For a couple of years now we have been grappling with uncertainty. That strange feeling of not being in control and not knowing where you are headed. It started the year we left Florida. We were supposed to come back to India but somehow ended up in Washington. There again I knew we wouldn’t be staying for long. Every decision and interaction was colored by that knowledge. We all pulled on with bated breaths not knowing what to expect.
That was nothing compared to the state of flux we find ourselves in now. Everything seems to be up in the air, in space, nebulous as I stand gaping open mouthed for it to fall into my outstretched arms. Every day I wait and I return empty handed. The shapes dance and swim out of my vision – mocking me and enticing me with promising futures.
I lie in bed thinking of the world I left behind and the irony of it all is that I had wanted to leave – not when I had but many moons ago. I wanted to come back to something familiar, something certain. Something solid to build our lives on. Not a shifting and shaking earth. I have finally come back but that old familiar feeling has long gone. Gone are my cousins, brother, grandma, friends and so many places and people that made Chennai special. Made Chennai home. Home is a stable and secure place where we can be our best possible selves. But here I find myself flailing in my new surroundings trying to find my sea legs in this tremulous place. I’m not on solid ground. No terra firma here. Just undulating waves of uncertainty that wash you to uninhabited shores. So what does one do?
Uncertainty is part of life you say and I agree. Life wouldn’t be interesting if there weren’t some twists and turns every now and then. But when uncertainty decides to make your life its primary dwelling place then things can get really sticky. After a point every waking moment is tinged in uncertainty that you simply cannot push it to some corner of your brain. It becomes every breath, every thought. Every instant you struggle with that hollow feeling deep inside and very soon the uncertainty turns into fear. Fear of the future and fear of failure.
Finally when my over wrought nerves could take it no more I sought refuge in God. I pleaded, I begged, I prayed but the uncertainty lingered on. It became bigger and bigger and harder to ignore. At long last when none of the old tricks worked I decided to stop fighting life and to simply surrender. There was no use straining, the shackles only became painfully tighter. No use swimming against the current to attain the unattainable. Let the waves lash, let the emotions smother you and let every damn security you invested in come crashing down. When you lie there stripped of everything, cold and trembling with your head held low in an act of complete and utter surrender, an outstretched hand appears to lift you up and out of the raging waters and soothes your troubled soul. To wipe the tears of frustration and show you hope. Hold on to that hand and never let go for it will take you to where you belong – home.
Many a time we find ourselves in uncomfortable situations over and over again. Try as we might to deal with the past and bury it, some patterns keep repeating. At some point I came across an explanation for this phenomenon. Until you make peace with something or deal with it appropriately it refuses to go away and keeps showing up like a petulant child craving candy. Sometimes locking up the candy or saying there isn’t any works. And sometimes ignoring the child works. But not always. We keep revisiting botched up pieces of our past to make amends. To maybe deal with it using our wiser (than in the past) selves. And I’m pretty sure I dealt with some bad decisions I made and moved on. In the end there are no good or bad decisions – only lessons. The good news is we have free will. We are never stuck with someone or something just because we made a bad choice. We are just afraid of admitting our mistake lest we fall from the pedestal of perfection we are standing on. Some think it is a sign of weakness and some are afraid of making a wrong decision. Or even worse, we think we might hurt our loved ones. And we remain miserable and put on a brave front unaware that our unhappiness is quite apparent.
In my quest to be perfect I couldn’t forgive myself for making a wrong decision when I went to study Ecology. I quit after 6 months and went into a shell. Beat myself up for being a failure. Some part of me is still holding on to that experience because here I am again beating myself up for making the wrong decision and this time around the repercussions are bigger and affect more than me and my insignificant life. Kids, husband, parents are all bearing the brunt at some level.
This time around I’m willing to admit that I made a wrong decision. I just don’t know how long it will take to clean up my act. The city is not for me and it doesn’t help me do what I do best – write. When Ruskin Bond was asked if he ever regretted giving up the city for the hills, he said, ” I chose the hills for the purpose of living rather than a congenial place for writing. The mountains make a man realize how insignificant he is. At the same time, they allow one to remain an individual instead of being swallowed up in the crowd…”
Lucky Bond, he could write anywhere, but for me writing comes when I am relaxed and able to tap into my creativity. When the pace of life is not frenetic and I have few demands on my time. I am not the person I like to be when I live here in the city. I have time only to meet my selfish needs. My urge to reach out and connect with others is stifled by the sheer exhaustion of living each day and the countless challenges thrown my way. Laugh at me if you will and call me a softie but if being strong and successful means fighting and winning day after day, I’d rather spare myself the torture.
My blog is an extension of my urge to connect with others and it’s been over a month since I posted anything. Nobody missed it or so I thought when R who has been supporting my writing ever since I started way back in 2012 sent me a video – a disabled life coach’s 18 minute talk about just going for your dreams. I promised her I would write today and as the kids played at the park, I made notes on my phone. Maybe I don’t need to run away to the hills to write. Maybe the park will work for now. But make no mistake – the seeds have been sown and very soon I will be off to another place far from this madding crowd.
February 9th came and went but I hardly noticed. Nope I didn’t forget my own birthday or anyone’s for that matter. Nor was it my wedding anniversary. It was simply 4 years since I started this blog. No biggie right? Wrong! The pause breathe and relax lady is totally swept by the city and that aint good news for anyone.
It’s funny how she grows on you and makes you a part of her, no matter how hard you resist. A victim of chaos swirling in the air which grabs you in a vice-like grip and slowly but surely saps everything within until you join the hollow-faced endless crowd of humanity. Their listless eyes looking to the horizon, dragging their weary feet they go on but they don’t know where they are headed.
Her fangs pierce deeply through your skin and softly and insidiously suck the joy and peace out of you. Unwittingly you get consumed by a flurry of busyness and complexity. Complexity that serves no purpose and sits atop sagging shoulders with monstrous burdens. Deep rooted in her habits she has little or no patience for those who don’t conform. She sniggers at simplicity and directness. Why those are for fools and inept village bumpkins! For they lie dormant on the fringes of her skirts wondering why they weren’t swept by the tide. They don’t see the gift of stillness in a ever moving and ever doing world where to rest or pause is frowned upon by efficiency guards. Hut! Hut! Hut! On your feet at 5.00 a.m. they bark. Don’t rest till your chores are done. Don’t nap or sit idle or you’ll miss doing something really important. Keep on your feet from dawn to dusk or guilt will keep gnawing at you while you try to sleep.
The important things slip away from you and you spend day after day doing prosaic burdensome tasks. You kill the creative spark in you. Your inner child breathes her last. Laughter and fun seem like a privilege meant for a few who have the luxury of time. Time ticks by and so does your life. Endless days spent in meaningless toil lead you to believe that this is life and you enter the maze of dim-eyed, dim-witted souls leading a procession to no where and nothing.
To break away from this trance is a super human task. Like the squelchy muck in a peat bog she has you at her mercy and the more you struggle, the more you get stuck. Many have emerged but get labelled as rejects because being stuck is mistaken for being rooted. Doing takes precedence over being and getting over giving. Programmed to do and get, there is never enough and the tortuous race must go on indefinitely. Everyone grabbing what they can and hoarding what they must lest they end up with an empty fist.
I see myself following them with a yoke around my neck. My strength failing me and my thoughts seemingly alien and pathetically helpless. Sometimes all it takes to shake off a bad dream is to wake up. I think I have woken up but the bad dream refuses to go away…
As I wait for the city to limp back to life between power cuts, internet troubles and cell phones with no signal, I feel like I have been stripped down to the bare minimum. No more escaping reality by drowning oneself in technology. Suddenly there is too much free time and too many people around for comfort. You are forced to interact, to make conversation. And in those forced conversations you realize how far removed you are from the life that is unfolding right in front of you. How alienated you are from the very people you share your roof with or the folks who live on your street. And it did not happen overnight. It happened over careless days, months and years skyping with folks thousands of miles away or sending messages to someone you met online, while you remain oblivious to the ones that really matter.
Disasters truly test your character. Your best or worst comes out when you are pushed to the edge. You may rant and rave about being positive or advise others regarding their behavior in certain situations. But will you do the same? No one knows till you face the same reality.
Storms reveal the seas deepest, most hidden treasures. In Florida the rough seas cough up buckets of shells in the aftermath of a storm. In Chennai heaps of rubbish were thrown back to the beach. Treasure or trash? Only the storms in your life will reveal your true nature. What you put out there comes back to you multiplied. So what are you putting out there?
I for one felt helpless and cut off from the rest of the world. The only thing I could do was pray for the rain to stop and pray for those affected. So many people I know helped out in myriad ways, by providing food and sending people out to check on family not accounted for. In places as far away as Sweden, people prayed for Chennai.
When I came back to this city I found it changed and unrecognizable. I yearned for the city I grew up in with people who genuinely cared for one another and where everyone lived in harmony. The very spirit of the city which I thought was dead and buried, emerged from nowhere. Strangers risking their lives for others. People working round the clock to provide relief and rescue people. These stories warmed my heart and brought back my faith in a city that I was about to give up on. Chennai has revealed its treasures in the midst of one of the worst storms in a century. Its treasures are its people – pure, selfless, loving and generous.
Avoid. Delay. Procrastinate. Distract. Quit. Run. This is what I do when things don’t go my way. It’s always easier than confronting the problems. Or so I thought till I learned it the hard way. I ran away to Pondicherry to do my M.S. thinking that my problems would stay behind in Chennai. But they followed me like dark shadows, haunting me and threatening to suck all the joy out of me. Soon all these emotions got transferred to Pondicherry and it became equally unbearable for me. I wanted to quit. I wanted to go home. I ran back into the arms of my family. For a while things were ok but soon the same issues raised their ugly heads again and mocked me.
This time there was no where to run and no place to hide. I withdrew and my thoughts began to consume me. As my thoughts grew darker it blotted out all the light and I pushed away all the people I used to care about. I also had nothing to do. It was mid-year and I had to wait another six months before I could enroll in any college or university. The only way to escape the pain and misery was to quit this life. As though another better one would be offered to me on a silver platter the moment I exited! If I had waited it out I would have realized that all was not over and that I would indeed go on to do my Masters and get married to a good man.
With wedding bells came another chance to get out of Chennai and go to the U.S. Life out there is hard especially if you don’t know anyone and don’t have a career to drown yourself in. So the urge to escape back to India and to the life I knew grew stronger in me. But the thought of whisking away my kids from the comforts of the U.S. kept me from acting on it. Also my husband was not ready to move back – yet. So I gritted my teeth and went on.
But old habits have a way of resurfacing and soon I wanted to escape the cold in Boston and go to a warmer place. Like say Florida. But again in Florida things were not exactly as I wanted them to be. My obsession with having a perfect life kept me unhappy no matter where I was or what the circumstances were. It was only in Seattle that I finally made peace with the fact that nobody has it perfect (even though they appear to be so).
Life in Chennai is very challenging given that we lived a pretty easy life in the U.S. Yes, there were no maids but I had appliances to do everything. The house never got this dusty or messy. The weather was good as opposed to the blistering heat here. Some days I want to run away to the U.S. like the escape artist that I am, but I can’t. Because deep inside I know that it is not the outside environment that matters but the one inside. Easier said than done especially if you are living in Chennai!
If there is one thing about the U.S. that I really admire, it is the never-say-die attitude of the people. They don’t quit very easily no matter how tough things get. They don’t ignore problems but actively seek solutions. So I feebly hold on to those lofty ideals.
It’s tempting to run away and be rid of mosquitoes, ants and heat waves. Seems like Chennai will be the ultimate test for me. Will I stay or will I escape? Only time can tell…