Sunday, February 18, 2018

Welcoming Christmas... In a T-shirt

Dear Reader,

I have a request for you before you read the following piece. It is a time-traveler request. Imagine yourself transported to Christmas 2017. Do you remember how all the malls, hotels and restaurants were adorned by giant Christmas trees? Can you recall the warmth of fresh waffles and mulled wine against the harsh winter? You can? Then we're all set:


I’m a Delhi girl.

Why do I begin with this?

Because I’ve never seen a December that isn’t cold. Christmas has always been a time to sip hot coffee through chattering teeth. But this Christmas is different. I’m in Mumbai.

Why am I here, you ask? Well, this is the City of Dreams. Isn’t it? I came here looking to make a name for myself in that most glamorous of industries. True, I haven’t made much headway yet. But I did manage to meditatively gawk at all of my favorite celebrities’ homes, trying to bribe the guards to let me sneak a peek at what lies beyond those massive doors.

Wait. I hope you didn’t buy that! Because I am none of that.

I’m just a regular girl, whose job, like thousands others, has brought her to the city. I work for a company that proclaims itself to be the entertainment provider for our country. And that’s about as close as I can ever get to Bollywood. No, I didn’t want to be here. No, I didn’t ask to be here. No, I don’t yet hate or love the city. But yes, I am here nonetheless.

Coming back to Christmas. It is the Twenty Fourth day of December, the last month in the Two Thousand and Seventeenth year after Christ (24.12.2017). Christmas evening. And I’m sitting here, with the fan speed turned to maximum, with no plans of going out anywhere, turning all my attention to this white sheet of paper that I can’t even touch.

Seems like the perfect time to go into a flashback, right? Don’t worry, it’s only about three weeks. After all, I just arrived!

Caution: It might get a little too depressing for some, but remember, it gets worse before it gets better… the night is darkest before dawn… or some such wise words.

Week 1:

I came with a heavy heart and even heavier suitcases. I’ve never been unhappier about landing in a city. The one-way ticket from Delhi felt like I was going away on a cruise, but didn’t know how long it will be before I see land again. To make matters worse, sea-sickness is a close friend.

That first evening here, my friends made sure I had no time to be homesick. The terrors of house-hunting were still a dim possibility. The possibility of not finding a decent place to stay non-existent. Yet from the way I’m trying to build this up, I’m sure you’ve guessed what’s going to happen yet.

Cut to the next evening, and we’re stranded in the rain. Cyclone Ockhi welcomed us with its arms wide open. Walking in the rain, trying and failing to hail a cab even as I felt the rain slowly drenching me through…the panic I felt rising in my throat…the helplessness and frustration at having spoiled my best office shoes right on day 1… the anger at the entire Ola/ Uber infrastructure just collapsing… I think I’ll remember that evening for a long time to come.

In bed later that night, I couldn’t help but wonder about what has life come to. I questioned myself as to why I was even doing this. What good could this job possibly do if it kept me away from my family? True, in hindsight it sounds a little extreme. But those few hours alone were enough to turn my world upside down and shake it all over.

That week I was staying on the 19th floor of a building that touched the sky. That’s about sixteen floors higher than any floor I’ve ever stayed on. While this effectively laid out the city below my feet (barring a few proud buildings, who just wouldn’t bend no matter how much I willed them to), it also isolated me (lonely at the top?). I could see the rain fall, but not hear it pitter-patter. I could see the cars crawling around in the streets below, but only hear the loudest of horns. I could see the people, tiny and insignificant as ants. By the way, have you ever seen ants? They are always so busy. Working so hard. But to what end? You don’t know. Neither do you care. That is what I felt for those people. I felt nothing. Now as I write this, I’m left wondering if our politicians see us the same way. Ants?

**Zoom out cinema style; from the girl typing on her laptop, to a view of her from the window, to a shot of the neighborhood she stays in, to a picture of the city all lit up at night, and further...**

(To be continued)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Conversations with Me: Round 2

We have a situation here. I’m in major trouble. I haven’t talked to TOM (The Other Me…for those who, like me, forgot that she exists or are meeting her for the first time) in more than a year and now I’m faced with the prospect of having that difficult conversation. What if she starts asking me questions I can’t answer? What if she doesn’t approve of what I’m doing now… the life choices that I have made? Will she understand my reasons for staying away for so long? Do I have any genuine reasons to offer?

It is with these questions, whirring faster in my mind than insects around a candle, that I head out (heading in would be more appropriate, no?) to meet TOM.

………..It begins with an exceedingly tight hug, which ends with a rather awkward silence………….

Me:        Umm…. Hi! You look nice.

TOM:     Wish I could say the same about you. Did you show your hairstylist a poodle’s photograph for inspiration? Have you grown a tail yet? **Does a quick check** Damn. Not yet. But soon. Very Soon.

Me:        Thanks for that! You’ve really forgotten your manners and etiquette!

TOM:     Well… Someone doesn’t talk to me. It’s been more than a year if my memory doesn’t fail me. The Doc told me I’ll die of emotional neglect one of these days. You know, nobody to talk to, nobody who truly cares… the same thing that mothers go through when their little ones leave home for high flying jobs, putting them in the empty-nester category? Ring any bells?

Me:      **Looks left and right, guiltily thinking of the parents I have left behind. Thinking of TOM dying because I never check on her doesn’t help either**

TOM:     C’mon! You can do better than that! You have Guilt written all over your face… I thought you would’ve learnt something at B-School. Looks like you forgot to take that course called “Effective Strategies to Implement Two-Facedness!” Anyway, what happened to your plans of changing the world? What are you doing these days?

Me:       **With well-rehearsed enthusiasm**
Well, I’m working my first job. I spend the days traversing every dusty street that the city has on offer, visiting neighborhoods that I never dreamt I’d visit…sometimes trying to do things which I believe to be outright unreasonable. But mind you, it’s an eye-opening experience. I meet so many new people each day. I’m learning how large corporates run, how the money flows, what are the practical difficulties that small businesses face… and lots more.

TOM:     Did I ask you about your job?

Me:       **Completely taken aback. It takes me a moment to come up with a lame response”
But I thought…

TOM:     Let me ask you again… what are you doing these days?

Me:        **Takes a long time to think… pondering over the significance of this question**      
You know TOM, I don’t really know. I’ve never found it this difficult to express myself candidly. Even now I’m wondering what if some company HR happens to read this? Will they take me to be someone always dissatisfied with what she has? Is this likely to ruin my future employment prospects? Do I always have to be politically correct? Everywhere I go, there seems to be this pressure of saying the right thing to the right people at the right time.
This entire job thing. Yes, it’s fun. Yes, the money is good. But what am I really doing? I’m 24. I should be doing way more than working in the field and snatching a few hours of sleep. I should be writing more often, reading more, partying harder, learning a new dance form, improving my calligraphy. But all I end up doing is purely operational work-related stuff. And then people expect me to come up with strategic insights about how XYZ can achieve greater heights. How does one even do that?

TOM:     I think I can understand your situation. But aren’t all your friends going through the same  thing?

Me:        Some of them are, yes. But I’ve never been this uncertain ever before. I don’t seem to have a goal anymore. What am I working towards? Yes, the writer dream is still there. But how does one even start chasing something this vague? Am I even willing to take that plunge? And when?

TOM:     Those are things you’ll have to break your head over.

Me:        **Smirking inside, thinking that TOM doesn’t really know anything about the real world and it’s struggles after all**
That needs time, which is the only thing that I don’t seem to have TOM. In fact, that is precisely the reason why I am so reluctant to go back home these days. Being idle at home lets my thoughts run in a thousand different directions. In the throes of this addictive drug called Everyday Existence, I can comfortably forget that I don’t know where I want to be tomorrow.

TOM:     **She begins with one of her irritating all-knowing smiles. As if she has just succeeded in making me confess something that I wasn’t willing to accept up until now**
Wow. That was sort of profound. Deep, in fact, by your standards… given that you haven’t done a lot of thinking in a lot of time. But I’ll give you hope… you’re still questioning yourself, you might be happy but still not satisfied, you’re still in touch with your deepest emotions (uncertainty, in this case. What does all this point to?

Me:        I know you don’t want me to answer. :P

TOM:     Well, yes. All of this shows that you’re still alive inside. You might not know where you want to be yet. But you do have that restlessness to do more, to be more. And without letting it sound like I’m consoling you or subjecting you to one of my hideously boring motivational speeches… this discontent is exactly what you need to succeed.

Me:        To be honest, it sounded exactly like both those things. But I’ll take your word for it.

With that the phone rings… Like a reflex I move to answer it. This conversation cut short, the train of thought lost, my brain once again abuzz with the data that I need to prepare and the reports that I need to send out. And just like that, those precious few moments that I had with myself were gone. I now realize that I couldn’t even get to the main agenda for this session with TOM. Guess that’s how time runs out…

(You can find Round 1 of these conversations at