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It’s Christmas time in the city

It’s siesta time on Christmas Day. The family is sleeping away the stuffed chicken and the (awesome) Duty Free bottle of Port wine. M is playing quietly with his new toys. Actually, he is playing quietly with the box – the package is as interesting to him as the toy itself.

I’m spending Christmas afternoon reading up on urbanism. A quick google to check up on something else led to a whole wonderland of blogs and sites doing exactly what I want to do – study and write about the intersection between people and spaces.

I am riveted. It is not the first time I have come across urbanists, of course. But this time, for some strange reason, the wheels turned and things fell into place. Urban spaces and all their nooks and crannies intrigue me. Improving an existing space by involving the stakeholders, particularly the people who actually live there, is a source of endless fascination, thanks to all the constant parade of planners and plotters we see in Goa.

So here I am, (hair flying in my face and blinding me thanks to a  breezy table fan), bursting with ideas. It’s putting in focus what I want to do in the coming years and it is this: I want to write about cities and its people and their problems. While other work is of course welcome, this is what I really really want to do. And I want to have enough work of this kind that I can afford to say no to the mind-numbing or boring assignments that are offered to writers in India.

And now that we’re over Christmas Day (whew) and the fun of the holidays really begins, I’m so eager to get back to work. But for now, hours after I got bookmarked the blogs before my family chucked a stuffed Santa at me, Jim Reeves is crooning on the stereo system and M is enjoying his teenage cousins. Our Christmas tree lights and star lights have both blown, but what the heck, everybody’s still laughing and in a good mood so that’s all that matters.

How’s your Christmas been so far?


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This has probably been the longest that I have gone without updating this blog. Somewhere along the line, this space lost its identity. When I began blogging over a decade ago in 2004, the medium was full of promise. It was a safe space for observations and commentary on Bombay, my city. Then it became about life in England. Books and parenting and writing crept in along the way. And now all those things are such an integral part of my life that they don’t warrant special notes online.

Or for that matter, off-line.

I’ve been actively engaged in the pursuit of writing since the age of eight. I would have never foreseen that this is what I would do for a living, that words would become my bread and butter, literally food for thought and sustenance. But that’s what it has come to, and the thought gives me unbridled joy. Writing is the one thing that sustains me. More than reading or gardening or painting, scribbling in my journal or dog-eared notebook keeps me alive. It allows me to smile.

This year, I broke new ground with writing published in The Atlantic, Vice, Scroll.in, The Wire, Culture and Cuisines, among others. Next year promises to be equally shiny and I can’t wait to get back to it (after the holidays).

As the year sets, my resolutions/goals for the next twelve months are firmly in place. I have my word for 2016 and it encompasses everything I want in my life. I might have used it before, but that doesn’t matter, because it fits perfectly right now.

I want More. More work, more writing, more travel, definitely more art. I want more essays, more poetry, and lots more money from my work. Some of this is contradictory (more money from poetry? No chance!) but it will all work out.

Because 2016 is going to be the year of more kisses, more holding hands, more games and practicing cha-cha in the kitchen.

I feel that rare sense of sunny optimism that always comes at the end of the year. Do you?

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The drug of solitude

In India, the academic year begins in June. After two months of summer, where yellow mangoes and the humidity consumed our waking hours, the kids are back in school. M is now in first grade, his first year in big-boy school. This first week has gone by pretty uneventfully. There were the expected tears on the first day, tummy-aches continue without fail every morning, there’s anxiety over ‘strict’ teachers and mid-day meals served by the school. He comes home for lunch, happy and buzzing, so perhaps it is safe to let go of the anxiety (mine).

I wake before the sun has shown up for work, the sky still getting out of bed. Rain clouds linger, waiting just for the moment we step out. The house is deliciously dark and quiet. I have thirty minutes to sleep-walk through the bathroom, make the coffee, open the downstairs door so the newspaper man can bring the three newspapers upstairs instead of leaving them on the stoop where they could get wet or worse, stolen.

The thirty minutes are over before I’m properly awake. I gulp my first cup of coffee, wake M and then while he is easing into the morning I have my second cup of coffee and get things ready.

By eight I’m back home, M safely ensconced in his classroom. By then though, the rest of the household has woken up, the house is wide awake and the magic of the morning is lost.

I’m surprised at how much this affects me, this not having ‘adequate’ time to sit in the semi-darkness by myself and watch my thoughts wake up. As the years go by, I find myself getting even more solitary, longing for pockets of time where I have the house to myself, or a quiet moment to read without interruption or noise. It makes me feel bad, this wanting to be away from the family. But without this quiet-time, I might lose my mind completely.

It’s only the first week of this new schedule and I’m still trying to work out this new rhythm. Would waking 30 minutes earlier help? Last night, I went to sleep almost at 1 am, having wrapped up a deadline. With that kind of night, waking at 5.30 seems almost cruel.

Do you have this need to steal some time for yourself as well? Or am I wanting too much?

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The end? (31/31) #1truething

Today’s the last day of my month long experiment with #1truething. I managed to post every single day except one, where we went swimming with elephants.

It’s not been easy, doing these posts, but by God, it has been so much fun. Coming up with things for each day made me more present, more aware, more likely to make notes or take photos.

Two nights ago I got into the zone and wrote about 1800 good words. I think this was the result of #1truething, of having writing and story on my mind, of daily practice. It’s a minimalist version of Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, something I’ve tried on and off for years now, but never had success sticking to.

But a short blog post every day? I think that might work.

I’m in awe of Cynthia for doing this for a whole year. 365 days, imagine. I’m not quite ready to commit to a year yet, but I think I might do an occasional #1truething post and surely one more bout (at least) of a whole month before the year is over.

Has this blog got a new lease of life? Let’s wait and see! Thanks, Cynthia!

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#100sareepact (30/31) #1truething

This morning, still at my grandmother’s house in the middle of somewhere, mum and I climbed up the attic stairs, our idle curiosity leading us up. Up there, among the sacks of rice, old copper vessels, bronze rice cookers, giant spider webs and remnants of the last bathroom remodel sat four old suitcases.

One had old stainless steel trays and a set of glass bowls among wall brackets that once held my books in my mother’s house. Two other trunks had old papers, some silverfish, mostly rubbish. The last one was the jackpot – a brown suitcase crammed with old silk sarees. These were sarees that no one seemed to wear anymore. Most of them had tiny tears at the point where they would be pinned to the shoulder. All of them were still gorgeous and brought back instant memories.

There were the two blush-pink silk sarees that my sister P wore to college events; I still remember her getting dressed and wearing them out. There’s a brinjal-blue silk with a floral border that accompanies my mother in photographs of birthday parties when we were six or seven. There’s a vintage teal chiffon saree with tiny white polka dots that I have no memory of. But it is in perfect condition.

What does one do with these lovely lengths of once-expensive cloth? It’s been eight years since I last wore a saree. Strangely enough, it was in England at a ‘proper’ English wedding. The rest of the guests were in summer dresses and hats and morning coats and there I was, standing out in my beautiful magenta chiffon sari with minimal gold embroidery and a sleeveless blouse. I was quite pleased at being able to wear a saree that day and the compliments I received made me glad I did.

I haven’t worn one since. Not once, even though we’ve returned to the land of sarees and I’ve confiscated some of my mother’s old ones and they lay loved but ignored in one of the trunks that hold my clothes.

I’m full of admiration of the young women who signed up to the #100saree pact, where they wear sarees a 100 times this year. I want to be one of those women. I want to once again wear a saree with panache. I who once jumped into trains with a saree and high heels now can’t be bothered to dress up and to me that is such a tragedy.

Some of these old sarees might turn into cushion covers or a new blouse (if I can bear to cut them up). The others might just get a new lease of life.

Or that’s the plan.

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Packing (29/31) #1truething

Packing for a trip reminded me of the trips we took when we lived in England. Pre-M, we packed our bags every weekend we got and saw some beautiful places. England, your weather is crap but I love you.

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Moo! (28/31) #1truthing

A few decades ago, this was me. I’m grateful M has a chance to re-live my childhood and enjoy his great-grandmother and her home.

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