Tag Archives: life

The Restless City and Me

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…

The Spirit of Chennai

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.

The Escape Artist

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…

Who Stole my Childhood?

 

Running carefree with naked feet,

Reaching for mangoes up in the trees,

Endless summer days of fun,

Spent in the lap of the sun.

 

Hours spent in glee with friends both imaginary and real,

Board games, hopscotch, badminton and dolls,

Trips to the beach on moonlit nights,

And ice cream treats to beat the heat.

 

Walks in the evening with pleasant friends,

Vacation at grandma’s comes to an end,

Back to school and back to the grind,

Churning homework day and night.

 

Weekends come and weekends go,

But the churning never ceases,

Cooped up indoors under a light,

Write, write, write, write!

 

Then come the tests that are pointless,

And activities that are no fun,

Slowly they suck out the vital force,

Falling ill is no excuse, the homework must be done still.

 

Summers pass by without a trace,

Holiday homework takes its place,

No where to go and nothing to do,

But homework through and through.

 

Chugging along school and college,

Silencing the child inside,

Work, responsibility, commute, stress,

Replace school work and projects.

 

Working hard, working long,

Surely has taken its toll,

Popping pills and skimping on sleep,

Need to make sure you never skip a beat.

 

Bigger, bigger, better, better,

That’s the mantra of a go-getter,

Going where and getting what?

We all end up in a six-foot plot.

 

 

Slow Down, Chennai!

Almost a month has passed since I moved back to Chennai. It hardly feels like the city I grew up in. Madras as I knew it was a laid back metro, unimpressed by the hustle and bustle and night life of Mumbai and other cities. The city went to sleep at 10.00 p.m. like all its residents. No one stressed about traffic and commute and people were quite happy with their filter coffee and idli-sambar.

Over the past decade, fast food and instant coffee has replaced so many iconic landmarks. I remember eating crispy dosa and vanilla ice cream at Dasaprakash and going to Woodlands Drive-in Restaurant. Or browsing at Landmark bookstore, my favorite haunt. All gone without a trace.

The whole city has a different pulse. A hurried pulse if you will. Everybody is in a hurry. On the road, everyone wants to push past you and get to God knows where. They are going to show up late, anyways. So why bother! Three times this week my kids reported that their bus was hit by another vehicle. Every other day we see an accident on the road and know that it could have been prevented. Moms pick up their kids from school, grab a snack from a convenience store and rush them off to tuition classes. Nobody has time for anyone else.

Everyday is a battle to get to work, clock in nine or more hours, rush home, cook, eat, sleep and repeat. Ladies who opt to stay home have their hands full with temperamental maids (who are also in a big rush!), then tackling kids and their mountains of homework and incessant tests. Kids don’t have time to go outside and play.

Recently, while speaking to a recruiter, we complained about the long commute. The recruiter brushed it off saying that it is normal! A study conducted on commuting stress in Quebec says that a commute lasting more than 20 minutes can lead to burnout. Working 14 plus hours is also deemed normal here. Everyone does it, right? The number of youngsters suffering from blood pressure, heart attacks and diabetes is alarming. And yet life goes on. People pop pills and continue abusing their minds and bodies.

If you think I’ve gone soft after staying away from the motherland, think again. I spent 23 years of my life here in Chennai and things were way different then. Some say we don’t have a choice and have to conform to “the way things are”. I want to challenge the status quo and refuse to conform.

So how do we slow down and change the frenetic pace of things? On the road, remember you are not a bull dozer. Slow down, allow people to cross and don’t be in a mad rush to overtake every other vehicle on the road. Don’t cut in front of people waiting in line (if there is no line – form one). Smile and say thank you to people who serve you or hold the door open for you. Work smart so you have time for your family and for relaxation and exercise. Find time to cook simple meals at home. You health and savings account will flourish. Get enough sleep and set aside some time to be by yourself in a quiet space. The noises of the city can drown out that quiet voice of wisdom within you.

When you feel stressed, even if you are at work, go outside for a walk if possible or go to a clean restroom and take deep calming breaths. Stress is something that creeps up on you and builds up till you’re bursting at the seams. It happened to me last week and I found myself yelling at the kids. I had to consciously make a choice to calm down, close my eyes and breathe. This week I’m not waiting for the stress to build up. I am taking time to relax, breathe and center myself. Seems to be working so far. A few days ago the school bus was late but I did not have a panic attack. Life happens and sometimes a good dose of humor helps. Laugh away your cares and move on.

If you want Chennai to slow down, you need to slow down first. Don’t rush through your day. Find time for people and things that matter. You have more than enough time to accomplish everything. So take your time and do the best job you possibly can.