Just A Little

Self Diagnosis

Self Diagnosis

I hadn’t worked out in two months. I finally hit the gym on a lazy Thanksgiving Friday, vowing to bust a sweat everyday for the next two weeks, so I could trim up a little before heading home to Dubai for the winter. After destroying my mind and body with unhealthy grub-ness and beautiful intoxication over the past few months, the gym session turned out to be a little pathetic. But, I rushed back home to write.

Work sucks my soul. It’s deceiving because you’re compensated for it, so you “can’t help it.” More importantly, it stumps your brain from doing anything after. And, I worry when my deep-sleep dreams are dominated by my new domicile – work. So, when that long weekend comes along where you don’t have a whole lot of trash planned, the brain craves stimulation – a stimulation not driven by monetary compensation, but by a true desire to nurture pride. Or that’s what I am attributing this epiphany to. Yay.

I’ve realized that I have spent a lot of my life adapting. Trying to “fit in” and not be that “weird” dude from abroad. It started in first grade. I was thrown into a preppy private school full of wealthy kids. For a little street rat sputtering in a language that wasn’t English, who played in chappals on the roads of a suburban city in India, to be thrown into an arguably uptight English private school, was slightly unnerving. Thank the lord I learnt English though because three years later, we shipped ourselves to the Emirates. Enter Dubai and all it’s vainness, and begin “Fitting-In:  Phase Two”. Don’t get me wrong, after “fitting-in,” I did thrive a little. But, just when I started singing my song, it was time to set sail again. I hit the oh-so-liberal state of Texas for my college education. A new continent brought with it a whole lot more “fitting-in” that I could imagine. This was phase three – I should have been getting better at it at this point. Or not. My exposure to sex, drugs and rock and roll EDM was baptism by fire. It was such a different world, and I was so different from it, but not indifferent to it. I didn’t want to be that weird “FOB” that immature juveniles snickered about. It was a battle – how do I be generally accepted and yet, be true to myself? From haircuts to extra-curriculars, I did what I did best – I fit in.

I am in New York now and there’s something surreal about this city. I am constantly exposed to people that are doing anything but “fitting in”. They are doing what they love and working hard at it. They embrace the pain and share the pleasure. Their comfort zone is the uncomfortable. It’s so inspiring and yet a little depressing, but all in all, a much needed slap in the face.

While I was in the gym today, my brain, probably turned on by some much needed physical exercise, churned out a fittingly unscientific diagnosis of sorts from all the above chatter: Amidst all this “fitting in”, I’ve lost sight of what I really want, and who I really am (cue: gasps). I have been so busy protecting myself from standing out that blending in is all I am good at. My escape is lighting my emotions and building castles in the air that I suddenly see crumbling down. I have less to be proud of, just a lot of mystical pipeline-pride I seem to take solace in. I don’t remember the last time I set fire to my comfort zone. I am getting way too comfortable in mediocrity, and that’s scary.

Don’t get me wrong, all of the above sounds a lot more lethal than it really is.  I have amazing people in my life that have made this more of a joyride than anything else. This isn’t a tragedy that I’m addressing, just a diagnosis. Sometimes laying it out helps you take the next step.

P.S. http://www.quickmeme.com/img/1e/1e462aa4dc8d5e394c146c5e70043f2ae36946ba7161be7100f7a8cd010db488.jpg

Goodbye San Antonio, Hello New York

Goodbye San Antonio, Hello New York

Transitions are exciting. “A new chapter.” “A new beginning.” New people with a few drops of the old. A restart. A cleanse of sorts. Exploration. Opportunity. A reboot. A chance to correct, improve and grow. A step forward, hopefully. It’s all a part of the plan, or not really.

Transitions are hard. Goodbyes. We pretend that goodbyes are never goodbyes, and only see-you-again’s, but that’s optimism at its best. A step away from your comfort zone is pretty uncomfortable. Good or bad, time etches a sense of settlement. Disturbing that settlement makes you lost for a little, until you slowly find your newly adapted comfort zone. Discomfort teaches you the most about yourself.

I have dreamt of New York, cheesy as it sounds. I interned here a few years ago, and it was such a tease. It’s wrong and harmful to fall for something you can’t really have. So until nothing could jinx my move here, I hedged my hope. All that’s history now. I’m all moved in, have a Saturday soccer league I play in, a whopping awesome familial support system, a Citi Bike key and a wonderfully spoilt crib. I’ve always struggled with the sense of belonging. Nobody really belongs to New York City – it’s this transitional melting cauldron, infested with corporate soul-eating, yet an ever-enthralling roller coaster of opportunity not always meant for children, and definitely not meant for folks that have a distaste for sirens and horns. I take solace in believing that I might actually belong where no one really belongs. For once, diversity makes up the majority of the population. Makes me feel all nice and giddy inside, so that’s all that matters.

San Antonio was a little soulless. But it served its purpose. My co-workers were a joy, and my learning curve unprecedented, at least in my short history. More importantly, work paved my way to my next pit stop. Plus, I finally got the chance to learn the art of driving, because being carless in San Antonio is like listening to music on mute. I eventually found an endearing group of friends that consisted of people who were nothing like me, and nothing like who I’d ever imagine getting closely acquainted with. On retrospection, it is fascinating how close I got to them, and how much I felt for them. Good people are good people – doesn’t matter where they come from, what their past is and what they do. Jack Dup always and forever.

It’s been two months in New York and I feel like I have physically settled in. I did build up this city way too much, and building anything up way too much is unhealthy. Realizing that grounds you though, which is always a good thing. There are certain things I want to conquer in this city, and certain interests I want to explore. Nothing like being in a city where nothing is impossible.

P.S. Food food food, so spoilt here for food.

Ink

I finally got a tattoo. I don’t know why and I don’t know if I will regret it at some point, but I really wanted it. I cannot explain to myself (or to the ‘rents) why in the world I was scarring my body. Yet, I feel it’s that inexplicable desire, that innate gut instinct that convinced me undoubtedly that I wanted ink.

The spark that etched this desire was a best friend. After an incredulous five years of college shenanigans, we decided to get a life-defining song title inked onto our body, in some abstract, funky form. Corny? Yes. Let’s leave it at that. The other best friend studying graphics design in Florence was the perfect contender to conjure up a sketch. Several months later, after crucial insight from my sister, and a few variations, we decided on something not-so-final. What the sister said was golden – it’s bloody permanent so irrespective of what it means to you, it has to look good and have enough abstractness to keep it mystifying and beautiful. So, after sucking in all the great feedback, and juggling a number of body locations, I finally decided on something concrete. But that wasn’t the end of that – that tattoo artist added his own twist to the tale. I loved where he went with it and allowed him to take what the Florence best friend designed, and make it his own. He kept the best from the original design, and redrew it to flow well with where I wanted it on my skin. And alas, the creation was complete and incorporated everything I wanted – abstractness, intricacy, meaning and a touch of originality.

Part two of this story is the actual entering-of-the-needle-into-my-epidermis-thousands-of-times escapade. As it was my first piece, I didn’t know what level/type/sort of pain to expect, and that rattled my brain a little. A lot of the people I spoke to right before didn’t help with their elaborate explanations of how painful it could be. So, yes I psyched myself a little far too much beforehand. But, it was all downhill smoothness after the first prick. It’s really not that bad, and I am not just saying it out of desire to seem brave or out of some ridiculous pompousness. Yes, it’s not a pleasant feeling but you know what you’re getting yourself into and with that in mind, the stinging is bearable. The three hours went by quickly enough. It ended with a permanent adornment on my body (holy shit) and a stellar conversation with the tattoo artist. He talked about how being a tattoo artist is heavy because most of the tattoos people get, are connected to tragedies or losses. Yes, there is stupidity to contend with too, but only a handful of people ink celebrations of life. Embracing happiness seems harder than dwelling on pain. But that’s for a different conversation.

The general feedback post needlework was positive. I was sublimely pleased with it, my tattoo artist was fascinated at his skills and the friends only had good things to say. The mother did give me a grumpy look with a “too-big” stinger of a comment, but that’s mum being mum. What I like about it is that everyone sees something different in it. I’ve gotten interpretations ranging from a dragon, a snake to a musical note. It incorporates all that means everything to me and is inspired by the work of a best friend cum graphic designer. It also kind of erodes me from this sheltered approach to life I’ve been blessed with, which for some strange reason, I see as a good thing. Too much of anything is plain bad.

However, my true appreciation or hatred for it will only come with time. Fingers crossed, it’s the former.

P.S. Thank you College Friend, Florence Friend, the Sister and the Tattoo Artist for making this happen.

Resident Alien

I am no longer a “non-resident alien.” The “non” has been ejected and my alien-ness is marginally more accepted – I am now officially a resident alien of the United States of America. Whoopdidoo. Doesn’t mean much, though. It doesn’t mean that I have a “Green Card” or a desire to become an American, nor does it entitle me to settle here irrevocably. It just makes me pay more taxes. Fair and all, but bloody hell.

I’ve always had an issue with my sense of belonging. India groomed my toddler touchie till I was about 9 year old, and as we all now, pre-age-nine is all a blur, so that’s hard to count. My true formative years were in Dubai where I lived till I was eighteen believing devastatingly, that it was home. And it technically is, but with restrictions – I can only visit for two months at a time, after which I cannot enter for three months. I need a visa to go home to Dubai. Read that again – I need a visa to go home. That just doesn’t sound like what home should be.

2007 – Exit, Dubai. Enter, America. The air of democracy was refreshing. It mattered that my education and existence was not going to be defined by my race or color. The playing field was leveled and everything was hunky-dory. It’s been 5+ years now in the States for me, most of which has been as a student. The comfort that an average citizen here enjoys is unparalleled, and I am extremely fortunate for that. I owe my education and my just-ignited career to this country, and I respect that. But, my life is literally controlled by pieces of paper. If I get robbed, I am more worried about losing my passport and my documents, than my TV or my laptop. It’s currently almost impossible for me to leave the U.S. until my work permit gets sorted out, and that’s not going to be for another 9 months, if at all. If, by any misfortune, I do have issues with immigration, even if it’s because of a misplaced document, it goes on record and getting back into the States becomes a nightmare. Sometimes, I genuinely fear my compliance of the multitude of statuses, procedures and documents, and yes, it’s pretty close to the silliest of all fears. To get rid of all this personal bureaucracy, I have a two options – work here for 6 more years and then apply for my “Green Card” or take the super shortcut and marry an American girl. The latter seems bloody attractive, but the former? Six more years? That means that despite living in the United States of America for eleven years as a law-abiding, tax-paying, socially aware citizen, I will only be close to getting my Green Card. What the fuck?

I am not looking for your sympathy or for a American citizenship – I am just trying to validate my desire to belong where I live. Anyway, as much as this thumps my brain, it’s not important right now. As per the rules created by governance of the world, my passport says I belong to India. Someday, I envision embracing that. Not yet, though.

P.S. Yes, I pay Social Security and Medicare taxes even though I will never be able to claim either. Joy.

The Arsenal

My only heartbreaker is the Arsenal Football Club. It’s painful to support a sports team that should be dominating but doesn’t, that should be making the right decisions but doesn’t. If I could choose, I would have chosen a mediocre team that’s not expected to win regularly, a team that’s offbeat enough to be a ‘cool’ choice and yet, plays the sport with the kind of attitude you relate to. But, any true sports fan will tell you that you can never choose a team to support, the team chooses you.

Having lived my formative years in the random culture-less city of Dubai, I wasn’t born into supporting a football team. It was around 2003 when football starting taking over my life. I watched it, my friends watched it, and we talked about it till we fought over it. We played it at every available instance. We played in our short breaks wearing our uppity private-school uniforms with ties, pants and dress shoes in the blistering Dubai heat. We played on dusty sand fields where the 20-on-20 games we had were more of a chaotic carnage than a football match. We played under the Maktoum bridge in one of the Sheikh’s ridiculously large gardens where we were often chased down by the police. I played in our little apartment where I’ve broken quite a few things to my mother’s bemusement. I had mastered every single FIFA video game since the ’99 version. I was obsessed and I was proud of it.

It was around this time that I realized that the time had come for me to choose a football team to support. For some East-Indian reason, I was very Anti-English but as the English Premier League was the most watched football league, I had to support an English team. I was going to work around this issue by supporting a team that was the most Anti-English English team. So, I made my first mistake of selecting Chelsea as my supposed love – they had a Russian owner, an Italian coach and not a lot of English players – perfect. Or I thought so. It was more like forcing myself to fall for a girl that meets all my prerequisites but just doesn’t make the heart beat faster. Chelsea, quite frankly, didn’t turn me on.

It was while I was forcing to fight through my fling with Chelsea, that Arsenal suddenly came from nowhere with her flawless flowing hair, petit gentle touch and sky blue eyes. Two things massaged this infatuation – (1) Arsenal were playing absolutely sumptuous, literally unbeatable football and (2) Thierry Henry. The infatuation was soon over – I was in love.

Arsenal went unbeaten that season and yes, I did seem like a glory supporter. But I wasn’t. I felt for the team. I felt every win. I hurt after every defeat. I cringed, cursed, screamed and got yelled at by my parents multiple times for waking them up during late night games. There was this unexplainable connection that emancipated my emotions in both directions. When we lost a game, I hated looking at the sports section and avoided my friends. Once the Internet started taking over our lives, I resorted to bloggers and forums for news, updates and most importantly, remorse. Since 2004, Arsenal has struggled and being an Arsenal fan has been painful, but not for one instance did I question my affection. It was beautiful and it still is.

December 2012 was special. I was in London, by myself for 3 weeks with only one goal in mind – to watch Arsenal play. I am not from London, so watching Arsenal live was a pipe dream. But, this pipe dream came to life on December 27th, 2012. I had tickets to watch the Gunners take on the Wolves. I had already done a stadium tour with Charlie George a couple of days ago, but all that meant nothing compared to an actual competitive English Premier League game. I had been supporting Arsenal for almost 9 years then and had watched every single game I could – but that was on TV. To breathe with the Arsenal faithful in our majestic stadium was just surreal. Ten minutes before kick-off, as the players walked out of the tunnel in their kits with the referees, my nine-years of obsessing all came back together and severely overwhelmed me. We played terribly that game and drew 1-1 against a pathetic Wolves team, but my first experience watching the Arsenal with the Gooners was so so special. We might be oceans apart, but every fan was on the same emotional ride, and sharing that love and hate was beautiful. I felt like I belonged there. It was absolutely amazing. I watched two more games while I was there. I saw Henry play on his return and even though he was wearing #12, it was a phenomenal bonus. I traveled with the away fans all the way to Swansea and had the pleasure of experiencing the away experience with one of my best friends, who is also a massive Arsenal fan. We met in Dubai, have partied in Florence and have watched our beloved Arsenal play at Swansea. It was an overwhelmingly joyous time in my life.

My affection for Arsenal doesn’t just revolve around the way they play – it’s the attitude and the culture at the club that meshes so naturally with the way I principle my life. In Arsene, I trust. Even though his decisions off late have been mystifying, I cannot imagine an Arsenal without him. I like how Arsenal is a sound business that does not spend frivolously. It might scare away the best, but I like how Arsenal refuses to overpay a player – it goes a long way in establishing a sense of fairness and equality within the team. Yes, it’s easy to ridicule this wage policy when we are struggling to win trophies, but it’s also forgotten when we are experiencing success. Sometimes, especially when we are not doing well, I wonder if it’s healthy being an Arsenal fan and there is an easy argument against that, but nonetheless I am proud, real proud, to be in the Red Army.

P.S. Arseblog is the best source for all your Arsenal needs, in pain and pleasure.

The Power of Visual Storytelling

Yes, there is a lot of garbage out there on TV and on the Internet, but it’s all about finding those hidden gems – those mystically resonating television shows that you feel you can relate to like no one else can, that movie that makes you question your commitment to the “safe” path when there are oceans left to explore, that comedian who finds humor in truth and makes you wonder why the world doesn’t run that simply, that live soccer game that could only be scripted in the heavens, that advert that slaps a momentary smile on your face, and that speech that convinces you, at least for an instance, that living is a lot more than just money and food. It’s those moments that send a serene shudder down my spine and make all the visual vomit seem worthwhile.

I want to pay homage to these gems. Homeland blew my mind, multiple times, with its take on human unpredictability and the power of emotion. Modern Family takes simple relationships, and makes them genuinely funny, proving that blatant exaggeration and fake background laughs are not always needed to illicit laughter. The Social Network inspired the entire world of twenty-something, ambition-filled, pot-smoking, binge drinking college dropouts to find their high through success and perseverance. Heath Ledger showed the world how gripping terror can be, even under the persona of a Joker. The Lord of the Rings is the epitome of what the human mind is able to create – an entire fantasy world that magically stays true to human emotion. The Matrix eclipsed the concept of reality and Gladiator screamed the importance of staying true to yourself, despite injustices. Jim Jefferies and Ricky Gervais are arguably the two funniest people in the world and they find their humor in the clash between truth and social construct, which is ironical to say the least. Lionel Messi continues to mesmerize and do the impossible, proving that you don’t have to be tallest, strongest and fastest to be the best at sport. I am not from Detroit, but I watched that Chrysler/Eminem commercial over and over again on YouTube – it was just so well done. Sarah Kay has made me severely emotional a number of times, and thanks to TED, looking for inspiration has never been easier.

We are constantly looking for a story, and these great stories that seem impossible for the most part, help us write our own. They send us down an emotional rollercoaster that helps us find ourselves a little, and that’s fantastic. I want to someday be able to tell a story with such power. Hah, let’s see how that goes.

P.S. I judge people by the shows and movies they love. Also, would love to see some mathematical calculation as to what % influence media has on human behavior.

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