If I were to tell you

We are on top of the Koules Fortress ( or  Castello a Mare, “Fort on the Sea” in Italian, says Wikipedia) in Crete. The place is surrounded by a high wall with large window like structures, the kind you see on castles? Some of these face the Aegean sea. The breeze from the sea is unbelievable, extremely strong, so strong it is not a breeze, it is wind. You don’t feel it because of the wall. But when you go to these windows, it pushes you so hard, so hard, you have to make an attempt to stand straight. Or even breathe. It is not easy. So I put my hands out and stand there. Zo stands next to me, her tiny body finding it even tougher to fight against the wind. We don’t fight. We stand. The Dude takes a picture from behind us. If I were to tell you about happiness, I would talk of this moment.

We are in this very shady room in a very shady hotel in this tiny place called Ramtek.  The room has bright pink walls. The tubelight is dim, almost flickering and is reminiscent of the old days where we had ‘power fluctuations’. The flush in the bathroom doesn’t function, and the bathroom doesn’t lock either. It is not nice. So we take out the Bacardi we have brought along (or Vodka? I think Bacardi). We order a couple of cokes (which come in the old glass bottles of yore), and something called ‘Lasun fry’ (fried garlic, we were curious), which turned out to be exactly that – garlic cloves fried and sprinkled with salt and chili. We eat, we drink, and we forget about the dingy hotel room and sleep comfortably till the next morning, when we continue our drive to Pench. Turns out I didn’t seem to think this was anything fascinating back then, but now, if I were to talk of all the fun times I have had, I wouldn’t forget to mention this.

We drive down to Goa, starting early and make it there post noon. We check-in, dump our stuff, change into shorts, and head to the shack on the beach. Zo has just turned 2 a month ago. I am here for my 31st. We settle down, order a couple of beers, a plate of prawns. Zo sits next to my chair and gets busy with the sand, thrilled beyond belief, because now that I think of it, it is her first visit to a sandy beach where she is allowed to play in sand. The afternoon is bright, but doesn’t hurt. The sea breeze is brilliant. There is no where to rush to, nothing to do, everything seems just right. If I were to talk of content, what I felt at that moment would describe it best.

It is pouring heavily, the roads are flooded, but we have been made to go to school. My sister and I, in raincoats, hers pink, mine blue, are in a near empty school bus. We reach school, and it is closed. ‘School closed due to heavy rain’, a board outside says. The bus turns back, only it takes a relatively longer route. To escape water-logging, maybe? But I am not sure. The few of us in the bus are thrilled. It’s like a picnic! A couple of more daring boys stand near the door. We remain seated. The bus goes over puddles splashing water everywhere, water’s spraying us through the windows, and it is amazing. Sometime on ride back, we open our tiffin boxes and eat, expecting to take much longer to reach home. We are home in another 10 minutes. But if I were to tell you of the adventures I have had, I would tell you this story too.

There is this movie we want to see, and it is playing at Apsara theatre, which we checked in the Dainik Jagaran borrowed from our neighbours. The four of us reach there early, so that we can get tickets. We do, quite fast, and there is still an hour to the movie. ‘Let’s go eat Kulfi Falooda‘, my dad says. I don’t know what it is, but I am quite thrilled. We walk to this famous place near Ghanta Ghar, and my dad orders four plates. They are massive chunks of kulfi, covered with dollops of falooda. We dig in greedily. It is delicious. Halfway through, I realise that this is going to take long. And I wonder if there is enough time to finish, and then walk back to theatre before the movie starts. My parents tell me not to worry, they would take care of everything. I feel better, and concentrate on my eating.  If I were to tell you about how amazingly simple childhood is, this is a tale I would recount.

I sit for more than a week, wondering why there seems to be nothing I can talk about. I try my hand at funny, I try my hand at venting, even general rambling, but nothing works. I give up. I stop stressing. I stop thinking about writing anything at all. And then, as I am reading through my feed, I come across this blog post. It is talking about seagulls. I remember this one day, when I saw this one seagull and I comment about it on her post. And a flood of memories from that day come rushing to me. And I start writing this post.  If I were to tell you, that all it takes is one memory, one thought, to counter your writer’s block, I would be darn well telling you the truth.

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Happiness theories

With Amazon’s 3 month trial on Audible, I decided to take a risk and try out something beyond my usual genres. I am heavily into fiction, but with the highly recommended Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari – I took a leap of faith into an unknown world. My justification? Well, someone is reading it out to me, while I am driving. I just couldn’t fall asleep. Needless to say, the experiment was a huge success. Not only did I love it, I recommended it to others and made them fall in love with it too.

This post however is about my favourite part of the book. And this came around hour 13 of this 15 hour long book.  Yes, that late. I mean, I liked everything in it, but this was what stayed with me in utmost clarity. The second last chapter- as The Dude corrected me, because I thought it was the last. The chapter was about the human perception of happiness.

What it says is – and it isn’t something you haven’t heard before – happiness has 3 theories. One has to do with expectations, and since expectations are variable, you cannot really meet them and by that equation, can never be truly happy. The third talks about it being an abstract concept which humans themselves are unaware of. So technically, we are ourselves absolutely unaware of what happiness is for us, and so we keep trying to pursue it, ending up exhausted and frustrated, but never truly happy.

But my favorite theory was the second. It says, that happiness is determined by our internal biochemical constitution. And that, we have absolutely no control over it. Yes, we might identify things we believe will give us happiness, and work towards them. And yes, achieving what we want might give us momentary exhilaration – but over a period of time, we fall back into the happiness range that our bodies have predetermined for us.

So basically, the pursuit of happiness, is pretty much a waste of time. Because, as this theory explains, and so does experience, there is no point to it. It won’t make a difference really. Why else do we feel unhappy for no particular reason so many times? Why, most of us, if asked what would make us truly, genuinely happy, don’t have a concrete answer? Yes, for someone undergoing extreme misfortune, an end to such ill-fate might make him happy. But for how long? How long, till the person returns to neutral state? In fact, it is this neutral state, which is different for different individuals, that seems to explain why some people are perennially unhappy, despite all that they might seem to have. And others seem extremely content and happy with the little they do.

I can’t think of an answer, except for this theory. Whatever you do, how much ever you try, whatever you gain, your happiness levels will fluctuate in your pre-determined ranges, and any sudden up or down, will eventually subside.

Does this mean we stop doing things that make us happy, however superficial? Does it mean we give up all things material – since they are supposed to have little or no impact on happiness anyway? Nope. This is where I am pretty clear. These things, especially the little experiences, the things we buy, the things we own, agreed they might be doing little or nothing to alter our happiness quotient. But they do spark a bit of joy, even if for a day, or an hour. And for a life which seems to have pre-defined highs and lows, these bits of joy seem good enough as something to look forward to.

So yes, I have made peace with this explanation for myself. I realise that this might seem like quite a quitter thing to do – you know – give up, because you have convinced yourself that you have no control over it? But surprisingly, it doesn’t seem to matter. It has also given me a lot more tolerance and patience to deal with people, who for no reason, believe with all their heart and soul that they are just not meant to be happy. Because turns out, they are not wrong after all. Only it is not their destiny, or fate, or karma that is causing this.

Just their low levels of serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.

Guilt-tripping

Yes. I am guilty.

Guilty of not having picked up a book after the one I finished one on the last Thursday. I need a break and I am taking it. Plus, the weekend was so crazy busy that I had the soundest of sleeps on Sunday night, with me waking up only once or twice to switch the AC off and then on. It’s a bloody miracle!

Guilty of hogging on a multitude of sweets yesterday. Admitted, I did the same on Sunday too, but Sunday was 1) the weekend, which means I am allowed to cheat as much as I want 2) Vishu, which means I was visiting mum, who decided to make the world’s most delicious malpuas so you cannot blame me. But yesterday was Monday – so I shouldn’t have stuffed myself with all the homemade Mishtidoi (Mom’s fault). And Shrikhand (mom-in-law’s fault). And random cream biscuits (Deux. You know them? You should try them. Oh, also, totally my fault).

Guilty of spending way, way, way too much time on Netflix and then following it up with a lot of Instagram. I mean, I always do, but I thought I had it under control of sorts, what with all the books that were taking my time. So this is in a way an extension of guilt no 1. By the way, I have just started on Queer Eye on Netflix and I am hoping it will re-ignite my once prevalent love for reality TV (Project Runway, America’s next Top model, even Roadies!), which has been restricted to MasterChef Australia for a while.

Guilty of not spending enough time with Zo. Now this is a guilt-trip I have been on for the last 7 years, 6 months and 2 days, so I am not sure if I should be mentioning it at all. You see, for all the independence you claim, for all the self-love you believe in, the moment this one human enters your life, and gives you so much importance, that you are forever left feeling that you are not doing enough, and what did you do to deserve all this unconditional love and adoration? Damn you motherhood.

Guilty of still giving in to excuses – once in a while – but more often than you’d want. But I guess that’s the way it works. Again, what is it that makes you feel that whatever you are doing, how much ever you are doing, it is never enough?

Guilty of writing this post solely because I needed to title it with G. Am I excused?

Endurance, or the lack of it

I started driving at 33, and had to be practically forced into it. I was very happy otherwise, riding my scooter or taking huge-ass buses and cabs that the company provided. I almost didn’t see the need to learn driving. And just when the world became a much easier place to navigate with the Ubers and Olas making an appearance, I decided that maybe, just maybe it would help if I had my own car?

I had learnt driving officially before, not long before, when I was 31? I didn’t have to give a test, I’d had a license since when I was 18 (I am from UP, if you are wondering how). And still, I felt no pressure to actually use that ‘skill’. It was just too much effort and I was way too comfortable already. Comfort, in my opinion, is non-negotiable.

Which makes complete sense if you think about what made me eventually decide to take the plunge. Actually, it was a combination of things. See, I also had decided vehemently that if I drove, it had to be an automatic. Because, in line with my usual lines of thought, it was just too inconvenient to use both feet and both hands while driving, I mean seriously, what is this expectation? As if it’s not enough to keep your eyes and ears on the road, you have defined responsibilities for each limb too? No thanks. So an automatic it was. Comfortable and sensible.

But getting an automatic car – ok, let me elaborate – getting a second hand automatic car isn’t all that easy. Second hand because I am quite a wuss when it comes to handling expensive stuff by myself and having the responsibility to ‘maintain’ it. Admittedly, the second hand car wasn’t cheap too, but, at least maintenance had a different definition. A scratch here, a bump there, wouldn’t hurt as much on a car which had already seen some scratches and bumps, I decided. So yeah, turns out, automatic second hand cars for resale can be tough to find.

And even if we did spot one on Olx or Quikr, it would be at the other end of the city. So somehow, the discomfort of driving through the city to see a car that we weren’t even sure of buying was way too much. So I let it be. I was ok.

By this time, it had been a while since I had experienced the Hyderabad summer. And most definitely, it had been really long since I had experienced the Hyderabad summer on a scooter, at 11 in the morning. And one fine day, I did. I still remember, it was at this signal, where I had been stuck for a 5 whole minutes ( this was a 2 km commute to work). I was already sweating inside my helmet. And here, as I stood waiting for the signal to turn green, the sun shone down on my legs encased in my beige (60% cotton, 40% viscose) Van Heusen trousers. And they were on FIRE.

I think that was the deciding moment. The summer sun let me know that maybe I wasn’t as comfortable as I thought I was. Yes, it helped that right at this time, this couple in our community was moving abroad, and so wanted to sell off their 5 year old automatic I 10 ( the only car I had ever considered) at the earliest.

Needless to say, we grabbed it. And the rest, as we say, is history a blog post I wrote 3 years ago. I am still wary about the road. I hate the traffic. We have moved far enough to warrant an hour long drive (both ways put together). But I have my music, my audio books for company. And yes, it hurts to see the two wheelers snake their way through the gaps and maybe even reach their destination before I cross one signal, but one thing makes up for all of it.

The fact that it is summer, the sun shines in all it’s glory, but my air-conditioner ensures that I know nothing of it.

Deadline? What deadline?

See. It works this way.

My life is full of deadlines. ASAPs and timelines and time-ups, We cannot afford a delay. This is critical. This is priority. Please ensure that we have this on time. Needs to be done by EOD. Has to be done. By EOB. My EOB. Do it. Now.

And then there are those self-imposed deadlines. Don’t take a tea break now or else how will you send this out by 5 and have enough time to get the feedback and make changes by 6? Because you have to leave by 6, or else the traffic will be bad and you will not be home in time to be able to a take a breather before Zo returns from the playground at 7. Which is when you have start her homework, because she will take a full hour to finish it, what with all the anecdotes from the day she will pepper this time with. And you need that to be done on time for her to start her dinner at 8. So she finishes by 9. So you have that half hour to read with her, so she goes to bed at 9:30. Because that’s non-negotiable. Because how else will she wake up without a fuss when you wake her up tomorrow morning at 7? Just how?

That was a glimpse into 4 hours of the 24 hours that make up my day. A mere sixth of the time, less than a fourth of the awake time. So yes, there are way too many deadlines and timelines I need to stick to, just to keep my life going the very routine way. And when there is a deviation from this routine? Oh My God do we even try to start explaining what happens then? When everything needs to be adjusted to ensure everything gets done anyway, just because that one new thing got added for today. Not fun really. Maybe that’s why, despite the thrills of spontaneity, the excitement of the unknown, the fun in ‘playing it by the ear’, the heart still craves for monotony. I mean, it might be boring, but atleast I know it. A routine, is an underrated sentiment that we cannot do without – atleast I cannot.

So amidst this chaos, amidst all these teeny-tiny happenings of the day that seems to be working like clockwork – there is a mental clock that’s constantly ticking, taking notes, setting off alarms, not allowing you to snooze. Just so that things go on like they were meant to.

Which is why, I don’t need yet another deadline looming over my head, telling me to ‘write that blog using the letter of the day before midnight strikes’. And further, before I try to argue about time zones across the world, it adds – ‘YOUR midnight’. So no, thanks. I don’t want to. I will not. I shall not. I refuse to.

In my world, D for deadline is today, in fact, because I just finished this post, it is right now.

Children, childhood and general nostalgia

I think I have said this before (ofcourse I did!), but one my pet peeves is (and has been for 5 years apparently) people going on and on about how childhood isn’t the same anymore, what with the children of today hooked to mobile phones and gadgets – and who don’t get to enjoy the outdoors and made-up games we used to play ‘in our time’. It annoys me. Stop complaining people – yes there are gadgets and games and stuff that didn’t exist before, but seriously, is it actually all that bad? And if it is, and you think I am being naive, guess what? There is a fix! Stop giving your kid the damn tablet!

Anyway. This is not a rant post. I just had to get it off my chest because someone said this today and I rolled my eyes and I think they noticed but it just didn’t work well enough. For me, that is; it worked alright for them. They stopped immediately – maybe because they realised that it was a generic comment I didn’t agree with. Or maybe they didn’t want me launching into a tirade of arguments against what was such a generic comment, I don’t even get why people make it.

Back to the children. You know how they say that you relive your childhood again through your children? Turns out, there is a fair bit of truth in this very cliched line. As Zo steps into an age that I have clearer memories of being in myself, everything she says, and every thing she does, triggers a sense of excitement. Toned down, yes, but very much there. For example, she recently motored through 3 of the 4 books from Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Woods series – a series I had loved and cherished as a child. Just to hear her talk of the Topsy-turvy land, and the Land of do what you please and the Pop cakes, and the Slippery-slip made me recount all the time I had sat back and dreamed of these things. They sounded as magical and as amazing as they did those 28 years ago.

Going to her school has it’s own charm too. The corridors, the classrooms, the playgrounds, the water coolers – everything triggers a serious sense of nostalgia. While I had a great time in school, somehow, when folks said that they thought their school days were the best, I never bought it. I mean, they were fun, but were we exaggerating a bit on the emotion here? Maybe, but maybe not. I mean, I might still not say school days were the best, but man, childhood? That was something.

To think, that the only worries we had were to wake up on time (not a worry, we were woken up, weren’t we?), get to school and study – seems like a dream! No bills to pay, no dates to remember, no tracking the cook on MyGate so you could make sure there is food, no juggling between work and home, no nothing. Just plain – eat your food, go to school, do your homework, maybe clean your room once in a while. The rest? All your time.

So I try to tell Zo – sometimes, to enjoy it while it lasts. The same old cliched statement that I heard as a child from grown-ups, trying in vain to explain why growing up was overrated. How adulthood sucked. And how we were lucky to be kids. And we rolled our eyes at them thinking ‘Come on! You get to do everything you want. No one to tell you anything. Sigh. When will I be that lucky?’

And guess what ? You will be, that’s how the world works. So soon, that you will sit back and wonder where all the time went. So soon, that it won’t even register. So soon, that you will start feeling that everything was such a long time ago, did it even happen?

That soon. Too soon.

Excuses, Excuses

I haven’t slept well this week. Partly because circumstances, partly because I tend to go off-track the moment I feel that maybe I am doing enough already. Or when I think ‘I need a break from all the planning because there are too many things happening at the moment’. Like, for example – if I have calls that end at 10:00 PM, it means I still have an hour to sleep before my self defined time to sleep. But, because I have been busy until 10, I feel the need to do things I would have otherwise, say I was not busy till 10 – because come on, I have earned it. Which, of course means that the time stretches to way past 10 and I am not in bed until 12. And that is ok for a day, but not for the whole week.

Now this has a cascading effect. Because I feel psychologically exhausted if I haven’t clocked 7 hours in bed, whether or not I wake up groggy, I decide maybe it’s best not to run that day. So I don’t. This also however, does not translate to me using that time to sleep. I don’t. It just means – I haven’t run, and I am still groggy, plus I am guilty of having done nothing in that hour – which by the way, I realise only when the hour ends. And ofcourse, everytime I skip a workout – my explanation is – come on, aren’t I fit enough already? It’s ok to listen to your body (and heart, and laziness) once in a while.

Then there is other stuff. I told myself very clearly that I would cut down my time on the phone, and use it to read. Thing is, I have in fact cut down my time on phone. But, I now end up watching more TV, which again, is not exactly a suitable replacement to reading. My excuse? I have recently embarked into the world of Audiobooks (refer last post) and my drive of roughly an hour a day is spent listening to a book. And after thorough analysis I have concluded that it counts as reading too. So I am not really cutting down reading, am I? Yep, I am.

I do it with food too. I can’t stress on just how much I love food. I love food, food is glorious. Any food, but in my case, if it’s sweet it’s heaven. I am controlled, most of the time, and definitely over weekdays. But there are days I go overboard, and how!  And my explanations range from 1) I have a cold, you are allowed to eat what you love when you are unwell 2) I am sad, you are allowed to eat what you love when you are sad 3) I anyway run and burn it all, and haven’t people told me I look too thin recently? 4) I will eat today and not eat anything tomorrow (which is the biggest lie in the world) 5) I think I am controlled enough to deserve this. Which is all alright, except, my overboard is  half a kilo of soan papdi followed by a bar of chocolate followed by a granola bar, followed by 6(!) Oreo cookies – after  dinner.  Not alright for anyone, however healthy-fit-awesome, by any standards.

Then, I tell myself that it’s because I am usually particular, and guess what, slip-ups happen. And all I need is a shake-up to get me back on track. Sometimes the shake-ups come early on, like 3 extra kilos on the scales and I will get back to senses – and put on my running shoes the very next morning. Sometimes, they are way too late – like when I end a year having read 9 books (only). So I need a plan – and constant self-counselling to ensure that I don’t completely give in to Joey’s theory of – When you are doing something wrong, do it right (in my case, keep doing it).

Because from where I see it, that already thin line between explanations and excuses is fast disappearing.