Coming Back to You

My last post was in January 2015 which is embarrassing. I’ve had painful reminders about my inertia. Statistics from WordPress, coaxing from friends and my inner voice chiding me regularly. It’s like not calling a friend for longer than one should have – you intend to, you think of her often but just don’t get around to picking up the phone. The longer it takes the weaker the resolve. Inertia very quickly turned to insecurity. Was everything I felt irrelevant? Everything I wanted to say inconsequential? I was emptied out. Did my last post take everything from me?

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Perhaps, I’ve been too comfortable. My hypothesis (possibly flawed) and past experience is that a certain level of complexity is a prerequisite to passionate writing. The last year was spent in simple domestic bliss and a challenging yet successful year at work. I was too happy or too engaged with life to pause and ponder. Happiness has always made a guest appearance in my life. Short, sporadic bursts and then it was gone. Leaving only a gentle reminder of its presence and a desire to pursue it some more. So, for the first time I reveled in it. The generosity with which it came – I splashed around it in.

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I light a lamp each night. I’m not religious but I have faith and the simple act of closing your eyes, and bowing your head in gratitude, the feeling of surrendering to something is in itself calming. Every night I thank the Lord and implore him not to snatch this away from me. I feared that this absolute happiness, this unadulterated contentment, the feeling that everything around is just right, was almost impossible. As I bit adieu to 2015 I was almost wary of what the next year would bring. Turns out I was right.

2016 got off on the wrong foot. In January, my sister was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease. All of a sudden that happiness started dissipating. Our phone conversations were now cloaked with anxiety. Since I’m not yet a parent, I experienced first-hand that worrying is a full-time job and I was learning to cope with that feeling.

When I was younger I used to joke that my sister is my oxygen. She’s six years older than me and has raised me. Her priorities changed as she became a mother but I still hung on stubbornly to that notion. So this blow was hard on all of us and I was expected to bring comic relief to a weary household. To be a jester without a trick or a joke. I remember being in the kitchen with my mom and she asked me if I thought my sister would get better. Her naked worry stung me. We expect our parents to be teflon-tough not realizing that they too, have doubts, fears and worries which they hide from us.

When life deals you a bad hand occasionally, you reflect and ask existential questions about life, love and loss You also observe things that you’d otherwise have missed. There are two unrelated incidents that occurred and served as reminders that life must go on.

My husband and I had boarded a flight, on a sunny afternoon, hands linked to each other and as he sat on the aisle seat and I in the middle. An elderly gentleman showed up and claimed the window seat crushing my hope for an afternoon nap. As my husband pulled out his book and I reached for my Kindle, my neighbor bent his heavy frame and fished out the newspaper from the seat-pocket and as he started to read the tripe that passes for news, he settled on a page. Folding the paper indicating his full attention and interest. His eyes scanned the paper as mine studied him. He was reading the Obituary page. I wondered how it would feel, in my twilight years, much like him ,to be searching for friends and acquaintances in the pages of a newspaper?

Some months later, I had the flu and after several failed attempts at self-medication I went to a doctor. I took his prescription to a busy chemist and as I handed the piece of paper hoping he would have better luck understanding the illegible handwriting, I noticed a middle-aged woman walk up to the counter. She was from a humble background, her clothes and shoes had seen better days and she carried some medical reports in a worn-out yellow plastic bag. She gingerly took out the report and gave it to the assistant. He announced rather loudly that the injections would cost Rs.4500 each (approximately 66USD). She repeated the amount slowly, she didn’t look crestfallen as she calculated silently. I guess when an experience gets familiar, it fails to shock you. I was very tempted to jump to her aid and almost opened my mouth to offer her the money but the sales assistant returned with my order and asked me if he should give 12 pellets instead of 10. Yes, I replied hastily, and turned to look at her but all I saw was a receding figure, crossing the road.

Being helpless saddens and often angers me. But I realize I must not give up hope. Despite Trump. The soundless wheels of time are turning each day. Delivering pleasure, pain and prose. 10 months later, my sister’s health is stable and improving and I’m going to be a mother soon. 2016 draws to an end in burgeoning optimism.

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Hong Kong

I’m back after a hiatus. There were seismic changes and all in quick succession. Physically fatigued and mentally worn out, I had no time to think; much less to write. Such fervent planning, selling, buying, packing and unpacking that I felt bereft of any emotion, focusing only on the tasks ahead. It all began when I requested for a transfer from Hong Kong to India.

After the macro planning of moving countries came the piecemeal planning. Taking photographs of my furniture, uploading it on various websites, drawing up a price list and the slow, systematic, dismantling of my life. As I had inherited my landlord’s furniture I didn’t own much but what I did was precious and cherished. But if you separate the owner from her belongings, you’re just left with objects. Life can be brutally transactional.

My hot pink IKEA sofa, my romance chest, my movie style lamp, my Indonesian wooden bar cabinet. Yes that’s right, I owned a bar cabinet with lots of very expensive glasses, imagining I would be hosting many soirees. I’m not a drinker but I am a dreamer.

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It also involved some paperwork. As you know it’s not my forte. (https://pausetoponder.com/2013/09/05/staying-true-to-form/). Between the termination notices and other formalities, it didn’t allow me to feel melancholic about the inevitable farewells.

I attempted writing this piece but words escaped me. I felt strongly, but strangely, I felt empty. One Friday evening, I opened my refrigerator and thought I’d seek aid from alcohol. A glass of wine perhaps, like shown in the movies. There’s a saying in Italian “ In wine there is the truth”. Alas, instead of coherent thoughts I welcomed sleep.

Why? I wondered. Life changing events and I felt nothing? I probed. Perhaps my instinct for self-preservation had kicked in.

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Leaving Hong Kong was rather difficult. It’s a transient city but I grew up in that city. It took a lot from me but it gave me so much more. Wonderful friends, heaps of fun, lasting memories and lessons. It was a defining period in my life where I wandered off and then reclaimed myself.

I’d spent nearly seven years in Hong Kong. A few more months and I would be a permanent resident. Hong Kong. Have you realized how different a word sounds depending on how your world changes? How easily some names that meant so much at one point, that would roll of your lips so naturally, now sound unfamiliar?

In response to immigration officers, I’d say I live in Hong Kong. I’d rush to airport gates announcing a flight to Hong Kong. My last two passports were issued in Hong Kong. My photo identity was my Hong Kong Identity Card. In response to where I was from, Hong Kong was the most appropriate response. After all my business and personal travels, I’d land in that city and wait for the airport express train to swoop in and carry me swiftly and safely to what was then, home.

I had packed my bags for Hong Kong with trepidation. Everyone assured me that I would love it and I did. How could I not, the vibrant city envelopes you in its heady mix of money, shopping, friends and travel. It’s off-the-charts sexy and it also has a soul.
It must have been my unending enthusiasm because when I landed in the month of February it was unexpectedly cold, bleak and uninviting. I was cooped up in a service apartment for a month with no friends but plenty of time. I was lonely initially but not sad. I began to revel in the anonymity. Getting lost in the labyrinth of gleaming and imposing buildings.

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The early years are not something I want to forget entirely. But they’re also something I don’t remember easily. The memories have been folded neatly and pushed in the far corners of my heart. Once in a while I’m reminded of them, accidentally. Chancing upon old scanned documents in folders long forgotten. Unearthing USB’s with photographs. On rare occasions I cave in. I remember them, deliberately. Like today.

It would be dishonest if I write this chapter on Hong Kong without mentioning my former husband. My former, laugh-out-loud hilarious partner. He’s not a person, he’s an experience. He kicks the door open to announce his arrival. One of the most creative people I know with talents that never cease to end. He can cook, sing, rap, dance, act, play musical instruments and play sports. A photographer par excellence. He ran marathons, reviewed movies, programmed music channels, created cartoons and last I checked he was into rowing and also sang in a choir! He is a living example that it’s never too late to attempt anything.

We shopped, made new friends, partied, traveled, binged on our favourite TV series and experimented with international cuisines. We enjoyed all the firsts that come with living overseas. In a foreign land we leaned on each other for companionship, resulting in a closeness that wasn’t sustainable. Eventually we had to pull apart. We got confused. We got temperamental. We got lost. We lost each other. It was as if I had subscribed to an entertainment channel. Scratch that, a bouquet of channels. Perhaps our combined energies were self-destructive; waiting to explode.

I was desperately sad in the months that followed. It was the void that hit me first. I tried every trick in the book to fill this void but I was just sinking into irrelevance. I hit the malls with a vengeance,tried Zumba and became post-break-up thin but I slowly realised that only I could fill this void. I had to be autonomous in my unhappiness. Not by staying busy but by staying strong.

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To fill this void, along came a new companion. Anxiety. It hung around me in a heavy air. I tried to outsmart it but I couldn’t. It linked arms with me. It accompanied me to meetings, picnics, parties and in bed. I accommodated it, because anxiety kept me on my toes. It kept me in check. It made me more efficient. The longer it stayed , the better I got at handling it.

Finally, I was in a good place. There’s a line in one of my favourite books The Kite Runner:
“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

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Perhaps I had forgiven myself for what I considered a failure. Soon I began to love my life and my independence. My ex and I often found our paths crossing but never our lives. He met the girl he would marry and months later, I met my future husband.

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Our friendship grew organically. We didn’t say I love You’s. We didn’t need to. We just knew. If my ex had given me wings, my husband provided wings and roots. I call him my anchor. However, marriage meant leaving Hong Kong and my solitude. How ironic that the very thing that scared me at first was now invaluable. Solitude teaches you more about yourself and I highly recommend it in large doses.

In May, my ex-husband and I met for lunch possibly for the last time. For a man of flamboyant entries, his exit was quiet and full of grace. We caught up, cried softly (blamed it on spicy Sichuan Chinese food), reminisced about traversing the peaks and valleys of Hong Kong, literally and figuratively. He left on the 14th of June for the States and two weeks later I bid adieu to Hong Kong. Thus ending this glorious chapter.

Six months later, I’m back in India. Furniture sold, MPF and bank accounts closed, taxes cleared and correspondence addresses changed. There’s no trace of my life back in Hong Kong except for what survives in memory.

‘Do you miss Hong Kong?’ asks everyone. ‘No,’ I reply feeling faintly disloyal. Although I miss everything about it. Friends, colleagues, weather, food, gym, infrastructure, governance and yet I’m happy. Pure, unbridled joy. Sorry Hong Kong, just because I didn’t think I was lonely didn’t mean I didn’t feel lonely.

I’d left as a young, carefree girl and I’ve returned as a wise old soul. ‘Life takes you places, love brings you home’.

Happy New Year!

We’re celebrating a new year (part deux) in Hong Kong. The Year of the Horse that I hope brings new milestones and nomadic freedom. Looking back makes most of us reflective at first and then resolute. Revisiting the past and reviewing the experiences enriches us with a special wisdom. Sharing some of my key insights and lessons here:

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I’ve often questioned the wisdom of eating Wasabi.

Business class upgrades restores my faith in luck and loyalty programs.

I’m incurable when I suffer from queue envy.

We have to accept that sometimes life takes more than it gives. Forge new friendships and learn to forget.

Hankering for holidays gives me the will to work.

Hair has a long -term enemy called humidity.

Take photos but also take the time to see them. What’s the point of record-keeping if they’re forgotten once shared on social media?

Take risks…calculated or not. A bad decision is a good lesson.

The best sleep is the one that follows after you hit the snooze button.

I prefer people befriending me than following me. Facebook vs. Twitter.

Weekends are about the joy of waking up without the shrill of an alarm.

There are people who have emails and there are people who have email folders.

Generosity and giving has a special joy. However, gifts cannot be compensatory.

Conferences are very conducive to sleep.

I can’t imagine giving up carbs but always envision myself being magically cellulite-free.

Bath tubs are dangerous for accident prone people like me and should come with an emergency button.

We’re allowed one mega mistake a year. A titanic of all screw-ups. That’s how I justify it to myself.

All good stories start with “One day we had too much to drink…”. Nothing exciting ever happens over salads.

The fancier the hotel/club/restaurant the more ambiguous the signs outside the ladies and gents bathrooms. Why sacrifice simplicity for style?

You fully understand yourself when you’re living alone. Until then you’re mostly living up to expectations.
You get to know yourself, not a version of you through the proud eyes of your parents, the love of siblings, the romanticised idea of you held by a partner or the camaraderie of friends and colleagues. But the real you, the one that talks to you when you’re fixing a meal for yourself in the kitchen and the one that gives you company at 3am when sleep evades you.

Comfortable high heels is an oxymoron.

Vanity and my winter wardrobe don’t get along. Puffer jackets..UGG!

Hangovers are the price you pay for a good time.

You’ve invested in past relationships and people casually refer to it as baggage. Some have carry-on, some have it checked in and some have excess baggage. I don’t want to let go of this baggage. It’s brought me here and will travel with me like a silent companion requiring no retribution.

Recycle bins and Trash folders are a treasure trove of memories.

Sometimes I don’t know if I’m dreaming or thinking in my sleep.

Long after the people have left, if you still think of them and smile then I guess it’s a nice way to be remembered.

Baz Luhrmann suggests remembering the compliments you receive. The best compliment of 2013- A friend told me that each time she sees me and returns home, she feels like she’s been on a holiday.

Be honest, without fear of judgment or losing someone.

Routine ruins me.

There is a parallel universe with forgotten passwords and PIN numbers.

One can never keep up with the Kardashians.

It’s never too late to start a hobby. Much like this blog.

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I’m in a relationship!

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Now that I have your attention, let me explain..
The object of my affection is something really mundane.
It’s my apartment. Warm, bright and bathed in a yellow hue.
Everyone who’s walked in has unequivocally said..it’s so you!

My tumultuous affair started a few months ago.
Worth every bit of my time and pride for sure.
The minute I set my eyes, I was in love full throttle.
Not exactly a celebration but it did call for the opening of a champagne bottle.

It gives the solitude I seek, even though it overlooks a road.
I’ve spent several soporific Sundays being in a couch potato mode.
The calmness in my heart out-shouts everything else.
To curl up with a book or watch something on the TV that makes no sense.

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An open kitchen, a bar stocked with all the alcohol that can be had.
It would be the ultimate spinster pad.
A movie star living room and the room which inspired this writing, my study.
A monochromatic bathroom and a bedroom which is earthy.
Adding little touches to compensate for the minus.
A refuge or respite with something to do.
I often catch myself saying to no one in particular..I love you.

The house is always on my mind.
I walk in every evening and thank the god above for this find.
What can I do to make it better? Sometimes wishing I were a housewife.
Should I buy the wall art now or save it for later?
Let the space fill out naturally, let the walls chronicle my life.

Not willing to rest till it’s functional, tidy and shiny again.
Not a speck of dust. Clean, wash, wipe without complain.
Till I’m exhausted. Till I’m sane.

I wish we could love each other unconditionally like this.
Give every relationship all your love and attention. Be respectful and willing.
The only expectation is for you to welcome me, protect me and keep me safe.
When things don’t go as planned, the disappointment might be crippling.
Nonetheless I’d walk gratefully into your arms at the end of the day.
It’s bound by paperwork and lease terms but in my heart I’m here to stay.

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Staying true to form

For someone who is keen to chat and quick to write, I feel a distinct discomfort when presented with the task of filling forms (and writing on cards. My indelible writing sullying several hallmark creations over the years)
Something about BLOCK letters, limited space, blue ink requests, renders me speechless and panic-stricken. Paralyzed with fear, filled with dread, knowing as you’re telling yourself not to make a mistake, you almost always will.

Recently, I had the misfortune of filling forms. Several forms. New passport application, visa forms, tax form, loan application, credit card application etc.
Intimidating, blank little boxes looking up at me. Challenging me.

What makes this task infinitely worse is the questions they pose. I’m not referring to :
The sensitive ones – Married, Single or Other
The arguably irrelevant ones – Ethnicity
Positively embarrassing ones – Birth marks
Morbidly depressing Emergency contact

The most delicate and perhaps the most thought-provoking is that of a permanent address.
I’m embarrassed that for everything permanent, I’ve directed people, banks and institutions to my parents. Reiterating the fact that as long as they’re around I have a permanent solution.

It could be the timing of these questions that led me to this feeling of dislocation. My office had relocated and a few weeks later I was moving out of my apartment
Brushing aside this overwhelming sense of displacement I decided to give it a good thought. Existential questions crept into my mind and I’m happy to report, have lodged themselves in some corner of my brain.

Permanence is so sought after
This desirous be-all-end-all feeling of settling down
Is it overrated?
Sure it would free me of most form-filling worries but why isn’t, here-for-now enough?

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What or who offers permanence? Parents, spouse, kids?
We live in a world where memories outlive relationships. Sometimes only just.

Is it an address, an ID card, a driver’s license?
Why objectify permanence?

For me, permanence is revered and rarefied. It’s importance indisputable.
We all have a firm presence, our own place in this world

I’m partially impermanent but wholly happy
To be drifting and discovering
Advancing through trial and error
One form at a time…