Of a cat, anxiety, and homecoming – May to July

The inevitability of Covid brings with it occasional bouts of excruciating anxiety and lethargy. But there’s a glimmer of hope in the form a foster cat.

We pick up Hannah from SPCA and smuggle her into our home (which isn’t without its share of trials and tribulations). She warms our hearts with her unbearable cuteness and softness. Cuddling her every morning upon waking up and after returning from work become the highlights of our day. Words may not be enough – as is always the case – so here are some pictures

You know you are loved when your cat gives you company while you grade mind-numbing tests.

Meanwhile, May brings with it, relief coupled with trepidation. The borders open for temporary visa holders and I book my tickets to visit home in June, a day after H’s birthday. Home. A part of me is in disbelief while the rest grapples with a bout of anticipatory travel anxiety. I begin jotting down my check-lists. Despite everything, I realize the pandemic is still a fixture at this point which necessitates a bunch of documents such as vaccine certificates, letters of permission from the University and my supervisor, and self-declaration forms. To top this, I find myself plagued with questions, wondering how things would be back home. Would they have changed a lot? Would the familiarity overwhelm me? Will my boyfriend and I actually come out of this visit unscathed? I see my residual resentment towards him bubbling up through the cracks occasionally. My mind is plagued with questions.

Though I find the whole process stressful, it is indeed soothing to have a cat around. Hannah sidles up to me each time she senses my low moods. H and I move onto another gripping K-drama, Beyond Evil which stays with us long after the season finale. One particular Friday, I wake up extraordinarily early and treat myself to a sumptuous breakfast at Ima, a popular Mediterranean eatery. I think it’s important to pamper yourself – if it is affordable – and let yourself off the hook from time to time. That evening, Ap and I go to the bouldering gym together. Little do I know that it would be probably be the last time we do so but more about that later.

Eventually, Hannah finds a (hopefully) loving home. It is bittersweet but H and I hope we can get her new parents to send us updates. Unfortunately, our efforts to persuade SPCA to pass on our message go in vain as we never hear from anybody. We try not to dwell on it and move on with our lives.

As my visit to home looms, I find myself getting frequently anxious. It doesn’t help that my PMS worsens with each cycle. There are increasingly vicious arguments with my partner, and no, I won’t elaborate but let’s just say – they leave me desolate and miserable. Add to this, the sudden demise of a favourite singer. I wake up to the news that KK – a musician beloved to millennials like me, whose music formed the soundtrack of our adolescence – is no more. I’m gutted to say the least.

On a positive note – a much needed therapy session helps me focus on my triggers and thoughts upon getting triggered. Engaging with thoughts is what escalates an emotion from 3 to 10 and my homework is to bring this point into awareness. Thoughts are words. They are meaningless unless acted upon. This includes false reassurances to calm myself down temporarily. A heartening realization that makes realize that I can get a grip on my emotions by engineering the thoughts behind them.

Times whizzes past and H’s birthday finally arrives. One day before, I wrap up stuff at the uni, hurriedly hug my coworkers which includes Ap, and rush home to decorate the house and keep an assortment of cakes and pastries ready. Unbeknownst to H, I have proactively organized a birthday treasure-hunt after consulting her college friends virtually, the treasure being a deluxe version of her favourite BTS album Be. H is not one to vocalize her affection towards me, but the treasure hunt proves to be a success the next day, and her joy is palpable! I film a reaction video of sorts and share it with her friends.

We eat lunch at a cosy South-African eatery on Elliot Street. As I watch H happily munch on chicken and waffles, I feel a sudden pinch in my heart. It feels gut-wrenching to leave my best friend, flatmate and sole support system in New Zealand all by herself for a month whilst I visit home. It doesn’t help that Covid is always lurking round the corner. What if I am not able to come back? The guilt of being the first one amongst us to visit home is crushing. But H, in her typical H-fashion assures me that there’s no need to catastrophize. And so with her reassurance, I embark on my visit home.

To say that I am in the best frame of mind on the flight back home would be a lie. My excitement about meeting my partner and going home is marred by a vicious argument days before my departure. And so it weighs on me heavily as I try to distract myself with movies and cups of coffee on board. I write a sombre note on my phone that is addressed to him, and to us. But I’m going to cut the suspense and jump a few days ahead – we meet for lunch where I manage to convey what’s been plaguing my mind, and hear him out as well. I feel understood for the first time in a long time.

The first time I see my father’s familiar figure outside the airport, a wave of relief washes over me. It feels surreal to be back home. The instant cortisol drop makes me gorge on the sandwiches and Lays wafers my mother has thoughtfully packed for me – washed down with two packs of Frooti. I can barely stop filming videos on our drive back to Pune. Seeing my mother at our doorstop proves to be the final force against the dread that has resided in my mind all these months. I am truly elated.

Needless to say, being home makes a massive difference to my mental health. I don’t recall being this relaxed in a long time. I realize that I was either anxious about my relationship falling apart or about having my parents fall sick. I am grateful. The familiarity of being home isn’t as overwhelming as I had catastrophized it to be. The city is eerily identical to what it looked like in Jan 2020, save for a couple of new buildings and the lack of two distinct flyovers near the university. The cat I used to play with in our compound remembers me even now! She’s hale and hearty despite having evidently aged. I am warmed and pleasantly surprised when almost all my friends make time to meet me despite their busy schedules. S flies down to Pune for a week and we spend our time together talking about everything under the sun, catching up with what had gone down in the past two years.

Meanwhile, my partner and I have several conversations about our future, calmly for the most part. I realize how brutal distance can actually get, because the man I know isn’t this villainous character that he transforms into – in my head – when he is away. It isn’t always hunky-dory though – there are days when I regress to being irate and upset due to certain plans not materializing. This includes a trip to Goa. Not only does it deeply disappoint me, but also leads me to project my disappointment on him. Gradually, things resolve as we make the most of the time we have at our disposal.

As July looms, I realize I am not ready to go back yet. Luckily, I manage to extend my visit by another week. I get a health check up to rule out fibroids and other menstrual cycle issues. My blood-work and other reports are normal save for abysmally low levels of Vitamin D and B12. I schedule a consult with a psychiatrist – known to our family – to get an opinion on my anxious moods. On her recommendation, I trial a cocktail of medications for barely three days until I realize that I am not ready yet. I am not entirely satisfied with her diagnosis which is further subtly confirmed by my long time therapist. On the latter’s advice, I decide to take a second opinion in December (when I’d be home again). In the meantime, I am put on a vitamin supplement course to be on track.

July further instills a sense of calm and gratitude in me as I spend quality time with my family and indulge in activities that give me great satisfaction. Upon invitation, I give an informal talk on my PhD journey to my old research group at NCL. I am warmly welcomed by my ex-supervisor and ex co-workers. I embrace the ordinariness of my home that I had once taken for granted until I moved out. I indulge in my favourite vegetarian dishes. I stroll around MG road. I witness Pune rains and deeply breathe in the petrichor, the lack of which is conspicuous in Auckland. I binge watch Reply 1988 with my mother.

As my visit draws to a close, it is understandably bittersweet. But I leave home with a sense of wonderment.

I have no idea why I felt like home wouldn’t feel like home. If anything, I’m relieved.

April: The bad and the good C

I wake up without an alarm at 7:30am to a beautiful April morning with pleasant weather. April has always been one of my favourite months in New Zealand. April is about pristine blue skies, wearing shades of red, clicking pictures at The Domain, bidding farewell to beaches, resuming the use of my thermos coffee mug after months, listening to Sid Sriram’s songs on loop, and the list goes on.

However, the first few days of the month are mired in gloom – a prescient warning from the last week of March. The tension brewing between my partner and I reaches a crescendo and almost makes me lose my voice. Cruel words are thrown around carelessly – no, I will not elaborate – but the damage is done. I tell him I need space. We don’t speak for over a day which is a lot given we converse everyday without fail. This simple act of self-preservation is enough to elicit an apology and the self-accountability he owes me. We continue to tread on unstable ground over subsequent weeks, but he seems to realize that I won’t put up with him lashing out at me.

Meanwhile, H and I say goodbye to daylight savings which automatically translates to waking up “early” and decent mealtimes. It means familiar sunsets at 6pm that I am accustomed to. But April weather keeps us bamboozled by oscillating between migraine-inducing hot afternoons to breezy evenings. We also begin to experiment with HelloFresh: a service that delivers a set of meal-kits spanning a week at our doorstep. Not only are their recipes refreshingly different, but also delicious enough to have us temporarily suspend our takeaway habits.

As for consuming content, my sister and I watch a film adaptation of Sachin Kundelkar’s Cobalt Blue on Netflix, which disappoints us deeply given its one of our favourite books. Soon after, I end up returning a borrowed copy of The Sapiens (by Yuval Noah Harari) to the library after having struggled to keep a reading schedule. I purchase a Kindle version with hopes that I’ll eventually catch up.

Teaching gains momentum; I diligently make up for lost research hours by working over the weekend. As I skim through the material provided for the quantitative biology labs, I find myself getting genuinely fascinated with the subject. Moreover, I begin proof-reading another manuscript from the research group I was previously a part of only to get frustrated with typos and a general lack of referencing. Overall, I realize that I thrive when my schedule is packed, despite bad weather and period cramps.

Easter arrives and brings with it a much deserved respite from work. H and I take a ferry to Waiheke Island where we beach hop. Unfortunately we end up not indulging in the one thing the island is renowned for – wine. Most vineyards are either completely booked or closed due to staff shortage. Nonetheless, we have a great day and click tons of pics. To top this, we successfully manage to tick some items off our Easter itinerary – a fun photo-shoot at The Domain and a live in-home recording session.

Two days later I wake up with an alarming tickle in my throat. And that’s when our April mood transitions into something that we least expect. The tickle snowballs into a dry cough, spells of mild fever, exhaustion and body ache over the next day. I suspect it’s The Dreaded C but the RAT kit says otherwise. Needless to say, H’s health takes a downturn along with mine. I jot down my symptoms to keep track of my health and promptly inform Healthline. Following another night of disturbed sleep with chills and high fever, I finally test positive for Covid with H following me hot on the heels.

We are thankful for each other’s company and for friends who deliver groceries and medicines at our doorstep. We gradually recover over the next eight to ten days. There are two noticeable side-effects of the virus, one being repulsion to coffee – which turns out to be temporary, thankfully – and an aversion to Instagram. Over the course of my illness, I consume a lot of garbage content on the interwebz that is for the most part, pointless Bollywood gossip from one of my favourite subreddits. One of my guilty pleasures involves following up on Indian celeb gossip. I watch Tanmay Bhat’s silly vlogs and reaction videos on YouTube. I binge on old episodes from Koffee with Karan to distract myself. H and I binge on a zombie apocalypse centered K-drama – All Of Us Are Dead. Memes keep me going through my sickness and I’m ever so grateful to them for lightening up my otherwise bleak days.

On the day our isolation period is over – which almost coincides with the end of this eventful month – we wake up to exciting news: SPCA has an adult cat up for fostering. The pleasant timing of the opportunity makes us take up their offer to bring home a gorgeous black beauty named Hannah. We are besotted by her. She’s everything you would want your cat to be – cuddly, sweet and absolutely adorable!

And so the good C brings April to a close.

Grounding myself: March

It’s the second day of March and I wake up freezing in bed. There’s a definite drop in temperature. Is autumn on the threshold, I wonder. Because if so, I’m pleasantly surprised. I realize that Kiwi summers aren’t my thing. Yes, there are beaches and a couple of months of wearing less clothes but in terms of my mood and mental health – NAH. I now understand the hype around autumn, especially since it isn’t a thing for us folks back home. It’s the pleasant kinda cold, just enough to make you wear light shrugs and an occasional beanie. I think to myself that maybe this is a sign that better days are coming, given how tumultuous February had been.

March begins with frequent therapy sessions. I figure I have some exploring and inner chronicling to do understand myself better. I realize sleep is paramount. However, there are days when I wake up feeling tired despite having slept for around 8 hours – from 11pm to 8am. This worries me as consider myself to be a morning person.

Meanwhile, I successfully completely my fifteen-day goal to bring down my usage of Instagram. I realize that on an average I spend between 40 to 60 minutes on the platform, which isn’t terrible given how crazy my usage times were in the beginning. I decide to extend the goal to another month, where I would limit my usage to 60 minutes in the first half and then reduce it to 50 minutes in the second. This doesn’t go as planned; I find myself lapsing back into unhealthy scrolling habits. On the days I stick to my goal, I notice my overall screen-time shooting up as I fill the void left by the gram with other apps such as YouTube and Twitter. But I am patient. Deep-rooted habits don’t die overnight.

I use this month to recuperate from my ill mental health. I resume an illustrative journaling course by Kate Sutton on Domestika that I had signed up for last October. This exercise proves to deeply therapeutic as I throw caution to the winds and draw from memory, illustrating a day from my life, my favourite things, the food I love, the walks I have gone on, etc. I toy with the idea of buying myself a pack of Posca markers but hold back as they are expensive. I finally resolve to make use of materials I already own before giving into impulses.

I manage to read one book – Anxious People by Fredrick Backman – that steals my heart. The plot is delightful, funny, wholesome yet thrilling. Backman’s quirky prose makes me chuckle (when I am not being choked up with emotions). I love the feminist undertone to the storyline. I find myself gushing about his book for days to come and send a copy to S as a birthday present. In the meantime, I get back to almost binging on K-dramas after what seems like a year. I complete watching the first season of Hospital Playlist, Doctor John, and follow up with a new show titled Thirty-Nine. There are days when H and I watch episodes from Keeping Up With The Kardashians as the content is asinine; it is fun to watch rich white people doing Rich White People Things.

March doesn’t fly by without its share of downs. There are days when I’m bogged down by homesickness. The last week is marred by tense conversations with my partner about our future that trigger my anxiety. After one such conversation, I sleep poorly and wake up with a pit in my stomach. I am immobilized by gloom which leads me to swap my teaching shift with another tutor on the pretext of a migraine. I end up binging on some episodes from the second season of Hospital Playlist. I order myself a breakfast takeaway to lift up my spirits but the meal turns out to be disappointing. I let myself crash up until around late afternoon, after which I force myself to shower and get out for a cup of coffee. I drain a cup of flat white at a nearby cafe – it is delicious – and walk towards the Ferry Building. I sit on one of the stone benches overlooking the water front with a newly curated playlist playing in my ears. As I watch the waves bob up and down, a sense of calm washes over me. I breathe deeply and watch the sky gradually change hues from sepia yellow to pastel pink. I love this city, I think to myself. I silently vow to focus on my goals and not get bogged down by what the future may hold.

April, bring it on.

Of mental turbulence : February

A little late to document what went down last month. Oh, well.

The title says its all. If January was kind to me, February chose to be the opposite.

I begin the month with an overwhelming yet familiar feeling of unease. But the one thing that keeps me grounded is indoor bouldering. I focus on training with Alex who offers to coach me professionally at an affordable rate. I begin to look forward to these sessions and I notice that I climb way better under her supervision.

Meanwhile, I sense my anxiety shooting up in anticipation of the official announcement regarding phased border reopening. Fortunately, the news brings me relief as it appears that eligible student visa holders can indeed travel internationally from April onwards. While I’m glad to have the choice to visit home and return, I’m extremely anxious about international travel. Though the idea of visiting home sounds great theoretically, it appears to be quite daunting in real. I am plagued with doubts and questions. Do I want to visit home? Or do I want to stay here until my PhD gets done? I know my fears are well founded but acknowledging them only helps to an extent.

I schedule sessions with my therapist to sort out my head. I describe my emotions, that are a potpourri of guilt, intense anxiety and homesickness. Guilt for being the only one out of H and I, who gets to visit home after two years. Anxiety about traveling, of being overwhelmed by familiarity – family and friends, my old haunts, the streets, the dogs, the food, you name it – and then the crushing sadness of once again leaving all that and returning to Auckland. My therapist says my defenses have kicked in – they form a shield around me so much so that the idea of visiting home doesn’t make me ecstatic. This shield doesn’t want me to expose my vulnerabilities. It doesn’t want me to acknowledge that I’ve stayed away from home for over two years and that I will have to face change. A part of me believes that I have gotten used to being independent and living alone, and that I don’t want to be reminded of the version of myself I left behind. Add to this a real possibility of being stranded in India due to some new variant popping up and having to do my PhD at home. Hell, no.

As if this mental conflict weren’t enough, I end up in a bad space with my partner. Though things seem okay on the surface, I find my pent up frustration spraying through the cracks of this facade. We have our arguments and debates, which get partially resolved through therapy (from my end) and long conversations. We realize that distance is draining us of our optimism. This is compounded by the kind of loneliness that arises when you are deprived of romantic intimacy. One night, I have a soul crushing realization: I can’t think of a single person from my old circle who would actually want to hear me out when I needed to talk. I find myself getting overtly nostalgic – going through old pictures of my friends, digging into my Facebook timeline – the only tangible proof of these memories I keep replaying in my head. There seems to be no end to this bout of depression.

By the time I wade half way through this month, I realize that it has been progressing identically to February of 2021. I am burnt out emotionally, thanks to extreme PMS. My research work hits a slump, I second-guess my methodology and get immensely frustrated. However, there is a silver lining – call it telepathy – I have a close friend reach out to me when I seem to have hit rock bottom. He hears me out without offering solutions which is exactly what I need. I am grateful for his concern and feel my spirits rise. Soon after, I have a few other friends who call and check up on me. I am pleasantly surprised to receive a call from my maternal uncle who is extremely comforting as he reassures me that things would get better. To top this, I notice my partner making an effort to self-reflect and course correct. We communicate better and I am solaced by our conversations.

On the lighter side, I watch a mediocre Bollywood film that has recently released with my sister and H. We have a good time trashing it. My biggest takeaway from this film is that I just don’t understand how Bollywood assumes that being a struggling author or a yoga instructor will let you run a decent house in BOMBAY of all places.

Despite my mental turbulence, I manage to read two books – Side Effects of Living: An Anthology of Voices on Mental Health and Sapiens A Graphic History, Volume 1. The first one doesn’t impact me as much as I expected it to despite its intent. I find some essays and stories to be searing whilst some fail by virtue of being too abstract, or due to poor writing, vocabulary etc. The second book, on the other hand, makes for an insightful and visually pleasant read – a good successor to the original novel.

On a positive note, things start moving in a good, definite direction for H. There’s tons of paperwork involved, but she finally gets a new masters project and a lovely supervisor. Somehow, seeing her busy makes me happy. We also find ourselves giving into food cravings and ordering takeaways frequently. It is easier for me to be a little indulgent as I am financially more stable given a rise in my pay. Moreover, we finally visit A and his wife who has bought a new place at Hillsborough. Overall we have a good time despite a tropical cyclone raging in the background!

As the month draws to a close, I begin to seriously consider my phone habits that aggravate my existing mental health issues. The tips I picked up from Newport’s self-help book seem to be unrealistic and vague. I spend a day chronicling my motivation behind using the gram and other social media platforms. I note that the primary aim of developing healthy phone habits is to regain control over my attention and time. Setting smart boundaries to gradually decrease social media usage would triumph over blanket bans. I also make a note of my emotional triggers that make me engage in endless scrolling loops. The main point, I realize, is to bring my intention – to use a particular app – into awareness. Finally, I chalk a reasonable fifteen-day goal to bring down my usage of Instagram.

I feel no regret in bidding farewell to February. If anything, I am happy to let go off my bad days.

Gone in a flash: January

I’ve chalked a plan to keep up my now nearly dormant blogging habits. It’s specifically an attempt to journal regularly as I’ve realized that this activity is indeed self-enlightening and helps me organize my thoughts quite well. To add to this, since the pandemic appears to be blurring days at this juncture, I’d like to sharpen them by summing each month that goes by this year.

2022 starts off on a neutral foot in this island country, though the rest of the world is rife with Omicron, the new variant to join the Covid party. Unbeknownst to many, the new year is welcomed modestly this time and we are fortunate to not be standing next to a very dark Sky Tower that does not burst into a brilliant display of fireworks. I almost miss the countdown and suddenly it’s no longer 2021. H and I get home after hanging out with a few other friends, eager to get into our comfy beds.

Barely a week passes by and I am consumed by listlessness in the absence of an agenda. I can’t wait to get back to work; it becomes increasingly clear that WFH isn’t my cup of tea and I can’t deal with more lock-downs. Thankfully, my supervisor gets in touch with me soon after to inform that I can move my workstation back to campus. Meanwhile, H and I voraciously consume K-dramas over dinner each night, and we contemplate on buying a Chromecast for the supposedly defunct TV in our living room (we do end up buying one).

I get a haircut from a new salon after downloading several reference pictures for the look I am excited to sport. Disappointingly, the style doesn’t live up to my standards besides making my hair look sleek and tamed. I am aggravated for having shelled out 75 bucks.

The very next day, H and I get our booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine. It reassures us to know that we are ready to take on Omicron when it invariably breaks into the community here. We are lucky to not have major symptoms post shot. My sore arm recovers within a couple of days.

While I resolve to not set unrealistic goals for the year, I toy with the idea of settling into a daily, simple skincare routine. I can’t remember – for the life of me – what fuels this thought, but it is definitely to do with my dark circles and the fact that I’ll be hitting 30 next year. I watch a bunch of YouTube videos tailored for beginners like me. I am attracted to K-beauty products, thanks to rave reviews and positive results from folks who’ve used them regularly. I look up a few sites that sell these products and voila! there’s a store close to my place. So I officially dip my legs into the Sea Of Skincare Routines and order myself an oil cleanser (I already own a water based one), a toner, an exfoliating essence for white head removal (to be used sparingly), moisturizer and an eye cream (because why not). After waiting impatiently for over a week, a package arrives. That night, I massage these products onto my face and pamper myself. I wonder why I waited for this long to care for my skin. Overall, my skin reacts well to them and I’m satisfied.

Meanwhile, I am eager to remain consistent with my reading habits. I download a few books from Libgen and wait for a copy of Sapiens A Graphic History, Volume 1: The Birth of Humankind to arrive at the library. I read a warm, comforting novel by Toshikazu Kawaguchi – Before the Coffee Gets Cold – that makes me crave coffee more than I usually do. Then, I switch to Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism – Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World as it has been a while since I’ve got my hands on a meaty work of non-fiction. I doubt my decision immediately; I feel like I’m channeling an IIT/Pilani techbro whose reading palette primarily comprises mainstream self-help books. Nevertheless, I attempt to be open-minded. In fact, I jot down notes in the hope that Newport’s tips will help me wean off my unhealthy digital habits. Half-way through, I begin to notice the lack of intersectionality in his strategies, served with a heavy dose of ableism and privilege. My notes eventually transform into a rough review of sorts, that I trim later and post on Goodreads. What stays with me the most is the advice to value my time and be aware of how smartphones and social media are designed to sabotage my attention.

By mid January, I’ve moved back to campus. I observe my productivity increase in leaps and bounds, and work hard at setting this massive MD simulation which naturally comes with its share of aggravating errors. I devote a big chunk of my leisure time to indoor bouldering and buy myself a ten-pass at the new boulder gym situated in west Auckland. I feel myself grow stronger with each session and notice myself get more into the sport. It’s a big deal as until now I’ve always berated myself for not having had an athletic bone in me. I bombard Alex (my coach/cool friend/ex-co-worker) – who is currently climbing hard in South Island – with my progress videos and she is stoked! On the flip side, I get aggravated with my other friends – who are a part of our bouldering group – for bailing on me all the time. While I rant to Alex about this, I spend hours at the gym on my own, projecting new problems, and drink delicious smoothies post workout. So I guess it isn’t too bad.

Moving onto food – H and I discover a chaat house down Queen Street that serves excellent pani puri, dahi puri and tikki chaat which make me ecstatic. Meanwhile at home, we experiment with Korean food. We stock up on food essentials at Lim Chour which is an Asian supermarket on K-road (goodbye Tai Ping on Beach Road, you shall be missed!) We are pleasantly surprised with our bill – we get stuff at half the rate as compared to Countdown. H cooks up a storm – doenjang-jjigae with rice, kimchi fried rice and fried chicken (from Chimac), and Philippine adobo. On the other hand, I am not too content with my chinese beef stir-fry and pad-thai, but oh well.

As the month draws to a close, community transmission of the virus appears to worsen, thanks to tens and hundreds of callous folks walking around without masks. After two years of being coddled by this government, it does seem scary to normalize these circumstances. Besides, it upsets me to watch H stagnate in the house with no solid news regarding her dissertation from the university. One drunk night she talks about moving out to a cheap hostel if things don’t look up which stresses me out quite badly. Of course, I don’t express my anxiety but I mentally prepare myself for the worst. Lately, I find myself getting nostalgic about her kind gestures – it doesn’t make sense – as though I know that these moments are short-lived and a future me – living alone – is already looking onto them wistfully. I try to bottle up these waves of melancholy that wash over me on bad days but I reckon that’s an unhealthy way to go about things.

To end on a positive note, I record a cover of Silk Sonic’s Smokin’ Out The Window. I pay 4 bucks on Patreon to get hold of this excellent karaoke track of the song scaled to my key. I spend a day and an almost sleepless night, recording harmonies and mixing tracks. I try to not be overly critical of my voice and for once I am successful. The mix sounds great, thanks to a free trial version of Pro Tools.

January has been good but has also whooshed past me. It’s time to ensure that I don’t make typos while writing dates. 2021 22 has begun for real.

Of unfinished business and compulsions

Remember the time I vouched to soldier at my pace and finish the A to Z Blogging Challenge? I couldn’t live up to the promise I made to myself. I procrastinated to the point where returning to this space filled me with regret, annoyance and disappointment. Regret for having given up. Annoyed at my incompetence to complete the challenge. Disappointed at my myself for having neglected my blogging habits once again.

And you know what? It’s OK. At least that’s what I tell myself.

As I grow older, I find myself thinking about what purpose means to me. So far, purpose to me has encompassed challenges, projects, To-Do lists and goals. However, if I’m unable to fulfill these, I am overwhelmed by ennui. I realize that I tend to set targets for my creative pursuits as well. This in turn is ironical as the latter naturally ebb and flow and are highly sensitive to my energy levels and moods.

So why am I fatalistic about them? Come to think of it, this sense of needless urgency to indulge in activities with end-goals is linked to my fear of failure. The failure of living up to standards I’ve set for myself which when otherwise surpassed, serve to activate the reward centre in my brain. My self-talk is demanding, governed by words that signify compulsion. I need to do this. I have to finish this blogging challenge. Add to this, a plate overloaded with unrealistic objectives sprinkled generously with procrastination.

Here’s the catch though. Purpose can be divorced from failure if the former shifts from fruition to learning. For learning implies possibility and the scope to keep moving as far as you would like. Learning releases the clutch of an audience. It is a practice in living. Pleasure serves a purpose too. What if I wrote to merely enjoy the satisfaction of writing? What if I were to read for the joy of reading and to not simply complete a Goodreads Challenge or gain intellectual benefit? Simply put, why can’t my creative pursuits be “goal-less”? What about the pleasure of learning itself as an experience in staying alive?

What I have mentioned so far is Not Easy for someone like me. But I am going to try. And I will aim to keep learning.

This post was not supposed to be about my musings. Anyhow.

Coming back to the A to Z Blogging Challenge that spanned April, the theme I chose was On living alone and discovering adulthood in the midst of a pandemic.

There were a lot of things I had intended to write. But the good news is that the pandemonium pandemic is ongoing with new variants that have joined the party. As for adulthood – it doesn’t end. It appears to stretch on and on.

Oh, and happy 2022.

K and L are for Kenopsia and Loss

My intention while beginning this challenge was to keep my posts upbeat and not dreary. But circumstances dictate one’s mood. Though life in NZ is back to normal, the situation back home appears to deteriorate with each passing day. Emphasizing on how dandy my life is as compared to folks back home seems inconsiderate, heartless almost.

I’ve been encountering this post on Instagram about a word that acutely describes a state of being that falls between depression and contentment – languishing. And I cannot relate more. I don’t have anything in particular that stops me from being satisfied here but there are days such as today when I feel absolutely weighed down by purposelessness and the lack of vigor to tick off all the items on my ToDo list. My work seems to be going OK. I have a cat here for company. But here I am getting sucked into lassitude. I hate it.

To fight this feeling, I immerse myself in a barrage of activities and hobbies that range from making art, playing the guitar and recording music to bouldering and dancing to bhangra music. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like I am resisting a negative emotion – I am truly happy, the cool Auckland breeze blows in my face, the sky is crystal clear and Sid Sriram’s melodious voice fills my ears; kairosclerosis. But happiness and satisfaction are not isolated; they are relative to those around me and away from me miles away.

And so my anxiety returns, fueled by news and visuals of a collapsing health system, citizens at the mercy of an apathetic ruthless state, chaos and grief. My Insta and Twitter feeds have transformed into covid lifelines. Websites and apps have been developed overnight for free, none of which are sanctioned by this government. The news is inescapable. My family placates me by describing all the cautionary measures that are in place at home and how no one ventures out unless absolutely necessary. Their consolation is bittersweet – my folks, having been compelled to stay at home beyond a year are trying to assuage my fears whilst normalcy prevails where I live. My sister has irrevocably lost her final golden year in college. My grandmother fears the outside world. This isn’t to sideline the fact that we are seeped in privilege as compared to the masses. It is indeed a privilege to be safe and sound during these unimaginable times. But are they really safe?

Last year, I used to often think of home and my favourite haunts. On days I was consumed by homesickness, I would miss walking on Salunkhe Vihar Road, meeting friends at Coffee Jar, Pune’s winter breeze, the swanky cantonment road to Camp, and dancing my butt off at Swig. I would crave the smell of filter coffee wafting into my room at 6am, watching KBC with the entire family at dinnertime, shopping with my mother and eating chaat at a roadside stall. Strangely, I’ve noticed a shift in the way I reminisce over the past few months. My longing has been replaced with deep sadness; a sense of kenopsia

n. the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.

When I left Pune, it was familiar to me. The streets, schools and offices were bustling with activity, masks and social distancing were alien concepts, concerts and music festivals were round the corner, and restaurants and eateries were brimming with people. My city had been fairly resilient, having had its share of epidemics and flu outbreaks, but nothing on the scale of covid. The sheer magnitude of this devastation that may have infiltrated the homes and families of familiar faces is something I cannot fathom, or rather be prepared for. Earlier, my friends had reassured me that nothing had changed but was it pure denial? Denial of the fact that this virus would be inescapable? Denial of inevitable fear and health anxiety? No matter what, my city seems unfamiliar to me, partly due to my long absence and more significantly, due to the pandemic.

Two months into my move to Auckland and a week before an almost worldwide lockdown, I lost my grandfather to cardiac failure. Over time, relief overtook grief because the thought of him languishing amidst covid patients made for terrifying imagery. Such is loss where some of its forms are more tolerable than the rest.

J is for juggling with tasks

Back home, waking up late did not upset my schedule drastically, thanks to uber flexible work hours, domestic help and simply the convenience of living with my parents. I didn’t have to worry about breakfast, or have my lunch prepped or ensure my clothes were laundered in time for Monday. These are banal yet important tasks that will consume time if managing the latter isn’t your forte. And to be honest, it still isn’t.

My fellow bloggers and readers who’ve been faithfully following my posts so far would have noticed by now that I am lagging in this challenge by a week. My initial gusto to write about my experiences in Auckland has fizzled out, and tedium seems to have set in. This is very characteristic of me – I tend to bite off more than I chew. But I also know that if I were to quit the challenge now, my decision will deter me from ever attempting it again in the future. And so I shall soldier on at my pace.

It was easier for me to get through with the A to Z challenge when I didn’t have to manage research, chores and a cat (more of that soon!). In simple words, adulthood did intrude into hours of respite and leisure. And writing isn’t the only thing I enjoy – I juggle with a myriad of hobbies that range from art to bouldering. Was taking up this challenge a bad idea after all?

Here’s to hopefully finishing it on time…

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.