April 23, 2020

Writing in the times of lockdown - 2

(from my journal)

My fountain pen is acting weird and the world feels weird. Since I can’t change the world, I am changing my pen. But then, I am running out of ink in this Muji pen and I wonder how I will cope with not having a good pen to write with.

Sometimes, unnecessary things like pens really give you perspective. Here I am, lamenting about the lack of freedom to buy a pen from Muji when there are millions displaced and fighting for their next meal. It makes me guilty to be craving anything at all.

And then again, the will to live is, in itself, a manifestation of our desire to experience different things. So, I let my heart dream.

From Muji pens, it drifts to drinking a cocktail at a bar, sitting on high bar-stools, feet tapping to the feisty music a live band plays in the background. And suddenly, Neil gets me off my stool and we begin to dance. Twirls, whirls and some silly moves à la Pulp Fiction. And we laugh out loud.We go back to order another drink and reminisce about a trip we took, chattering on about all the great food we ate and sights we saw. There is laughter all around and squeals of delight erupt from the neighbouring table. A birthday celebration and a surprise. Someone else is singing along with the band. The bartender drops by to refill our glasses and we chat about how he too loves a White Russian. Something about the milkiness and the coffee flavours, he says. We high-five. Some delicious starters arrive and we stuff our faces.

Oh! To have this simple night manifest! Without a care or worry about how far everyone else is standing. Without masks and gloves and fear clouding our hearts.

Last evening, I was startled to see another human near the elevator.

Writing in the times of lockdown - 1

I have been having a lot of back-to-college dreams where I am happily walking through the paths of NID. I still long for the lush greenery, open spaces and large campus in my non-lockdown life, especially being in crowded Bombay. And somewhere in my dreams, to break away from this claustrophobic existence, I crawl back into those memories of the past and walk through the beautiful expanse of the campus.

But I think this doesn't stop with dreams. In my waking life, I retreat to known flavours of childhood in my cooking. Pavakka pitla, vengaya sambar, malabar parotta-kurma resurface. And the smells have a calming effect on me, reassuring me with the memories of carefree times.

And when I cook, I keep listening to mostly Ilayaraja (and sometimes, A.R. Rahman) on repeat. Music has been a huge part of my childhood. I grew up with the sounds of Indian music – predominantly listening to Tamil film and learning carnatic music. However, in recent years, I have been so busy that any music is heard in the passing or only on an occasional rainy evening. Now that time and thoughts are at my disposal, I yearn for the familiar sounds of childhood.

Is my soul crawling back to the familiar sounds, flavours and spaces that feel like a cocoon? I think so! This is my defence mechanism against the strangeness of the now. If you are experiencing a sudden pang for the sights, sounds and smells of the past, don't fight it. This is the time to just be and go with the flow.

November 23, 2019

To a grandfather far far away

Happy birthday, thatha :’) I still miss you oh-so-much that it hurts!

You were the magical presence in the lives of your three granddaughters, transforming every second into a learning experience, taking us to museums and book stores and showering us with knowledge in every form and kind.

I aspire to be as inspiring as you were to us to one another person in life. You were a self-made man always finding the next-best thing to make your family’s life better. You made such a difference to each one of us! We have in us your quest for knowledge, your passion for travel and your insatiable love for life. In many ways, you live on through the three of us. But sometimes, it’s just not enough. I wish we could see you, that you could see us and how our lives have unfolded. But that’s just me being selfish, I suppose. You were in way too much pain and it was time. But the truth is — it is never possible to let you go!

Thank you for elevating our humble existence into that of superstars. We always knew how cherished we were thanks to your abundant love. You always had our back and that was precious to our growing selves.

I sorely miss all the silly games, the countless talks, the way you wanted me to pat your head so you could fall asleep. A day doesn’t go by without me thinking of you with a pang. Why isn’t science advancing fast enough to find a way to communicate with those who have moved on?

I still remember how I wept and wept and couldn’t stop crying when I watched Cosmos and Interstellar. Movies for some, but meaning-making gospels for me! Finally, through these films, I could be at peace with the fact that people don’t die and disappear. And that there was always the hope that they’d end up on a parallel plane of existence. Someday, I hope to find you there :’)

Why am I writing into some internet void which you may/may not have access to? Maybe I want to shout out from the rooftops that I have (you still are and always will be!) the best grandfather in the world! Or maybe it is a desperation to immortalize you; if not on earth, then in an over saturated world wide web. Or probably it is a silly hope that you can access anything on that parallel plane of existence, who knows?!

Wherever you are, I hope there are plenty of newspapers and books to read, delightful “titbits” of information to cut out from those papers and share with us, lots of fascinating things to discover and make you shed your happy tears/aananda kanneer. On some level, I also wish there were annoying sitcoms playing in some heavenly TV that will prompt you to do your impromptu dance. I miss even your mockery!

Thank you, thatha, for being you. You’ll always be my inspiration for life! :’)

I hope you always watch over your three Tirupathi laddoos! ❤

November 13, 2019

Karma and I: the story of our fickle relationship

Karma often looks like this in my head
Meet Karma! She often looks like this in my head. She may bear resemblance to Komolika from Kasauti Zindagi Ka. But this was purely incidental and unitentional

If Karma* is real, then I am God. 
Or at least, her left-hand neighbour. 

Once in a while, during Deepavali or Pongal, we exchange sweets. And I feel all-powerful to have consumed that 2 cm X 2 cm of kaju katli* God-ness (terrible pun, intended!) But then again, its effects wear off with all the Tums/Digenes/Pudin haras*/Deepavali legiyams* I am forced to take after all the hogging. 

Karma never favours me. She hoodwinks me, eludes me and hatches all kinds of adverbial getaway plots from me. Last I heard, the city of Mumbai is planning on creating a new escape room on this theme and hopes for big bucks.

This relationship with Karma began way back when I was a kid. I would get caught the one time I stole a sharpener from a friend's house while all my friends flicked things left right and centre without anyone even throwing them a sideways glance. After being made to stand in front of the 3681 idols in the house and "God-promising" never to do it again, I resigned to the fact that this was life moulding me to be good.

Throughout childhood all my crimes and misdemeanours got caught by the radars and somewhere Woody Allen must have been a happy man at all the free publicity I offered in the Indian region (of course with the Cigarette smoking is injurious to health warning!)

And so I grew up as an awkward straight-shooter who only attempts balloon shooting at fairs and the Marina beach. Also, to further underline what a seedhi-saadhi ladki* I was, I absolved myself of all sense of style and always chose to wear clothes that drove the attention away from me. 

I worked really hard at everything I did, from love (burnt my hands) to make a toast (burnt it) to my career (often prone to spontaneous combustion). And all along Karma decided to be a mean girl and go all "Oh-em-gee! SHE will never be in our gang!"

But as Anderson had us believe, many of the ugly ducklings do grow up into swans. And by some miraculous miscalculation of the aforementioned Karma, I turned out just fine in the looks and love department. Word is out that she still regrets that drunken lapse.

But time and again, to overcompensate for that misjudgement, she often drops awkward situations, complicated plot twists and impossible realities on my lap. These are often a career, scheduling, maid, career, travel, career, customer care, career-related issue. How do I know that this is her doing? She never forgets to add a menacing laugh track as the background music to these occurrences.

People call her many names, but there is also a whole clan who believes in her goodness. They often tut-tut and tell me she'll come around and shower me with everything I ever wanted. But we all know how high school bullies turned out!

Being the South Indian that I am, I continue to believe what Rajnikanth once said in his gorgeously thick Tamil accent - "the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer." 

And so, I have forever given up on Karma, blocking her from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, WhatsApp... you get the drift! Even if she tries to reach out to me, landing on my doorstep, I am pretty sure my Google Home would warn me of her arrival and I don't have to exchange pretend pleasantries.

* Karma: fate
* kaju katli: A sweet made out of cashews
* Pudin haras: A tablet for digestion
* Deepavali legiyams: A homemade digestive paste often made around Deepavali
* seedhi-saadhi ladki: simple straightforward girl

September 16, 2019

An open letter to everybody who has a problem with my career

To whomsoever it may concern,
I am not a label you can stick to your box file.
I am not an acrobat walking a tightrope.
Meandering, unusual and uncategorised,
I am that candidate you dislike,
Who doesn’t tick your boxes,
The outlier who scares your system,
An enigma you question the sanity of.

For I am not a straight path;
I am but the ebb and flow of life
Walking lanes none else dared
Trying things out for just a lark.

For sometimes it is in those gap months,
In those miserable failures of side projects and attempted glories
That you learn that a career is not something you can craft.
That learning and experience comes in more ways than one
And that two months or two years at a job is not the criteria
But how much you gave and created
And how much you evolved in all that, that matters.
And sometimes life catches up with problems and pressures,
And yes, you buckle to balance, support, reconfigure, sustain;
Sometimes you stay still to simply survive, not thrive.

Don’t look at my two-pager with scepticism!
It hardly tells you the tumultuous tales
Of eating or watching films for a living
Defining the future of work, life or learning.
Cruising lives with fictional characters
And willing designs to manifest on paper,
Or how I gathered stories like flowers
from the thousand dreamers I met.

Talk to me about my life.
Don’t force fit my journey into 500-word cover letters
Of repeated same-olds
But ask me to brew you some magic
Put me to work and test my mettle.
Let not my growth be defined
by little check boxes of closeted thought
Let not my life and future be determined
by myopic visions and words like compliance and certifications.

And not just me,
But look at people as people, not job-fulfillers.
Jump into their shoes and grow up with them
Through careers that spanned
many hats, many places, many masters.
Forget the format
And understand that it is the journey that matters
And never a piece of paper.
A career is what a person shapes out of a potter’s wheel
And before you master a piece of art,
There will always be plenty of broken clay.
But oh what a fascinating collage even they make!

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

July 03, 2019


The reel plays over and over again inside my head. It has psychedelic colours. And they all form patterns. They are abstract to everyone else who sees it. To me, they make shapes I know.

Maybe the palmist was right. The time is not yet right.

Things won't happen. Plans won't take off. But it'll be better than last year. Definitely better, he said.

It is.

But today, I want to see if I can stretch. I can't wait. A year is too long. I want to make my hand extend to reach the treetop. There is a small little box there. It has a tiny wing. I want that wing.

With that wing, I can hold light in my palms.

With that light, I can finally learn to breathe.

October 03, 2018

Book Review: When Breath becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just finished reading Paul Kalanithi's 'When Breath Becomes Air' and wept my eyes out. Unnameable emotions overwhelmed me.

I have always been awkward about death - graceless about the abrupt and unannounced way it departs with someone close to me, unable to believe in afterlife or hope that I would still be able to foster a meaningful connection beyond this moment, beyond that instance.

I have protested in an undignified manner everytime death took away someone close to me (and there have been quite a few!)– loud and unhinged in a futile attempt to reverse the process and claim back what was mine. And one my colossal failure became apparent, I retreated into a shell of silence, muffled sobs and furious writing.

In my attempt to understand this natural and inevitable phenomenon, I have been making attempts to read about it this year. I started with 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory' by Caitlin Doughty. It made me aware of the post-death processes and helped me become a little less afraid of what happened to mortal remains.

I then picked up Paul Kalanithi's posthumously published 'When Breath becomes Air', an account of his life and death and his quest to understanding the meaning of both. The book made me address my own mortality and that of those near and dear to me.

Paul's writing sparkled with a flow and wisdom that most authors would envy. With an honesty and acceptance so admirable to witness, Paul shares with us the arduous journey he and his family had to undertake on the onset of his Stage IV lung cancer.

Being a neurosurgeon himself, he battled both as a patient and fellow doctor to fight and accept death, while making his life as meaningful as possible. As a reader, hyperaware of his fate, I struggled within as I read about how bravely he faced his disease.

The book made a fascinating read, increasing my respect for doctors tenfold. For the most part, to me, it felt like a philosophical treatise and at others, Paul's prose shone like poetry, reigniting his hikes, operations, struggles to live in our minds.

Everything about his life's story made me realize that we have lost a truly wonderful person who not only was a skilled surgeon but also a great thinker, a neuroscientist in the making, a loving father-husband-son-brother and most importantly, a caring empathetic human. As I read the book, I wished to know more about him. What books did he love? Did he like watching films? How did his lovely wife Lucy and him come to fall in love? How did he manage to show up to save lives when his own was ebbing away? It was an emotional journey traversing which tugged within me anger, helplessness and irrational hope for Paul to beat the disease, despite being fully aware that he was no more. Somewhere through his words, Paul had become a relatable friend.

Throughout the book, the evident end loomed over like a dark storm cloud waiting to erupt and engulf me. Questions kept rising their cruel head – if I were to meet with Paul's fate, how would I spend my life? Would I go out with grace, even if I was vulnerable? Do I have the strength and courage to even understand what death would mean despite being afraid of its sudden swift blow near me?

For the most part, I had no answers. But I was grateful that the questions had been churned. It helped me bring my attention back to this moment, the now of life. Having struggled this whole year with my work, I had moved through the months only by taking one day at a time. Paul's book was a gentle reminder to plough on in the same way, convincing me that today is all we have so we better make good use of it.

And to the man who wrote so beautifully, his wife who wrote such a beautiful epilogue that had me racking with tears and to the legion of family and friends Paul leaves behind, I just want to say that we readers are all mourning his loss and celebrating his life with you. We are all in this together! And the lifelong moral search Paul undertook to solve what makes a life worth living has been answered by his own book. THIS, the search itself and the authenticity and grace with which we live our lives, aware or unaware of what awaits in the morrow is the only thing that matters.

View all my reviews

July 17, 2018

The Ellipsis

Crippling silences
Eyes squint for a sign of light
No sound alerts
No life stirs
A submerging in nothingness

Will voices rouse
a sudden shift in the clouds?

Until then,
a gentle death in wait

July 04, 2018

Cooing A Reassurance

Photo by Matt Borsic on Unsplash

Today, as I sat overthinking my work and despair once again began to flood my being, an impish car radio shifted from golden oldies to play a particular song that I used to favour.

This song, silly as it might sound, used to be my motivator during my board exams. On the mornings of the exams, I'd sing it with energy and intent in the bathroom as I bathed, encouraging myself in the process. It was what I now term 'a ritualistic shower' that comprised of four songs being sung while performing daily ablutions. You skip any one, and the paper would be doomed, of course!

Putting aside the hilarity of the situation, I realized that I'd simply banked on the power of words (the lyrics) and suggestion (the act of singing aloud willing me to take the right actions) to spur me on to face something I dreaded.

When that song revisited me today in the cab, a series of emotions gushed in. I was laughing in recollection. It'd been long since I'd heard the song. Tears stung my eyes as I recalled how I had immense and blind faith in the universe back then. And I was overwhelmed. It felt as if my past self was reaching out for a handshake and a hug through the speakers of an Ola cab. Along with the lyrics, she whispered a reminder to me on how driven, relentless and sincere I'd always been towards my goals.

It was a refresher I needed at this crossroads. A gentle nudge reassuring me that I am enough to be me, I have made the right choices and I need to now let things flow.

Sometimes, you need every kind of validation from everyone around to let you know that you are working towards the right causes. At other times, a simple song will do!

May 21, 2018

Looking Back

Usually, when I accidentally stumble upon an old piece of my old writing, the naivety and the absolute abandon with which I used to write pained me. It stood as a reminder of how trusting I once used to be – of people, experiences and the world itself. I used to give second, third, fourth and infinite chances to people, and every bruise they left in their wake got recorded in these pages as poetry or a piece of writing.

So much water has flown down the bridge!

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

And I say this with a lot of gratefulness and joy. Today, as I gathered my writing to sow them as seeds in various publications, I revisited my blog to see if they appear on these pages or are still unseen by the public eye. In that process, I went down the rabbit hole, reading of love lost, love longed for and love that was never mine. The writing is full of “rancid pain”, as my dear friend, The Moody Kettle calls it. But, for the first time, I smiled. It is a privilege to be able to view it all from today, where I hold abundant love in my arms. 

Many a time, I have considered deleting those giddy old posts (not just of love but also: slipper tales, my loo which is a zoo, etc.) preferring to showcase a curated list of decent writing that won’t make me cringe. And over and again, something stopped me from erasing the past. It should serve as a reminder, I told myself. And it did today. 

It reminded me that despite all the heartbreak, I found love in the strangest place. It also told me of how little I knew the world and — although a tad more enlightened — how much more there is still to know. It took me on a roller coaster ride, showing me how I grew from strength to strength to reach today. 

I may not have much. I am still writing but have not finished even one of the 20 different plot ideas I have begun. I am looking out for a stable career while moonlighting as a writer. I still have miles to go before I sleep. 

But that ride showed me how far I have travelled from where I began in 2004 — yes that makes 14 years of writing here. I was merely 17 years of age, high on life, passionate about everything and madly looking for love everywhere. Today, I am no more the extrovert, choosing a more ambivert style of life. I spend my days all alone, working in the peace and silence of my home, not for a second seeking any distraction, escape or company (I never used to be able to do that!) I have been focusing my energy on a career in writing and storytelling. I have a bit more clarity on what I want from life and I am seeking it with the man of my dreams next to me. I couldn’t have asked for more! 

This throwback also brought forth a few things that haven’t changed one bit — I still love writing, dreaming, exploring the world and telling stories of all kinds. I still trust the universe to always take care of me, but I know that sometimes the cosmos may be busy attending to others :) I guess it was good not to have deleted the past. It’ll always tell me my own story when I forget fragments of it. I’ve been going through a slightly challenging period in terms of work and this blast from the past made me feel grounded and happy again.

To the readers –if we still have that breed of excellent humans amongst us– thank you for all your kindness and time! I promise to write more and often.

© Dryad's Peak
Maira Gall