An unfair year I’m thankful for
“Please don’t ask me to take another flight for the next 6 months.” I said.
“Oh, there’s a company trip in the Caribbean Islands, end of this month? But, we can cancel.”
In Jan 2015, I returned from about a month-long trip in India. I had taken over 7 flights in less than 15 days between USA, India, Sri Lanka, and within India. When I returned home, I was met with a strange situation. Who would have missed an all-expense-paid trip to the most sought after islands in the world?!
Despite the travel fatigue, January ended on a high note – at St Kitts & Nevis.
While in the Caribbean, G&I sorted our travel calendar for the year. We decided on just one more trip to India, to assist his sister for her baby’s delivery.
2015 Training Guide Program – Welcome!
I had applied for a volunteer position as a City Guide towards the end of 2014, and had forgotten about it. In Jan 2015, I received an email to appear for an interview, which I cleared based on my skill-set/interest. If I signed up, I was to enter a 3-month training program.
The calendar for the training sessions conflicted with my mid-year India trip. I either had to let go of the training and apply the next year; or needed to re-plan the trip. My sister-in-law’s baby was her first baby and I wouldn’t have had a second chance at being there. The training? Yes, I could take it in 2016.
In dilemma, I signed up for the training; and decided to attend to my family duties on a 10-day trip to India between two training sessions.
The program began on Feb 28 and I graduated on May 9.
Celebrate the Sound of the Wind
2015 brought saucy titles to my life, along with warnings that I continued to ignore.
There waited an opportunity for me to help yet another non-profit organization – Thingamajigs (they explore alternate sound systems). The people approached me to coordinate a festival called Aeolian Day. A number of artists, designers, engineers and even scientists were to exhibit their sound sculptures – each played by the wind. Just like SF City Guides, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
In fact, it was even better. Because for the first time, I could combine all my abilities/talents – music, writing, marketing, process development, creativity and science.
The dilemma? I had to do it on my own. Yet again, I signed up.
“Please welcome our next Pianist…” – March 8, 2015
Amidst the commitments towards a 3-month training and a 3-month event coordination work, I practiced every day and played the piano for an audience for the first time. I think my year wouldn’t have been the same without it. In hindsight, that performance seems to be the greatest pay-off, for the struggles that followed.
This was probably the only activity of the year I was sure about.
My sister and I put together a campaign to feed children in India on the occasion of my mom’s retirement and her birthday. The idea just knocked on my head and by the time we completed the campaign, we had fed over 120 children in 2 non-profit set ups in Delhi.
We started the campaign on Feb 28 and officially ended the fundraiser on March 30, 2015.
Here, the cloud of dilemmas had begun to turn into smoke.
The ‘only’ trip to India began in the second half of April. I carried many self-defined commitments and an instrument called Zither or Autoharp, through 4 flights (SF-Dubai-Trivandrum-Coimbatore). It took over 24 hours of air travel to get there – my parent’s winter home. I wanted to give mother and father a head-start to an annual stay in that house; through a plan to help them assess the challenges of a new life in a new place.
4 beautiful days were spent in the tropical weather of South India. I wrote, spoke, sang and woke up to musical mornings. The Zither’s sound echoed in the house and made my writing fun, even hours after it stopped.
In the next 3 days, we traveled to Bangalore and attended a wedding. This also included a surprise birthday party for me (by my sister). On the 3rd day, over a coffee meet up, I was introduced to my sister’s future husband.
From Bangalore, I took off for Kerala to be with my mother-in-law and with my hugely pregnant sister-in-law. Unexpected as it was, our time was filled with conversations and music, under the peace of the coastal weather of the place. It was, as I think about it now, magic!
“We wish you could be here with us longer.” My Mother-in-law, who usually found it hard to express her emotions, looked at me with great love.
“Yes Chechi, it was so nice. We…we will miss you.” I didn’t feel responsible about being a sister-in-law, but was overwhelmed with a sense of closeness to my extended family.
Ironically, I was sad. On the flight, I confronted that sadness.
“Family v/s Self-preservation? You shouldn’t have this conflict. You don’t have to do a regular job that other people’s lives are limited by. Oh wait, you ARE limited, by your own commitments! And for what? Only to interfere with your wishes & desires? People blame life when they don’t have the time to do whatever they want to. You are the ungrateful, lucky one; running away from a freedom, that’s served in a platter.”
As the thoughts haunted, an old man coughed next to me; for 16 hours. By the time I reached home, I had his flu but no resolutions.
The Six-day War
I was sick and it got worse with every moment I spent alone. There was no G to take care of me, and on the other hand, I had two SF City Guide mock tours to take care of. The unresolved internal conflicts combined with a physical breakdown, responsibilities to attend to and no one to watch over, made the few days at home catastrophic.
I had been alone before, in India. But there was this sense of well-being that would keep me comfortable. Maybe it was the streets, the trees, air or water; but even strangers felt like they watched out for me.
Why didn’t I feel that way? I had everything – a comfortable house, mobility, a loving partner, thoughtful friends and a calendar filled with things-to-do. Why then, was it so cold?
It took me 6 chastising days of introspection to understand that the nourishment and the nurture of a crowded society/world/environment, can be challenged in a place like SF where ‘casual interaction’ requires effort, every time.
Communication generates understanding, which in turn provides warmth. However, when we are sick or when we go through a personal loss/crisis, we need warmth to flow effortlessly. It’s hard to rationalize but the closeness of various environmental components in India, creates a cozy atmosphere. That comfort makes it quick and easy to heal.
I was far too deep in pain and despite the realization, I sank further.
Life goes on
In the next week or so, I presented 2 mock-tours and graduated as a city guide. End of the month, I successfully launched and conducted Aeolian Day. And on May 31, I felt, through my body, the last drop of strength burn off.
That cloud of smoke was now in front of me, as a huge wall of ash.
To ignore, I needed a drink.
In the months I spent all of me in, I tried to squeeze some words into my novel every day. Due to lack of any warm-up time, I drank a glass of wine for every 1-hour of writing. It became a regular occurrence, and when I noticed it, I planned to fix it. I read a few books to see how other writers coped, and to my surprise I found very few sober yet established authors. So, I had to work on myself, by myself. I took a break from alcohol.
I was undecided on how long I wanted this break to be, but aimed to get to a point where I could get over the habit i.e., the need to drink to write. Unfortunately, this coincided with a period when I was severely exhausted. The ill-timed lent began on June 1.
Alcohol, even in small doses slowed me down and gave my brain some rest. In its absence, I had to experiment with other ways to relax. G suggested that I wiped my to-do list clean, every day. And so I did. I tried to watch numerous films, took walks, browsed the internet, cooked several meals. Weeks passed and I didn’t heal. I was mentally and creatively exhausted but that didn’t me to sleep.
As a strategy to cope, I tried to be with new people. I had the will, but no inspiration or happiness, that would convert strangers into friends.
End of June, my sister came down to prepare for an exam and to be with me for almost 2 months. I wanted to take care of her, so she could focus better on her studies. Once again, I had the intention but no energy to take care of anyone. I tried my best but it was during this period that my exhaustion turned into severe depression.
My sister is the coolest person I know. She stood by me with her glorious smile and love; even as she worked hard towards a monstrous goal. Despite a crunched preparation time for the exam, she agreed to help me in whatever way she could.
I thought if I saw people have fun around me and fill my space with their energy/laughter, I might be able to look away from my hollowed insides. In mid-July, we threw ‘The Hot Sauce Party’ in our house, where everyone was supposed to bring different kinds of hot sauces. Everyone had fun, except me. I failed to enjoy the party I threw.
The dam had broken, and the demons flooded my soul.
The Road Trip
My sister’s exams ended and we had about 2 weeks to celebrate. I was in no mood but saw the opportunity to escape. I could getaway and bury the monsters of depression in the sands of time.
I hired a car and drove along the Pacific Coast with my sister. We hiked in the landscapes of Big Sur, wound down in the white beach of Carmel-by-the-sea, relaxed in a house in Monterey and swam in a resort in Big Sur.
I liked being in the driver’s seat, loved the forward movement and felt my brain work as I mapped our routes. In all its glory, I witnessed some of the pain disappear.
An honest smile reappeared on my face.
And then, it got cold, all over again.
Mid-august, my sister left. I looked ahead at the calendar and saw 2 trips. Was I ready for any of it?
We went on a weekend trip to Yosemite with our friends. It began well but as a day passed, I felt a strange discomfort – the one where I was shy of other people. The apprehension turned into irritation, and then anger. I tried to distract myself with some activities. But I returned home from the trip all coiled up and closed towards any new experiences.
The weekend after that, we had to leave for Iceland. It was a trip planned over 3 months with friends from India. In the absence my usual enthusiasm, I had contributed very little to the preparations and plans. I was however grateful to my friends who took charge.
“No! You don’t want to do this!” My head screamed of doubt and unwillingness for an entire month before the trip began. Instead of the promise of good company, fascinating volcanoes and unpredictable experiences, I saw discomfort ahead of me.
Nevertheless, I went. After all, I was Kavi. Or was I?
We traveled for 6 days in Iceland. It was a road trip that turned out to be far simpler than I thought. We saw several waterfalls, black beaches and hiked on glaciers. On one of the nights, we also caught a faint glimpse of a hard-to-see solar wind (northern lights). There were a few good conversations and some fun dinner sessions too.
However despite these nice parts, I continued to feel uncomfortable in my skin. I felt displaced from my life and unready for experiences.
In a strange contrast, after we had sent-off our friends and when G&I were in Denmark for 4 days, I opened up. All of a sudden, I could walk around, do things and talk to people. Even though Copenhagen was a less interesting idea compared to Iceland, I gathered more time, energy and experience.
It turned out to be a matter of anonymity. I introspected and understood that the moments that hurt me the most were where I had to share my thoughts and observations with familiar people. In those circumstances, I had to wake up a sense of self, an ego and an identity. But.
I wasn’t there.
The Family Plan
2015 was like a grand plan – first concert, first tour, first art event; and then a plan to make our first child.
I was worried about my perpetual sadness but told myself that I had to keep up with certain life plans. We officially confirmed my pregnancy during the Iceland trip. The joy of that news stood above all my agonies, and I slowly began to crawl out of my downtime.
When we told our immediate families, the news became a part of an overdose of exciting things – My sister decided to get married around the same time.
Gopal & I went to the beach one day, with his camera. I scribbled the couple’s names on the sand and he took various pictures. We came home and over a weekend, I created my sister’s wedding invite – the finesse of which surprised me. (I learnt and used Inkscape – an illustrator app for linux)
I interviewed at least 3 wedding photographers over Skype. The exercise was quite a lot of fun and eventually, I signed up someone who best suited our requirements and budget.
Mid-November, I prepared to go on an unforeseen trip to India.
“If you want, you can stay in a hotel.” My mother’s face sank, even as she said these words to offer me some comfort. I was in my parents’ house in Gurgaon when in the middle of the night, I sneezed. I sprang out at ninety degrees to the bed, and screamed my heart out. It was day 2 of my one month trip.
My lungs were chocked, I had a running nose and my eyes itched throughout my time in India in Nov-Dec. North India is dangerously polluted now and my 2-year west-coast life had killed the adaptation of decades. My sister and I tried to manage the situation with a 6-hour professional cleaning session and also got a purifier installed for my parents’ safety.
During the one month I spent in India, I took a 3-day trip to Kerala, a week-long trip to Goa and a 2-day trip to Gujarat. The frequent change in the weather and environment took a toll on my physical well-being.
However, it all felt worth it because The wedding was a lot of fun.
In retrospection, the physical pain might have distracted me from the emotional stress that I had become so prone to.
What were the highlights of 2015?
Hidden in that question which I asked several people, was a quest for an answer for myself. As I dug through the darkness of the year, the clock switched.
It was January 1, 2016 and there, in my mailbox, was my evaluation report as an SF City Guide. I read and in that moment I understood :
If you keep your heart open, gratitude will find its way, even through unfair times.