Yeah, about that deadline…

Another year is drawing to a close, and I’m another year closer to cancelling my backup plans.

Plans made for the “by the time I’m at the ripe-old, very distant age of 35” kind of deadline.

I should’ve travelled at least half the world, become super successful in my career, gone to a Backstreet Boys concert, be married.

Ah the all-important cliché, if-I’m-not-married-by backup plan and the subsequent and much more fun, backup friend.

To blame our baseless desire to be married young on society, movies, parents or fear of being alone, would be weak. It was cool to have a backup and be a backup. That’s the absolute only reason.

Backup

(They worked, but they’re also fictional.)

It was like flirting a little but mostly for the future, with someone you didn’t want to give your A-game to right now.

For the life of me, I cannot remember my backup. The person I chose (after not much deliberation) to throw away what would be left of my life with. Clearly, it was a match made in lazy heaven.

Good thing I got me my M, or I’d have to rummage through my memory and send out some embarrassing emails. Or you know, not desperately marry the ol’ trusty friend who I may have had a heart-to-heart with on a sad day.

And trusty friend he must have been. How else did I feel so free to propose marriage to him – and for him to accept – under the conditions stipulated?

Maybe that’s why people publicly renew their wedding vows, to send a message to the backup friend that their pact is off.

Luckily, I wasn’t solely relying on Prince Charming to infuse meaning into my life. I even set a deadline for career goals. I was meant to be at the top of my game right about 2 years ago.

Backup plan? That I suck. I should just give up on writing and go back to being a Civil Engineer.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s just not my calling. Right now, I want to keep writing. Maybe later, I’ll want design school bags. Or be a nurse. Who knows!

There will be no “giving up” in any case, just dreaming some more. If we give ourselves the freedom to change personal styles and whom we love, then changing dreams shouldn’t be called giving up, just growing up.

I haven’t travelled the world, either. My backup plan was to drop everything and leave.

Um, no. And um, yes.

We did drop everything (not so much drop as plan and ponder over for 4 months) and jump on this little adventure to move overseas for a little while. It’s the married-with-kid version of dropping and leaving.

Besides, I’ve moved around a lot and I’ve fallen in love with different cities. And I’ve realised that there’s no deadline for travelling. I’ll get there. But right now, I’m kinda in the middle of a pretty big adventure.

I barely recognise the girl who made this list on my sister’s PC several lifetimes ago. She was a few months shy of turning 20 and knew nothing about being an adult in the real world. She wasn’t sure about what she stood for and what she was capable of.

But she had heart, I’ll give her that. Something that hardened with time, with heartbreak, loss and failure. But those are the things that strengthen resolve and make tough, badass women.

I am strong, and it has served me well.

But now I want more heart.

More trust and faith and love. More fire and less give-me-that-job passion. More affection and less xoxo. More care and less duty.

I want to feel so much affection for a friend that I can ask them to be my backup in another lifetime.

I want to let myself express so much love for my husband, child and inner circle that they think I’m being borderline creepy.

I want to feel happiness without cynicism, and kindness without a cause.

So I’m putting only one thing on that deadline list today with no backup plan.

I want to have more heart.

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To Chennai, with respect.

Many years ago, I moved to India with Bollywood stars in my eyes and a loud, strumming beat in my heart. For someone who was born and raised overseas, this was going to be my big Indian adventure.

But like in most Indian movies, first you’ve got to hate each other before you find true love.

I fell in love with my country reluctantly at first, and then in a mad rush.

The closeness in my grandparents’ small town of Nagercoil. The freshly washed sun in Kerala, every morning. The smoke and independence in Bangalore’s air. The feeling that someone hit the fast-forward button and lost the remote control a very long time ago, in Mumbai. The indomitable, infectious positivity of Chennai, through heat or rain.

About the time when I was crushing hard on India, I stumbled upon this ad.

 

 

I watched it every single day. Later, when I moved away from India, I watched it every time I missed her. It reminded me of an India we all dreamt we could be part of. One that was film-y enough to be us. One that seemed impossible and yet, something that could only happen in India.

One that we’ve been seeing over and over again for the last few weeks during the Chennai floods.

No vigils, protests or petitions. No time for controversy or negativity. No blogs, logos or inspirational quotes.

It has been action, action, action. Go, go, go.

Food, clothes and medicines are being handed out to the drowned by the drowning. Phone numbers and home addresses are being shared openly and urgently. You need a car, they have a car. You need a doctor, they’ll bring you a doctor. You need to charge your phone, they’ll take you to a clean, dry power source.

If power blackouts and dead phone & mobile lines weren’t going to stop Chennai-ites from helping one another, then what was a little waist-high rain and drain water. No one waited to see what the government would do; they were out long before red-tapism permitted it and will be there long after the media circus ends.

The Chennai floods have wrecked havoc upon her people, but her people have given themselves the gift of time and faith.

Through ruined homes, lost belongings and threatened health, the Chennai-ites have inspired the world with their unwavering and unstoppable fortitude.

It’s far from over and far from perfect, but this is humanity at it’s best. If there was ever a starting point for a better world, this is it.

It didn’t take a calamity for the people of Chennai to band together, they’ve always been that way – it’s part of the whole Tamil charm. But it did show the rest of the world how to move forward.

By getting shit done.

The refugee crisis within

Refugee

We’ve been in transit for seven months now, in search of our next big adventure. I keep trying to document my feelings about it, and I keep coming back to the same thought.

Imagine stepping out of your comfort zone, away from all that is familiar and routine. Every morning, you wake up not knowing what’s in store for the day; whether this is the day you fulfil your dreams and live to tell the tale.

While we’re venturing out into the unknown to live out our dreams, it’s gut-wrenching to see people forced to run away from their homes in search of life. Not a better life, but life.

Now re-read the second paragraph.

I’ve been moving around so much it’s been hard for me to follow the refugee crisis on the news, but I follow Humans of New York and somehow HONY’s stories of the refugees is all that I needed to see. No political games, no war machines, no power struggles. Just people like you and me, real and unedited, scared and lost.

We were labelled refugees once. When we fled from Kuwait during the gulf war.

I was born and raised in Kuwait, it was the only home I had ever known. It was my normal. My parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. My friends, teachers and home. All mine. All tossed aside like some inconsequential childish fantasy.

Two months into our 3-month summer break, I remember waking up to see my family standing outside the apartment, staring and pointing into the distance. We’re not a quiet bunch, my family, and yet that morning you could hear the smoke rising in the distance.

After that, everything was a haze. Spending nights together with family and friends couped up in a deserted top-storey apartment. Playing cards and board games, watching movies, reading books and eating junk – it was a week of slumber parties. It was the only place my parents could find to hide their little girls.

I remember my last glance into the home I was born into. The soft brown carpet, the cream wallpaper and my Barbie refrigerator filled with Barbie shoes that didn’t make it into any bag. There was a big warm glow in the middle of the living room, like sunlight that got trapped inside when the windows were sealed shut. To me it was a ball of pure happiness and that didn’t make it into any bag, either.

Too young to grasp the weight of what was happening around us, this was an adventurous road trip. The men with guns along the roadside were there because something serious was happening further up. The vacated apartment complex we stayed at overnight was just a break from the long drive. Its long, empty corridors were perfect for roller-skating with the cousins. The hoards of people lined up along the border just didn’t get hotel reservations yet and would probably pass through within the next few hours.

We drove from Kuwait, through Iraq to Jordan in a convoy of 3 cars; 3 children, 2 women (1 pregnant) and 4 men. We were some of the lucky ones who knew someone who knew someone else who could help us out with a work permit of sorts. The little piece of paper made all the difference. Our own car instead of a bus. A room instead of a tent. Canned food instead of handouts. A bathroom instead of a hole. (Except for those few times we went on the side of the road in No Man’s Land between the borders. Not a person, not a light as far as the eye could see. Just a billion stars and eight frightened refugees.)

At every checkpoint (or soldier-with-a-gun point), my sister and I pretended to be asleep as a game, and maybe as a defence mechanism to avoid having to look a man with a gun in the eye. Not like they were looking for our approval or for our consent.

I always imagined that the hardest part for my parents in all this was getting us to safety. But now I see that that wasn’t the hardest part, that was the prayer.

Imagine getting in a car or a bus with your family – your world – and driving into a war because it’s the only way out. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get out, but if you stay, you’re in the war. You become collateral damage.

What if the only way out is by a rickety old boat? Stay and hope for a painless death or leave and give your children a chance. Even if it’s a slim chance.

But what do I know? We were going back to our motherland; our parents were taking us back home. To our families, ancestral homes and open doors. To India. And there she stood, strong and loving as the day when we left her for a better life. Now we were back, running for our lives, and she welcomed us with a kindness only a mother can have.

Not the refugees of today, they’re not running back home, they’re running from it. Begging someone to show a little kindness, to make the world a safer place for their children.

It’s not boats that arrive at our borders, it’s lives. Daughters who were saved from rape, sons who were shielded from mutilation. Men and women, desperate to breathe and love and sleep one more time.

I remember my parents knocking on a stranger’s door somewhere in the middle of war and peace. The kids needed a glass of water and to use the toilet and to get out of the car that was now a portable oven. I can only imagine their relief when the woman who opened the door greeted us with compassion.

I now know that there was a government order to not entertain refugees. It was a punishable offence.

That day the Iraqi woman, in her floral dress and loving home, gave us bread, water and a lesson in kindness.

Yet we find it hard to trust these men, women and children knocking at our shores. To open our borders, to share a meal, some space and maybe a kind word. We worry that maybe war changes even the good people. Creates monsters out of men.

I’m not a monster, but war did change me.

I learnt about rape before I learnt about sex. I knew what torture was before I knew what bullying was. I feared smoke rising from a distance more than a monster under my bed.

We found our way to safety soon. Parents tried to shield us from pain and horror as best as they could, but these things have a way of seeping into your very fibre. Through ashes in the air and fear on the faces around you.

I wasn’t a child anymore, but I was frightened like one.

Of things I couldn’t fathom, couldn’t believe and couldn’t even spell.

And I was one of the lucky ones.