Three months of therapy

It was sometime in May, and the summer was at its peak in Mumbai. I was sitting on the sofa with my flatmate in the living room of our rented apartment in Andheri. It was a regular Sunday afternoon when we all had just eaten sumptuous chicken masala and roti prepared by our cook Asha. My flatmate Ravi was swiping right on Tinder and I was doing the same on LinkedIn jobs.

“Any luck?” we both looked at each other and laughed.

“Let’s keep trying!” we said to ourselves and continued with our attempts, fueled by our belief that the probability will continue to go up in this manner.

It did work.

For Ravi.

He had found a match, which led to the rest of our flatmates gathering around Ravi to discuss who the girl was and how soon they could meet each other.

“Asshole, you are lucky,” said one.

“Yes, and highly photogenic,” said the other.

I retreated to my failed trials at finding a match between my future employer and me.

It was Day 28. 28 days since I had lost my job and could not find the next one. But I was hopeful that I would land one soon – maybe in the next week or two.

I looked at the multiple tabs open on my browser and decided that I had done enough for the day.

So, I said what most young lads would to survive such harsh times.

“Hey, guys! Let’s get some beer?”

“Of course!” my roommate Pavas jumped up in response.

“Oh no! But I have to meet Neha later in the evening. She won’t find out if I have just one, right?” He continued.

We waited for him to answer his own question.

“Yeah, I can have one. I’ll tell her about it. Big deal! Plus, Ravi has found his match. We’ve got to celebrate that. Hahaha!”

We all laughed in response, and Ravi reminded Pavas that Neha was friends with him as well. He could easily text her about his drinking plans.

The Sunday was well spent. We didn’t post it to Instagram, but I promise it was fun.

It was the Monday that I was afraid of. No, not because of Monday blues. I didn’t have an office to go to. But all of my flatmates did. Mondays now meant that I would be sitting alone in the apartment throughout the next five days. What made it worse was the fact that I had had a serious breakup with my then-girlfriend around the same time when I lost my job.

Anyway, the Monday arrived, and I woke up to my roommate Pavas saying goodbye to me and shutting the door from behind. The others left for their offices too. It was around 11 am, and I decided to wait a little longer to eat something. It was my newly-found hack. If I eat around noon, it would be brunch! This would basically mean that I wouldn’t have to cook twice and could also save some money if I were to order from outside. It was my learning over the past few weeks.

It was almost three years that I had been staying in Mumbai, and I had slowly started to realize how lavishly I had spent my money over my lifestyle. It was time to curb that habit and to think of saving for the rainy days.

I made some black coffee for myself and grabbed a packet of Parle G biscuits. I looked around the house and couldn’t help but feel lonely. In the past one month, I had started to realize how big the house really was with no one around. At times, I could feel the walls closing down onto me as if they were trying to eat me alive. I felt the sudden need to go out and grab some fresh air. At the same time, it felt as if my pockets were full of stones and I simply couldn’t move. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.

I gulped down the coffee and grabbed my phone. It was 11.40 am. I thought of texting one of my close friends, who knew about my job situation. I wondered if I could meet her over lunch. In my head, I calculated how much I would spend over traveling and whether I should pour all my negativity onto her. I decided it would be best not to ruin her day with my mood and kept the phone down. I switched on my laptop and put on some music.

I logged into my inbox to see if the content writing vendor had responded to any of my emails for the payment. I had been freelance writing with the hope that it would pump some cash into my bank account.

‘Mom calling,’ said my phone screen. I picked up the call with the intention of keeping it short.

“All fine, Neel?” asked the motherly instinct.

You wonder how they do that!

So, I did what most children would. I lied to her about being busy with some office work. But the phone call once again reminded me of my choice – to either resume the job search while saving money to survive the next how-many-ever days of unemployment or leave Mumbai and go back to my hometown. My gut instinct was to continue with the harder option of staying in Mumbai and not giving up hope.

I spent the day refreshing the career websites to see the same job openings pop up and later, watching random videos on YouTube. It was a challenge to pass the time. Social media was of no help either. At times, I would just stand near the window and look at the life outside. I often thought of using the free time to work on my novel writing, but the thought of job search sat in my head like a giant writer’s block.

The most depressing time was after the sunset. As soon as it would become dark outside, I would desperately wait for my flatmates to return home. It didn’t matter if it was someone that I was close friends with. I simply didn’t want to be alone in that house. I understand that it probably was none of my business when they came home from their office, and I obviously never shared it with anyone.

I looked at the wall clock. It was almost 7 pm.

“Pavas is usually home by now. I wonder if he has gone to meet Neha,” I thought to myself.

The doorbell rang and I opened the door. It was Pavas and Neha.

“Hi!” I said while trying not to look too happy that I finally had some company.

“Hey, Neel! How are you?” Neha greeted me and sat down as Pavas went inside to freshen up.

“Pavas told me. Did you have any luck with the job thing?” she tried saying it in a tone that would not hurt me.

“Not yet, but I’ll keep trying.”

“I know. You will get it. Don’t worry. Ganapati bappa will make everything alright!”

“Neel, I spoke to my marketing team colleague. But they don’t have any openings right now. Do still send me your resume. I will check with my other friends also.” Pavas came out and joined the conversation.

“Yeah, no problem,” I replied.

We were soon joined by our cook Asha who started with her everyday questions about how many rotis to make for dinner and whether or not any of the flatmates were planning to eat out.

Few more days passed and the routine of seeking the right job and not getting any decent leads continued. One of these days, I woke up super hungry. I told myself that it was time to stop eating junk and do away with things like noodles and pasta for brunch.

“Maybe, it’s time for me to learn how to cook meals!”

I played a YouTube video and followed the recipe for daal rice. It turned out to be rather easy. In fact, I believe that I did a brilliant job as a first-timer. However, my friend Yugmala who came over to visit me later that evening, told me that I had overcooked cumins.

“Apart from that, the daal is great,” she said, nodding her head.

I suspected if she was simply saying that to make her unemployed friend happy. I decided that she was not that nice and was rather honest about my excellent culinary skills.

I went out for a walk with her and she tried to cheer me up. She asked me whether I was open to Sales jobs or would only want to pursue Marketing Communication opportunities. I looked at her in response and unlike the last so many weeks, I suddenly felt confident in answering that question.

“I think only Marketing.”

“Okay. I was simply checking with you since there would typically be more sales openings, and you still don’t have as much experience in Marketing. Don’t mind, I’m just being honest.”

“Yeah, I know. No worries. It’s just that somehow I am more sure in my head now. That’s what I want. I want to pursue Marketing Communication.”

“Well, that’s good. I’m happy that you have some clarity now.”

“Me too!” I wore my first genuine smile in months as I said that.

I got back home and went to my study desk. It was a little corner in the room next to the window. It was where I had spent numerous nights reading my favorite books and writing stories for the blog. Sitting at that window, I had watched Mumbai bathe in monsoon every year and the huge oak tree outside shedding its leaves in the summer. I pulled out a few sticky notes and started scribbling my plan for the job search. The green sticky note had a list of people who could refer me to their companies. The yellow one was used for the job applications, which I was hopeful about. I drafted a schedule to track a few specific jobs meticulously and follow up with respective people who were my point of contact. The sticky notes joined the Mickey Mouse stickers on the wall posted by the landlord’s kids, who must have used the room at some time in the past.

Then came a day when I received a call from a company I had never heard about before. They had apparently liked my profile and offered to interview me. It was a Marketing Communications profile – just what I was looking for. I wasn’t sure about the organization, though – how good they were as a workplace and whether I could have a good career path there. But I followed my instincts and decided to go for the interview. The company was located in the suburbs of Mumbai. It was a cool, little office with not more than fifty people in there. The team had a friendly vibe and I immediately liked the place.

I soon got selected for the role. However, they couldn’t offer to pay me any more than what I was earning at my previous job. I asked for two days to make up my mind.

Somehow it was not a difficult choice to make. The last few months of struggle had cleared the storm of confusion in my head and helped me understand what I really wanted in life. It was as if the storm had calmed down and the dust had finally settled to reveal the path – what I wanted to become and more importantly, what I did not want to pursue anymore. I took up the job. Eventually, it turned out to be one of the best workplaces of my career.

I often look back on those months for inspiration. It’s ironic how I romanticize the time associated with my struggle. Possibly, because that struggle helped me become the man I am today. It worked as therapy for any future difficulties I would face later in my life. 

Blurred

Isn’t it amazing that there comes a special time when you’re out on a trip to the mountains or somewhere outside the city, and you’re standing outside your little cottage and facing a mammoth night sky – Your hands reach out to your pockets to capture that breathtaking view in your phone. But in that faintly moonlit place, no camera can do justice to what your eyes are witnessing. So you instead hold that magnificent view in your eyesight and save it in your heart. You know that you’ll eventually forget how gorgeous the sky looked tonight. You are aware that over the years, this moment will blur into a memory of something you had once seen but can’t vividly remember. And that evanescent characteristic of the moment is what makes it even more rewarding. You can’t save or share it, but you’ve got to savor its magic all by yourself.

~ Pavan Tarawade.

Bookmarked

I grew up in a fairly small-sized house. As a kid, at times, I thought of it as a challenge and wished that my father should have gotten us a bigger place to stay. After completing graduation, I moved out of my hometown. I got a nice job or two and moved to cities like Delhi and Mumbai. There, I stayed in much fancier and bigger apartments.
I tried to make up for the size of my childhood home by spending more money on rent and more time between those walls. Over the years, I earned enough to have more distance between the walls when I shifted from one place to the next.
As a writer, one thing that remained constant throughout these years was my love for reading. During the four years in Mumbai, I’d often pick up books from Crossword or the tiny bookstalls on the streets of Andheri. I’d be talking to my father over the phone later that day and telling him about the Jeffery Archer novel in my hand. He’d respond by saying – “Why did you have to buy that one? We already had it at home.” He’d even share the spoilers for fun.
Nevertheless, that phone call always transported me back to my childhood home and, specifically, to the one-third of that house that my father had filled with books.
There were multiple closets lined with fiction novels by authors such as O. Henry, P. G. Woodhouse, Hemmingway, Jeffery Archer, John Grisham, Frederick Forsyth, and many more. I particularly remember this green cabinet built inside one of the walls that did not take space inside the house yet had ample room to host a hundred classic authors. It’s funny how I struggled to find space for books in my new apartment, but he had managed to have a mini library for us.
An established writer himself, that was one gift he had quietly bestowed upon his kids. He instilled the habit of reading in us quite early.
That gift stayed with me through the years of growing up. When I was on a flight to Delhi for my first job, it was with me. It gave me company during the nights in Lucknow. It kept me entertained during my daily local train rides in Mumbai, and more importantly, it made me who I am today.
I could never complain to him about not buying a bigger house, but I will make sure that one-third of whichever home I stay in will be reserved for books.
I once wrote about preferring paper books to Kindle ones. A few of the readers mocked me by calling me anti-technology. I do not blame them. Maybe, they never got to smell the musty old books and be transported into another time. Perhaps they are unaware that one could ‘favorite’ special corners in their life with a bookmark so that their future selves can revisit that space.

Brought to you by

The year is 2030.
You live in a macro-rental housing society inhabited by a thousand more people living in matchbox-shaped houses. Google owns it, and they call it a Smart box.
You are in your late thirties. Almost everyone you know works at Amazon or Reliance. Today is Friday. You decide to use the accumulated points on your card. The employers have given you one day’s leave for a month. The office shares a social media update on your behalf – it is an animation of you thanking them for being a great workplace. They brand it as a wellness time for employees.
You decide to go out for some beer. At the café, you meet someone and have a little chat. They dislike your opinions and give you a low rating with two stars.
You hop onto an Uber bus. The facial recognition app greets you by your Citizen code. The driverless bus runs over a bunch of people. Thankfully, they are all homeless, and the system ignores it as an error.
The Spotify chip in your ear begins to play a track by Imagine dragons, but it is interrupted by an advertisement asking you to upgrade to a pro-premium account.
On your way back, you decide to stop at the local Kindle store. You dimly remember it used to be a Crossword book shop at one point. They are all Kindle stores now. You sit down and join a few others who are watching elections. You really hope that the Tesla guy beats Adani to become the new global president. He has promised to run a contest for free tickets to Mars every year.

Time, space and her

What happens when you fall for someone at a bookstore?

I wonder if books gossip about us later.

I shared time and space with her in that old book cafe.

The classic authors stood witness to our awkwardness.

We drank some tea, some ink,

and then some undercurrents of emotions.

We had everything but words.

Like lonely bats cutting the night in half,

our thoughts walked around the room in circles.

Our souls could defy gravity,

but our feet stumbled at the edges of conversation.

The words were supposed to be our seatbelts,

but we were already falling.

She shook her head and laughed a little,

And that was the poetry I’d never know how to write.

I could only float from one moment to the next,

and hope that she was there in all of them.

Drunk on the clusters of hope and desperation,

I opened one book and closed one self-doubt.

Evanescent

Remember the smell of winter lurking in your childhood house?
Like your ancestors’ thoughts pinned on the brick walls?
November has brought it back enveloped in its smog.
It gives you a sweet ache for a place you could never move on from.
You know you’d seen the monsoon crawl out of the front door.
Then why do memories of June still chase you like a ferocious dog?
You think of the rain-soaked streets in August.
You miss the flickering street lamps that wept throughout July.
Maybe, we are wired to love the bygones.
We’re bound to search them again in a kaleidoscope of time.
Standing at your bedroom window,
You hear the Palm leaves whisper something to 3 am streets.
“Hold onto the November, love. While you can.”

Carpe diem

Alternate realities

“Every decision made is a decision against something else.”
The multiverse theory is simply mesmerizing.
Whenever you are presented with a choice,
you create an alternate universe with an option you do not pick.
Do you catch the last train, or does your parallel version?
The delicate guillotines of options, aren’t they?
When does it start or end?
Do you choose to collect silences or words?
Do you make sure you touch the roses with or without the thorns?
Do you move out of the town or stay back?
Do you get out of your house and take a left,
Or do you walk straight and bump into a stranger?
A stranger who later becomes your best friend.
You are but accumulations of all these moments,
and yet you vividly mark as yours only a handful of them.
You are now and then.
A thread of forever and nothingness.
A puzzle of summers and raw winters.
You are holding time with both hands
but forgetting it in soft memories.
A thousand of ‘you’ are living your ‘what ifs’
at this very moment in the alternate universes.
Maybe our dreams are our memories from the worlds we don’t live in.

Elixir

It’s a Sunday afternoon.
The old forest is your latest hiding place.
You run deep into the woods,
where the riverbed smells like dreams, you don’t dare sharing.
The dreams that didn’t know where else to flow.
You wonder if forests know what their breathing does to your wounds,
or how often you turn to them.
How much you have already forgotten,
and how many years you would have gained,
if you were more like them – the big, old burly trees.
You like to think of forests as a poem written by you centuries ago.
Your favorite part is ‘a bird looking for a gentle tree to rest.’
And hers is ‘a tree quietly looking for lost birds who wish to be held.’

Stardust of memories


I’ve been dipping my words in hot coffee & purple ink,
Since I know you like to warm your heart into them.
I’ve been dragging my bones over the skin of these pages,
Because I wanted to write you poems like I was really there.
I wanted to touch the spines of books on your shelves,
And ask you if you could feel the shiver.
I was sifting what’s left of this stardust of memories,
and I can promise you my greatest work is yet to come.
It’s when the silver bones of my mind,
will be polished down to the silence of snow on paper.
It’s true,
When writers love, the planet does spin a bit slower.
It lends us time to turn all our quietness into words.

Oblivion

I began this day as I do most days,
Pouring coffee over the plants in my head.
Filtered pictures with a #throwback,
Make me yearn for places outside the window pane.
But I have reached the rock bottom,
The social tells me I can’t scroll no more.
A tall, sturdy tree is who I have become.
Mourning the mundane work from home.
The seasons blend in the background,
as I’m glued to yet another meeting invite.
With another tall, sturdy tree on a Zoom call.
Is this how the lonely forests are born?