These uncertain days

This last year has brought a lot of uncertainty into my life. After going from being a salaried employee at a small non-profit to being unemployed and looking for work, I have often swung back and forth between the fear of not knowing what’s ahead for me and the excitement of having so much time and freedom.

There are days when I struggle to be content with the life I have. Like when I read about my friends’ perfect lives on Facebook – great jobs, family, money, travels abroad; they seem to have it all.

I, on the other hand, spend a good chunk of time listening to well-meaning close friends, relatives, acquaintances, strangers and every other person under the sun, inundate me with questions and advice on my unemployment and relationship status while offering empty platitudes. Apparently, I am supposed to patiently listen to them, smile and respond kindly. Of course.

If you’ve ever been in my position, you’ll know how difficult that can be. Most people aren’t really interested in your problems. To them, your life is just a topic of conversation; something to be debated. Like a puzzle that needs solving.

Then there are those days when I am not weighed down by work or family and can go wherever I want and do whatever I want. Sleep in, afternoon movies, read a book the entire day, learn new things; it’s all good. Need to hop on a bus or plane to go to another city? No problem! Late night plans with friends? Absolutely! Need help with something and don’t know who to call? I’d be more than happy to help! I haven’t had this much freedom since I took a gap year after my bachelors degree.

So when people ask me how I am doing, I’m never entirely sure how to answer them. I am doing very well and terribly. It just depends on which day you catch me.  I know, I know, most of life is like that. But uncertain futures make the oscillation between hope and despair even more intense.

But I don’t want to waste my life or the time given to me. So I’m learning to thrive in the uncertainty while hoping that stability is just around the corner.

 

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Friend-dates

A couple of weeks ago, I met a college friend I hadn’t seen in years. We hadn’t been in the same city since 5 years ago when both of us found ourselves in Delhi. Now, we were both back in Pune and decided to take the opportunity to catch up with each other.

We had never been close friends, but considering neither of us had really attended classes in college, that was hardly surprising. Still, we had kept in touch through the years, dropping a line or two for each other’s birthdays.

The restaurant he had picked to meet was a cute rooftop restaurant with fairy lights strung across the restaurant and from the trees. Music was playing softly in the background and there was a cool, gentle breeze in the air.

It was a great place to meet. Except for the mosquitoes. I have never had so many mosquitoes attack me all at once. They buzzed all around us, circling our heads before diving right into our faces! My friend seemed unperturbed but the mosquitoes were driving me insane so I began to viciously swat them.

Completely ignoring the mosquitoes, my friend told me that he had come half an hour early and reserved a table for us. I was surprised but also slightly hesitant as I wondered – was this a date?

Deciding to ignore the uneasy feeling, I chattered away about what I had been doing these last 5 years and asked what he had been up to. We talked about the usual random stuff – about whom we had kept in touch with from college, about our jobs, about the weather, about traffic. And then he asked me – do you smoke?  No, I answered, can’t stand the smell.

With that, we resumed our somewhat banal conversation. We talked for another 10 minutes when out of the blue he said, I asked you if you smoked because your lips look black. I stared at him, a little unsure of how to react. His statement, so casually and cheerfully said, seemed rude. I self-consciously pursued my lips. I was pretty sure my lips were the same pinkish-brown colour they had always been. So I decided to shrug off his comment and changed the subject.

He talked about his dating life and how he was single now. He asked me about my dating life and my ideal partner. The uneasy feeling that I had had earlier reemerged. He asked me about my hobbies and what I did in my spare time. Then he asked if someone, like my potential in-laws, asked me what my skills were, what my answer would be.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get more awkward, he told me how different I looked now. He mumbled something about my weight. You mean, I’ve put on weight since college?  I asked him in disbelief. He couldn’t really be that clueless about what not to say to women! Yes, he answered and laughed.

Finally after almost two hours, I decided it was time to leave. That’s when he started to dig into his dish and sip his coffee. I stared helplessly into the sky over our heads. Politeness dictated that I stayed until he had finished eating, but sanity mandated that I flee immediately!

When the cheque finally came, I heaved a sigh of relief. 5 minutes later, I waved goodbye to my friend and headed home. As I sank into my couch, I replayed the evening in my mind, still unsure of what to make of it. The whole evening had felt so weird, like a friend-date. Whatever that is. Everything is so casual these days that it’s hard to tell what’s really going on. But wait, those things that he had said, that couldn’t have been flirting!

A few minutes later, my phone started to repeatedly vibrate as messages from him telling me what a great time he had had with me popped up on my screen.

I groaned and buried my head into a cushion. I think I had gotten my answer.

 

Unexpected sunshine

When my friend Michaela told me last October that she was thinking of going to South East Asia early this year and was wondering whether I’d be up for a trip to Thailand with her, I was incredibly excited! I LOVE travelling to new countries and Thailand was one of the places on my list of countries to visit.

Then, unemployment happened. Unemployment turned into prolonged unemployment which meant that I didn’t have the money to travel anywhere. So when she emailed again in January asking if I was still interested in going, with a very heavy heart I had to explain how impossible it would be for me to go. I was terribly disappointed but there was nothing I could do to change my immediate financial situation.

I turned off my computer after responding to her email and lay in bed thinking of all the many dreams I had had for this year that were one by one being destroyed. Life was unfair and I was starting to learn what that really meant.

When I awoke the next morning, I saw that there was an email from Michaela. I could guess what it would say – yes, I totally understand. Sorry that it couldn’t work out but maybe we can do it another time. I thought she’d still go ahead with her plan and I would have to find a way to be genuinely happy for her.

I was very surprised when her email said that she did understand my situation but she was undeterred in her plans of meeting me and spending time together. Would it be okay for her to come to Bombay for a few days before she headed to Singapore and Cambodia?

I was incredibly moved when I read it. Would it be okay?! Of course it would be okay for her to come to Bombay for a few days! More than okay, fantastic really! After the awful months I had been having, it would be such a nice change to have some fun, quality time with a good friend.

So last Friday, I met Michaela at the International Airport in Bombay and we had four days of fun (mainly eating and drinking of course!). We went all over the city, and for a few days it was almost like we were back in Paris again, talking, laughing and discussing everything under the sun. Like we were 21 again.

She left for Singapore yesterday but when I dropped her at the airport, I didn’t feel any twinge of sadness that I wasn’t going with her. I was just so happy to have had this time of unexpected sunshine, this respite from dark and gloomy days.

 

Jodhpur, Rajasthan

I recently returned from a family holiday in Rajasthan. My dad’s friend’s daughter was getting married so we decided to attend the wedding and do some sightseeing as well.

If you haven’t been here, I fully recommend a trip. Rajasthan is a myriad of colours and mesmerising designs. The architecture of the palaces and forts is incredible and the detail in their intricate designs breathtaking. There is a sense of grandeur in this state that is reflected in its structures and culture.

There are no words to fully describe my experiences so I’ve decided to post a few photos. The ones below are taken in Jodhpur, the first stop in our trip.

 

The green-eyed monster in me

We’ve all been told ‘don’t compare yourself to others. You have no idea what they are going through’. And as I have listened to friends and strangers confide in me their struggles and problems, I must admit, I have often felt ashamed at having compared my life with theirs and envying their seemingly great lives.

After finishing my masters in Paris in 2012, while my peers were off to different countries, working with organisations like FIDH, Amnesty, UNHCR, and the European Commission, I started working for a small anti-trafficking non-profit in India.

Pictures of my friends’ travels to different countries, meeting people of different cultures and high profile people, and their exciting work, regularly appeared on my Facebook newsfeed while I stared at my computer, struggling to remind myself what I was doing in a tiny NGO that was constantly understaffed and underfunded with office politics creating further divisions.

Still, I consoled myself, I was working for an organisaton that saved lives and what could be more important than that? Plus, this was supposed to be a temporary job – just until I had enough experience working in a grassroot organisation before doing a PhD or working in a more renowned policy or advocacy organisation. So I kept the green-eyed monster in me at bay with an eye on the future.

Somewhere in my three and a half years of non-profit work, I got sucked into the organisation politics, the frustrations and the constant exhaustion that is synonymous with working with a non-profit. Two years of living in Ooty with few people to talk to made things worse by leading to loneliness, magnified mixed emotions and distorted views.

I was frustrated with the inefficiency of the organisation and the CEO’s unwillingness to step in and change things. There was potential to do so much more, yet there was so much division, so much unhappiness, that progress was not possible.

Money was a key problem for most of the staff. Most of us were underpaid and unappreciated. Working for fundraising meant that I knew just how much everyone was underpaid. I also knew that the founders, American expats, received significant funding from abroad in addition to their regular salaries. Enough to buy land, build houses in India and the US, build an apartment building that they rented as a homestay, and a ‘ranch’. They had workers to take care of the cleaning and maintenance of their property. They could fly to the US with their 4 kids and enjoy 2-3 months of vacation each year. On the face of it, they were really living it up.

I thought back to the time when I received a promotion and had to beg and plead with the founder for an additional increase of about Rs. 400. 400 rupees is nothing. It will, at the most, pay for one meal at a nice restaurant. I couldn’t understand why he would grudge me such a small amount. I think I eventually succeeded in receiving that amount, but I know that despite the ‘win’ it felt like I had lost.

I thought of the times when staff repeatedly asked me why the founder wouldn’t increase their salaries so that it was on par with industry standards; or why they couldn’t stay at hotels which were clean; or take a flight instead of spending 48 hours travelling in a train. And slowly, the comparisons of our very different lives awoke the green-eyed monster in me.

I began to look at only the good parts in the founders’ lives and blocked out the bad. I blocked out the huge sacrifices that they would have needed to be make while founding the organisation and the risks and burdens they must have borne. I knew many of the problems they had, how unhappy they were on many fronts and yet I chose to ignore those parts and focus on what they had and I didn’t. Just like a kid, right?

Thankfully in the months that followed, I recognised the jealously, frustration, anger and loneliness that were tearing me apart. But I think it was only after I stepped out of that NGO and took some time off that I realised how toxic I had become.

Maybe we all need time outs every once in a while. Time to re-evaluate our lives, to re-evaluate ourselves and to work on our monsters within. I know that having these last few months of unemployment have allowed me to do that and have left me, dare I say, happier, at peace, and back to being the brown-eyed girl I used to be.

Waiting for the light

Have you ever had those periods in life when you feel like you are walking through a dark and lonely tunnel? If you’ve been through an actual tunnel before, you know to brace yourself for the impending darkness. You also know that you will soon see the light at the end of the tunnel.

When I was Italy over the summer, I went through tunnels that were much, much longer than any I had ever experienced in India. They were actually tremendously useful since they made my way to my destination much straighter and therefore much faster, unlike the other long-winded paths I could have taken. As a kid, I loved going through tunnels on road trips with my family. There was something exciting about going from light, to sudden darkness and back into the light again.

As an adult, I find that the tunnels of life don’t hold the same excitement. There are some which seem like they go on forever. When I see a tunnel approaching, I can’t help but groan and think – not this again! With prolonged darkness, fear and doubt slowly creep in and I struggle to keep my mind fixed on the assured light at the end.

I think that for each of us there is something about the unknown that makes it seem scary. And uncertain futures particularly, make me feel like I’m standing in quicksand and slowly sinking.

I suppose that’s the whole point of faith. It’s trusting God especially when the ground beneath me feels like it’s going to give way. I don’t need to wonder – will I be alright? Because that question has already been answered.

I just need to wait until I see the light again.

 

Forgiveness is freedom

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Forgiveness is something that I often struggle with. The deeper the wound, the harder it is to forgive, right? We can all think of people who have hurt us and recall saying or thinking – I can’t believe he/ she did that to me! What an awful person! I hope they apologise to me ASAP. Serves them right for what they did to me!

I know I can certainly think of a few people who have hurt me in deep ways. Some of them have never apologised and it has taken a lot of reflection, time and prayer to forgive them and move on.

But there is something infuriating about people who wrong you but refuse to acknowledge it. They create a barrier to the closure we need to move past the hurt. And yet. We must find a way to stop fixating on the past and instead look to the future. We were clearly not made to harbour grudges. We must forgive because that is the only way to be freed from the bitterness, resentment and hate that is building up inside us and threatening to consume us.

And like MLK Jr said, there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.  Even the worst of us have the breath of our Creator and even the best of us have the imprint of our fallenness.

No wonder forgiveness is a mandate of faith. We have to forgive because we are quick to forget the evil in us and fail to see the good in others. We fail to remember the countless times we ourselves have been forgiven.

Forgiveness is a lifelong lesson and sometimes it means forgiving someone over and over and over again. But if that seems like too much, we should remember that forgiveness is perhaps more important for the one who has to extend it than for the one who seeks it.