Starting Over

Discovering myself, my family and friends in a foreign land, second time around


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Why I don’t watch war movies

IMG_2431HH and I walked out of a movie last night. Fury. Starring Brad Pitt!

Why did I leave halfway through a critically acclaimed movie with a hot star?

It is completely my fault.

For someone whose recent favorite movie is “How to train your dragon” and all time favorite movie is “Pretty woman”, its quite clear which way my movie-watching tastes run. But marriage does strange things to you. HH wanted to watch it. He was going with another couple. Without me, the situation would have been a little awkward for him. “Don’t be such a loser” said DQ when she noticed I wasn’t getting ready for the 9 p.m. show. Like a good wife (and obedient mother), I impulsively decided to do it. By leaving midway with HH, I ended up making it even worse for him. But my intentions were good, even if I didn’t have the stomach to follow up on it.

I don’t watch war movies for the same reason I don’t read crime or horror fiction. I read the news but avoid digging up disturbing details of rapes and terrorist atrocities. I watched “House of Cards” with HH but declined to join him for viewing the “Game of Thrones” series. I prefer Percy Jackson’s adventures to Fifty Shades of Grey. Why?

An obvious answer is that I am a wimp.

In my youth, I wasn’t a particularly discriminating reader and moviegoer. I read everything from Tintin comic books to tales from Indian mythology, R.K. Narayan to Ayn Rand, James Hadley Chase to Gone with the Wind, Bhagavad Gita to John Grisham. I liked murder mysteries, detective novels, crime fiction and “chick-lit” well before the term was coined. Like a fast food junkie, I consumed mindless drivel in print and on TV.

At some point in the intervening years, I opted out of the tough stuff that is engrained in today’s pop culture. Is it because I did not watch violent TV shows or play vicious video games as a child? Did growing up in an era where school shootings and terrorist attacks did not appear in the daily news make me soft? Was I spoiled by my humble upbringing in a peaceful family? Have I lost my edge by choosing a life where my excitement comes from personal challenges and not from passive consumption of large doses of violence and despair?

My childhood does have a bearing on who I am today but my choices as an adult are a bigger determinant of who I would like to be. The better version of me that I aspire towards becoming is one who is aware of suffering in the world without vicariously devouring the gory details. I didn’t read the horrifying details of the famous Nirbhaya rape case in Delhi but I participated in the candlelight vigil and participated in a women’s group that taught self-defense to young girls. I chose to contribute to the “rice bucket challenge” in Hyderabad last month knowing that hunger is a daily problem for many in my home country.

Yes, I have become soft, unable to digest harsh details in newspapers and horrific visuals on large screens. Instead of building a hard façade by constant exposure to mind-numbing violence, I choose to build a softness grounded in compassion. I haven’t undertaken a media fast because I don’t need to. I am connected to the greater world and aware of it. However, I have chosen to free my mind from the agitation that follows consumption of heavy doses of unpalatable information.

Choice is a strange kind of freedom. It involves responsibility.

Every choice comes with its consequence.

Every choice may lead to labels. Wimp. Loser. Coward.

Making an unpopular choice is simply a personal statement, not necessarily an act of courage. My decision to abstain from books and movies that drain my energy is essential for my inner peace. It creates a space from which I can operate with kindness towards others.

As for reacting to those who do not approve, I choose to handle them with compassion. Like charity, compassion begins at home. In the words of Gautam Buddha,

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”

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My very own Eat Pray Love story

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A month ago, HH and I were talking about the possibility of going away for a few days, without the kids. It would be the honeymoon we had chosen to defer. “Where would you like to go?” he asked.

“Bali” I replied, without hesitation.

“Why Bali?”

Bali; because it would complete my personal “Eat. Pray. Love” story.

I know it sounds lame. An attempt to replicate the iconic memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, a book I read many months after it hit the bestseller list, a movie I saw to check if it lived up to the book. While I loved the book, the truth is that the author and I don’t bear much resemblance on many levels. She was a young American woman in her thirties, escaping from a bitter divorce, childless, and on a yearlong quest of self-discovery in Italy, India and Bali. Ok, we do share a few overlapping themes as in divorce (although I had a child), India (I am Indian) and I have always been on a quest, albeit within the confines of what was possible within my social milieu.

Oscar Wilde famously said “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life”.

I didn’t intentionally choose to visit the places that Gilbert wrote about in her memoir. But I had a tenuous connection, in chronological order, of similar experiences. I made random choices that took me to Italy on a holiday, to an ashram for finding myself and later fortuitously meeting HH, over a three-year period of time. Now that I am returning from a short visit to Bali, it seems like I deliberately sought to imitate a work of art created from a slice of life of a person who is very different from me.

It’s impossible to set a course for our life that duplicates another’s path. Ask any child of successful doctor parents who would rather be an artist or the scion of a business family who wishes to be a teacher, rebelling against the traditional path mapped out for him. The broad outline for my life was written by the society in which I was brought up. It was a formula that was family-centric and time-tested. Like many Indian women of my generation, I gamely chose to travel the beaten path, the only one endorsed by Indian society. Get a decent education, get married, have kids, be content. This is your karma, this is the script, follow it. And I did; until a twist in the tale took me on a detour into uncharted territory. I was divorced, with a child, and choose to live in a city where I could support myself, instead of moving in with my parents.

During one of my soul searching bouts when I was debating taking the big step towards divorce, my mother, a woman whose life epitomized the very Indian values that I was questioning, guided me.

“If you had not gotten married or had a child, you would have always craved these experiences. You have experienced life as a married woman and a mother. Now be free and do all the things that you feel were denied so far. Live the life you want with no regrets.” She didn’t live long enough to see me craft that life.

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I wanted to create shared happy memories with DQ and expand her horizons by traveling around the world. I love visiting new places and in the summer of 2012, a group of friends decided to go on a European holiday. We spent a week in Italy, loving the cuisine and the country, the romance of Rome, the flavors of Florence and the waters of Venice. We savored pizza and lingered in piazzas, fell in love with gondolas and gelato. We were speechless in the Sistine chapel and tickled by the leaning tower at Pisa.

A year later, I found myself waking up at the crack of dawn for the mandatory morning meditation at the ashram. I was accompanying a friend who was keen on completing a training course to be a yoga teacher. I had vaguely put that on my bucket list and the timing seemed right. Having been a regular yoga practitioner for over a decade, it sounded easy enough – a one month residential program at an ashram in Kerala. It was brutal. Four hours of asana practice, Geeta classes, Vedanta lectures and 2 hour meditation and chanting sessions every morning and evening. It was a revelation. I doubt I gained flexibility or lost weight but I did learn a lot about myself.

And soon after, HH and I decided we were serious enough about each other to consider spending the rest of our life together. I had loosely followed the life path Gilbert had drafted for herself but it was not in imitation. It was my intention to live a full life that opened up new possibilities for me. With the first step that I had taken away from the beaten track, I had removed myself from my comfort zone. While the challenges of a new way of life were intimidating, they were also liberating. I saw places, I met people, I took a risk. I let my guard down, I laughed freely, I embraced life.

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Bali, located so close to Singapore, was a not just a sensible choice but a perfect honeymoon destination. Plus it brought me full circle to my own Eat Pray Love trilogy. The final destination for all of us is fixed but we choose our own paths. From what was available to me, I chose these locations, these people, and these experiences. Each choice took me one step further on my journey. As each one I will make in the future will.

When it comes to life stories, I agree with Phyllis Theroux, who says “…we shape our lives like a story, how unconsciously we attract plots, outcomes, and other characters who undermine or complicate our unfolding drama. We supply the meaning – and therein lies the difference between one life and another.”