2013

It’s the last day of 2013  and yet I feel like the year barely started.  On January 1 I woke up sick in the slums of Ahmedabad.  A family was kind enough to host me through a program attempting to bring the poor and the well off together.  It was organized through a non-profit that sent several of us into the homes of trusted slum-dwellers.  My host was a grandmother who was a sweeper for the non-profit. She would wake up early every morning to sweep the grounds of the organization and then return home to make breakfast for her grandchildren before they headed off to school.  I was supposed to sweep alongside her in the morning, but because I was sick, she insisted I sleep in.  There must have been eight women in the family sleeping in her one room shack, while the men slept outside, but they insisted I have my own bed.  I was on the fence when I originally heard about the program, considering that I already hate using the facilities when I stay with my well-to-do relatives in India. But then decided to do it at the last minute.  I had no other plans for New Year’s Eve and figured it would be a good experience for me.  I had spent countless other times drunk and cold and tired and hung-over.  I didn’t know what to expect in terms of NYE celebration, but it turns out there wasn’t any – after watching TV, we must have gone to bed at 10pm.  There was no question of doing a midnight countdown, as I was fast asleep when the year changed. For my sweet host and her family, it was a night like any other.  In the end, it was a great experience. I was humbled by the family that took great care of me and even insisted on giving me money from their meager savings for the auto rickshaw ride home since I was sick.

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Eating dinner together in the cramped space. Note that we are sitting in front of a cot that is pulled down into place every night for bed time.

The year started off with me being humbled by many things. Not only by my host family, but also by Raghu Bhai, my host in Ahmedabad who was constantly hobbling around on his hands because his legs were crippled by polio as a child. Though he grew up dirt poor in a village many miles away from Ahmedabad, he refused to beg for food. Instead, he arrived in Ahmedabad penniless. At night he slept on the streets and by day he guarded shoes outside a temple, only accepting donations from well-meaning individuals as compensation.  Throughout his hardships, he remained an inspirational, generous and positive being, always striving to make the world a better place and even considered his misfortune early in life to be a good thing because it pushed him to help others.

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I was humbled by the immensity of our planet and how different things are from the fast-paced cities and internet and constant TV news coverage I’m used to when I stayed with a family in a remote village several hours outside of Ahmedabad.  This was a place without paved roads, where the homes had mud floors and wasted little electricity.  My gracious hosts cooked a meal with vegetables picked directly from the farms nearby and generously gave me and another visitor a small cot to share at night where I fell asleep under the stars listening to the sounds of crickets and restless cattle snorting nearby.

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I was also humbled by my first real taste of failure – attempting to start a business and deciding not to and then figuring out how to tell family, friends and professional colleagues that I felt like a flop.  By having surgery and being reliant on others for everything and realizing how lucky I am to be in good health.

I managed to complete The Artist’s Way.  Definitely a struggle at times, but worth it in the end. When I think of the book, I think of long evening walks in Colonial Park where I saw rabbits and turtles and ducks and managed to regain a sense of calm amid the turbulent waters of home.

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I learned how to sew, which turned out to be more fun than I imagined. I always loved fabric and then to be able to create anything I wanted with the fabric of my choice was pretty exciting.

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I moved to an apartment in Brooklyn that I don’t love and started a new job I am not excited about. But in the end, it was the right move. I needed my space and my sanity back.

A very challenging ten-day silent meditation retreat gave me a lot to reflect on in life and happiness and priorities.  It was profound and life-changing in so many ways and still brings a lump to my throat when I think of it.  I tried to explain the experience to people, but realized it’s impossible. Some things are yours alone.

And now it’s December again and it feels like the year has gone by way too fast. It seems like just yesterday I was waking up freezing cold in the slums of Ahmedabad with an unwelcome rumbling in my stomach.  The year has been challenging and a struggle. I don’t know yet what lessons came out of it. The journey continues.

On to 2014.

Anatomy of a Panic Attack

 

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You come home after your first day at the new job.  All week before today you were having anxiety dreams and stress over the upcoming job and move to the new apartment.  Finally you made it through the first day.  But still can’t seem to find a sense of calm or balance.  So you have a solid plan upon arriving home: you will take a quick pee, change and head to the gym.  Afterwards you will eat dinner, shower, try to unpack more of the boxes in your room and then go to sleep at a reasonable hour.  It seems like a fine idea because exercise is always a good stress reliever and you need to do something to stop feeling so much apprehension.

So you head over to the bathroom and deliberate for a split second over locking the door. You have a new roommate and feel that perhaps in the beginning you should lock the door, but it won’t really matter later once you know him better and feel more comfortable.  After peeing and washing your hands, you pull the knob only to find that the lock comes out in your hand.  You are locked in.

At this point your heart starts to beat fast and you start to get very warm. The apartment already seems to run hot and the bathroom is even hotter.  You are thankful that at least you brought your cell phone with you and can call your roommate or a friend.  Then your mind starts racing through all the possibilities of how long you will be stuck in the bathroom.  Can someone call the building super? How long will it take for the super to get into the apartment and then help to unlock the door? One hour? Two?  Will your roommate get home at a decent hour to help? Can you get a friend to come and help? But wait, your friend doesn’t have keys to the building or your apartment.  Your cell phone doesn’t have more than 40% battery left so it could easily run out while you are stuck in the bathroom.

The whole time that your mind is racing, your shaking hands are trying to fix the lock.  At a logical level, you can see what needs to be done and can perhaps even do it. But your mind says, “what if I can’t do it? How long will I be stuck? It’s boiling hot in here. I won’t last.”   You almost bang the sturdy door in fright and are on the verge of trying to kick it open but know that you will likely only succeed in breaking some of your own bones if you even try.

You have a vague recollection that if you close your eyes and focus on your breathing, you might even be able to calm yourself before it’s too late. 

All of a sudden, all the fumbling with the lock is successful and you are able to open the door. You swear to yourself that you will never again lock this door.  Another vow placed alongside all the other promises you made to avoid this very situation. 

As soon as you are out, you feel relieved, but very shaky. So shaky that your hands are trembling for a half hour afterwards and you can’t seem to catch your breath. You call your best friend and lament over how you very nearly freaked out in the bathroom. It could have been bad. 

You head over to the gym, but while listening to Mary J.’s remake of “One,” you find yourself on the verge of tears while on the rowing machine.  You can’t quite figure out why. 

“Here we go again…”

This phrase kept rolling through my head as I was on my daily evening stroll in Colonial Park.  The reason is probably because the past week or so has been a whirlwind of activity.  I accepted a job offer from a small consulting company, I found an apartment and I have to move within the next week and start my new job.  To say that I am feeling a little anxious over so many changes is an understatement!  I’ve had anxiety every step of the way.  Whether to apply to this company in the first place? Whether to quit midway through the interview process? Whether to accept the offer?  So finally I decided.

I am not sure how to cope with it all. How will I maintain my sense of balance? My meditation?  All the creative things I am trying to do in my free time?  Should I just throw in the towel until January to get adjusted to things and then try to start some new routines to figure out life after corporate???  Will I even have any energy left over at the end of a work week for all this stuff??

I am clearly all over the place.  I largely abandoned this blog over the last six months because I wasn’t sure I had anything to say that I wanted to share on a blog. Thinking about the inception of this blog and re-reading my earlier entries makes me happy.   The last year has been harder.  With trying to start a business, then deciding not to, feeling like a failure, and then figuring out how to proceed.  I had a hard time with the thought of going back to a corporate job but could really use the money and the health insurance.

In the meantime, the idea of writing on a blog again has been tugging at me. But I didn’t have a theme I felt inspired to write about.  I thought about the types of writing I enjoy reading and it tends to be more personal and introspective in nature, such as the Modern Love column in the NY Times.  That is the kind of stuff I want to be able to write.  But I know it doesn’t happen overnight. Like any craft, I need to do it regularly to grow and improve.  I also need to make it a routine, otherwise it won’t happen. And somehow, the act of publishing it on a blog will force me to write more regularly.  That isn’t to say that I will publish everything I write. But it will force me to think more about what I want to say and polish it.

My goal, at least initially, is to publish once a week.  I thought about publishing more frequently, but also know that if I am too overambitious then it won’t get done at all.  The topics will be varied for now. I will see how it evolves and maybe in the future I will pick more of a focus.  Obviously topics like career, passion, creativity, and travel are favorites for me – they will very likely continue to be themes.

So today, while walking, the title of this blog came to me.  “Here we go again.”  Into the world of apartment hunting and work and schmoozing on the job and having my days filled with meetings and coming home so exhausted that I barely have energy to do anything but flop on the couch and watch TV.  It feels a little like I’ve been on this ride before. First with pwc. Then with Accenture.  Will I ever do anything else besides management consulting??  But while working out at the gym, Nelly Furtado sang on my ipod:

“I am not a one-trick pony
I really feel no one can own me
I really feel nothing can hold me

Nobody can control me
Nobody can conform me
Nobody can disown me
Nobody can ignore me

I am not a one-trick pony
For you I will not dance
For you I will not prance…”

I am not a one-trick pony.

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Amazing skies over Colonial Park

Women of Kutch

Check out the pictures of the Ahir and Rabari women. Rabaris were typically nomadic camel herders and I think Ahirs were cow herders.  Many are no longer nomadic or doing their traditional occupations. One impact of this is that the younger generation is getting a better eduction, but have less time and interest in learning the beautiful embroidery that is their tradition.

A few other things to note:

– Many of these groups make several heavily embroidered tops as part of their dowry. It is an indication of their skills, too. However, these days many women pay others to make the tops that will become part of their dowry. Not sure how this impacts their selection of a groom for marriage.

– Rabari women have many tattoos on their legs, arms, neck, sometimes even face. They said it is all ornamentation, like henna, but permanent. They get it when they are young, like 10 years old. But they said this practice has mostly died out and children do not get tattooed these days.

– The Rabari women’s blouses are completely backless!! They typically wear the shawl over their head and back, so you would never know. But if you catch a glimpse, it is quite revealing for how conservative their cultures is!

Ahir women

Ahir women

Rabari women - traditionally nomadic camel herders

Rabari women – traditionally nomadic camel herders

Tattooed at the age of ten as ornamentation (like henna, but permanent!)

Tattooed at the age of ten as ornamentation (like henna, but permanent!)

Even the neck is tattooed

Even the neck is tattooed

Inspiration from the runways of Kutch

Yes, you heard me right.  Last Saturday night attended the fashion show displaying the creations of the Kala Raksha Vidhalaya graduates from this year.  Kala Raksha Vidhalaya (KRV) is an organization founded by Judy Frater in Kutch to provide design training to artisans in the area. She found that while their work is admired and respected, designers from all over the world were coming to Kutch and handing over their own designs to the artisans, effectively turning the artisans into laborers.  She wanted to provide the artisans with design training so they could be innovative with developing their own designs and not risk losing their skills that have been in their families for generations.

The year-long program was developed with local customs in mind, so classes are separated by gender.  Many women would feel too timid being in class with men and would feel less confident in developing innovative designs.  There are six sessions, including Color, Basic Design, Market Orientation, Concept and Communication, Finishing and Collection Development, Presentation.  Students live on campus for two-week sessions and then go back to their villages to work on the assignments for several weeks.  They are paired with design students from prestigious schools around the world to help them think about their inspiration and skills and apply them in new ways.  The culmination of the program is a fashion show and convocation.

I was impressed with the professionalism of the fashion show. KRV was sure to respect every student’s work with a true runway and real models showing off their designs.  After modeling each designer’s clothes, the designer would go on stage and take a round.  I was inspired to see so many of them showing off their work and really taking risks that they would normally have been too timid to take.  After the weekend I visited one of the alums from a past year that specializes in block printing. He said that he had benefitted quite a bit from his time at KRV, as he now does block prints that include new and different designs from his traditional Ajrakh designs. He also has contracts with major buyers like Fabindia and Good Earth.

Pics from the fashion show below!

Color Wheel made by an artisan

Color Wheel made by an artisan

The same artisan's concept board

The same artisan’s concept board

Developing embroidery patterns based on the inspiration

Developing embroidery patterns based on the inspiration

Garment produced as part of a new line

Garment produced as part of a new line

Another cool concept board. This one based on Indian Railways!

Another cool concept board. This one based on Indian Railways!

Model showing off a top from the new collection

Model showing off a top from the new collection

An artisan taking a walk down the runway after his segment in the fashion show

An artisan taking a walk down the runway after his segment in the fashion show

Another artisan taking a walk down the runway after his segment in the fashion show

Another artisan taking a walk down the runway after his segment in the fashion show

Convocation of this year's batch of KRV graduates

Convocation of this year’s batch of KRV graduates

Pushkar Camel Fair

Since I was already in Rajasthan during the time of the Pushkar Camel Fair and I had heard so much about it, I figured it would be a shame to miss it.  It is basically a camel trading market that is held once a year in the desert. But due to the insane number of camels and the locals who come to take a dip in the holy Pushkar Lake, the event has also morphed into a major backpacker area where you can get “special lassis” and spend days hanging out with other backpackers observing the spectacle (though I wasn’t sure anymore if the spectacle was the high backpackers or the camel market or the locals coming to take a dip in the lake).  I am glad I went, but felt like I spent days afterwards getting the sand out of my clothes, shoes, hair, teeth.  I uploaded some pics, but don’t think the pics really do justice to the craziness of the place. Definitely an event you should go to if you are anywhere nearby.

You can pick up all the gear you need for your camel here

You can pick up all the gear you need for your camel here

Feeding time!

Feeding time!

Camels campgrounds

Camels campgrounds

Thirsty camels

Thirsty camels

Badass tattoos

Badass tattoos

Dressed to the nines for the fair..tattoos, piercings, everything

Dressed to the nines for the fair..tattoos, piercings, everything

Pushkar Lake

Pushkar Lake

Pretty temple in Pushkar

Pretty temple in Pushkar

Marwadi ladies buying stuff needed for the pilgrimage and dip in holy Pushkar Lake

Marwadi ladies buying stuff needed for the pilgrimage and dip in holy Pushkar Lake. Note that these women are very conservative and covering their faces with the colorful veils when in the presence of strangers. Yet, they were taking a dip in the lake topless with hundreds of people watching!!

Turbans for sale

Turbans for sale

Competitors in the mustache event

Competitors in the mustache event. Since so many tourists go now, they have these crazy competitions – longest mustache competition, turban tying contest, etc.