless rebellion in battle with everything that stands to subjugate its soul. Edinburgh is shamelessly itself, fearful or not, it will fight to remain genuine no matter what everyone else is asking it to be. See I want to grow up to be a unicorn, feeding on hay, – happy or sad, together or alone, but fearlessly myself, however and whatever that may be – on melancholy hill.

A day will come, and I’m certain it’s not very far, when my life’s story will be partially legible. The squiggles will fall into place to make sentences my weakened eyes can make sense of, and I will know, with a certain surety, that I did alright. 

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Madrid — Edinburgh
Day 9?

Standing at the duty-free check-out counter of Delhi’s international terminal, I hesitantly handed the cashier my two packets of Wrigley’s chewing gum, a bottle of water, a container of overpriced sunscreen, and the palm of my hand. “Okay, this is costing you Rs. 359 and a quarter of your independent agency.” Boarding passes aren’t the only things that get stamped when you travel, because I’m slowly starting to acknowledge that I have been unconsciously converting my experience into a checklist. Jumping through hoops of trip advisor recommendations, doing the limbo under bars that somebody else already set too high for me, I’ve unknowingly built myself an obstacle course of unrealistic expectations. We carry our lives like passports requiring permission to be lived –  we need copious amounts of paperwork to be in just the right order for us to know that we finally have enough now – you have fulfilled the prerequisite criteria to qualify for growth.

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I’ve spent a significant part of my short life being an exceptionally unhappy human being. For the longest time it felt as if I was watching my own life happen to me. I had voluntarily benched myself from the greatest game of cricket (chooses a safe conventional sport that her country is good at) ever to be played in the history of mankind. See I was too afraid to play the game out of the fear that I would inevitably, well, suck at it miserably, and too afraid to quit the team thinking I might actually be ready someday. I was constantly waiting for my life to begin, as if each passing day were merely twenty-four more hours spent queuing in line for the super-fun-rollercoaster-of-life that everybody else had been raving about. Happiness was perpetually deferred to the mystical and perfect land of tomorrow. The Spanish, it turns out, have reached a comfortable acceptance of the fact that their economy comes to a near standstill every afternoon due to the unavoidably important daily event of institutionalised napping; they have a word for collective procrastination called mañana, translating literally as Tomorrow. Waiting then becomes a sort of endless siesta – a state of nothingness in between two potential destinations. I suppose I’ve never thought about purgatory as a waiting room, or a coma, or a death in a sense, or rather, an absence of existence itself, because it pauses us as time continues to move on. It’s scary to think I had not been living for so many years. This seemingly random (and mostly contrived) digression is important if you are to understand why I am such an impatient person. Those who travel with me often complain of a certain unabashed selfishness I display for seconds of a day – this must be done now, now, always now, and never later. I am afraid of later, I am afraid of getting comfortable with waiting.

So I create schedules – if I can find a tangible and quantifiable indicator that I am going to a place, doing a thing, taking a stupid picture — if I have proof that I was here, that I lived, then maybe I actually did. These must-see must-do obstacle courses may be difficult, but they have an end that I can see, and that structures my often insignificant life into small meaningful goals. The trouble is, I can’t live this way anymore, it’s exhausting. My desperate need to press the play button sometimes has me putting on somebody else’s recorded show – the world is slowly taping over my life and I’m letting it. But I’m not the only one that borrows value, all of us do it all the time. Mandates for self-discovery seem inked into the fine print of every items’ terms and conditions we pack into our suitcases. Instagram hashtags, Facebook selfies and Snapchat geotags litter our phone screens with pictures of a life we never seem to be leading. When we travel we don’t just buy tickets to awaiting potential, but promises of a slow motion car chase and violins during candlelight dinner. I am realising that growth truly happens when IMG_20170706_093845_256you run out of toilet paper. When you don’t buy that expensive ticket to the scariest-historical-dungeon-in-the-world so that your mother can afford that special dinner at that restaurant you’ll never have fancy enough clothes for. Mom cooks eggs every morning here, and you should see the pride with which she looks at them. I tell her she should join Masterchef, she laughs at me like I’m being silly, and then smiles to herself for three minutes.

Shit don’t you realise it, we’re all still technically waiting – for #wanderlust to actually mean something, for the boarding pass to turn into a golden ticket, for us to somehow step out of our own lives.  If we create a mould for the perfect experience and keep waiting for that to occur, we’ll probably be benched for a very long time. I think we just need to pick up at the bat and swing a little, so what if we’re mediocre to begin with, I promise you, you’re ready today. You can’t wake up one morning and stumble into a century, life takes practice too. Essentially what I’m trying to say, and also learn, is that a good attempt now is better than a perfect tomorrow that doesn’t even exist. This is how we stop waiting. Maybe this is how we start living. For the record, no I’m not having sex with a ripped white guy, no I haven’t been cliff jumping yet, and no I don’t think I’ll have sex with a ripped white guy while simultaneously cliff jumping at the same time – that shit just doesn’t happen. It was number 267 on the must-try trip advisor list, so I even tried to schedule it in. If you hear of any supermarket selling toilet paper in bulk though, do let me know. Hopefully, the waiting time on that one isn’t half as long.

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Snails

Day 1.5 – Santorini, Greece
2nd July, 2017

Twenty-three hours of transit later, we arrive dishevelled, tired, partially broke, and broken at our rented apartment in the north-west region of Santorini, Greece. A family of four now disintegrated into eight pairs of tired calves, tiptoeing along lines of control to prevent total war, we paint a picture quite in contradiction to the calming hues of blue and green around us. Travel it turns out, is not always meant, hell, is hardly meant, for families. We packed hesitation in our suitcases, folding years of brimming conflict into neatly compartmentalised ‘we’ll-talk-about-it-tomorrow’ sections so that we can appear, at least outwardly, to have it all together. They don’t charge extra at check-in for excess emotional baggage, and so we seem to slip it in between our underwear piles, spilling through cracks of squeezed toothpaste tubes, fit snugly in the sleeves of our favourite sweaters – what you cannot see cannot hurt you: like the stale bunch of dirty clothes you shove at the back of your cupboard hoping object permanence in human beings was all a big hoax. I mean if you didn’t hear the tree fall in the forest, then the tree probably didn’t fall at all right. Or rather if you forget that such a tree even existed, then somehow the likelihood of your mother stumbling upon your musty pile of negligence is close to impossible – what clothes, what family problems are you even talking about?

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We all have them, and we all also wash our dirty laundry in private because the sacred boundaries of the family must be maintained from within. I mention all this as I sit by the endless sea, under a pitch black starry sky, because I realise just how much history we carry in our backpacks, constantly needing to escape it all when we take off for faraway places. Travelling with your family doesn’t allow you to run from your everyday life – because you will return home with the same people, the same whitewashed walls of your childhood bedroom begging for recognition – I grew up here. My parents and brother are essential paperweights to keep my growth grounded to the permanence of a life back home that is waiting for me. See transformation is easy when your wings aren’t clipped, when you have no reminders of ‘home’ to anchor you someplace different from here. Right now, in Santorini, I am simultaneously in two places, because looking at the faces that have raised me acts as the ropes tied to your stomach when you go parasailing – you can’t fly as high as you want to, but without these ties, you also wouldn’t be safe. I’m not sure when the idea of home became an idea. For others it’s a tangible building, an antique sofa set that your grandfather passed down, the smell of your unbathed dog, the taste of coffee, the hug of a loved one, but for me home has always been an ungraspable feeling. An essence of something I do not quite understand, and rarely live up to. I clutch at stray trains of thought in the hope that I’m able to board even one of them. Right now, I carry home with me. So imagine, how absolutely spectacular it might be to learn to fly with the weight of this anchor. It will build you from the core (literally also for the all gym buddies out there). You will leave stronger.

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I’m learning slowly, to let go of my selfishness. Human survival engineers our blueprint to prioritise our lived experience over everyone else’s. After all, nobody but us can inhabit the skin we walk around in, nobody can smell the salt of the sea in the breeze that brushes away the tiredness of yesterday. When we speak of memories or moments in retrospect, we are in essence attempting to recapture ourselves as we once were – transporting our bodies back in time so that our brain synapses are able to release similar neurotransmitters in similar patterns. It’s obviously never the same, and our efforts to relive become fleeting ghosts of feelings we can’t really shake hands with. I must remember that my parents are people too. That their aching soles have walked this earth for much longer, and much farther, than I could ever imagine. When we have a headache or a cold, we cannot remember what it felt like not to have one, and we also assume everyone else is somehow simultaneously experiencing the same pain – they’re not. Their pains are different from yours, their smells and vision and skin is different from yours – but it does not make it any less important. I have a wonderful feeling that this trip will rewire my restless heart with a certain slowness – the ability to respect other people’s lives as much as my own. My parents are people too, and they cannot keep up with my 22-year-old legs and my naively hopeful heart that dreams of adventure and romance in the hot summer sun.

Santorini is built for lovers, and while my love life is material for an entirely different sitcom, I harbour the hope that I will leave here with a stronger idea of home than I came with. I will wait, for my parents to be ready, for my brother to be bold, for the day to come to us, instead of rushing headfirst into a life that is exciting, but still somehow very lonely.

It’s beautiful here by the way. The airport employs literally three people, and the roads meander slowly and subtly, unfurling like the waves I woke up to this morning. The sun is harsh, but the water cools its angry tirade to give you a feeling of being pushed and pulled at the same time – like the waves I suppose, neither here nor there, neither home nor away. 

Snails might be slow, but they’re never lost, because they always carry home on their backs.