Starting Over

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


I know what is wrong with me

snailFor the past few weeks I have been lethargic, sleeping more than usual, reluctant to start anything new. No matter how hard I tried, I could not bring myself to call friends or go for a haircut. I had no inclination to setup meetings with prospective clients or launch a major project. Even getting myself excited about watching a movie seemed too great a chore. Was I coming down with something? A low grade infection or the beginning of a cold? It had been a while since my last medical checkup. Were my hormones running amok? What was wrong with me?

Perhaps it was time to schedule an appointment with the doctor. As I dragged my feet to the phone, it struck me that October had been a tough month. Important festivals had marked the beginning and end of the 31 days. Add to it birthday parties, Diwali gatherings and miscellaneous dinner invitations. No wonder I was lethargic, listless, and too lazy to take up any activity beyond the bare minimum required to function. A room full of people had surrounded me most of the days. I was either recovering from one party, getting ready to attend one or hosting another. My exhaustion stemmed from all the mandatory socializing that typically marks the festival season.

I am not a party person. I wouldn’t call myself a loner. I prefer to use the term “happy in my own company”. On a daily basis I definitely prefer to have more time to myself than in the company of people. Being around lots of people for a long duration of time drains my energy. Some think I am shy but I have no problem addressing large audiences at conferences. Some may think I am a snob because I seldom stop to network after I am done speaking at the podium. I have been called “intense” by people who like me and “boring” by those who don’t. Others consider me a social misfit for my inability to find idle chit-chat stimulating.

My favorite time of the day is when I sit with my cup of hot tea and a book. The tea may get cold while I finish reading the book. My idea of a perfect day is to spend “alone-time” with someone I love; just us, one on one. Whether we take a walk on the beach, visit a café, stroll through an art gallery or simply spend a day indoors with few distractions. A day like this goes a long way in rejuvenating the flagging spirit that is desperately trying to reassert itself in the raging cacophony of a hundred voices and bodies, loud music and noise.

“I burn more calories in my brain” is something I have always claimed and I believe it. I like being quiet in my shell. I prefer to chose when I go out, with whom and how often. I prefer hosting an intimate dinner for a few people to throwing a loud party. I am not averse to meeting people but I find constant conversation annoying. Like a phone battery, I need to periodically recharge my spirit from my inner reservoir. Sometimes, all I want to do is hibernate, like a bear. Store my energy, revive my spirit, and stew in silence. Meditate.

With silence comes insight. Once I create space between the jumbled thoughts that run like scrambled signals on a crowded frequency. I know what is wrong with me. Nothing.

I am an introvert. Being introverted is a temperament, not a disorder. And like many introverts who prefer solitary pursuits, I am happiest when I am doing what I love, write in solitude.

“Loneliness is poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.” – May Sarton.


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Craving quiet

“Music is the space between the notes.”

                                                               – Claude Debussy

Children love to hear the story of their birth. And I was no exception. While the actual event of my birth was as momentous or uneventful as any other, the part that was of great interest to me, came a little later in the narration.

“People told me that giving birth to the second baby would be much easier” said my mother, “but for me all three of you took a long time to emerge. You specially. You were the chubbiest of the lot.” I was perhaps 10 years old when we talked about this the first time.  “Were you sad that I was a girl?” I asked, knowing the preference for sons that prevails in India. “I was not sad that you were a girl, but a girl’s life is a hard one. Looking at your smiling, innocent face, I felt a twinge that my little baby girl will also have to endure all that a woman has to bear in her life.” I didn’t really grasp the depth of that sentiment then, eager to proceed to the interesting part. “When I was a teenager, I once heard a neighbor sing a melodious song and I asked what raga it was. Ranjani, she replied. Even before I thought about marriage, I knew that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Ranjani.”

I was named after a raga in Carnatic music. So was my mother. I loved this story because it made me feel special; the fact that I was in her mind long before I was in her arms, an inquisitive and demanding daughter. Growing up between two brothers in a society that favored boys, this fact built my self-esteem along with so many of my mother’s statements during my growing years.

 I didn’t particularly develop an interest in Indian classical music at a young age. But I heard a lot of it. First there was radio, then television. The cassette tapes made music more accessible to that generation. My mother sang often. Although not a trained musician, she had a lilting voice and was a quick learner. She was an encyclopedia of knowledge about Carnatic music. Each morning the chanting of the Vishnu Sahasranama or hymns sung in praise of the Hindu gods roused us from slumber. The day would then gradually fill with a cacophony of sounds of the busy metropolis that was Bombay.

 Many years after I left home, I turned to music at a time in my life when I did not find meaning in anything else. I found a suitable Carnatic music teacher in America, drove 20 miles for every lesson. I memorized the notes, repeated after my teacher and practiced. I talked about music to my mother. Much later, World Space radio came to India with its dedicated Carnatic music channel, much to the delight of my mother. Although we lived in different cities in India then, we discussed shows and artists, dissected the nuances of compositions, praised the melody and beauty of the words. We bonded over sound bytes. Our favorite game was “guess the raga”. She was much better than any app that could guess the tune from the first few bars as it played over the sound waves. My best memories in recent years include the two trips we made to Chennai during the December music season to attend music concerts that play daily all over the city, a veritable feast for music connoisseurs.

 While my mother and I bonded over many things, there were some things about her that didn’t make sense to me in my early years. We would travel by train during the summer holidays. The scenery would run by, dry and barren at places, lush fields at others. Occasionally a lonely house would be seen in the distance; a dim light in the middle of nowhere.

“I would like to live there,” my mother would say.

“Really? Why would you want to leave the comforts of city life to live all alone?”

“Sometimes I want to be quiet and be surrounded by quiet. It’s not possible with the three of you all around. Plus the noise of city life doesn’t give me a moments peace.”

I found it odd that the charm of living in a big city didn’t fascinate my mother. Why would you trade the glitz and speed of a metro for a place where you hear no sounds except perhaps the moo of a cow?

 Only later when the need for solitude arose as a nascent sigh within me did I empathize with my mother’s wish for some alone time. The parenting path is filled with activities, responsibilities and demands. Whether it is the tinkle of childish giggles, the laughter of kids horsing around or the clang of pots and pans in the kitchen, there is always noise. Sounds surround you, mark your day and clutter your thoughts. Getting away from it all seems to be the only way to experience quietness.

And in that solitude you find the energy that keeps you going, humming softly through the days that seem to never end, with errands that pile up just as you finish others.

Just as the cadence of music is made up of the notes and the spaces between them, life needs these periodic pauses to help us reflect and rejoice in just “being”.

Here’s to reveling in rejuvenating solitude, refreshing silence, revitalizing stillness. Image