Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The wonderful year that was!

A beautiful start to the new year!

Why is the time around new year so hard? Is it the pressure of another year gone by? Is it the hype of the year yet to come? Is it the compulsion to make new beginnings? Is it the regret of not having achieved goals set for the year? Is it the fear of hope and disappointment playing out in my life yet another year?

I have always struggled with new years. Try as much as I do, I haven’t been able to look at January as just another month that comes after December. Just like June comes after July. I have dreaded the beginning of new years and written them off as another bad ones in the first 2 months. On analysis I realized why. I have expected each year to bring about an unprecedented transformation in my life fulfilling all my pending goals. In one annual sweeping shot! Wrong ideal to presume, right? 

Also, the hype created around the new year is actually hard to miss. You are compelled to flow with the spirit and make resolutions. You can’t go on with your work when any one you look at wants to know what are your plans for 31st. You just can’t pretend that it’s no big deal. (And I hate the hype about any festival/occasion)

But this year, it’s not been as hard as it has been all these years. It used to be much harder. In hindsight, I realize that the trepidation was due to all the ambitious expectations I mentioned before. Do I still expect all those things and still fear failure? Yes. But it isn’t as bad. I tried to figure this out as well and the findings are quite encouraging.  

I think we all grow up and learn to cope with things. I think I have learnt to manage the whole expectations bit. After the shitty year it’s been with two major life goals going for a heart-breaking toss, I have accepted that some things take time. And happen only if they are meant to be. My anxiety doesn’t help. And I guess once we go through enough shit in life, we just develop serenity and patience after a point. 

And age is not just a number. I am a lot calmer than I used to be even a few years ago. This year, particularly, I discovered a new me! Someone more confident, more sure, more in control of my thoughts (not situations, yet) with a never before devil-may-care attitude. I took up projects and patiently saw them through. I met people online, made friends with them and just followed my instincts about it. I stumbled upon this person inside me who looked afresh at me and discovered I am person in my own right. No strings attached. 

And all this surprised me because I had written off the rest of my life as a predictable, humdrum one. I thought I had crossed all important milestones the ones awaited would arrive in their own time. But life has wondrous ways of surprising us. We change from decade to decade and I guess I just happened to change as a person and found that it’s not “that’s it” in my life, yet! There’s a lot of adventure left to explore, a lot more to come. 

The most important lesson I learnt this year is to appreciate what I have. I wasted all these years pining for what I did not have/get. At least not yet. I have realised that everyone has their own share of what each one gets. Some people will kill for what I have. And I have just been looking at others and hoping to get what’s on their plate without looking at the bounty I have been blessed with. Again, happiness is just a matter of perspective I guess. And what’s amazing to me is finding this state of bliss and happiness despite all the goals I have been waiting for still being out of reach.  

Bring it on, new year! I am prepared. Good, bad - all in a day’s work. It’s foolish to start with resolutions. Goals are more like my thing. I set up goals last year - to read more books and blog more often - and it worked for me. I have goals for next year - realistic ones - and I can aim at achieving them. I am no longer scared of the future like I used to be. I always worried about looking back and regretting that I did not live life right. But I think I have lived long enough to know that if you do your present right, you won’t regret the future. And even if all’s not well in the present, it will get better in the future.

How has your year been? Take time out and ponder over the blessings you got this year. I am sure you can dig out some light amidst the evident darkness. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below. 

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Traveling abroad? 6 tips that can help

Holiday beckons!
Earlier, I wrote about what travel in the country has taught me over the years. I thought it’ll be a good idea to also share some tips from my experience in international travel. Whether you plan a quick shopping trip or plan to beach holiday, planning for a holiday itself can be quite stressful. I hope this list will help you sort most things out. 

1. Apply for visa well in time: The single big reason why I don’t look forward to international travel is the stress of applying for a visa in time. Since most of our plans are last minute, visa process just adds to the mayhem! Hence, preparation for travel overseas has to start much earlier than traveling within the country. Visa papers need time for processing. Every embassy has their own working time. In my experience, visas generally do not get rejected as long as all your papers are in place. But the haughty embassy staff will always make you believe that there could be a problem. The air tickets and hotel bookings already made make the suspense worse. 

2. Remember to carry your passport: OK! Now this is insulting your intelligence, right? Who forgets passport on an international trip? Just Joey and Rachel!! Better be safe than sorry, correct? I think it was important to add this point because when I follow my routine of packing for travel, there have been times when I have had to remind myself to fish out my passport and carry it along. When we are used to doing certain things in a particular way, we may forget that one odd little extra that needs to be done. And I do add that to my own last minute check list! It is a good idea to invest in a passport holder with pockets which can hold your cash, a pen, immigration forms etc. This way it’ll be convenient to have everything in one place and pull it out at different counters. (check in, immigration)

3. Do your research: Just like I mentioned in my post on domestic travel, research is the key even in international travel. Acting like a localite might not be of help here especially of you are going to a different part of the world. You will need real intelligence from the internet. A few things that you should look up are:

a. Hotel reviews: Booking a hotel in a place you have never been to is quite challenging. I was at my wits end when I had to do it all by myself for a hotel in Zurich. After a lot of research, I zeroed in on a popular chain of hotels. Yet, the rooms turned out to be smaller than the standard ones. Still, research is your best bet. Sites like tripadvisor have unbiased reviews from hundreds of users which can be trusted while booking. Consider factors like location (preferably city center), modes of transport available close by (a train station or a metro), presence of a market place/shopping area, restaurants etc. 

b. Geography/climate/culture: Google maps and Wikitravel can help you understand most aspects of a region. Reading up helps understand the culture of the place - laidback/fast, safe/unsafe, wealthy/third world, crowded/not so much etc. You will find enough stories online to tell you about things cabbie behaviour, food habits, popular food joints etc to give you a hang of how the city functions. You can understand routes, modes of transport, the type of area you will stay in (city center, suburbs, mountainous) and how the local travel system works. Wikitravel also helps you with the climate, temperature range etc which will help you decide the kind of clothes/shoes you will need.

c. Things to do: Unless you are going to a destination where you intend to just laze on a beach, it's a good idea to check out things there are to do - city tours, museums, beach trip, adventure sportsAnd then you can choose what you prefer to do. This way you will be ahead by planning your days according to the city tour pick and drop (if you choose to do that) or the closing time of famous monuments/landmarks.

It's best to understand what's in your food before you go for it!

d. Food: As Indians, we have varied food habits. For instance, many dishes in Mumbai will have Jain and half Jain versions - because just vegetarian isn't specific enough! Travelling abroad can be challenging, especially in countries like China, if you are a vegetarian or a vegan. I am a non-vegetarian and thought chicken was a safe bet in any country but was sadly mistaken. Boiled, bland chicken with its skin intact (served in South Africa) is not my idea of appetising food. In most countries, chicken stock is commonly used and considered vegetarian. You may want to research your food options in advance. It may not change what is available in that country but will help you be prepared for it.

4. Money matters: Understand the currency conversion ratio of the country you are visiting. You will need to convert sufficient Indian rupees in order to have enough cash even after conversion. In certain countries, a huge amount in rupees turns out to almost nothing when converted. Make sure you don't keep all your cash in one place, lest an unfortunate incident robs you of everything. If you choose to go shopping, it makes sense to convert local prices into our own currency before you decide to spend. Sometimes, a silly shirt turns out to be way more expensive in dollars/pounds and could have easily been purchased back home at half the price. 

5. Invest in appropriate clothes: Our first foreign trip was the beautiful city of museums - Amsterdam. But the trip was marred by lack of warm clothes suitable to the country. Living in a city like Mumbai doesn’t give you the option of buying over coats that can hold against winters in Europe. I had literally all my woollies on me every single day! Before the trip, it felt like a waste of money to buy warm, bulky stuff for a trip and hoard it afterwards. But you could always borrow and return later. Or if you have to buy them, give it away to friends/relatives who will find it useful. That way your investment still wouldn’t go waste and you get to enjoy your trip comfortably. 

6. Stay safe: Your research should also give you an idea of how safe the place is going to be. Don't expose yourself to late night traveling if it is advised otherwise. Use the security locker provided in rooms to lock up your gadgets, cash, passports and other valuables. Don't leave them carelessly around assuming it's safe. General common sense should mostly guide you to avoid danger. 

All said and done, travelling to different countries is the best way to broaden your horizons of thought. Take care of the important things and be sure to enjoy yourself and make it memorable!

Do you have any experiences to share? Would love to hear your stories. Hack away on the comments! 

Friday, December 12, 2014

5 unanswered questions from my favourite sitcom, F.R.I.E.N.D.S

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F.R.I.E.N.D.S is a favourite with millions of people across the world. My best stress burster and an all-time comfort watch, the episodes transport me into a different world. I have written about it before here and here. But I think the more you watch something the more you try to reason things out. Beyond all the fun and laughter, there are a few lingering questions in my mind that keep coming back. I thought I should share them here and see if any of you have an answer. 

1. What was wrong with Pete?
Some twists in the sitcom feel like just a whim on the part of the writers. Pete was a perfect person any woman would want to marry. Handsome, intelligent, rich and considerate - he had all a woman would want in her man. And the best Monica could get! Why did the writers kill that relationship off? The couples who were eventually put together is even more imperfect.

2. Why do friends end up marrying each other?
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Why were friends turned into lovers? No new people except Mike. I guess there weren't any more friends left except for Joey who isn't marriage material. Monica could have married Pete, Rachel and Mark were great together, Ross and Mona were fine - she even liked his collection of semi precious stones!! I somehow don’t agree with the friends-marrying-each-other concept. Even the series is named FRIENDS!! 

3. Why did the Ross-Rachel track drag on for all 10 seasons?
It seems like the writers just did not know what new to do with the plot. The time after Emma is born, Ross and Rachel do find themselves living happily together and raising the baby. But they still act annoying by treating marriage with each other like a horrible idea. And they are anyways brought together at the end of the series! This also goes into my previous question. 

4. Why are pointless flings between friends just thrown in?
This started towards the later seasons of the series. Joey has a crush on Rachel. It doesn't work. And then Rachel has the hots for Joey! It can't get more silly. And the track is so contrived proved by their inability to take it any further even after they reveal their feelings for each other. Seems like the writers twist it that way to make it easier to kill it off. 

5. Why doesn’t Monica get pregnant?
This is my biggest question because it makes me very sad for her. Monica has always been in control and managed to discipline everyone. Looks like she just failed to control this. Given how she badly wants to be a mother, it almost seems cruel of the writers to deprive her of that joy.

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Do you find something to say about the series? Are there things that irk you in the otherwise perfect series? Or do you refuse to accept there's anything wrong in it and will defend till the end?

Feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Marriage isn't for a lifetime.

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A woman married for 14 years to a man who never respected her or earned her respect. He never had a job or shared responsibilities. He lied about his educational qualification and his family supported him just to get him married. She ran the household. She took care of her girl-child. She put up with his egoistic tantrums. But after 14 long years of her life, she decided to call it quits. But isn’t marriage supposed to be a relationship of a lifetime?

My last post was about my own blissful years of marriage. Very ironically this one is pondering over whether there is a justified time and reason to walk out of a marriage. No, there’s no storm brewing in my life. But when you come across people who carry on being married even though it is unendurable, one does stop to think. 

I always believe that if it doesn’t work out between two people, it’s just better for them to find happiness elsewhere. But what is that limit? What determines that it isn’t working out. And how far along do you wait before giving it all up? Are there times when staying married is worse than giving it up, no matter how sacred the institution? 

Yes, there are. 

In popular perception of our times, marriage as a tie is at its tenuous best - thanks to DINK couples and all the stress they go through. It’s just too much effort to live up to the expectations that keep this bond going. It is quite possible that it might not work out between the spouses. 

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The first reason, to me, is lack of respect for the spouse. If the spouses don’t love or care for each other anymore, the whole point of being in a marriage is futile. Being together is to be able to share ones good and bad times. And if that isn’t possible anymore in a relationship, it is best to let go. 

As if the complications of making it work between two people isn’t enough, marriage is very much a function of families and the society. And both these institutions - family and society - could be responsible for keeping two people yoked together. 

I have seen some of my own friends go through a bad marriage because their parents wouldn’t hear of anything else. Girls in our country are always taught that it is their duty to gel into their new family. They are trained to look after everyone and not expect in return. This becomes her undoing since she becomes incapable of standing up for herself. The boundaries of tolerance are pretty wide. Hence, it takes a long time to realise how much is too much. But lack of support from parents is still a a big reason why they just carry on with their marriage. 

Even though this is common for women, I also know men who just stick to their unhappy marriage because their parents think that just living together gives respectability in the eyes of the society. They would not bear to compromise on that. And this is irrespective of the fact that their own children live through suffering. 

There is also a lot of “what will people say!” So people just choose to stay unhappy as long as they can maintain the facade of being happily married. 

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But whatever the reason, I think only the two people involved in a relationship should have the freedom and the right to decide to call it off. In many cases, marriage is not a lifetime of love. And it is better to accept that for the good of all the people involved. To use the liberty to go out there and find your happiness with someone else more suited to you.