I wake up thinking about the many streets, alleyways, and homes away from home that I have loved and explored.
Taking Baba to one of my favourite little cafes in Mumbai, insisting that we walk the entire stretch, only to end up eating Bun Maska (him) and fiery ginger biscuit (me), discovering Kala Ghoda and the Delhi Art Gallery and the Jehangir Art Gallery with a childhood friend, sparking a million divergent conversations about public art, urban spaces, the audience as a participant, and engaging in debates of austerity and opulence.
The solitary walks across Edinburgh — still my favourite city in the world — and befriending a beautiful black tabby cat with gleaming green eyes as bagpipes played in the background.
My many conversations with a girl my age, who remains one of my most treasured friends, across continents and even time.
I often have these dreams of abandoning the city for a little garden patch, mushroom shrubs and a quieter life. But the more I think of it, the more I realise how much I will miss observing people on trains — reading books or selling vegetables — how much I will miss the artificial lights that illuminate the night sky as much as stars do, how much I will miss loud, even cringy, music on an evening where I don't want to listen to Bach or Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.
I dream of fields of strawberry and sunflowers and I remember my times going strawberry picking with my sister in San Francisco and drinking many glasses of wine after a hazy whirl of colour and vigour. My tryst with picking blueberries ended with me learning to make bottles and bottles of jam.
So many of us derive strength not only from the stringent structures that keep us going, but from the communities we form the world over, and the fluidity that allows us to navigate many different worlds.
I miss my chosen home — the fisherwomen I see and smile at every single day. I miss them for chiding me for not eating enough fish, often none at all. I miss drinking coconut water and chatting with my neighbours, many of whom have perspectives to share that I would never have otherwise have encountered.
Yet here we are — doing the best we can, isolated from many of our loved ones, holding on to our memories, languishing in grief at the spate of bad news and fervently hoping for better days.
But at least we have sunshine.
Can you be nostalgic about a place you’ve never visited?
Just because someone you love feels the place in their bones?
So you reckon with someone else’s memories and begin to feel an ache and longing for a place that you have never visited until you realise that these are not your memories, but you feel so attached to the other person that they feel like your memories?
In order for me to feel loved and cherished and visible, I need to be accepted for the inconvenient and not-so-nice and not-so-palatable parts of me, especially when those unpalatable parts of me are antithetical to someone else's perception of who I am.
Conversely, as a wise person once said to me, sometimes people see you for exactly who you are, and you are not ready to confront the truth about yourself.
However, after years and years of struggling to convey how I feel in a given situation, I feel loved, cherished, seen, and understood.
Sometimes, people may be ready to love you with everything they have, and it might be you that is not ready to accept that love because you are struggling with aspects of yourself that you find unloveable.
At other times, people are disrespectful and pushy. But that isn’t love anyway, as I have come to understand. Anything devoid of trust, respect, freedom and support, is not love in my book.
Gender, Writing and the Workplace
After almost ten years, I attended a writing workshop recently.
This wasn’t your run-off-the-mill workshop. It needed participants to think through ideas of power, power structures and power imbalances.
After years of trying to hone a distinctive voice for myself, but being too frightened of judgement or what other people thought of my writing, I began to shrink and almost make myself invisible. I stopped writing and stopped trying to seek out a community. So this was a step outside of my comfort zone.
It did not help that “being professional” in a gendered context is often code for “don’t stand out too much.”
I landed my first job (a full-time job, I had been freelancing before that) at age 22, two months after I completed my Masters degree in the UK. This means that I have been engaged in full-time work, in some form or the other, for ten years now and a decade is not a short amount of time, by any means. Fighting for yourself, and being ignored, is very exhausting.
Like many women in the workplace, I have had my fair share of sexism, mansplaining and gaslighting. But I’ve also had allies (some very nice colleagues irrespective of gender), who have stood up for me and believed in me, especially when the environment at my workplaces got toxic, and frankly unbearable.
What struck me about the workshop was, when I spoke about my lived experience, no one immediately jumped in to interject and say, “Oh! this happens to all of us. Oh! you are being too touchy and sensitive. Oh! let me tell you a story about MY hardships.” Instead, everyone listened to everyone. Everyone was kind. Nobody invalidated another person’s experiences.
I had one takeaway from the entire workshop, outside of my insights on writing.
As I get older, I don’t want to be in spaces or partake in conversations that diminish me, and diminish and denigrate other people, and give off an impression that we are too naive, too inexperienced, too “emotional” (another word reserved for women and almost never men), and that our voices don’t count. That kindness and empathy can be guiding forces of good leadership. That excellence does not have to mean being ruthless and tearing other people down.
Being the sentimental person that I am, I always keep notes and messages and poems and letters written for me in a safe place. These are tangible evidence of fleeting moments — those of beauty, joy, and sometimes bittersweet anguish. My friend just shared a post about hoarding, and I realised that I am a hoarder, not just in the physical, tangible sense but also in the metaphorical sense — of hanging onto great memories. I am not someone, who lives with many regrets, but if I look back on my past, the only thing I ever regret is not spending enough time getting to know someone, judging someone too quickly, or not giving someone the benefit of doubt in a moment that they truly needed me to be there for them. Over the years, as I have grown, so has my community of people. As a painfully shy nineteen-year-old, the number of individuals I know and interact with now, on a daily basis, would have been unfathomable.
There are distinctive moments and people who have shaped me, though. In 2010, as a lonely homesick person, the Bangladeshi uncles who took me under their wing to the point where they reminded me of my mother’s affection (and cooking!), the professors and teachers, who through their brave choices, both in their life and their work, taught me that the freedom to imagine a better world, and to work doggedly towards what I believed in, was a right. My friends and family, who stood by me at my lowest lows and cheered me on during my highest highs, my little nephews and niece who illuminate every single room they walk into with their sparkly smiles. This past year taught me that such moments may be fleeting, but I also learnt to be happy, just blissfully happy without overthinking it. Being on the beach, being silly and unapologetically myself, laughing uncontrollably at things no one else finds funny, was utterly freeing. Memory can be a tricky thing. When I talk to my siblings, I realise that we often recount situations quite differently. Be that as it may, I hold on to my version of my memories and hoard them.