CV of Failures // Catalogue of Regrets

For a few months, I mapped out an essay for a writing competition I was eyeing. The essay involved something I have wanted to write about for a long time now. I made extensive notes and researched. I would revisit the word document I had already started my draft on, adding incrementally every day. I made notes on my phone. I put reminders on my calendar. I had post-its on my corkboard. There was a brief hospital stint during one month and I took my notebook to the cafeteria in the evening, jotting down notes while downing Nescafe and fish buns. I visited the website every few weeks to make sure that I had the deadline right.

A week before the deadline, after months of psyching myself up, I was unable to write. I kept making weak excuses. When I sat down, I produced very little. On the day of the deadline, I made an eleventh-hour effort to put something together but it was a long day with a few surprises thrown in and at 7pm exhausted, I crawled into bed telling myself, this is going to be a half an hour nap. I woke up with a jolt at 2am, reached out for my phone and realized I had missed the deadline for the competition.

I was – I still am – so angry with myself. I had no excuse here. You can’t keep saying that life is hectic because after a point that excuse doesn’t hold water anymore. After a point, even you get tired of hearing you say it to yourself. If something is important to you, you make time for it.  If something is essential enough, you work hard towards it.

What happened was also now a recurring pattern of self-sabotage that was seeping through other areas of life – working my way towards something I really wanted and then stuttering and stumbling when I inch towards the final bit.


I keep a CV of failures. To be honest it’s not very long.

I keep a Catalogue of regrets. Now that – that is another story. It was a list I began impulsively a few years ago. For some odd self-flagellation related reason, I carry it around with me as though one day someone will ask me what my life’s regrets are and I will say oh wait, wait — I have a list. idk, man. This is a list of personal, professional, random regrets.  Missed connections, missed opportunities. Things I almost did and didn’t and now wish I did. Things I should have been bolder with.

When you trip and fall, you have to contend with the sharp sting of failure. But when you don’t try, you don’t fail. This is a beautifully warped logic to sheathe yourself in and it keeps you safe but also stunts you.

The blunt fizz of what ifs and should haves is a wonderfully comfortable purgatory – the shots you didn’t take, the competitions you didn’t enter, the crushes you didn’t approach, the personal and professional opportunities you didn’t reciprocate, the trips you didn’t take. It is the paralysis which occurs at the prospect of not doing something well, of getting hurt, of being vulnerable, of failing. It is the self-sabotage that keeps you wedged in your comfort zone. And it’s far worse than failing.


Why am I here. Why am I back at a dusty part of the internet that no one visits?

It’s been a weird year and I have been writing and writing and writing to make sense of it. (FYI: daily writing and journaling has been so helpful with this. 10/10 will recommend.) The writing that has emerged is def not for public consumption but it’s made me realize that I need to reclaim my relationship with writing. It’s also been useful to unpack certain things that have unfolded in the past years.

This year, more than ever, I’ve been struggling to find the motivation to write and figure out why I do what I do. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a rewarding year and my heart is full with gratitude, but I’ve felt unmoored.

Blogging was one of the things that got me started with writing and coming back to this digital relic felt like a weird homecoming of sorts.

A lot of things don’t fit. The self-confessional style I embraced earlier now grates at the part of me that guards her privacy. The spontaneity that marked my writing is definitely not there – this took 3 months. 3 months! I’m def not anonymous anymore. And then there is a pervasive anxiety that I should be doing writing that can be billed, work writing, professional writing – work that can be slotted into my resume (perennial freelance occupational thinking hazard. What to do.)


This is very garbled and all over the place and perhaps this should have been tossed into the daily writing folder and not out here in public. Perhaps this will be deleted tomorrow. Perhaps there is a part of me that naively hopes that something will magically unclog after I publish this and I will finish all the half-finished drafts lying around and apply to those competitions I’ve earmarked for years. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about regrets and self-sabotage and work writing and non-work writing and reflecting on chunks of 2019 and this is the outcome of it and thank you for reading.

New Relationship Energy

Urban Dictionary has this acronym: NRE. New Relationship Energy.

It’s the molten phase, the early beginnings of a relationship. Urban Dictionary informs me that it’s used mostly for polyamorous relationships, but this seems like an unnecessary containment of an acronym which manages to articulate that languid light sea green feeling when you are just getting to know someone romantically.


The social expressions both within dating and arranged marriage are so coded and have been on my mind for a while. Everyone in my family, both in the generation before and mine, opted for arranged marriage. I was hoping the younger folks would break the mould a bit but they have not. (Thanks, all)

In some ways, arranged marriage sandpapers the ambiguity involved with dating. Two people arrive at a crossroad with the mutual understanding that marriage is the next step. The question here is whether you choose to walk off into the sunset with the person in front of you or not. Ideally, there is no haziness about intent or the future. I say ‘ideally’ because there are scenarios where the people in question are nudged into an alliance by their family.

When people say ‘forced marriage’, the first picture that pops to mind is someone dragged to the altar kicking and screaming. But it’s a lot less dramatic than that. It’s impossible to discount the social/familial pressure which is implicit but also influences decision making resulting in marriages made from compulsion (South Asian parents are especially good with the guilt trips). Within the community I come from, marriage is seen as a natural progression of age-appropriate milestones.  Anyone who doesn’t adhere to this is viewed as an aberrant,  someone lacking a certain something. Marriage is also seen as an anodyne for problems: ailing parents, an escape hatch towards a new life etc.

The overt social engineering adds layers of complexity to arranged marriage. There are the background checks, dowry, the painfully awkward meetups, the arrangements between family, cultural baggage such as horoscope matching depending on what deity you pray to, as well as the spectre of social class (this is a big one, oof.) and compatibility which loom over arranged marriage. I feel like I’ve missed some stuff, but you get the gist.

But in other ways, arranged marriages aren’t very different from dating. Stepping into the arranged marriage arena can feel like Tinder but with your mother hovering over your shoulder, offering commentary on the profiles.

The self-mythologizing is similar. If every guy on Tinder is a CEO sapiosexual who has visited 53 countries, every guy on the arranged marriage circuit is a God fearing, pious, teetotaller devoid of all vices and who has been saving himself for marriage. The sifting through and sizing up of profiles has the same disposability of Tinder or any dating app. You are given a limited time window to size a person’s life based on a brief summary which strips the person to their age, occupation, education, family background, height, religion.

Of course, the dual anxiety and the thrill of getting to know the right person is also there with arranged marriage. If you take away the orchestrated circumstances of the meeting and if the chemistry is there, the New Relationship Energy (New Arranged Marriage Energy?) is similar.


I’ve been speaking to my grandmother about her marriage. She was 25 when she got married – late for a Muslim woman of her time. She met my grandfather for the first time on their wedding day. Even typing that made me wince. It’s fascinating in a quietly horrifying way. She was never forced into the marriage but wasn’t exactly an active participant in the process.

There’s a Blink 182 song – Stay Together for the Kids. It starts with a guitar riff, then the drums come in, the first verse sounds like someone’s speaking over the music and then it descends into this gloriously shouty chorus with Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge. The song takes on divorce and is the narrative of a teenager, angry about his parents divorcing. The refrain “Its not right” echoes throughout most of the song.

The marriages I witnessed while growing up were a product of their time and circumstances. Many of them stayed together for their kids the way the narrator in the Blink 182 song wanted his parents to. This isn’t the most inspiring template of marriage to be familiar with; these unions had a resigned “well we’re here so let’s make the most of things because we are all we have” energy to them. Marriages were unions born of social practicalities and norms. Love (or something like it) grew as a result of building a shared life.

My grandmother is in her eighties and my grandfather has been dead for a few years now. I’ve seen the effect his death had on her. A partnership of over 50 years, no matter how nebulous its beginnings, solidifies into something you build your entire life around and his absence plucked something out of my grandmother in a way I didn’t anticipate.

“Were you happy?”

My usually garrulous grandmother is quiet as if this question had never occurred to her. As though happiness in a marriage was an unheard-of prospect.

“I don’t know.”


NRE has antecedents: drunk in love, the honeymoon period etc. What these phrases fail to capture is that initial emotional intimacy and the tenuous process of making yourself vulnerable. Perhaps vulnerability can be thought of as an emotional muscle you need to flex regularly in any kind of relationship or friendship, or it gets rigid with disuse. It requires careful exercise, constant self-reflection, and a readiness to get bruised, hurt sometimes.

The synonyms for being vulnerable emphasize this alarmist exposure to the possibility of being harmed and aren’t the most reassuring: undefended, unshielded, unfortified, unarmed, without arms, without weapons, defenceless, easily hurt/wounded/damaged, powerless, helpless. Ok then.

This piece is floundering through multiple analogies but another way of thinking about vulnerability (and which has also been written extensively on) is to equate it with walls and boundaries. Putting up barriers gives us the illusion of control and acts as a protective mechanism. But like many have pointed out – the walls that you build to keep out pain, can also keep out joy.

Being vulnerable is hard. And messy, so messy. I know this is a very Breaking News: Water is Wet statement but some of us arrive at this realization at different points in our lives, offloading notions of intimacy we’ve grown up with and armed with our own experiences. Vulnerability takes practice, it means opening yourself to judgement and rejection and relinquishing control. If the thought of someone being intimately acquainted with your deepest hopes and fears terrifies you, well, you’re not alone. Some go through life wearing their heart on their sleeves, some arrive at social situations armed with an emotional hazmat suit – I have helpfully illustrated this below. There really is no playbook here.

Hazmat feelings////

To be vulnerable in a world which privileges coolness and nonchalance is a radical act. And it’s this openness which is so precious in the NRE phase. In the early stages of getting to know someone you often project the idealized version of yourself – the version you think you are, the aspirational self. Somewhere down the line when the contours of a relationship takes shape, you start revealing the fragments which aren’t always visible.

You quietly lay bare your foibles, your weirdness, your past, the most tender parts of your heart, saying this is me. These is what made me. This is what broke me. This is what healed me. This are my darknesses. These are my scars. Stay if you want. This is me.

And oh God, this is so scary – these moments of vulnerability, where things look like they could go either way.

But every now and then when the right person comes along, traces their fingers over your scars, slips their hand into yours and stays beside you – it’s also so very beautiful.

Notes from Delhi: Places and Spaces

July 2013, Delhi

To you,

It’s finally happened. I’ve put down roots. They’re hesitant, frail tendrils with a propensity to wither at the slightest provocation but they’ve been planted. After nodding my way through conversations with potential landlords/ladies and looking at one dubious room after another, I’d wearily head back home, climb up to the fourth floor and gratefully seek refuge in my room. The thought of adjusting to a new place seemed awfully cumbersome and I was surprised to find that despite its many limitations, the place I reluctantly lived in for three years had actually grown on me.


I lived in what is called a Paying Guest, a PG. I can distinguish between 19 different footfalls; I can tell you where the domestic hides the excess supply of tea leaves and tomato sauce; which step you need to watch out for while climbing up; the perfect hot/cold water combination during the monsoons; the best spot on the terrace for a moonrise; how to jiggle the wire of the blender to get it to work; I can show you how to gauge the Help’s mood purely on the basis of the sink symphony of dishes and point out the warmest place during winter.


I’ve gotten so comfortable with my neighbourhood. I know its geographical placement well enough to snort with derision and pretend to walk away when the rickshaw driver tries to overcharge. There’s a market a stone’s throw away, complete with a dairy, pharmacy, multiple salons, momo, egg-sandwich, filter coffee and kathi roll-man, Chinese take-out, samosa-man, Namkeen lady and stationary shop. I will remain forever indebted to the seamstress at the market who chided me for wearing clothes three sizes too large for me and refused to make my clothes to the measurements I asked for. “Your clothes,” she seized the sides of my kurtha to emphasize her point, “They are too big for you. A young girl like you. You look old”.  My waxing lady is from Chennai and is well used to my appallingly low threshold of pain.  I think I’m even going to miss the two sylph-like wretches who bring chips and coke, occupy a bench in the park nearby and watch with amusement as those of us who aren’t endowed with high metabolism attempt to get rid of our love handles.


If you walk on further, you’ll come to a better stocked market abundant with food shops. From a curiously located bistro serving the standard ‘fusion’ fare, a South Indian restaurant, a few bakeries to a fantastic array of street food (think shawarmas, kebabs, burghers, paani-puri, vada pav, grilled corn, ice cream, parathas). Sandwiched in-between are a smattering of clothes stores and a dance studio. The courier man in this market greets me enthusiastically and reaches for the Sri Lanka price list as soon as I walk in. My digs are extremely close to one of Delhi’s nicest clothing markets and while my friends with finer tuned sensibilities turn their nose at shopping there, my inner tourist and bargain hunter loves it. Exploring it over the years has been an endless source of enjoyment.


There isn’t much room for originality in housing complexes in Delhi. With little room for horizontal expansion, the box-like buildings grow vertically with very little to distinguish one from the other. A redeeming feature of my place is the terrace. A large expansive rooftop, it’s not the most picturesque and  it contains all kinds of flotsam and jetsam –the remnants of a swing which served us well for a year and then promptly collapsed in the next, a bathtub, old piles of wood.  But from my fourth floor vantage I overlook a lovely park, dotted with vast heart shaped trees (On rainy days it metamorphoses into a pool. Two views for the price of one), lights of buildings dot the horizon and best of all, I can see the metro. If you know me in real life you will know that I adore the metro and there’s something comfortingly solid about hearing it in the distance. The terrace has seen many moon-gazings, rain dances and confessions. I’ve paced it in frustration and sought refuge from all-nighters with large flasks of tea and pale sunrises.


If you come up to the terrace early morning, you’ll see an old gentleman on the rooftop directly opposite, welcoming the day with a cigarette at sunrise.  Always just the one cigarette, after his last drag, he’ll stretch and plod inside for his morning cuppa. The apartment on our right has had a steady stream of expats. During the first year, there were the gaggle of white boys who seemed to have perpetually misplaced their shirts both during summer and winter. The only interaction we had with them was during Holi when their eggs and water balloons would unerringly find their marks while ours would falter halfway, to our intense embarrassment. The Lost (Shirt) Boys gave way to the Staid Couple who always threw interesting parties with bad music. They had a black and white canine horror which was the bane of all the girls on the street and would try to hump everything that moved. Three years of living next door to pigeon breeders has not alleviated my phobia of pigeons. I think it’s the perturbing 360 degree turning heads and beady eyes. It’s beautiful, however to watch the handlers climb up to the cages, form silhouettes against the sunset and call the pigeons with low, musical cries of ‘Aaao, aaao’.


The apartment, for the lack of a better word, can comfortably accommodate 5 people but in its incarnation as a PG it houses 20, inclusive of the Help/caretaker and her son. I also think it may be an unregistered commercial establishment. I vaguely remember when our air conditioners were removed and large calendars of Hindu deities were pasted over the gaping holes, in preparation for a tax raid.


The Help possesses the unique ability to translate my Hindi monosyllables into evocative sentences. We communicate through a smattering of English and Hindi monosyllables and charades.  With a penchant for the dramatic, when she talks, her hands mime gestures, her eyes widen and her tone modulates according to her anecdote. On a winter day over a plate of pakoras, she told me about her village in Nepal and her mum’s green thumb and gesturing enthusiastically to highlight the profusion of produce back in her hometown.  The Help’s back-story is intriguing. All of us are privy to her doomed love affair (tired of waiting for her, he got married last year. They still talk furtively at night and she receives mysterious gifts periodically from her ‘friend’) but stories about her husband vary on the theme of tragedy. To one girl, she confessed that he was in a mental asylum. To another, she said that he died in an accident. On my last night, while she was teaching me how to make paranthas and chapattis -mine remain woefully flat and just refuse to puff-she wistfully told me that her husband was an excellent cook and made the best lemon chicken she had ever tasted. She knows that whenever I potter about in the kitchen at night, she’ll find a bowl of pasta or chicken waiting for her in the fridge and she reciprocates by keeping some sabzi aside whenever she cooks for herself. She steps in to the role of surrogate nurse when any of us fall sick, administering an inedible watery dhal-rice concoction called kitchidi which all of Delhi seems to swear by, in times of sickness.


Her son, who has mysteriously remained 14 over the past three years, centres his life on cricket. If you walk in to their quarters you’ll see a shrine of newspaper cricketers adorning the peeling walls. Every Sunday, he takes out his threadbare sports shoes and carefully scrubs the remnants of the week off it. His disinclination towards school remains a perennial source of heated arguments between him and his mother.


Her daughter is a younger photocopy of her mother, has all of her shrewdness but none of her mother’s warmth. For a child so young, she has surprisingly adult-like mannerisms and has perfected the hand on the hip stance, the hair flick and the disapproving lip-twist. Recently just returned after a year of Boarding School in Nepal she has now graduated from cartoons to soap operas and reality TV.  Notoriously light-fingered, biscuits, clips, nail-polish, shiny things and stationary left out are assumed lost for ever.

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about this neighbourhood or my PG. Despite all my romanticizing, you’re going to find imitations nestled all over Delhi, superior terraces and far more interesting flatmates. But it was my little niche in the big city. Granted, there are lots of things I could have done differently but I’ve built a life in a new country from scratch. From not knowing anyone in this city, I’ve advanced to a stage where I walk into a random literary reading and will be likely to spot a familiar face. Whether it’s being warmly greeted by a shopkeeper or a chocolate and post-it note professing affection being left on my desk, its little things like these which ward off the overwhelming obscurity and loneliness of being a small fish in a vast pond.


Have you seen how dogs sniff warily at a spot, circle it a few times and only then flop down for a nap? I’m a bit like that these days with my new digs.

When I started this letter, I was apartment hunting. A few drafts later, I’ve said goodbye to the place I called home for three years in Delhi, and am cautiously getting acclimatized to my new surroundings, flatmates, unwelcome surprises and quirks of the place. The pinkness of my room is unsettling (The walls are pink. The cupboards are pink. The shelves are pink. It’s like living in an Aerosmith song) and I keep hitting my head on the multiple wind chimes my landlady seems unduly fond of. I’ve stacked up on biscuits and made friends with the two strays who have taken it upon themselves to guard the gate and got my game face on.

This letter is already too long and I can feel your exhaustion.


Yours in flux,



Airport Observations

I hang up my phone in amusement. My ride was still at home, in a half-sleep stupor but awake enough to brush away my insistence to take a cab. I didn’t mind hanging around for a while. The arrival section of the airport is a lovely place to people watch and I’m usually in such a hurry to leave that I pay little attention to my surroundings. I settle down in a corner, with my luggage at my feet and a book on my lap so that I don’t feel too awkward.

The duration of the flight is visible on some passenger’s faces as they make their way past me. The long haul flyers have pained looks on their faces as they lug around their screaming children and attempt to balance hand luggage, infant, headache and trolley. Too tired to muster a thank you to the cleaning lady who helps them with the trolley, they don’t walk; instead they flop with fatigue towards the luggage belt.

I spot pockets of women wearing abayas but minus their head scarves. My curiosity is piqued. This is rare. The abaya is always, always accompanied by some form of head covering. I suddenly realize that the Middle Eastern flights must have landed and these must be housemaids returning home. Having landed in Katunayake, they had clearly discarded the head covering which is compulsory for women in the Middle East.

There are certain staple characters at every airport and as I sat there, I spot a few.  There is the Frequent Flyer. Usually a business man/woman, impeccably attired – not too casual, not too formal – completely at home in the airport, equipped with a enviable mastery of being able to stuff a week’s worth of clothes and necessities in a smart, medium-sized travel bag.  I say, enviable because I’m usually the Overweight Passenger (luggage weight, not body weight. I feel it necessary to clarify this) who resolutely attempts to get the poker-faced flight official to wave the few excess kilos away. I’m not proud of it but I’ve reluctantly come to terms  with the fact that I will never be able to travel light.

Then there is the Well Dressed Woman. You know the kind. The WDW is a rare species which steps in and out of the flight flawlessly attired, lipstick immaculate and hair in place. While the rest of the populace attempt to smoothen their plane hair (twice removed cousin of helmet hair) and crumpled clothes, she breezes through the airport in 6-inch heels without a trace of the flight visible on her demeanour.

There is the foreigner who has arrived to ‘find herself’ and immerse herself in the Exotic Orient. Harem pants, beads, tattered backpack and a Lonely Planet guide are key indicators. There is also the Elderly Traveller with a perpetual look of bewilderment, determinedly clutching onto their baggage and passport lest someone runs away with it. Every flight is a new adventure and the ET is usually the only person who pays close attention to the emergency rules announced at the beginning of a flight.

There is always a tourist in every airport. The Tourist travels in packs or clusters of 5 or less. The more obvious Tourist is usually found with a fanny pack and sports shoes. The clusters are loud groups which congregate at the airport, cracking jokes among their peers, crumpled printed itineraries stored in their bag.

I hear someone call my name and I look up in surprise. There’s a face looking down at me expectantly and I find myself in a SSM (Small Social Pickle). I know I know this person but I can’t remember how or where I know him from or what his name is. One of the things which strike me as I struggle to place him is that he has a kind, sympathetic face and I experience a strange déjà vu  feeling of having this thought before, when I first met him years ago.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” Clearly I’m more transparent than I realize. He remembers my name and so I’m forced to lie to save face. Of course, I do, I reply. He’s nice enough not to call my bluff and after some cursory small talk, he leaves and I return to pretending to read.

The Duty-Free heavy weights are making their way. A mother-son pair emerges from the lift. The mother is beaming and there is a proud (but not in an arrogant way) tilt in the son’s chin as he pushes a fridge on a trolley. A gift for his mother maybe? As I sit there, the flight crew of various airlines pass by frequently. I keep a lookout for familiar faces – a few friends work in the industry– but don’t spot any. There was a time when the travel perks of being a part of an airline had a strange fascination for me (and seemed worth the toil and flak I’ve seen cabin crew put up with). I was younger then and the attraction of a new country every week was extremely alluring.

There’s a man hunting for a pen to fill out the declaration forms for his brand new LED TV. He’s approached four people by now and the frustration on his face is apparent. He’s yet to ask me, strangely. I’m afraid my Alone Face is also my Leave Me Alone Face – a Delhi survival mechanism I have unconsciously adopted – and I probably don’t look very inviting or pen-friendly. I take out a pen from my backpack and signal him over. His furrowed face breaks out into a grin and he heads over to the other side of the lounge to fill out the paperwork.

My phone rings. My ride is here.  I’ve only read 6 pages of my book. As I clumsily get my belongings together, I realize that I’m exhausted. The frantic dash during a brief transit was finally taking its toll.   It feels good to be back. I wish I remembered that guy’s name though.

Adventures in solitude

The first time I went out for coffee alone I was horribly uncomfortable. I felt awkward, conspicuous and acutely aware of the groups of people congregated at the coffee shop.  I skulked over to the nearest table, took out my book and started reading. I tried to flag down a waiter repeatedly, but failed spectacularly. Then to top things off, the menu flew up and hit me on the face (it was one of those open air coffee places. Also, rather windy that day) Mortified, I stuck it out for a few minutes trying to hide behind my paperback and then picked up my dignity and fled.

Things have improved considerably since then (touch wood). I like to think I’ve reached the ripe old age where I’ve shaken off the need to be surrounded by a pack of people all the time. It started off going for art exhibitions alone – none of my friends were keen on art and I didn’t want them to be compelled to come with me – and then gradually shopping, random exploring, working/studying in coffee shops etc. Nothing too big, just baby steps. I’m yet to go for a movie alone or to a proper restaurant. I think I could do movies solo after a while, but somehow a meal alone, well, just seems rather lonely.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not completely anti-social. I’m not the biggest extrovert but give me good company and a good atmosphere and I’ll purr like a kitten. I’m just comfortable being by myself and I quite like being my own master. I do feel awkward sometimes but keeping a book in your bag at all times helps. You don’t feel so aware of yourself (what do I with my hands? WHY is she staring at me feet?) and it keeps you adequately occupied. I won’t lie, there are moments when I do miss the conversation and the company but given a choice between people you’re not entirely comfortable with, forcing yourself to make small talk and being by yourself, usually the latter is preferable.