To 2016, with love and gratitude

I wanted to set the context for this post before I put it out. This piece of writing is not meant to be a Facebook timeline i.e. a highlight reel of my finest moments. When I read through this after writing, it did feel like a celebration post of sorts. But it isn’t just that – no year, actually can be only highs. 2016 has been a mixture of some profound lows and unconventional, meaningful highs.

In her infinite wisdom, Shikha once explained to me that relentless optimism isn’t about only having positive thoughts. Most people have, say a hundred not-so-great thoughts in a day and maybe about 15-20 good ones. Optimism is about weeding through your sea of thoughts in a day and picking out those 15-20 thoughts. You pick them, focus on the good and it grows. Let me warn you though, it takes a lot of mental wrestling in the beginning and that can be exhausting at times. Also, sometimes in your learning curve of mining for the good, you tend over-compensate which makes the attempt at positivity at times seem excessive and annoying – even to yourself. (Reminds me of the Alec Baldwin appearance in Friends). Like say you get hit by a bus, that’s bad. Period. There is really no use or need to go looking for life’s great positive meaning in your broken bones. If you keep at this practice of mining for the good persistently and long enough, your mind gets trained to see the good in a balanced way.

This post is about the good in my life that I’ve consciously mined for in the sea of things that happened this year – these are the things that have made me happy, it’s about people I love very much and the stuff I’m grateful to the Universe for.

So, here we go recapping the year that was…

January : An experiment

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February : If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied…

This is one of the pictures from Anagha’s wedding earlier this year. A close-knit, beautifully organized, warm wedding it was. It also became mini college reunion of sorts and through the three days we spent together, my jaws constantly ached because of all the laughing, smiling and endless chatting. :) Being around some people just makes you come alive. It reminds you of how much joy and laughter you carry within you. Life is short, isn’t it? Every minute should be spent surrounded by people who love you, make you happy and push you to be the very best version of yourself.

“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” -Confucius

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March : The mountains are calling, and I must go

A month of climbing mountains, from Singalila National Park to Dharmasala

The birds have flown into the sky and the last cloud has drifted away. We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains. – Li Po

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April : Work Hard. Be Nice.

One of the most gratifying feelings in the world is seeing your team take center-stage and to have your collective efforts grow and flourish. April was a month of pride, a time for sitting back and taking pleasure in how far we’ve come. LIFT graduated its 3rd batch of government teachers this year. I can’t believe it’s been three years already. What started out in 2013 as a teacher development program training 80 teachers in public schools is now working with 1500 teachers impacting 56,000 children in the city of Pune.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. – Arthur Ashe

No matter where you are, I’ve discovered that there is great merit to keeping your head down and working hard in silence. All good things to those who hustle as they wait. Work hard and always, always be nice.

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May – June : Home is where the heart is…

“Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends.” – Virginia Woolf

Home, Pune

Each year, May begins with us celebrating my mom’s birthday. Off late, each year I take some time from the celebrations to thank the supreme entity for blessing me with two such amazing individuals as parents. Many years ago, I read a question on Quora;

‘What is the single biggest advantage a person could be born with?’

The top-rated answer for this question with thousands of upvotes was ‘Nourishing parents’ followed by good looks, wealth etc. So often the greatest blessings of our life, stuff like who you are born to,  we take for granted just assuming that is the set up we were destined to be in. Little do we realize that with one twist of fate, our lives could have been unimaginably different. I’ve always believed in celebrating birthdays but for the past few years my idea of celebration has moved beyond cake-cutting, gifts and treats. Today, I believe that it is an occasion to thank the Universe for putting this person in your life.

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Delhi

A second home for me, always has been Shikha’s place – earlier it was Pune, then Mumbai, and now it’s Delhi. She’s always at the airport to pick me up, as soon as I enter the house, the WiFi automatically connects and the breakfast is always my favorite parathas throughout the length of my stay. :) I was in Delhi for a meeting in May and though it was insanely hot, we made the most of our time together. This below, is a picture from a roof top cafe called Hauz Khas Social where we spent a whole evening. It overlooks the beautiful Hauz Khas Fort and lake.

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Bangalore

The picture below is the terrace of Rupa’s home in Bangalore. This is and will always be one of my most favorite places in the world, my ‘safe place’.

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Rupa and I are friends from hostel days. We became friends by a freakish stroke of luck. Because of whose roommate I was, whenever Rupa saw me initially she had the same look of distrust on her face that a cat has when it sniffs a strange-looking edible object. She held on to that look for many, many weeks. :) Somehow I was very fond of her from the start and I guess I can be pretty persistent when I want to be. After marriage, Rupa moved to Bangalore and whenever I visited my grandparents there, we would meet over coffee for a couple of hours. Almost always our time together seemed woefully insufficient. Last year we decided that we needed much more than a few hours of non-stop talking so we traveled to Coorg for a few days. The catalyst for this trip last year was that our friend Rashmi had just moved back to India after being in the US for many years. Rashmi is a wonderful person and the reason that all of us in hostel became friends in the first place. She was the glue that held the group together in those initial few years.

This year again, Rupa and I spent about 5 days in the beautiful coffee plantations of the rain-kissed, heavenly kingdom of Coorg. It has become a cherished annual ritual of sorts.

Coorg

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Mumbai

Immediately after Coorg, I traveled to Mumbai for Teach For India’s Advisory Board Meeting. It was my last meeting as a member of the Advisory Board. The picture below is a glorious early morning view of the sea from my boss’s apartment. Another place that feels a lot like home.

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July : A catalyst for whimsy…

“A taste for irony has kept more hearts from breaking than a sense of humor, for it takes irony to appreciate the joke which is on oneself.” ― Jessamyn West

Talking of ‘safe/happy’ places, my office has always been all that and more. I returned to work on 1st July after a month-long sabbatical and this picture below is a welcoming view of the terrace garden attached to the floor I work on. I take all my work calls walking through this space. For the past five years, I have always looked forward to coming to office, meeting my friends over lunch and more than anything else, I’ve had the good fortune of doing the work I love. It is an aspect of my life I’m tremendously grateful for every single day.

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July, this year, my dad turned 60. Both my grandmothers were with us and it was nice homely celebration full of affection, fun and lots of gifts. :) A memorable birthday!

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If ever you feel weighed down by the bureaucracy and often mundanity of modern life, don’t fight the frustration. Let it be the catalyst for whimsy. – James Veitch

A tiny weekend getaway with a heated infinity pool over-looking the beautiful, misty mountains of Mahabaleshwar, breakfast at Mapro, aloo-corn tikkis by the lake and a day-long heavenly spa experience – that’s the ultimate idyllic whimsy coming alive.

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August : Be kind whenever possible, it is always possible.

August was a month of many things but the two things I want to remember it for are;

a. The writer’s workshop that opened some sort of a faucet and after which I began testing the waters to see if I could write again at all after a rather long lull.

b. Three birthdays – of a dear colleague at work who isn’t at all a fan of celebrating birthdays (hence the Seinfeld quote for him), my maternal grandmother’s 79th birthday and my Pune-based cousin’s belated birthday celebrations at home.

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September : Thank you, dear Universe!

I thought I had already got the greatest gift I could have in September when my kids visited  me at work. This month, and the day I turned 30 became a reminder of how deeply grateful I need to be to have so many amazing people in life. On most days, I wonder what I’ve really done to deserve so much goodness. Here’s a run down of my happiest moments of the day.

  • My elderly auto uncle brought me kheer and lots of moong dal wada early in the morning. :) It was such an unexpected and incredibly sweet gesture.
  • I finally pulled off something that I’ve been meaning to do for years now – on my way to work I was able to give packets of breakfast to the six homeless people who sit exactly at the same place on the streets. For the past two and a half years, I see them every day on my 20 kilometer ride to work and I’d always wanted to bring them food and warm clothing. Glad I could make a start. [I write this here not for effect but only to share – because this wasn’t an original idea, the inspiration to do this came from a book about 7-8 years ago.]
  • Celebration with family – this includes friends who are my family – Rupa and Shikha who pulled off the greatest surprise in human history by landing up at my door, flying in from two different cities, on 20th September late night.
  • Roshan’s special dabba –with Lakshmi’s divine aloo bhindi – for my birthday lunch.
  • Natasha baked chocolate cakes – two of them. We named them ‘Death by Chocolate’ and ‘Decadent Heaven’.
  • Very symbolic, interesting books as gifts and the lovely cards from my team.
  • Towards late evening, one of my kids mailed me (Yes, mailed me :)) just like that and sent his cat’s picture. They took my email address when they visited me and this was the first email ever I got from a student. :)

This birthday will be very special – for all the love and thoughtfulness that flooded my day – but also for the simple reason, that was the first time in life I was looking forward to wish myself.:) Sounds incredibly narcissistic, I know but it wasn’t about self-absorption in any way but more about the small beginnings of being kind to oneself.picsart_12-30-10-20-48

October : Lights will guide you home…

“The impulse to travel is one of the hopeful symptoms of life.” – Agnes Repplier

London

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Diwali

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November : Punch above your weight…

The most reliable way to predict the future is to create it.

On the first Monday of November, I woke up at our Juhu guest house at about 5:30 in the morning and headed to have my tea at the lovely terrace overlooking the sea. I was in Mumbai for something critical and the very fact that I was up that early was proof of my nervousness. As I walked up to the terrace, I saw thousands and thousands of people on the beach. It was apparently the day of Chatt Puja and all these people were offering their morning prayers to the Sun. Just felt good starting the day with such hopeful, buoyant energy. There are some very rare days in a lifetime when the Universe makes it very clear that it’s on your side and you just know that you are going to win, whatever be the bet you place – this will be your day of winning. And it was. 

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Celebrating the win two weeks later – a delightful piece of Tiramisu in Delhi with a person who’s walked every step of this year with me.

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December : Count your blessings!

The last month of the year started with an unexpected surprise. This was going to be my colleague, Mr. Sanyal’s last month at work and this beautiful oil painting was his parting gift to me. It took him three months to finish. I have no words to describe just how overwhelming it was to receive something like this, it truly is a labour of love.

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We had the most amazing fun farewell for Mr. Sanyal. It was an evening filled with laughter, fun conversations, wine and …..dance. :) I made a happy discovery that night that nothing can make me come alive on the dance floor like old Hindi songs from the 60s and 70s. My God! – the Shammi Kapoor hits we all danced on, one after the other. (Aaj kal tere mere pyaar ke charche, Badan pe siataare,Tareef karun kya uski and so many more). It was night of blissful dancing. :)

We’ve worked together for five years now and I can say this beyond a shadow of doubt that Mr. Sanyal is one of the finest human beings that I have had the pleasure of knowing. He will be sorely missed. I mean, at this point I can’t even imagine the lunch table without him. People leave and I guess, a huge part of growing up is learning to accept that gracefully.

Something else that made December special was a ‘Secret Santa’ and the lovely, little gifts each morning on my table. I’m hoping to find out on Monday who my Secret Santa is.

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“If I see farther it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants” – Isaac Newton  

If anybody were to ask me to describe 2016, it would simply be the year of gratitude. For as long as I live, I’ll never forget that everything I have been able to do is because I stand on the shoulders of giants. The tallest and strongest of those giants who raise me up each day are my parents – the powerful influence of their upbringing is something I’m discovering each passing year. Then there are my friends who’ve carried me through times when my knees have buckled. I owe them debts I’ll never be able to repay. I’m grateful for having had the privilege to work with great bosses through my career who became mentors to me. A note of gratitude to my work place/s (through the years), they have always been my sanctuary because of the wonderful people I’m surrounded by and lastly, I am just immensely grateful for the opportunities for work, travel and adventures that life has given me.

A few years ago, I would have dismissed declarations of gratitude like this as mawkish. I’m still the kind of person who switches channels during award acceptance speeches because they get too squirmy and sentimental to watch.  But one of the great epiphanies this year has been about how freakishly short life really is. Let your loved ones know how much you love them and tell them what an impact they have had on your life. In the same vein, accept the apologies that you may never get – not because people deserve forgiveness but because you deserve peace of mind.

So, here’s to a year of living life in full measures.

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Hope you have a lovely year ahead. May 2017 be everything you want it to be and more! :)

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