I is for injury and illness

It’s hard to imagine that there existed a time when I could saunter into a public space with sniffles and a nasty cough and not worry about fatally infecting folks around me. It is equally painful to think of the times when falling sick did not bring on a bout of health (read: Covid) anxiety.

I arrived in Auckland a month before the virus gained momentum. I remember feeling sick the night our flight landed. My throat felt terribly sore and I could sense an impending fever. I distinctly remember feeling grateful for to my parents for being around at the time because the idea of being alone and ill terrified me.

Fast forward to two months, I suffered from a sudden bout of stomach flu. One night I came down with low-grade fever and body-ache and my stomach felt like lead. In a state of panic, I googled my symptoms to check whether they matched with those associated with Covid. Despite not finding anything online that confirmed my fears, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I was an outlier with rare symptoms that advanced gradually. A part of me was convinced that I would be a super-spreader causing a catastrophic outbreak in Auckland.

My health anxiety was assuaged when the university health service staff confirmed that I wouldn’t require a test since I hadn’t traveled overseas over a month. I was prescribed paracetamol. My friends cooked for me. H checked on me from time to time. Despite their kindness, I felt terribly homesick. I had to fix my own cold compress. I had to massage my temples. Sickness didn’t make dirty dishes disappear magically. Being sick as an adult meant your day would progress the way it usually did and it was up to you to handle yourself.

Fortunately, I recovered in two days.

I am prone to getting frequent migraines. In particular, I remember one evening when I came down with the mother of all migraines. It blinded me and made me empty my guts out. I called up my mother and wept. It was the first time I had felt that debilitated in the confines of my room. My mother comforted me and gave me tips to treat my headache.

Whilst I learnt to cope with falling sick to a certain degree, I hadn’t accounted for injuries. Last October, I injured my right wrist in a bout of overconfidence while bouldering. Though the pain radiated through my arm it didn’t feel like a broken wristbone. I shrugged it off as a sprain and borrowed my friend’s wrist brace. However, when the pain didn’t resolve in two weeks I dragged myself to a physiotherapist, once again on my friend’s recommendation. I was diagnosed with a ligament tear that would take over two months to resolve. I had to imprison my right arm in a firmer wrist brace and not exert my wrist in its absence.

I did not realize the extend to which my injury would impede my daily functioning. Not only could I not carry heavy items but also I had to lay off most forms of physical activity besides walking/jogging. My wrist proved to be a big hindrance during our move to the new house. H never complained but I felt guilty watching her carry our boxes. There were days when I fervently wished to go back in time and reverse the mishap. During this entire period, I had biweekly check-ups with the physio to track my recovery combined with light exercises. It was only by the end of January that I was given the go-ahead to resume normalcy. Thankfully, the Kiwi government insures all residents against accidents. I didn’t shell out a penny for my sessions with the physio! Despite this, I realize that I can’t afford to be careless and injure myself again.

All in all, adulthood isn’t always dandy…it’s about being accountable for yourself, both in sickness and in health.

H is for house-hunt

I did not imagine that I would hunt for a house within a year of moving to a new city. Though my previous accommodation provided adequate privacy, comfort and convenience, it was a shoe-box, not to mention being relatively expensive as compared to a shared flat. What bothered me the most was that I had no view of the outside world besides a dreary grey wall that belonged to the neighbouring building and a peek into other vacant studios on my floor.

Once it was understood that H and I would be future flatmates, we began shortlisting rentals on a portal that is popular in NZ. We were considerably excited and relieved at the prospect of living in a new space that would be cheaper, yet have better amenities for example, in-house laundry, a larger refrigerator, an oven etc. You know you’ve hit adulthood when the idea of having your own dishwasher delights you to no end!

I believe the secret to achieving a task with multiple criteria is good old Excel. And a mother who has excellent expertise in Microsoft Office is a bonus as you imbibe her skills over the years by pestering her to help you out with school projects, planners and resumes to which she begrudgingly obliges.

And so H and I made a detailed spreadsheet to pin down all logistics including priority features of our new home. Besides rent, the two criteria that were paramount to us were location and sunlight. Later I add pet-friendliness to the mix which according to me made perfect sense.

It is common practice in NZ to hunt for rentals close to the end of your current lease. But our zeal made us overlook this fact and we ended up doing quite the opposite. There were several disappointing instances when we were politely turned down or watched a broker’s expectant face drop in slow motion. And so it was indeed a sheer stroke of luck when came across a listing that checked all our tick boxes and didn’t have strict deadlines for a lease date.

However, I have come to learn – as many times over in the past – good circumstances seldom come undisguised. Though we celebrated our freshly signed contract agreement over wine and pasta, we were in for a rude shock. The catch in our case was that the previous tenant (who was residing in the flat at the time) could not move out as per schedule due to not-so unprecedented flight cancellations – he was to leave for his home – and had desperately requested the landlord to extend his lease by a few weeks which in turn clashed with our dates.

The sudden turn of events meant we had to prolong our stay at Unilodge which wasn’t free by any means. As is the case in such situations, a flurry of long emails were exchanged between us and the property manager that were mostly heated from my end and apologetic from the other. I was subjected to heavy bargaining that ranged from having our utility bills (electricity and water) being covered for three months to the landlord covering our lease-extension costs. After weeks of debate and stress, H and I settled to an agreement where not only would our Unilodge rent be covered for an extra week, but also another week in the new rental.

The time to move out finally arrived with its share of tiresomeness. Movers were out of question as they charged exorbitant rates. Thanks to a friend, we were able to transport stuff via her car. The sheer number of boxes baffled me – how in the world had I managed to accumulate so many essential items?

But we did it. We found our quaint space. We emptied each box, filled up our kitchen cabinets with spices and utensils, laid fresh duvets and sheets on our beds, organized our wardrobes, vacuumed the carpets, wiped the windows, cleaned the bathroom and had our first meal with satisfaction writ large on our faces.

F and G are for Friendship and Gratitude

While I wouldn’t call myself an out-and-out extrovert, I do like having good company. I like being around folks who are easy-going and unproblematic.

Perhaps one of the aspects of moving out that flooded me with dread was the scenario of not being able to find a reliable circle. At the time, pandemics did not feature in my list of worst-case scenarios. Yet, I opted for an expensive studio instead of a shared flat as the idea of living with a stranger in a new country made me anxious. Little did I know that I was about to meet a motley bunch of strangers at my university accommodation – who like me were in the process of figuring out their new lives – would become my friends for keeps.

The universe has been very kind to me. I keep repeating myself because these scenarios – getting settled fairly soon in a new city, having good coworkers and finding a lovely friend and flatmate – were mostly left to fate. I’d like to think of it as a combination of my privilege, good fortune, as well as the vibes I send out to the universe, sub-consciously. Back in 2019, these were wishful thoughts.

Despite the good stuff that has come my way throughout my life, there has always been a niggling thought – a faint voice – trying to convince me that I am, perhaps, not deserving of these things. I tend to downplay my struggles – three years of having been in limbo, in a job that didn’t completely satisfy me whilst dealing with poor mental health stemming from extreme indecisiveness about my future. I have been afraid of happiness even though I spent a long time chasing it.

Gratitude has become a fixture in my life ever since I moved to Auckland. To have someone who reminds me to carry my house-keys, phone and wallet before leaving the house maybe be a small but a meaningful gesture for which I am immensely thankful. Home isn’t just a place but a potpourri of such gestures that convey intimacy, comfort, warmth and ease.

I assumed I was destined to stay in my shoe-box studio for the entirety of my program until I met H. We have solaced each other since the beginning of our friendship, weathered homesickness and several lockdowns together; there were no doubts regarding sharing a home together.

As much as I wanted to limit interactions with my coworkers to our workspace, it turned out that we did make great buddies. I have learnt a new hobby – bouldering! – courtesy my awesome friend/coach/coworker A. I have had another lovely coworker-now-friend, stitch a Halloween costume for me from scratch. We’ve hung out together, confided in and comforted each other during rough times. I couldn’t have asked for more. I feel overwhelmed at times.

I tell myself that I deserve the good stuff. Cliched as it sounds, everything comes in waves – the great and the ugly – that you gotta ride.

E is for Exercise

It has taken me a while to accept this – I can be a sloth if the situation permits me.

My slothful tendencies were exacerbated by easy accessibility to public utilities and amenities in Pune. The advent of online food takeaway services – aka Swiggy and Zomato – led to my nearly ruinous entanglement with fast food. Running errands were a no-biggie. Out of tomatoes? Saunter to the sabzi mandi down the road and haggle with the vendor. Out of painkillers to treat a migraine? Run to the chemist next-door. Got a craving for Lays Magic Masala chips? Walk to the grocery store behind my apartment complex. But here’s the thing – I barely walked or ran. Good heavens no, I picked up my phone and ordered everything home. You see, unlike a white country, labour is hella inexpensive in India and hence the concept of delivery charges doesn’t exist unless you order takeaways. The charges for the latter are minimal and would hardly pinch your pocket.

So when I moved to Auckland, I wistfully realized that I had to abandon my Swiggy (substituted by Uber-Eats here) tendencies and rely on my culinary skills – that the pandemic (unsurprisingly) helped me hone – to assuage my food cravings. These days ordering takeaways is reserved for PMS bouts, period cramps, once-in-a-while forgetfulness to pack lunch, and an occasional craving that does nonetheless arise.

Not only takeaways but possibly most errands, especially grocery-shopping necessitate walking. Public transport in Auckland, unlike home, is neither convenient nor economical. Back home I would religiously choose Uber and Ola cabs over my own vehicle to commute to work, win several discounts and coupons in return which further fueled my indolence. Notwithstanding the lack of a specific exercise routine, physical activity is inescapable in a country like New Zealand. Run out of milk? Walk to the nearest convenience store. Run out of medicines? Walk to the nearest chemist shop. Run out of vegetables? Walk to Countdown, right up to the vegetable aisle. Craving a burger? Walk to your nearest Macca for a takeaway. In fact, I walk to the university as well. The undulating roads and streets of Auckland closely compete with inclined treadmills and stair-climbers in a fancy gym. Besides, walking makes me rely less on my inconsistent but impulsive ascetic tendency to jump onto workout challenges.

Believe it or not, this city has instilled the joy of walking in me. Headphones check. Playlist check. And I walk, and walk and walk.

D is for discovering a new city

Whilst I spent the first eight years of my life in Bombay, I spent the rest of it – until the age of twenty-six – in Pune. The latter saw me awkwardly transition from a preteen to an under-confident teenager but subsequently step out of it gracefully into my early-twenties. Before Auckland, it is safe to say that I had only known one city to a reasonable extent; reasonable since I only began exploring the city interiors as a graduate student. I am ashamed to confess that I would still require Google Maps to navigate through significant parts of Pune.

My therapist assured me that over time my homesickness would be replaced by appreciation towards Auckland, undoubtedly so as one of my reasons for moving here was the charm it held over me even when I was miles away in my room in Pune filling out doctoral application forms. And boy, she was right.

“this is how I’ll remember the end of my first week alone in a city that is slowly growing on me – the sea, a lovely evening breeze, a smile, my John Mayer tee, Shamoon Ismail and a playlist that seemed to have been made for this place, not to mention meeting a lovely stranger who offered to click my pictures. I feel good!

an excerpt from my caption on Instagram

In my first post, I fleetingly mentioned some of my favourite haunts such as the park with the friendly trees aka Cornwall Park and the Ferry Building. For today’s post, I’ll let my pictures do the talking.

These are a few pictures from an astronomical collection that continues to grow with each passing day.

Bombay watched me grow into a carefree child doted on by her grandparents.

Pune witnessed me brave adolescence – my first bout of period cramps, my first heartbreak, my first panic attack, the grief of losing my grandparents, the heartache associated with losing your loved ones to distance or/and irreconcilable differences – and my metamorphosis into an anxious young adult who found love by serendipity , a post-grad degree (in a course she truly enjoyed) and her first job unexpectedly. Pune watched me endure a flurry of disappointing circumstances coupled with the intense anxiety of having overstayed in one place for too long. Finally, she watched me arrive at a solution – the resolve to leave the comforts of a home life and carve a new one for myself.

Auckland observes me navigate adulthood, easing me into it with her quiet charm.

C: Cleaning and Cooking amidst Covid

I have always considered myself to be a person to whom statistically improbable but optimistic things happen. Like the time I absentmindedly dropped my college backpack – containing priced possessions such as my science journal and my newly made driving license – from my moped at the petrol pump, realized it too late yet managed to recover it by the end of the day, thanks to a good Samaritan. Or the time I almost forgot my fairly new smartphone in a Swiss train that was about to pull out of the station, but fortunately managed to retrieve it by signalling frantically to the guard who had the sagacity and generosity to let me into the coach. Or quite recently, when my flatmate and I forgot our house-keys and had the building staff unlock the door to our flat within which our foster cat – that had no business being there owing to strict building regulations – went unnoticed.

And so it came as a mild surprise to me when I realized that I had indeed escaped a pandemic – the phrase sounding tad unfamiliar as I mouthed them – since it can be safely concluded that this country has, in fact, done a commendable job of managing the first wave of Covid-19. Whilst we have had our fair share of lockdowns, the impact of the virus has been lessened by rigorous testing and aggressive contact-tracing methods employed by the government. I am grateful and I mean it sincerely, with every bone in my body.

Barely had I begun to get over my homesickness and explore the city when the first lockdown struck. Fortunately by then, I had found myself a small circle of friends within Unilodge (the university accommodation) and we stuck by each other through thick and thin. Besides sharing our meals and playing board games together, I spent the remainder of my time juggling work-from-home (nope and nope) and cleaning. Yes. I realized that I am indeed my father’s daughter and hence, a self-certified neat-freak. To top that, my favourite childhood game – kitchen-kitchen – began to acquire a real touch with each passing day as I began to sharpen my culinary skills.

My first tryst with deep-cleaning occurred when I realized in dismay that the minuscule freezer in my mini fridge was prone to heavy frosting. As a result, the fridge door wouldn’t shut and upon consulting the reception staff, I was advised to defrost the freezer. Now, I hadn’t prepared myself for the copious amount of icy water that is a by-product of the process. Don’t panic – I told myself and began to assiduously wipe off the water that had pooled in and around my fridge. I also owe to my old friend from Toronto, who gave me company through a video-call whilst I grumbled my way through the task.

My cleaning regime, quite naturally, also involves vacuuming carpets – an activity that makes me groan at first but immensely satisfies me with its results. The vacuum-cleaner at Unilodge was an annoyingly heavy entity that had to be lugged from another floor into my studio. But now we have a lighter and more convenient version of the same that makes me groan less.

Moving on to my experiments with food- I’ve become quite the meat consumer now as vegetarian cooking tends to be limited by a bleak but pricey selection of vegetables, especially in winters. Plus, there’s a thrill in exploring cuisines that had been denied to me back home due to kitchen restrictions. Perhaps, the most exciting thing that I learnt to cook first (meat-wise) was chicken curry, thanks to my enterprising coworker and friend (if you are reading this, here’s a shoutout!)

Chicken curry – first attempts

However, comfort food is not replaceable; for example, sambaar and curd rice, khichdi, roti-sabzi and dosas.

The first weeks of being alone in a new country may have been daunting but I always did keep faith in my ability to cook for survival. There were instances of impulsive shopping and food spoilage but over time I devised weekly meal plans and menus to prioritize ingredients as per needs instead of wants. Here’s how I began –


My food ordering habits have drastically reduced. I would call myself a lazy chef at times but a good one alright. The best part about cooking is sharing what you’ve cooked with your loved ones. Though I didn’t mind dining alone, my motivation to cook did waver. Ironically, the lockdown reversed this for me. It brought my current flatmate/friend and I closer, and we began to share our meals on a daily basis which in turn helped us to economize. My friend is a fantastic cook – lucky me! This mouth watering spread has been brought you be us –

B is for buying groceries

Now it may seem like I have been spoilt rotten by my parents or led a bougie lifestyle up until I moved here – this is partially true – but I found it overwhelming to aisle-shop or go to huge supermarkets or departmental stores on my own during my first week in Auckland.

Back home, the most economical way to shop for produce is to walk down to your nearest street-side vendors – sabzi mandis – with their huge carts displaying arrays of vegetables and fruits. “Bhaiya aadha kilo tamatar ka kitna hua?” which translates to “Brother, how much does half a kilogram of tomatoes cost? If you were good at bargaining, chances were you would come home with a good haul.

If you were lost in a supermarket back home or were unable to find an item of your choice, immediate help would be assured. You could ask a fellow shopper – “Excuse me, do you know where the paneer section is?” – and in all probability they would know. To top this, you would always have an over-eager shop assistant hovering over you at any store.

In my case, my parents have kept up with the times and transitioned to online shopping. My working mother orders almost everything, including perishables, from Big Basket – an online grocery shopping platform in India. To me this translated to lesser errands and greater screen time.

Fast-forward to my foray into adulthood where the mere thought of walking into Countdown, the local NZ supermarket, flooded me with anxiety. I had to forgo the comfort of mandis to further my research endeavour in a first-world country. In the months leading up to my departure, I had YouTubed tutorials for using self-checkout machines. My worst case scenarios featured shoppers in queue, impatiently watching me fumble with the options – I imagined there to be several – on these machines and flustered cashiers giving up on me as I struggled to swipe my card. Grocery shopping, in my head, appeared to be an intimidating activity. Whilst online shopping was an option, the overall cost including the delivery overheads would easily deplete a poor student of their savings over time.

Whilst my worst fears did not thankfully manifest, I did have a rough time navigating through the aisles. Common sense deserted me and instead of noticing the information displayed for each aisle, I ran around like a headless chicken, desperately looking for the items on my grocery list. Towards the end I was almost in tears as all that remained on my list were paneer and frozen peas. It seemed as though the staff had been swallowed by this gargantuan supermarket – it took me over twenty minutes to locate an assistant! The rest of my stint at Countdown went down without any further incident. I sensibly stayed away from the self-checkout machines, and tried to appear relaxed before the cashier who was quite friendly. Finally, I clumsily packed my purchases in a bag and raced out of the doors.

Fortunately, I had bounced back by the next round of grocery shopping. Armed with a more efficient list, I marched confidently through the aisles of Countdown – which seemed a tad familiar – keeping my eyes peeled for the ingredients I required. At the end of it, I casually walked over to the self-checkout machine and breezed through the whole process. It wasn’t as complicated as I thought it would be. The words that reassured me throughout this trip were – as Ford Prefect had put it – don’t panic.

A is for Auckland

Auckland. Five years ago, if you had told me that I’d be pursuing my doctoral studies in an island country that is conveniently neglected in world maps owing to its negligible land size, I would have scoffed at you. Laughed in disbelief if anything. But disbelief is what I felt when I first walked the streets of this city alone, after having wallowed in homesickness and the anxiety of having being left to fend for myself in a new city. The pandemic has been a cherry on the cake. That I have managed to live alone in this city – that seems more like home to me than home back in India – for over a year with a novel virus on a rampage seems surreal. These were dreams, wishful thoughts – not the virus of course – circa 2016. But the Universe is a wondrous entity. And you may laugh, but I seriously believe in it.

Since over a year, I have been gradually discovering and savoring the bittersweet joys of adulthood, something that has come to me quite late in life (as I’d like to think) as many things have in the past. I have taken my time to arrive here, and I don’t regret it. The transition from a comfortable home life to one that involves self-discipline and independence wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. During my last in-person session with my therapist, I recall voicing the fact that my mind was a blank slate with regards to moving to New Zealand. It had been too overwhelming to imagine and account for worst-case scenarios in a place where I couldn’t visualize my life yet. But it worked out for me eventually, bit by bit, like the pieces of a puzzle that fall into place, and for that I am infinitely grateful.

What I love about Auckland is its laid-back, cheery vibe. While it is harder – in general – to find friends here, I have been blessed with a sweet circle that has been a constant source of solace to me during these rough times. I had visited New Zealand back in 2018, during a family vacation, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how the place kept calling out to me. I remember visiting the University of Auckland – it is where I study I now – and being in awe of the place. Undulating roads, a chill breeze, a beautiful green park with blooms in season, students in chic winter-wear, and the smell of fresh caffeine pervading the air – these are my memories of that evening.

There is a park we visited back then, when my parents, sister and I clicked selfies under a beautiful tree next to a fountain. The April sun was kind to us whilst a chill breeze fanned our faces. Fast forward to last year, my lovely friend and now flatmate helped me find that park with the very same tree, courtesy Google Maps. We clicked pictures again and contrasted them with those clicked two years prior. I felt an absurd joy in recreating those moments.

One of my favourite haunts in the city is the waterfront near the Ferry Building. It was and continues to be my refuge on days I feel low, and my happy place on good days. I have always had a soft corner for the sea. As fortune would have it, as of December 2020, I have been living in an apartment rental that faces the peaceful waterfront. To sip on hot coffee while gazing out at the still waters dotted occasionally with yachts is a quiet joy in itself.

I could probably write endlessly about the joy and satisfaction I have experienced while exploring this city so far. The strongest emotion I have felt after having adjusted to my new home is that of contentment despite the chaos around me. The government works painstakingly to ensure normalcy in the country while a pandemic rages across the rest of the globe. Mentally, it has been years since I have felt as grounded in the present as I do when I walk the streets of Auckland city. I take time to observe the architecture, the lights, the sounds and the smells that make this city. I wake up each morning to be greeted by the majestic Sky Tower which is visible from my balcony.


I’ve come to realize that home is a feeling. New homes can be created again in new countries amidst new found company and friends who care. After having moved here, the constant feeling of incompetency has gradually vanished. I am confident. I like myself a lot. And to say that I’m proud of myself is an understatement.

The 2021 A to Z theme reveal

After much hemming and hawing I’ve decided to dive into the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge after 4 years. I had taken a long hiatus from blogging since 2019. Perhaps it was the lack of inspiration; but it was definitely due to facing and accepting the monumental changes that come your way when you decide to ditch the comforts of a home life and move to a new country for the first time.

My theme for this year will be “On living alone and discovering adulthood in the midst of a pandemic.”

My genre of writing will appeal to those who enjoy journaling, random musings and slice-of-life pieces. Given the nature of this challenge and the pressure to conceive and post written content daily, I will keep my posts short and hopefully aim to infuse some interest in my audience!

Nani

On the account of Women’s History Month, I wrote this as my entry to the Brown History Project but I am not sure if it will make to its Instagram page. I have edited some bits in this version.

After reading Aanchal Malhotra’s Remnants of a Separation, I was intrigued to know my maternal grandmother’s perspective on the partition of my country; a historical event drenched in communal bloodshed, violence and trauma with an aftermath that lasts to this day. However, I ended up learning a lot more than what I expected.

My grandmother (Nani) was born into a wealthy Tamil family in 1936 in Gopalapuram, Tamil Nadu. However, she spent most of her early years and after in Central India. In early 1947, along with her sisters and her aunt, she lived in Benaras/Varanasi, pursuing her school studies. Her parents and brothers were based in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh as her father owned an independent business. Granted that they were away from the country’s borders that had been heavily afflicted by communal violence, they were relatively unaffected by the partition. Their neighbours were friendly, and there were no instances of religious discrimination as such. Her aunt had been a great freedom fighter once upon a time, having worked with the likes of Sarojini Naidu. Nonetheless, when violence erupted, girls and women were asked to close doors tightly and not wander alone on the streets. Her father had to shut down his business because he anticipated danger and losses to it. Fortunately, he received a job offer in Nagpur and his entire family moved to the city. However, Nagpur’s weather affected his health, and he was struck by a paralytic attack in 1949. On their doctor’s advice, they moved back to Jabalpur. Since he couldn’t resume work, the family was plunged into a severe financial crisis. To make matters worse, one of his close associates swindled him pushing his family to the brink of poverty. According to Nani, one of her most vividly humiliating experiences involved being called out amidst an examination to be told that she couldn’t continue as she hadn’t paid her fees. Whilst her older siblings received a higher level education – by the time it was her chance – she couldn’t progress beyond matriculation. She was compelled to seek work to make ends meet. Back then, working women were a rarity and were subjected to ridicule and rampant misogyny. Yet, Nani was and has always been a resilient woman. At the age of 28, when marriage prospects – in those days – were grim, it was considered a miracle when she married my grandfather and went on to have two kids. She worked hard and fought her male counterparts to gain some credibility at work. Finally in her forties, she graduated with both BA and MA degrees.

Nani has seen terrible days but has emerged triumphant despite her trials and tribulations. She is the most iconic woman of my life.