TABLE FOR ONE

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If I remember right, it was in class 8, that we were asked to analyze William Wordsworth’s lyrical poem, ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ (more popularly known as ‘Daffodils’). Being a loner at heart, and often indulging in such wanderings myself, I found it easy to relate to this simple yet profound piece of work. My English teacher had applauded it as ‘a sincere and well comprehended analysis’. Having recently lost his brother, Wordsworth was actually melancholic at the time he wrote the poem, but I understood that my own wanderings were not really dismal. ‘Being alone’ did not have to mean ‘being lonely’.

Years later, life nudged me to revisit the cognizance of the 12-year old me. Every decade of life brings new learning, but the forties have been really profound so far. After over two decades of constantly hovering around each other, my husband was suddenly and unexpectedly posted to Bangalore. It brought back solitude in heaps, the minutes piling up like an untidy collection of objects placed haphazardly on top of each other. At first, it was overwhelming, but in due course, the aesthete in me started coherently stacking up the hours in neat, codified piles. It was an opportunity to feed the ‘slow life’ fanatic in me and before I knew it, I was addicted to the unceremoniously strewn moments.

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Being raised in patriarchal societies, we women are conditioned to calibrate from a young age and that kind of cumberance eventually becomes a roadblock that we  subconciously set up for ourselves. We grow up believing that it is somehow wrong to enjoy a movie on our own or go out with friends if the husband and kids are at home. So one fine day, when solitude comes knocking, we don’t know what to do.

Many years ago, while I was still in junior college, I had to appear for an exam. Having reached the examination centre too early, I decided to grab a sandwich at a nearby restaurant to kill time. It did not occur to me that sitting by myself in a restaurant was such a big deal, but clearly it was. I was catcalled at and stared down with derision. It was mortifying and the incident made me guarded and even more diffident than I already was.

Things are thankfully different now. I recently read that ‘Good at being alone’ is seen as a skill important enough to be put on a resume in countries like Japan. The late Japanese journalist Iwashita Kumiko in 1999 coined an interesting term called O-hitori Sama Kojo Iinkai (the Committee for Advancing the Interests of People Who Do Things Alone). ‘O-hitori sama’, more than anything else, has become a newly coined expression to describe women soloing out, and I am heartened to see that the trend is catching up in Indian cities too. After solo shopping sprees when I now enter a restaurant, it seems unremarkable to say, “Table for one”. As far as ‘3 little words’ go, these are sweeter than any other, putting a spring in my step and a smile on my face on lackluster days. On a deeper level, it is quantum leaps such as these that transform society from the ground up. As individuals, it sets us free.

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I’ve never considered myself a ‘spa person’, but after a particularly disorienting day walking the bylanes of Pratunam district in Thailand, I once allowed myself to be coaxed into a foot massage. As the masseuse worked deftly to unknot my muscles, I eased into a trance and an hour later, emerged out of there thoroughly rejuvenated. Solitude is much like that massage, it helps in the unfettering of the fortifications that we entangle ourselves in. There’s something profound about being alone and I am beginning to relish the beauty of it.

Humans are social animals and company is always welcome. So, in essence, I am by no means promoting soloism (if there is such a term), but just upholding the merits of such a state if you ever find yourself in it. These are the fringe benefits of a situation that most people consider somber. The “bliss of solitude” as Wordsworth puts it is worth exploring. Life is so interesting and vast, that time falls short. So it’s prudent to not waste time waiting for company when there is none, but rather go after what ignites us and sets our hearts aflutter. And while we’re at it, let’s not forget that there are lessons to be learned and thoughts to be shared. If while ‘wandering lonely as a cloud’ we can unleash our creativity, share and inspire someone with our experiences, then we can leave knowing we honored the magnanimous gift of life.

 

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BEING COLUMBUS

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‘Every one of us has in him an undiscovered continent. Blessed is he who acts the Columbus to his own soul’. – Author unknown.

During the time I was living in the Middle East, one time I caught a late evening flight to Mumbai. My mum was there to receive me at the airport and I walked into her arms like a lost person returning home. The tectonic plates were shifting and something was changing, like a seismic activity at the soul level. I later learnt that the feeling of being lost is actually a good thing, because that’s when you know that you can be found. That there is a place you are meant to return to.

I believe in the theory that our emotions, feelings and thoughts find expression through our bodies. The physical manifestations are a reflection of that. So it was evident that all the bottled-up fizz was gonna spill out sometime. And it did. I did not want to end up bitter, so I started questioning things. Instead of asking: ‘why me?’, I wondered: ‘what is life trying to teach me?’ They say that experiences keep coming back to you until you learn what you’re supposed to. It’s a thought worth exploring.

So, one thing led to another and I kept toddling along, trying to understand and explore myself. Once I put the intention in place, inspiration and help started appearing out of nowhere. There are lots of angels around, if you just look for them. There will be one at every turn, at every crossroad; waiting to hold your hand and take you ahead. One such angel I found at the right time was Leesha. She talks about angels all the time but little does she realize that she is one. From an ordinary young girl battling life’s miseries, she found the courage to not only find her own magnificence but constantly pushes others to find theirs too.  From the moment I first met Lee, I knew she was special. Her radiance, her quiet smile, her kind words cleared the cobwebs from my mind. She didn’t give me solutions; rather she made me seek them on my own.

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We all have our own unique experiences. Some like to be secretive about theirs, some cover theirs with dejection, some are just trying to get by, and then there are the ones who show us how life is meant to be lived. I like the ones who wear their heart on their sleeves. They are the ones who hold their heads high, who don’t believe in being ashamed of anything.  They are the torch-bearers who inspire us.  And so you find them and try to follow their light.

For me, there came a time when being in my cocoon was harder than breaking free. From a shy, pathologically introverted type, I seem to have morphed into this blatant, unconcealed kind of woman who unabashedly goes around telling people how she feels. But I like it this way; especially when I see that people reciprocate and respond to the enthusiasm.

The other day I met up with a friend and was trying to encourage her to explore her talent of crocheting. We had talked about everything under the sun, but when she spoke about how she had made a beautiful crocheted purse for her daughter, there was this spark in her eyes, a glow on her face, that wasn’t there before. I wish I could have held a mirror to her in that moment. And maybe I did, for she told me a week later that she had taken up a new project after a really long time.

Here I am reminded of C. Joybell C’s words: “You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don’t know it, all of that doesn’t even matter. Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away.  It’s not like you have forever, so don’t waste any of your seconds, don’t throw even one of your moments away”.

It doesn’t matter if others validate you or not.  You need to give yourself a chance, read your chapter out loud. Among other things, this blog is a reflection of me. If even one person connects with me through my writing, I am satisfied. It is through these tiny little encounters that I feel complete. It is then that I feel like I am crafting what is essentially ‘me’.

Like George Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”.  If you are waiting for the right time, don’t.  Start creating yourself now.