Friday, December 6, 2013

Someone to Love

That’s my Achilles’ Heel. I’m a sucker for someone whom I can hold, cuddle and love. I have given up at different times my discernment, my standards and almost every shred of self-respect simply because I’m overcome by the need to shower all my love on someone. That has and always will be the basis of my relationships.

The downside to that is, I don’t really pay attention to how much love I get. It’s not that I’m not loved, or that it doesn’t matter to me. Indeed, every person I’ve been with at different stages of my emotional maturity has loved me – and in some part of their hearts – continue to do so. And vice-versa. But in every case, the relationship has ended when I’ve woken up to the fact that I’m not loved as much as I felt I deserved to be.

You know that saying – “Give someone enough rope, and sooner or later they’ll hang themselves”? I’ve been in the maybe not-so-unique position of being the rope holder as well as the person hung at the end of it all. You see, I have a threshold of giving and expecting nothing in return. I use it as my barometer. At what point will he understand how awesome I am and suddenly start giving me my due? And ofcourse, if he telepathically can understand that – then I’ll be his slave for life. But by the time that happens , if at all, I’ve already spent all my rope and died in the relationship. 

The fact however is – much as I bemoan the ridiculous presence of games in relationships – this has been the single most consistent game I have played with myself for all these years. My lovers, at some subliminal strata, have been experiments – and levels I’ve crossed – while I’ve honed lying to myself into an art form.

Until one day, an unplanned-for furball comes into my life. One look into her doe-eyed expression and I’m a goner. Like I’ll-kidnap-her-and-run-away-together-to-the-Andaman’s-and-nobody-will-find-us-forever kind of goner. I made no bones about saying so clearly to her then-owners.  There must be some truth to the concept of the Universe giving you everything you want because within a few weeks, she was in my arms, in my house, hiding under my couch as she became used to her new home and owner.

And, suddenly, without any expectations, I had someone to love. There was no game playing. I loved her, she tolerated me, and soon we adopted each other as ours. And as we sit together and watch TV shows late into the night (well, mostly she sleeps on my belly as I watch) or I write while she chases her shadow across the room, a startling thought comes into my head - I haven’t made a single booty call in months!

Now that can either mean I’ve gotten over men entirely, or maybe I’ve just gotten over regularly dropping my standards in exchange for a warm body. Either way, it’s a brave new world.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Committed, Strait - Jacketed

I’ve been accused of being commitment phobic by almost everyone I know. And the thing is – i don’t understand the basis of that statement. Looking back, I can’t imagine someone who is as committed as I am to so many things.

Let's look at the facts : I was the first among my peers to buy my apartment, thus setting down some serious roots in my adopted city. I work in the media – and God knows that needs a deep level of commitment because in the absence of immediate or substantial returns, there’s nothing to make you keep going on other than a commitment to your own vision. I'm taking care of a pet - and that's a 10-year plan atleast - in a time when people can't figure out what they're doing the next day. And finally, these days I’m working towards giving my family a financial future that few people have imagined. 14 months down the line, in the absence of familial or friend support, there’s nothing else but my commitment to my goals that keeps me going on, bit by bit, day after day, climbing that steep insane mountain that I can only imagine the view from.

But the truth is - I AM commitment phobic. I'm terrified of being irretrievably committed to my definition of myself.

(Cue song: "I'm a bitch, I'm a lover.." - Meredith Brooks)

This lack of rigid boundaries of the self has resulted in a series of different kinds of loosely defined and deeply analyticised romantic relationships that I've shared with some very interesting men. Well, boys. And the fact that several of them have not lasted beyond an average fruit-fly's lifespan has earned me the "commitment phobic" moniker.

That definition - and the basis of it - would be correct had there not been such a deluge of people proving it wrong.

Recently I met a friend who’s going through a divorce after 10 years of a rocky marriage. By no stretch of imagination can she be considered ‘flighty” or commitment phobic. And yet, a day after the papers are signed, her mother gives her the shpeel of ‘not having committed to the husband’ enough. 10 years and it’s still not enough. If you think about it, nothing will ever be enough because, in the narrative of our lives, until we get to the happily ever after with a significant other, our efforts have been incomplete.

The problem? There is no such thing as a happily ever after OR a single significant other. And yet, we spend so much of our time focused on achieving that mirage. And the sad part is - it's not even a unique mirage that we seek – just about anything that helps us feel not so alone.

These days I meet a lot of people. For someone who’s as anti-people as I, that in itself is a feat of discipline and commitment. But what is even more interesting is what i learn from all these people. Ask anyone to identify themselves in a single sentence and they will talk pretty much the same way:

 "I'm a (good / bad / interesting, etc)  (person / professional descriptor - artist, manager, etc)
who has a (house / family / job / other possessions)
that I (love, hate, enjoy, bitch and moan about, am working on, etc..)
and someday, hopefully in the next (time period)
I'll be (achieving a goal - holiday / charity / winning the burger eating competition.. etc)
that will make me (emotional payoff - happy / popular / loved / etc)

Before any of you jump to the comment form and write your unusual 'intros in a sentence' designed to prove me wrong - and I'll be interested to read them - I just want to say that if ever anyone has ever thought this phrase - "That is so not me" - it shows our deep and undying commitment to who we are, usually and often to the detriment of who we could be.

The truth is – as Baz Luhrman said so eloquently in his sunscreen ditty – the real things that will end up mattering in our lives are the things that will happen at 4 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Your daughter will have her head bashed in and you’ll suddenly be facing the death sentence, an unwitnessed moment in a darkened room will have you splashed across the front pages of the daily rags, fighting for your honor; one casual traffic violation by a stranger will leave your family mired in hospital bills for the rest of your invalid life. And no amount of “being a good photographer with a loving (but now paralysed) husband…” will change those things.

So the big question isn’t if one is commitment phobic or not – a quick look at the long hours we spend at someone else’s beck and call is enough to answer that - but what is it worthwhile being committed to? That romantic spark that may flare up intermittently in a boy-meets-girl scenario? Or the immense possibilities of who we can be if we can give up our self-definitions?

A long time ago, a friend told me that he categorized people as those with imagination and those without. That was a good distinction but what is truer is not the imagination, but the gumption to follow through. And that shockingly is in very low supply. Why? Because while facing new challenges revs up the adrenaline and clears out the cobwebs, maintaining a status quo strangles every last piece of gumption out of us. The reason is simple – the instinct of change comes from hope and the drag of the status quo comes from fear.
But all that is okay. What is really interesting is that if you ask anyone to imagine a future with a Tuesday 4 pm scenario, you will see the walls come crashing down, revealing briefly the terrified children who we all were and continue to be.

And this is what I have come to believe. We are all children who didn’t realise when we became grown ups and had to take the responsibility of adult decisions. We clung to what we have been told of the birth – job – marriage – death well-trodden path, and took it to be gospel truth. We believed it when the adults told us that we had to give up on our dreams to make it in the ‘real’ world. And we believed them when they said that if we knew our place in the world and followed the 'rules', everything will be all right and we shall indeed get our happily ever after.

The lie wasn’t the one they told us. The lie was what they hid. And that is one simple fact – all that we ever know, we ever believed and we value has come from people no smarter or wiser than us. If we make mistakes, so did they. Their lessons come from their existence, and the beliefs and knowledge that was handed down to them from another set of flawed, average people. So looking back through the infinity mirrors of our lives, it becomes clear that we’re doing nothing different from what our great grandfathers did. One would think with so many volumes of history books crowding every empty library these days, we would see the patterns and understand the futility of that choice.

But no. We cling to our carefully constructed lives and choose not to believe that our personal tsunami could be around the corner and our shackles will only pull us down.

Now if that’s what we’re going to be committed to, it is indeed scary as hell.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Girl, Instagrammed

You have a photograph of me. In that photograph, I’m laughing at a joke cracked by an unseen person, my face is lit up, I look pretty. You have another photograph of me. In that one, I’m smiling bravely through a hint of tears. I had got my heart beaten that day and you had been kind to me. You don’t know this but I was smiling because I saw you. You have a picture of me looking seriously at another person as I go through work. There’s one where I’m sleeping on your shoulder on a long bus journey. Even when you see me for hours in a day, you just have snapshots of me, frozen in time, out of context, yet forever true. You say you love me. And I wonder which snapshot of mine you’re thinking of when you say those words.

I’m terrified of the girl in those pictures. That girl is so happy, unfazed by the world, beyond reach and yet, she looks like at any moment she will turn and smile at you. You do love that girl. Who wouldn’t? She is the happiest, brightest, shiniest star in the Universe you occupy. Yet, you don’t see that – just like the star – by the time the light has reached you, the moment is already in the past.

I think that’s the beauty of snapshots. They last. They give you an illusion of eternity. Who wouldn’t want to love someone for eternity, if that’s what it looks like? A series of happy moments, that you will share. There’ll be no hint of worry in her, no insecurity, no incompetence, no qualities that you would consider deal-breakers. She will always be the way she is in any of your favourite snapshots, and you’ll always love her.

And then there’s me. I’m the girl who wonders if you’re telling the truth about love, or if I’ll again lose to my mistress, the snapshot. Will you wake up one morning and look at the real person next to you – the one who’s scared of everything somedays, who is clingy and sometimes needs validation, the mostly inadequate, awkward person (not in the cute gawky way) who lives and breathes mundane like it was going out of style – and wonder what happened to the buoyant, uncomplicated, positive person whose picture you took? Will you reject the person, or the photoshop tool that promised you much more than was there?

In the end, if our house was burning down and you could take just one thing with you, will you come for me or will you try to save the photographs?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

So.. A Kiss is just a Kiss...?

Looking back, I can see that I’ve been dumped quite often. My shortest relationship was of 20 minutes. Sam and I had been hanging out with each other on a FWB basis for a few months when, one night, in the middle of a loud raucous nightclub, when I was well on my way to happy inebriation, he asked me out. He said, “So.. let’s you and I go out seriously... yes?” I stared at him, at his sweet, earnest face, and then I said, yes.  We kissed and then I went to meet my friends who were sitting at a table some distance away. When I returned, my relationship was over. He said, “You know what? Forget it. It won’t work.”

Alex and I went out for a remarkable four days. He asked me out after we had been hanging out with each other for years. He’s the one who helped me get over my double-whammy heartbreak (the other Sam), and he pulled me laughing and bantering right back from the edge. Over a couple of years, he earned my trust, treated me well – and then, one weird evening while he was giving me a ride back to my place, he said, “So how about we do this for real?”

I stared at his face, which looked more shocked at the fact that he had actually asked me the question, and I said, “Okay.. why not?” We grinned, terrified of this step we were taking, betting on people who we weren’t sure could handle our most vulnerable parts, and went for it. Two days of sex later, I went to visit my friend who was dying of cancer. I returned to “we need to talk”, when I was informed that “This isn’t going to work, and it’s best we end it before anyone gets hurt.”

Andy and I lasted all of no days. One day, after hanging out over many cups of coffee, he said that he’d like to see where this goes. It’s been so long since someone told me that there was a potential distance to be gone, that I said yes. Then he disappeared for 3 days – no contact. We got over that hump, and then, after an emotional trip spent with friends, family and scattered loved ones – a microcosm of what I consider my extended family – I returned home and asked him if he’d like to consider belonging to it in some small way. He said he’d love to talk about it, and then he disappeared for a week. So I cut my losses and run.

What losses? Everytime I fall in with someone’s plans with me, it’s because I’m already a little in love. When I say yes, it’s because I’m already imagining what it would be like to hold hands, to sit together on the same side of the diner booth, what it would feel to sit lightly touching each other, while we read our books or just doing our own stuff, to have unplanned surprise lunches and movies out and dinners in. I go in wholeheartedly. I don’t know any other way.

So why do I get dumped? If I’m to believe what these guys say, it’s bizarre. Many years later, Sam told me it was because right after he’d asked me and I’d said yes, I’d not stood with him, but had gone to see my friends at the next table. I waited for more, but that was all that came. When I said, “Yes, but I came back,” he said that it was too late by then. That was eight years ago, and since then Sam has been trying to get back with me and wonders why I don’t pay him any mind.

In Alex’s case, and not to my knowledge, he had his sexy-ex walk back into his life over the weekend that I was hanging with my very ill friend. However since I’d gone (“so soon after we had started going out”), it was clearly a sign that I wasn’t serious about us. And so he gave us up. Now, so many years later, during which we continue to be friends, he’s worked his ass off trying to get back to a place of affection which was offered to him so easily. And he wonders why I won’t give him his spot back.

I don’t understand it. Maybe it was because they were sure I didn’t care. Maybe it was because the chase was over. Maybe they think that I'm made of stone and don't get hurt by such betrayals.. Maybe... maybe.. The bottomline is – guys seem to ask me out, and when I say yes, they disappear.

And now there’s Aaren. He’s someone I met through my new business venture. We’ve known each other for about 8 months now. Divorced, a media man by profession, someone my mom’s met twice and approves of madly. And he said he loves me. We work together quite closely and intend to for the duration of the next couple of years. So if things go south at a personal level, it’s going to be awkward for a few years. And considering he’s one of my major highlights in the business, the down side will suck a lot.

The last few days, ever since the great “you know what I feel about you” moment, we’ve hung out once a day at least. He’s sought me out, I’ve seen him in his office, I’ve introduced him to a friend of mine, we’ve held hands, we’ve spent the night and slept entwined with each other. And kissed a couple of times.

All these things are huge exceptions to my usual modus operandi. I don’t know when was the last time I was comfortable calling a boy in the middle of the day, absolutely certain that he would be happy to hear from me, maybe even make himself available for an impromptu lunch. Or the last time all this happened without me saying the “L” word back or diving into the sack with him.

So maybe he’ll follow the same route, and wait for me to fall for him, and then he’ll walk away because the chase would be over. Maybe the sex will be terrible, which is why he’s not pulling me into it. Or maybe.. just maybe.. he’s perfect for me, the real thing, and there won’t be a downside ever.

How terrifying is that?

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Year of Words...

Over the last year, I’ve become quite sensitive to a few words which, when strung together in a particular order, makes me want to break skin. In truth, this sensitivity has always been simmering under the surface of my skin, but only recently has it been profitable for me to actually get to the heart of them.

“I love my job.”

This particular sentence makes me day dream about the Japanese tradition of seppuku and how it’s infinitely better than having to sit across from someone who takes pride in “loving their job.” Don’t get me wrong, loving what we do – for a living or otherwise – is the one thing that separates us from the TV-sedated robots we call a citizenry. What makes me gag, however, is the acceptance that a “job” is the highest we can aspire to despite infinite proof to the contrary.

 The unfortunate truth is that, for our whole lives, we have been told that our greatest achievement will be creating wealth for another in exchange for the comfort of a monthly salary. That monthly salary would be a great thing to work for if we were guaranteed that it would never be taken away from us – the erstwhile “government job” – and that it would be enough to give us the creature comforts we want – the high-end corporate salary. And here’s where the problem lies – in order to make that high-end corporate salary come with the security of a government job (seriously, whom are we kidding? There is no security in the corporate world!) we spend years answering to someone else, fearing consequences of our actions, drowning our frustrations in end-of-the-day drinking parties, dreading the next day of the raised eyebrow from colleagues when you land up 20 minutes late to do nothing really of significance, and continue the cycle over and over for 40 odd years of your life while planning a relaxing retirement that we will be too old to enjoy.  

Add to this messed up mix a bunch of motivational speakers encouraging us to take ‘ownership’ of companies that will fire us in a heartbeat, and self-help books exhorting us to believe that if we can’t change our circumstances, then we should learn to change ourselves so that we can find peace (Stockholm Syndrome anyone?), we have no choice but to keep plugging away, convinced that we love our jobs and that it's a good thing. 

When we were kids, we were told by our grown up parents that when we grew up, we could do whatever we wanted. We dreamed of flying and living in rooms filled with candy and not ever making our beds. In the secret spaces of our hearts, we dreamed of somehow making a difference – as an astronaut or a superhero. Not many of us thought that when we grew up, we will sit in front of a computer in a cubicle and answer to another scary grown up called “Boss”.

And that’s the tragedy – not that we “love our jobs” but that we genuinely believe that this is as good as it gets. 

“Can I come over?”

No you may not. Not unless you want to come over and talk. Just talk. Or if you want to cook me a meal. Or tell me you love me. If you’re not doing any of that, if you’re not willing to find out who I am, if you’re not willing to stay in touch (not just 30 minutes before the inevitable question), if you’re not getting me soup for when I’m ill, if you’re not sitting on the couch and reading a book while my head rests on your lap as I read another, if you’re not waking up with me in the afternoon and saying “what shall we do today?”… If you’re not doing any of that, then no, you can’t come over.

Because if you can’t handle the boring mundane bits of me, you surely don’t deserve the best of me.

 “I’m happy not doing anything…”

Oh. My. God. I know it seems a bit contradictory coming right after the job-rant, but this phrase ranks lower than the proverbial dregs in the barrel of the loser party. Why? Because the sayer of these infinitely dumb words doesn’t have the right to be ‘happy’ about doing nothing. 

Unlike what popular literature has to say, happiness while certainly being a state of zen, is also an emotion that is earned. You can’t be genuinely happy, if you are not contributing in some way. If you’re not earning a living to support your family, if you’re not creating art that makes people feel not alone, if you’re not making it possible for strangers to change their life around, if you’re not using whatever talents you have to improve the world that’s quickly going to the bottom of the heap, then you don’t have the right to bask in the ‘happiness’ that this world has given you the ability to feel.

Recently, I met an acquaintance who told me that he’s been working on a screenplay for the past few months. He told me that he had bought a few books from where he was getting a few pointers, and that he was determined to finish it before taking on a new project. I asked him how long he worked in a day. He said, ‘3-4 hours.” And what do you do with the rest of the time? “I sleep. Or watch TV. I like to just rest because I know that writing requires a calm mind.” He is married to a nurse, with a baby on the way, and he has the gall to say, “I’m happy not doing anything right now because I have to give this my best shot.”

The same day, another friend looks at me beatifically through the haze of a cigarette smoke and justifies being jobless – and not even looking – for the major part of this century by saying “It’s a miracle I’m even alive, given how much I’ve abused my body. I’m happy just sitting back and enjoying this moment.”

Noble intentions, right? All about gratitude and such? Bullshit. You don’t have the luxury of being happy when – forget the world – your own house is not in order. I’m not saying that certain activities rank higher than others, I’m just gawking at the complacency of the person who seems to be extremely comfortable wasting whatever talents s/he has been endowed with and following the path of being ‘happy.’ If people without limbs can find a purpose, if they can affect others lives for the better, if they can accomplish physical feats beyond compare, they are the ones who have earned the right to be happy not doing anything because they have already done enough.  For everyone else, it’s the easy cop-out. The internal dialogue goes something like this: “I’m happy not doing anything…

…because I don’t want to find out for a fact that I can’t. If I want something more, and I work for it, and I fail, then everyone will know that I couldn’t get what I wanted, and I would be a failure. So it’s better by and large to want nothing, because that way, with the least amount of effort, I’m likely to get it.”

And at the end of the day, I find myself wondering if we’ve made it okay as a community to train ourselves to be happy with anything… It would explain a lot, including the steady decline of the human race.

“I can’t do this.”

If at one end of the pendulum are people who don’t want to achieve more, the other end is filled to the brim with people who believe that they can’t. And it’s not just them; their most beloved believe that they can’t do it – whatever “it” is.

Just yesterday, I met a woman who had started her own little venture a few years ago – something to do with providing errand girls for working women – “Do anything that needs to be done while you go ahead and be awesome!” As a concept it was really great, and a lot of investors found themselves keen. However, a few months into it, facing challenges at the home and the work front, she finally gave it up because – as her family said – “Baby, it’s destroying you. Why don’t you just give it up if it’s so hard?”

Not one of them said, “Tell me what needs to be done, I’ll work with you.”  Sure, offers to babysit or make dinner abounded but a new venture doesn’t just need handmaidens, it needs partners to bear some of the actual weight. It’s not really their fault. In a culture that views anything that women try as a “hobby”, or something to keep them busy or just ‘silly’, we have got trained to not reach out with help because ‘it won’t last’. This becomes so deeply ingrained that often, we end up looking at ourselves through the same refracting lenses of prejudice and be absolutely certain that ‘I can’t do this.’

The truth is, no single person can do it alone. But the truth also is, the people who care about you and your dreams the most are probably not the ones you believe they are. In fact, more often than not, your closest friends and family will let you down the fastest. But the most unfortunate part of this equation is that they will make it okay for you to give up on yourself because, after all, they ‘know’ you.

 “I’m not good with people…”

Honestly speaking, I have been guilty of saying that so often in my life that this is just the karmic cycle coming back to haunt me. The simple fact is, nobody is any good with people – we just learn to fake it as well as we can because picking our way through the mine-laden miasma of emotions and intelligence is a tough one. But just like everything else in our lives, this too becomes better with practice. There is no excuse for ‘not being good with people’ particularly when all our feelings of well-being and happiness springs from the people around us – our colleagues, our friends, our families, the stranger serving us coffee. 

And there’s enough literature out there in the world to help us – in fact, most of the religious texts are in fact instruction booklets on how to deal with people. Be kind, be respectful, don’t steal your neighbor’s wife etc – all clearly written down as a guideline on how to be better at this. But, just like everything else that was written in an instruction manual, you actually have to do the things to experience the benefit. And the advantages of it are incalculable. You want a new job – boom! People.  A raise? More people. A new dress – a designer who is *drum beats* a person! You want to create wealth? What’s the biggest resource we have – gasp! People. 

The secret weapon is ofcourse the fact that no one is good at it. Some people have just spent more time practicing. 

“I’m just not the kind of person who…”

Call it what you will. At the end of the day, we end up limiting ourselves much more than we ever give ourselves credit for. Words like “money isn’t what drives me” trip out a person’s mouth usually when s/he hasn’t ever made the kind of money that would make a significant difference to anyone’s life. “I’m more of an in-the-moment kind of person” is the standard response of anyone who is asked to think about and take responsibility for more than just his / her immediate requirements of food, recreation and shopping.  “I’m best at what I’m doing” is a phrase used mostly by people who haven’t done more than the one thing in their lives and haven’t discovered their immense promise. We forget that there was a time in our lives when we weren’t sure of who we were and what we were about and those were the most adventurous and rewarding years that we look back on with the greatest affection.

But just as a few sentences have made it to my hate list, there are a few more phrases that make me light up from inside. “Don’t worry, we’ll do this together” is high up there. Not said by many, and meant by even fewer, when I look around at the unlikely people – strangers almost – who said these words to me and meant it, I’m grateful that someone out there is looking out for me. “I’d like to see where this goes..” said while holding my hand, looking into my eyes, letting me imagine a future. It didn’t last, but atleast there was a promise, an intention – something that there’s so little of these days. 

The fact is, I suppose, we all have challenges that we face internally and externally. We face disappointments and betrayals, we celebrate victories no matter how small. But one thing I’ve learned over the last year is this – While many can convince us of how worthless we are, how devoid of talent or ability, we allow no one to convince us of our worth or our immense capability. 

And that’s the biggest tragedy of it all.