Lockdown tales – 2

Unable to meet in person, kiddo and her friends created a WhatsApp group to interact.

They had a discussion about something – few agreed and few didn’t. One kid left the group in dissent!

When I heard about it, I was surprised for a while… that’s something I had seen only with adults.

Then I realised, it’s a basic human emotion all the same.

When we used to play cricket, the kid with the bat used to control the dynamics. Offend him and he’d walk away with the bat. Unable to handle that, I pestered my parents to buy me a new bat… and I did my fair share of ‘walking away’ as well.

Amidst all that talk about technology changing lives, human emotions are the same.. and will remain so.

PS: I wish my parents had taught me how to deal with a situation like that instead of buying me a new bat.

Finding yourself. Losing your ‘self’.

For the last 2-3 years, I have been trying to be more of myself.

I used to live an outwardly driven life where others’ perceptions and opinions of me mattered… a lot. I wanted to achieve things, be respected and admired.

For some reason, since childhood, I’ve felt like an inadequate guy. Scared that our unforgivingly judgmental society would find out my inadequacies and reject me, I covered it up. With accolades, achievements, pretence and other props that made me ‘look good’ on the outside, but mattered less deep inside.

Those insecurities were my driving force.

Life was one goal after another!

I felt elated when I reached my goals and broken when I didn’t. The recognition I received when I reached my goals pushed me hard. That double edged sword also crushed me in my failures.

I couldn’t enjoy my successes because I couldn’t afford to stop. I couldn’t share my failures openly because I was scared of being judged.

Life was one stage play after another – I was an actor pretending to be an achiever. Never myself, never relaxed. Maintaining the house of cards was taxing.

Tired of running, I started looking inward.

I didn’t know much then. The first couple of years were empty, dull and depressing.

At that point, I didn’t understand why I gave so much importance to others’ opinion of ‘me’. My insecurities were embedded deeply inside and like most uncomfortable things, the mind buried it deep enough so that one doesn’t have to deal with it daily. It took a while and a lot of digging into to uncover the built-up anxieties and insecurities.

It became clear that I had bottled up childhood insecurities and was very uncomfortable in letting the world know of my shortcomings. I was scared of being rejected. That fear of rejection made me conform.

And when you conform so much, you stop being yourself. You chase the facades the society values – status, jobs, money, praise, etc. You essentially live other people’s lives rather than your own!

It became clear that my facades weren’t helping me in the long run. I had to discard them.

Discarding such facades is a deeply painful process. You have to open up unpleasant things about yourself and accept them yourself first, without judging. You have to be your own best friend and it is not easy.

Years of conditioning don’t go away immediately. There’s a lot of internal resistance. I think it is important to build mental immunity first before doing this. Without the mental immunity to handle it, one can drop straight to depression or even suicide. I credit my stint as an entrepreneur for having helped build a bit of mental immunity to handle this reasonably alright. I had two people with whom I could discuss nearly everything without filters, my wife and a close friend, and that really helped.

Once you cross the valley of facades, you’d think things would get easier. Nope!

As I kept peeling the layers of outwardness, hoping I’d find the ‘real me’, I didn’t find a ‘real me’, but only nothingness. The nothingness was extremely unsettling.

All those things that meant so much to me suddenly lost their importance. There was nothing to hold onto – to anchor my life and strive for. Seeking of any kind, the very thing that gave my existence so much meaning until then, turned unimportant.

When you seek, it means you have somewhere to go. However, when you introspect deeply, you realise your seeking is just a facade for your inability to just be yourself. Your facade is your uncomfortable-inner-self trying to be someone else.

When you become comfortable with yourself, you don’t need the facades. Without facades, suddenly there’s no need to seek. It’s as if I spent a lot of time shedding my outer-self in pursuit of a true inner-self, only to discover there’s no such thing.

It’s been a year now – and I am a bit more comfortable with the nothingness or whatever else you could call it. It’s still uncomfortable at times, but then it has helped me shed baggage and travel lighter these days.

Baggage of dreams

It was his first TEDx speech.

He rehearsed for yet another time on the way to the venue. A lot of people knew about his achievements already. This was his chance to let them know the story behind it – the pain and hardships he had to undergo to make it happen.

Not every seedling becomes a tree!

Dreams don’t just fructify out of thin air. They need intense effort, discipline and dedication. They need a lifetime of sacrifice. Stuff that people with broken spine simply cannot manage.  Continue reading

The circle of life

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As I take pictures of her, I’ve realised that it is not about her. It is about me.

It is about the memories we’ve shared. The times when she’d take me to Mohan’s or Chellaram’s or Higginbotham’s and buy those things dad would not. The times when she’d sit at her large desk in Collector’s office as the Tahsildar and I’d feel proud visiting her.

I realise it is about my childhood. She was my angel in that period. The person who I could go to for anything and receive undivided attention.

It is also the realisation that our relationship peaked in 1990s and has somewhat declined ever since.

Adolescence took me in a direction away from home. To look good in the eyes of outsiders, who I didn’t even know, mattered more than those at home. And adulthood took me in a different direction away from home too. The pursuit of things and the pressure of creating a career took me away from them.

It is very easy for me to repay all of that in money and kind. However, I cannot repay that in ‘time’. The ‘time’ she (or dad or mom) spent with me, I can never repay. The only way I can do it is by paying-it-forward.

By spending more time with my kids.

And I know my kids will spend less time with me one day. They will probably spend more time with their kids. That is life.

Sisters

We brought her home 2 days after her birth.

I was anxious. What does this do to our first girl? She’d shown signs of feeling neglected when Amma couldn’t spend time with her in hospital.

When we went shopping for the baby, she kept asking, ‘who are you getting these for?’. I got her a few toys and pretended like we were really shopping for her.

Mama’s time was now split and she probably realised things would change. And cried about it. I felt sorry for her.

Surprisingly, she warmed up to the baby very quickly. That night, she went close to her and caressed her feet. I took the baby and gently gave it to her. She held her for a while, very carefully.

“Appa, she’s sooo small,” she said.

I nodded my head, lost in my own thoughts.

Grandpa

Grandpa!

The only person who can give her completely undivided attention!

When she’s in Shimoga, grandpa’s orbit shifts around her. From taking her on his morning walk to having breakfast together, from having his staple evening masala dosa  to watching kannada plays and yakshaganas, from visiting friends to even taking her to medical council meetings… they literally spend all the time together.

Few days later, we return to Bangalore. He calls eagerly to talk to her.

“Tell him I’m busy,” quips she, cuddling her toys!

Being daddy!

She invades your personal space like no one else can. Yet, you don’t mind it.

She shares her fear of monsters and expects you to slay them. You hug her hard, for you were responsible in bringing her to this big bad world!

Her world is filled with good rabbits and bad wolves. Beanstalks that grow to the sky and ogres taller than trees.

And princesses locked up in castles!

It hurts you no end that the rescuer is always a prince in shiny armour. Not daddy!

There’s only one man in her life. Daddy. You think, wishfully.

One day, she will be out seeking a new man of her choice. You have to let go!

Relationships are hard and messy. Yet, being a daddy to your little girl is special. You’ll do it again without batting an eyelid.

Anything is fine!

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Every Sunday, I visit her at a long term care home.

Looking into her eyes, sometimes, it feels like looking into a deep well that leads to nothingness!

That is not how I know her!

I know her as a strong minded single lady who became the 2nd woman Tahsildar in Ooty. As the kind aunt who pampered me a lot – those expensive lunches (for those days) at Shinkows and Spencers in Ooty and outrageously priced toys at Chellarams and Mohans! The warmth of her love and affection above it all!

Or, frustratingly, as the lady who picked battles that didn’t make sense (to me) – like spending all her savings on a 40 year case that went nowhere. There were a lot of things we didn’t see eye to eye on, and quarrelled often for. Yet, we had a strong bonding.

She was always very involved. She gave it all. Once she was in, she was all-in. No half-measures! People were bad or good, things were right or wrong. Black or white, grey didn’t exist.

On November 25th, she was found unconscious and was rushed to hospital. A massive stroke left her motionless on one side of her body and more importantly, robbed her off her emotions.

Those very emotions that I have come to see as my aunt – having largely accepted her flaws as time has passed. I miss those.

It feels strange. She is alive. Yet, I miss her. I miss those emotions – those fights, those warm weekly calls, those arguments on yet another lawyer bill.

The last 3 months have been stressful, but time heals everything. I am now thankful that we had our moments. I don’t pray for anything – I can embrace anything. If she disappears into oblivion never recovering from her state, she will be just fine. I will be too. If she recovers and embraces me with all her being, that is fine too. Things can get bad, painful and sorrowful – that is fine too! Or better, that too, is fine!

Anything is fine. These two months, I have learned to remove expectations. That helps!

At the risk of misinterpretation by someone, I quote my opinion on life.

To pass through this brief life as nature demands. To give it up without complaint.
Like an olive that ripens and falls.
– Marcus Aurelius (Meditations)

Shutter jam

I am a professional photographer.

Strange things are happening around me! I cannot explain it yet.

I think it all started after that particular client meeting on August 5th. The meeting was a disaster!

We met at CCD. The old man wanted a photographer for his daughter’s wedding and had asked for my portfolio.

I would have been fine if he had simply rejected me. He rubbed it in by laughing at my photos. “Enappa idhu? Ondu photo’nu nettagae illaa!”, he pushed the sample album aside with a smirk on his face.  It was the most humiliating moment in my career! He didn’t even pay the coffee bill, I had to.

What a jerk!

As he got into his car, I took my camera out. For some reason, I wanted to take his picture.

I pressed the shutter button. It didn’t work. Damn!

The shutter button had gotten jammed. I took it to the service centre. The technician took it in. He came back after 10 minutes and said he didn’t find anything wrong with the camera. The shutter button worked just fine.

“Really?”, I asked. Continue reading

The last novel

“Which idiot is calling me at 2am?”, he muttered annoyingly as the phone rang, piercing the silence of the night.

“Hhhelloo?”

“Listen to me carefully, Simon. Don’t waste time trying to understand whats happening now. There’s been a murder… your best friend Vishal is dead. Dress up immediately. Go to 14th cross and locate a brown coloured Maruti Omni. They are running away. Go now… gooooo”

“Whhh, whoo is this!?”

Dead tone. The person on the other side hung up.

He called Vishal immediately.

“The number you are trying to reach is switched off”, an automated voice answered.

“Smitha, Smithaaa, get up! Get up!”, he nervously shouted.

“What is it? Another emergency case?”, Smitha woke up annoyed by her husbands sudden action. “It’s time you quit your police job!”.

“No, this is serious. Someone called me and said Vishal is dead. His phone is switched off too. I need to go and check.”

“Ah.. that guy! Might be a prank of his. Or another attempt to create content for another novel that no one wants!!”

“Smithaa, don’t waste my time. There was something strange about that voice. It didn’t sound like a prank call. Oh, Smithaa, there’s no time. I am leaving now.” Continue reading