18 May

Pay day is suh-weet! Even if it comes on the 17th of a month, instead of the 1st. Such, I believe, is the fate of freelancers; payments are too frequently delayed. I’m earning a modest amount from freelance gig #1; enough to fund my coffee shop work days and a tiny bit extra. Which at this stage is acceptable.

Yesterday I got freelance gig #2 from the same friend who got me the first one. It seems as if this will pay more, though money will only come in when assignments finish, which could take more than a month. I’m planning on waking up at 5 AM tomorrow, brewing myself a cup of French Vanilla flavoured tea, and finishing the first target off by 7 AM, whilst the rest of Kolkata goes to vote. (I’m registered to vote in Delhi.)

I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with the financial security I was born into. My family’s habits are solidly middle class (rich people, even when they fall into poverty, I have noticed, live differently). When I was in middle school, I used to think that meant we were only the poorer end of the ‘how much do we have’ world prosperity scale. To be slightly fair to kid me, my school was full of the children of industrialists and rich people who fell into less money. Those kids brought money for chocolate tarts and eclairs from the canteen almost every day, whereas I felt guilty buying that (yummy!) ten buck chocolate tart once a month. And then we went on a social-awareness raising trip with an NGO, for those compulsory SUPW credits required by both the CBSE and ICSE school boards, and they asked us to mark on a scale of 1-10 where we thought we belonged in terms of prosperity. I remember marking something like a 3 or 4. And then one by one they told us that if we had xyz (food to eat every meal, roof etc etc) we fell into the top abc percentage of the world (5%, 10% etc). Most of us ignorant fools sheepishly erased the 3s and 4s and realised we actually needed to circle 10.

Since then, and not only because of that exercise, I have known that we were extremely fortunate to have financial security as a family, and I have and do also know how fragile financial security can be and therefore to never take it for granted. I live more extravagantly than my parents ever will- they’ll never choose coffee shops to work out from, for instance- yet I’m also simultaneously fairly conservative in my expenditures.

I do not know how to be at ease with financial security, and I feel so much guilt for having more than enough when all around me I see people in deep financial need. Not to bring up the coffee shop thing again, but even the cheapest work day there costs nearly four hundred bucks. Right outside are beggars, hawkers, small businesses, and working class people who could make that five hundred go so much further. I’m also constantly afraid that my spending habits will make me dependent, and should I need to subsist on less, I won’t know how to.

I’ve been earning an income on and off since 2009, and have had a regular source of income from December 2013- December 2016, and savings that lasted till December 2018. Three months later, I have been fortunate enough to land a freelance gig with minimal effort, but obviously the inflow being limited means I can’t spend like when I was flush. And I’m glad to be in this position, because I’ll really be able to see how long I can hold off on making rich people expenditures, like buying new clothes without needing to etc etc. The longest I went without buying anything new by way of clothes and shoes was a little over a year during my MPhil. I was also growing my hair out then, and making a million braids and finding my way to a new meditation practice, just like now. How circular life is!

(Ofcourse should a major expenditure come up, like if my lapt- no, I won’t even say it! I will absolutely not be able to meet it right now.)

15 May

I’m really grateful for the freelance writing gig that a friend is sharing with me, but goshdarnit can’t someone just pay me to be an excellent binge-watcher of (now) Malcolm in the Middle and eat fried, greasy things?

1 May

I had a bit of an insight last night- or was it today morning?

(Really, so much of the PhD process has been ‘extra-curricular’- a journey in self-excavation, discovery, recovery and dare I say, healing. Would it have happened anyway? I won’t ever know. I do know that I am grateful the PhD created conditions conducive to facing myself in the mirror and working on my self.)

I am often hard on myself for not being ‘steady’ in day to day life. I cannot stick to routines of anything, nor can I rely on myself to execute like clockwork the everyday tasks of adulthood- shopping for food, cooking, cleaning, exercising, maintaining social relations with extended family, neighbours etc.. I compare myself to the adults who have been in my life growing up, mostly family I regularly saw, and give myself failing marks every time.

Yesterday (or today) I realised the comparison was not fair. We are not the same. The amount of energy we expend cannot be measured merely by our external output. Part of the reason why I find regularity hard is because of how intensely I process everything in and around my life. Things that people will not give a thought to, I do. And I’m doing that all the time. I’ve always taken in my environment deeply, and always sifted through and processed myself intensely. That takes energy, energy that would have otherwise gone into maintaining routines of shopping, cooking, cleaning etc. When there is an unresolved upset with someone dear to me, I am often flattened for days together- literally, flat on my bed. The other person gets right on with life. They can, I can’t. And it’s not because I’m not as strong as them, it’s because I’m probably processing it harder and therefore feeling it harder.

By no means am I dysfunctional, though my means of coping leave a lot to be desired when I resort to fictional escape through books or TV. I just need to give myself credit on a more regular basis for being strong, for it takes strength to live with this kind of internal wiring.

I have come across concepts- quite a lot of it is sciencey science, and not just psychology- like ‘Empath’ and ‘Highly Sensitive Person’. A lot of what I read resonates with me. More reading in that area lies in the future for me, to understand just how much of my self falls within those explanations.


27 Apr

Here I am, again, today, indulging my expensive taste of occupying a seat at a coffee shop for multiple hours. Even though I knew it was unlikely that I would do any dissertation writing, and I woke up late, I decided it would be worth it to step out of the house. And I think it has been.

I’ll probably use the remaining hours to get started on the last required piece (for this month) for a freelance writing gig that I’ve been doing since the end of March. And I came across a wonderful piece on competitive hobbyhorse (ing?) that delighted me no end, and ended up birthing an essay idea. I don’t have time to write out the essay in this phase of dissertation work, but I jotted down the ideas that were jumping up in my mind.

I think, before, the year is out, I’d like to work on a short piece, preferably fiction, that I will send out to magazines and hope to get published. That is a joyful goal of sorts to look forward to. It’ll make me work hard, but without the kind of tension and pressure of ‘work’ writing like the PhD. I think it is important to know the other kind exists-that there is a kind of hard work that I’m happy to do, that I enter into with the best parts of my self.

Also, it struck me yesterday night that April has been a looong month, and it is still not over. That is a fabulous thing, it means I must be doing something right. I’ve been able to turn some things around and make decent progress on the putting-effort-in-work part. There have been times in the past when whole months have passed by in the blink of an eye, with zero PhD work being done.


23 Apr

Today I almost fell out of the bus I was on.

Ha! Dramatic much?

Well, it could have happened. I was on my way to the reading room I work out of in a mini-bus. It was a nice summery day, hot, but dry and cool in the shade and I was glad the bus was taking all the time in the world. We first stopped to collect a tyre that had been given for repair (and waited, while the shop attendant went off to make a phone call to find out which of the four repaired tyres belonged to the mini-bus). Then frequently slowed down on the road so the driver could stick his head in the direction of the open doorway to ask passersby where they wanted to go to.

(Just for a moment imagine that scene: you’re on the street, chatting with a friend, maybe waiting for a friend, and a public bus with a fixed route slows down near you and you hear a solicitous: kothaye jaben? Where would you like to go?) 

Calcutta is probably on the only big city in India where you can raise your arm anywhere and a bus will stop for you. The advantages of having a very mixed public bus system I guess: there are countless companies operating, there are buses of various sizes and colours, even a few electric ones. And, lolz, they all have different fares for the same routes. I can’t imagine how confusing this must be for an out of towner.

So yes, the mini-bus that took all the time in the world until it got to Gariahat, where it suddenly discovered it was running alongside a bus also headed to the same destination and decided to, uh, pick up the pace. It wove in and out of traffic like a maniac and suddenly at one point, just as I was making my way to the door, it slammed on the breaks so hard that I fell forward, someone’s briefcase skidded across the floor of the bus, etc. The conductor could have fallen clean out of the doorway, on which he was perched, as I realised later (once I got over being outraged at the way the driver was driving). Another passenger was passionately speaking his mind on the subject when I got off. Calcutta can frequently be f’kin nuts.

And now I get back to my freelance piece.

18 Apr

Well, hello there, blog. I’m using the last fifteen minutes of my hour long break to ‘check in here’ as the millennials say (do they?).

So, yesterday I went swimming.

The last time I swam was in 2005.

Or atleast, I cannot remember any pool time between then and now. This is in part because I never enjoyed the chlorinated water experience, and if I’m being honest, swimsuits designed for women. At that time the only options seemed to be a) a two piece, bikini-style (though not really an option for community pools), b) a one piece that ended at the crotch-thigh juncture, c) a one piece that ended in a ridiculous frilly skirt, or d) shorts underneath the crotch-thigh juncture one piece. In other words, they all sucked.  I am not at all being facetious when I say that my middle-school compulsory swimming in school years- and therefore my relationship with being in water- might have been really, really different if a) they reduced the amount of chlorine emptied into pools and b) there were swim suit options that allowed for comfort AND an aesthetic value. Today there are many more options in the market (yay, capitalism!). My ideal swimsuit would have two halves- a shorts and mid-riff level upper. I can’t imagine anything else affording greater mobility and flexibility in water. I’m sure those exist, but they are still rare if they do, and I certainly did not come across any when I bought my new swim-wear earlier this week. I found a Naibaiji option at Decathlon which I’m happy enough with.

So, yes, I was saying…I went swimming last night and wonder of wonders! My body did actually remember the moves! It remembered how to swim! There was a moon overhead, the water was slightly warm and glowing from being lit up along the walls of the pool, and I was transported to Enid Blyton books and midnight feasts by the pool. How perfect this pool is for a midnight feast! I probably spent as much time floating in different positions as I did swimming. Swimming in the dark is utterly lovely, even if it does make for some difficulties in gauging distance. I may or may not have bumped into the walls of the pool every time I completed a lap and I may or may not have a mini egg-sized bump on my forehead, but hey, first days, right?

Also, the Notre-Dame caught fire. I wish people wouldn’t say it burnt down, because it didn’t- the rose window is intact and it is the roof that will need repair. The aftermath is producing some very interesting conversations about corporate money and the kinds of devastation we choose to feel sad for. I’m following them with great interest.

Also, also, the elections have begun. This would have been, if I recall correctly, my third general election as a voter. I am truly upset that it will not be possible for me to go back to Delhi and vote this time, because in all my adult life, no election will have mattered more. The stakes are very high- should the present government be voted back into power (or should they win because they’ve rigged enough EVMs) we are facing the threat of changes being made to the very constitution of the country. That document can hardly be faulted; we may not have managed to translate it into actual practice, but it has atleast been the yardstick against which we have measured our practice. If the ideals enshrined in it are replaced by the ideals of Hindutva we are fucked, our future generations are fucked. I am hopeful this government has revealed its base nature and poisonous imagination enough to not be voted back to power. I hope, at the very least, for a very coalition government.

The fifteen minutes are stretching into forty five, so I must bring this to a close (oh how I’ve missed writing!). One of the things I’m planning in my head in the midst of pomodoro sessions with the dissertation is ways to manage nutrition in this period. I am mentally arranging a shelf in the fridge with proteins- four boiled eggs for the week, a container of home-made fried chicken, a container of chicken nuggets and maybe the occasional indulgence of sauteed prawns. A second shelf of salads, and a third of carbs. How much fun it would be to put together meals from this!


Choosing your fuel

23 Mar

This is something that has been on my mind since, well, always I suppose, but more sharply so since January this year. For context: soon after I received my Kriya initiation early Jan, I went to pay my respects to someone I hold in very, very high regard spiritually. I will always feel boundless gratitude to this person because he was the channel through which our Guru came to us in this life, and he has been a friend of the highest order to my whole family. We can never repay what he has done for us. Ever. Naturally, I pay more attention to his words than I would for other human beings, because I see him as more than an ordinary person, as someone who is more deeply attuned to the Source of everything than anyone else I know.

In this conversation with him, I got the sense that probably we approach the spiritual path differently. That the motivation for why we do our practices is not identical. I sit in meditation because I seek to love God the way I am loved- unconditionally. To learn to love unconditionally is my goal on and off the meditation mat. Atleast till date, I do not care for the wonders that a Kriya yogi is supposed to eventually encounter as she makes the journey from chakra to chakra. That isn’t enough to become a source of motivation for me. To him, love is an emotion, and something more than that emotion is required on the path of the yogi. Or atleast, that is how I received his words to me that day. And that was very upsetting.

If my motivation was misguided, then where did that leave me?

Love is the only factor and motivation that works for me, in all aspects of my life- it is the needle of the compass I follow in evaluating and correcting my behaviour, my actions, my thoughts…everything. Duty, responsibility, social correctness, prudence bla bla means nothing to me shorn of love. You do what you do out of love. A sense of duty that originates out of anything other than a desire to love well is misplaced, in my world.

The approaches of some God-realised individuals have emphasized the importance of prioritizing the love-aspect of motivation and behaviour, and the writings I have grown up on, Paramahansa Yogananda’s writings, have held love to be the highest motivating factor. So I know I’m not just stroking my ego in fixating on love.

The strength of this knowing got tested quite a bit after this January conversation. The desire to defer to the position of a person much more advanced than me is strong, and yet, and yet. It doesn’t feel right. Just as his position that I ought to pray for a life partner does not feel right, and yet I’m frequently assailed by the thought-how can he be wrong? Am I just being stubborn? Have I misinterpreted the many internal responses I have received thus far on this question? Is my steadfastness in believing I only ought to do what I’m shown I need to do, misplaced?

Oof, it is exhausting arranging these thoughts into words.

I’m realising that as the journey of life unfolds, people are faced by such situations, where they have to weigh their inner convictions against contrary advice/guidance by other, often valued, people in their lives. One has to choose where one puts one’s faith. And two, it is fucking exhausting going against the grain all the time, walking one’s own path, if it defies not one but multiple conventions of being. Sometimes I think about how much easier my life would have been if I would have just been satisfied by the things I’m supposed to be satisfied by.

But, who said it’s supposed to be easy? What are my ideals worth if I’m not willing to put up a fight for them?

All that to say that despite the seed of doubt infused in my mind (by that part of my mind that thinks other people will always know better than me) about what I need to use as fuel, I need to go with what I know works best for me. I need to fuel myself with love as motivation, and I need to surround myself with other people-real life people and online people- who have a similar motivation. I will continue to seek out and be fueled by other peoples testimonies of the power of love.

This isn’t as coherently written as I’d like, but it’ll have to do for now.