Gratitude Post

Hello friends!

Hope you all are doing well. Been some time since I last posted here and good things have happened since. When I say good things, they don’t necessarily mean fabulous things that may make someone jump and say, “Yay!” But in the aftermath of my father’s death, the little things that help us get back to the normal track of our lives feel great.

With that in mind, here are some of the things which have happened:

  • My mom started opening our medicine shop, where she earlier used to help my dad. She says, and we agree, that working this job gives her a sense of purpose in life and she is better off for it. From a mental health perspective, she seems to be doing slightly better, which is really something to be happy for
  • This weekend, I donated blood at a camp held in the memory of my father and couple of his colleagues who passed away this year – it’s good work and I felt immensely proud to be part of it
  • We have made good progress in doing the paperwork around keeping the business running, which involved a lot of running around government offices etc. My brother and I did all this along with our day jobs, which I am proud of
  • I started taking French classes from Alliance Francaise du Bengale who are holding online classes at the moment for A1 French. I am making good progress in it all through – in the beginning I was worried if I’d be able to do all this, along with the house chores as well the day job. This class involves me waking up around 7 AM in the morning, which I had not been doing for many months now so this is definitely an improvement.
  • I met someone through a language learning app who is French but is also learning Bengali, which is my mother tongue. A fact I so absolutely love. I never thought someone in Europe would be keen to learn a language which is spoken by people in just two countries. I always looked at language learning from the perspective of how many doors it would open for you in as many countries as possible
  • I also have ramped up my reading efforts – bought a Kindle this Prime Day and I am finishing at least a book within a week
  • To that end, I have also created a brand new YouTube channel in which I’m going to be talking about books, TV shows, movies and reading/writing. As you guys know, I am working on a few books myself and it felt only right to start engaging with the reading community!

That’s about all the updates I had to share as of now. How about you guys? How’s life treating you?

Things of beauty

I am sitting in my balcony, amid plants and household chaos. The laptop rests on the tiny table that I bought few days ago from a four-storied furniture shop. The tiny table was on display without much pomp. It has a green top and a picture of Winnie the Pooh with some girl (sorry, didn’t grow up reading comics). At the shop, it didn’t quite stand out, amid all the other furniture. Here, in my house though, it is a different story.

This table is what I call an epitome of cuteness. It’s multipurpose, so it serves as a surface to chop vegetables as well as a place to work on the laptop. It is a kid’s table and I love it!

I am listening to Becoming on Audible; got two months of Audible subscription free via Cred. For those who don’t know Cred, it’s an app through which you can pay your credit card bills in India. It also hosts an array of product offering which is supposed to make you want a luxury lifestyle, but I am usually immune to the charms of capitalism, except when it comes to things that are cute.

Talking about cute, did I mention I bought a cute planter and a marble queen pothos?

The weather today was comfortable. I was out and about, doing some adult stuff like groceries and figuring our paperwork. Overall, it was a good day.

Hope you’re having a good day too, wherever in the world you are. See you on the next one!

A short story project in the making

I wrote a story story. I wrote it end to end, all three thousand words of it. With a start, middle and a convincing end. Feeling accomplished!

Usually, stories come to me as an idea. At times even as a dream. But an idea still. The idea might be just a sentence or a concept. I won’t always know how to start or end the story. That has always been a problem. I start working on the idea and then it loses steam. I don’t know if I am going towards a convincing climax or I am just floundering.

Today, too, I started off with the idea and didn’t know how the story was going to end. I figured out the ending as I went along and oddly I found it fitting. And so, I finished a complete story in one sitting. I cannot but feel deeply satisfied at that.

While I was writing this story, I realized something key. Writing, at the end of the day, is about making believe in a world that they are not part of. Or, if it is something they indeed live in, make it damn relatable. But that’s the meat of it: make it real. As long as you focus on that, you don’t need to worry about the beginning, the end, the grammar, the overuse of adverbs or every other rule that makes a prize-winning book. It even makes the writing process feel easy, takes the pressure off. Know that, as the author, you have full control of the world you create. You need to give your readers just enough so they can see themselves in it, no more, no less.

I had been working on a novel, something that deals with modern day love relationships. But having gone through such a deep loss personally, the theme of the novel feels too shallow for my current mindset. I think about the problems that my characters were facing and the challenges feel too easy. I know that it’s not the right mindset for a writer. You need to empathize with your characters as you flesh them out. I know that in the world I have created in the novel, the characters’ problems are as complex as as a normal person would have, it’s just that I don’t find them complex enough to write convincingly about. That’s why I have decided to take a step back until I personally feel normal and less morbid. Until then, I am going to focus my creative energies on a story story project. Currently, I am thinking 10 short stories with 3K words each. It might end up being five stories or eight in the end, but I am looking for a quick publish. The novel was supposed to come out in Aug/Sep – I want to stick to that timeline.

Life will pass you by whether you want or not. Our time on earth is limited, so if you can create, make sure you are working towards your project and letting it see the light of the day.

On that note, before I get more morbid, let me end here. Hope y’all are doing good and having a great Sunday!

A beach, some sand and some conversations

If you had to sum up your life in a few conversations, which would top that chart?

Tonight, I am thinking, let’s imagine we are on an island with sandy beaches and coconut trees. Imagine an open clearing, a vast sky meeting the vast sea-line. A safe space, even if it is stranded. It’s about dusk, the shadows have started to deepen and lengthen. You’re sitting with someone. Or more than one person. You are sitting and having conversations, about the things that you have or have not done, the regrets, the small happy things, the smiles, the over-binging on pickles as a kid when your mom was not looking. You could be talking about anything. So which conversation comes to mind?

I feel blessed sometimes to have known people with so much mental depth and character. I am glad to be part of their stories.

So tonight, I think back to that night when one of my flat-mates told me, “All said and done, no boy in your life is irreplaceable.” I had gone through a rough patch in my life then and I needed to hear that. She told me this as part of her then somewhat difficult relationship trying to convince both sets of parents of a possible marriage. And now they are. The important thing was to know that you can move on from all sort of heartbreaks, if you choose to.

Someone else told me today not to depend on one person for all the needs of life. A simple, yet powerful mantra to living. Perhaps, the most adult advice that I have heard today.

From a different night, I remember the conversation with a faraway friend, when I was trying to come to term with a very difficult part in my past. It was not a conversation, more me crying trying to decide if I could lay bare all that was in my heart, and then choosing not to. But that night, he told me that we all have such figures in our lives who cast deep psychological shadows on us, and yes, perhaps a lot of our stressors can be traced back to them, but at the end, we learn to deal with it. We cope. We live. That is the important part. It had made me stop crying.

Come to think of it, our lives are a sum of moments and conversations. A specific moment comes to mind, when I was receiving a prize at a major competition while I was in college, and my professor was in the crowd clicking pictures with tears in his eyes, because it was the first time our college was receiving a first prize in that competition. We are not in touch anymore, but that moment strikes out.

I suppose we look for profoundness in our lives, when there may not be any. I am guilty of finding deep meanings in things which might just be that, a random thing.

Yet, some conversations stand out. So, if you are on that beach right now what is the conversation that is spinning?

Home and Books

Sometimes, we need to be around people from very different from us to just nudge us exactly how much we need to be in the direction we need to be in.

I’m sitting in this room, a small 10 by 10 feet room, with a large bed, a brown table and a few chairs. There’s a cubical inverter that consumes space in one of the corners. There’s a book case right opposite me stacked to the brim. There a tiny money plant on a shelf with the wifi router, right above the inverter.

It’s a functional room. It’s the front room of our house.

With my father taken from us, I keep thinking of creating a home somewhere else. But in reality, this is the house I grew up in – this is what home always would be. And maybe, we should protect that at all costs. Maybe, this should stay, in spite of how much our lives change, exactly how it is, today. Maybe, I should come back to this home, many years later, flanked by kids, and let them see the home I grew up in.

I started reading Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines yesterday. I was planning to buy a Kindle last night, but then I thought, let me at least get used to the idea of reading electronically. I do, of course, read a lot electronically. Web pages and emails. Mostly all my serious reading happens on screens. But one needs to to read for pleasure as well. I realize I have been reading so little for pleasure, just to feel good.

So started with Amitav Ghosh yesterday. It’s feeling good so far.

Until later.

Should relationships have expiry dates?

When I was in middle school I often had these episodes when I used to stop talking to my classmates as a result of random fights. Sometimes, the fights wouldn’t even be explicit. We just stopped talking for a period which varied between two days to even two months at a stretch. But once that period was over, we started talking normally as before, as if nothing had happened.

I think not confronting issues straight up is ingrained in Indian culture. We like our periods of not talking, fuming separately.

But having worked in corporate set up for several years now, I think I have become slightly better at confrontations. I have learnt not letting things go without explanation.

Sometimes when it comes to personal relationships though, it still gets tricky. Should relationships have expiry dates? Or can we fall in and out of touch, and then resume back contact after a period as easily as it was during those childhood days?

I have done that as well, as an adult. Trying to patch things up.

But as I get older, somehow, I have started letting things go. We hope people will change, but sometimes it takes too long. Do we want to tolerate that strained relationship hoping that person would change or see to your point of view? At the same time, you know you are changing as a person and your priorities are changing too. So maybe you are already in a zone from where things can only diverge further and any chance of convergence is because in your heart you wish to live in an alternate reality, knowing well it would never be true.

This is how I feel now. Maybe, some more years and my perspective will again shift. To be honest, with this pandemic, I have often thought that maybe we should abandon all fights and just live in peace. While that is ideal, human nature always surfaces. It’s difficult to hold your patience when you yourself are under a lot of strain. Those fights are perhaps not easy to avoid, even though we wish we can.

I think within Nature there is as much a place for a storm as there is for calm. So, in the end, if it helps you reach your intended level of peace and calm, maybe some fights are worth it.

What do you guys think? Let me know.

A happy memory

This morning mom started feeling weak, perhaps the result of her ongoing battle with Covid. She’s saying it’s the first time in the last 14 days that she has felt this way. Naturally, the emotional state at home is brimming with worry and helplessness.

In a way, we have had it all. We have been dealing with Covid for over 1.5 months now, and it has strained all of us. But do we sit here and keep lamenting? Does not make sense.

So I sat down to focus on a positive memory. The tough part is, I’m having to think a while to come up with something worthwhile.

Here we go:

A long time ago, perhaps when I was in sixth standard, I went to a poetry writing competition. I don’t remember the theme on which we had to write, but I distinctly remember having included the words “because old is gold.” Or maybe I am imagining it. I don’t know. The only thing that I can be very clear on is the fact that I wrote a long poem.

The thing is, I wrote the poem and came back, never bothering to enquire what the results came out to be.

Many days later, one of my schoolteachers who frequented such competitions asked me, “Arpita, did you participate in this event? Because it feels to me like they announced your name as the winner.”

It was surprising to hear him say that. One, because I did not expect this. Second, because I thought if I was indeed a winner, maybe the organizers would find a better way to get in touch with me. I do remember feeling a bit let down, if I had indeed won, at not being able to pick up the prize in front of a cheering crowd.

So I went with a neighbor to this nondescript building where the event had taken place (or maybe, it did have distinct and interesting features, but my memory fails me). Surprising as it was, my teacher was indeed right. They gave me a certificate and a trophy of a respectable size. I had won the first prize!

I remember coming home and feeling so excited about it, at the sheer unexpectedness of things. I don’t remember how my father felt about this, but my mother was definitely happy.

Afterward, this story was repeated many times over, among neighbors, friends and family, until other things pushed it down the stack of memory lane.

If you wish, do write the first happy memory that comes to your mind as you read this. Looking forward to starting a chain of positive memories as we trudge along this pandemic.

The role of a hobby in a crisis

Some of us consciously look for hobbies. Some of us just go on living about our lives, doing the things that need to be done on a day to day basis, without feeling the need to cultivate a hobby.

Sometimes, when one goes through intense periods of crisis, one questions the true purpose and meaning of life. What is the real point of life? Will we see better days? How do we move forward from loss?

These questions all merit thought and discussion. Our low points in life are not few and far between. The daily rigmarole of life is often unbearable in the face of grief. Yet, if one has learnt to invest oneself in things larger than themselves, and actively so, then life feels lot more livable.

As I cope through the loss of my father, I still feel a sense of relief when I see the plants on my rooftop and front yard brimming with life. The loss I have faced is significant, yet, that loss of life is somehow adjusted by abundance of life somewhere else. You then truly learn to appreciate the cyclic nature of life.

My mother, put into a patriarchal setup in a traditional house filled in-laws in ’90s India, has only learnt to serve. A major chunk of her life has been about getting better at household chores, putting food on the plate on time, cleaning utensils and clothes, caring for us when we fall sick. She has not learnt to accept but give, and give selflessly. I have not seen her watching movies or enjoying nice meals at a restaurant. Now that I have picked up some of her work in the household, I realize that it would take a lot of drive to spare time to do things just for fun.

These days, while she is recovering from Covid herself, she has been watching YouTube videos and some TV, none of which she wholeheartedly enjoys. She keeps complaining that she wants to get back to the business of her former life, which is now a shell of what it used to be. I worry for her. I worry that she might feel so lost in despair that she might not know how to move forward. Even as I write this, I know that she perhaps will, but how well?

I feel if she did have a hobby, she might be able to distract herself, focus on something outside of her, have a momentary break from the pain in her heart. Which is why, my brother and I have to be extra careful with her.

I have found, even in these deep times of doom, writing has given me courage. Knowing that I can put these words out here, my feelings exactly as I feel them gives me courage. It makes me feel like I am leaving a small part of myself into these words and leaving behind a little bit of that self. Every moment that I stay focused in creation, I am in a state of metamorphosis, working toward a new self, someone who is stronger for the shells that she loses.

Has your hobby helped you deal with loss or grief? Do share your story with us.

Living with uncertainty

It’s not new that the pandemic has pulled us all into a state of uncertainty. But it’s only when it merges with your existence that you really begin to see the disarray.

A lot of you perhaps know that I lost my father to Covid 19 in May. Mourning the loss of a loved one is tough in itself. In this case, it was intensified further by the fact that we did not have anyone to stand by us in this time. On top of that, I caught an ear infection and have been having a low grade fever for over two weeks. My brother has been coughing for several weeks now. We, however, have tested negative twice for the virus.

One can imagine what all of this combined means for us as a family. Leave aside the fact that we have been wearing masks in the house for over a week. Leave aside the fact that you second guess your own test results every single moment that you think about it. Leave aside the sleeplessness, the constant state of worry that one is in. Life still must go on. Food needs to be cooked, baths need to be taken. Even if your heart breaks, you must get back to work, because you must hold onto every shred of normalcy that you can.

Work gives one a sense of purpose. As the world shuffles and realigns itself around me, I’m still glad to have things around me which are same. The work goals remain the same. While my managers are understanding about my availability and bandwidth, there are still soft deadlines to be met. I gotta buck up and keep going.

My brother bought a new phone today because his old one just gave up on him – and something as simple as seeing him set up the phone gives one the impression that life continues in its own cycle. I ordered a hard disk myself because I no longer have storage on my laptop – thanks to all the videos I shot for YouTube.

Standing today, I don’t know what tomorrow will look like. When tomorrow comes, in hindsight we will know how the story played out. With the benefit of hindsight, we will feel like this was always meant to happen. But in this moment, I’m living and breathing an uncertainty. Of life. Of hopes and dreams. We can only take one day at a time and hold onto as much normalcy as we can. Whatever it takes to get to the other side, whatever it takes!

Creative Block Minor

I’m re-reading this book called “On Writing” by Stephen King. I bought it way back in 2016 when I was serious about being a writer. While I was writing the first draft of the novel I am currently working on, I thought I’d remind myself of the basics of writing, as suggested by Mr. King.

I am actually quite proud of the way the book was going so far. My goal for April was to finish the first draft and I was able to do that. The goal for May was to finish the 2nd draft and that’s where the big problem is.

Of course, I am going through this period of mourning. It’s an unprecedented loss in the family and it will take a long time to get past it. That said, life goes on in its own flow. What I am trying to do right now is get on with that flow, tell life let me move on and really focus on things that would leave a lasting impact.

However, now that I am reading the book, having gone through the emotional roller-coaster that I did, somehow everything feels bland. The challenges of my characters, the situations they are in, feel so simple, so easy to overcome. Yet, some months back, that was what my life was all about.

Somehow, I am jealous of the characters’ lives, of the simplicity in their day to day. On the other hand, however, now that I have seen a very different aspect of life, I want the characters to be much more life-like. Like they are living, breathing individuals.

One thing is for sure, it will take me few months more to finally hit that publish button on this book. Until then, I’ll probably write for you all here.