The One in Which I Am Moving, But Not Moving Back.

You are moving back? Are you going back home?

I am not. But that isn’t completely true.

I don’t know how to give an honest answer to these questions.

The place I am moving to is not one I am familiar with any more. It is not home either.

Every time I go ‘back’, it’s a little bit more unfamiliar, a little bit more indecipherable. I seem to fit in a little bit less less with every landing. A little bit more acclimatised with every take-off.

Yet, there’s no conflict in my mind or heart about moving to India after 17 years of living in Qatar. It seems the right thing to do, to expose my daughters, especially the teen, to another way of living. Pleasures and challenges that would be very different from what Qatar offered us.

Doesn’t that make India home? Then why doesn’t it seem so?

I am frequently asked if Qatar is home after 17 years.

Not in the least (this is one reason why). It’s a place I am comfortable in and find myself defending fiercely against ill-informed assumptions. It is not home either. And I don’t think Qatar wants to be the home for it hundreds of thousands of foreign residents. At best it wants to be a  comfortable transit house. At worst…

So then, home?

It is where my children are. And where I have access to MY people. Sometimes it is a messaging app. Home is in that rip-roaring laugh of a friend. A hug so tight it squeezes out all the melancholic thoughts. It’s watching my 7-year-old caress my 76-year-old mum’s wrinkled neck. Home is often in three simple words over an international call: “Are you alright?” Home is in all those moments, in all those memories. It is not a physical space.

Just because I don’t feel at home in any one place, doesn’t mean I feel estranged.

I started writing this post at an airport terminal… The closest to feeling a sense of belonging, I’ve now realised, is in spaces such as this. Departure terminals. Be it at airports or rail stations or bus stops.

When you know you’ve left, but have not arrived yet. In that suspended physical space of myriad possibilities I feel truly at home.

PS: Check out my instagram account @vanishforever for some #LongKissGoodBye posts on Qatar. This is not my good bye post, that will come in due time.

FAQs

1. Where are you moving to?

Bangalore

2. When are you moving?

End April, early May

3. Why are you moving now?

Because O is going into high school, and if not now, then when?

4. That means you are going away for good?

(This question always throws me off a bit) I will still be in and out of Qatar for a few months longer, as the man continues here for a bit and I still have ongoing projects/work here.

5. Will I miss Qatar?

As much as Qatar would miss me.

[BOOK REVIEW] The Migrant Report by Mohanalakshi Rajakumar

51zDMW4XrrL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_It was with some trepidation that I started on The Migrant Report by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar. A murder-mystery set in a Gulf state (**shush!**), involving lower-income migrant workers.

These were my 3 main fears:

  • The book would remove the invisibility cloak migrants in the Gulf don, only to reveal a negative characterisation.
  • It would tug at the stereotypical emotional strings of the migration narrative. 
  • It would dehumanise them.

Two of those fears were completely misplaced. And, yes, there were those emotional strings of family, ailing mother, poverty, but only to the extent a work of fiction demands.

First with the good stuff:

  • Every character in the book is sketched with great sensitivity and nuance. As in her earlier works, Mohana’s brings a lot of insight and layers to her male characters. Be it fresh-off-the-boat Manu, or the well-meaning but always in trouble Daniel, or Ali, the Qatari cop, and even Nasser who only makes the occasional appearance. She wills us to fall a little in love with these strange men.
  • Not one for great details or long-drawn out scenarios, the author still manages to vividly represent the many relationships in the book. Cindy and Sanjana, Maryam and Daniel, Daniel and Sherif, Manu and Santana, Maryam and her family, Maryam and Ali. She brings out daily frustrations and stifled aspirations even within brief exchanges between the characters.
  • It requires courage to write a book such as this. Not just about migrants, but the secret lives of expatriates, while still being one. That she has done well, mining the experiences of her many years living in a Gulf state herself.
  • The book manages to not bracket migrant workers as being completely helpless, and shows them as resourceful people. Without being patronising, it manages to show them as strong people, even if in weak situations.

What could have been different:

  • The book is self-published, hence does not have the advantages and resources of a publishing house. It could do with a good bit of editing and proofing. Chronology of events is mixed up in places. Also, its Gandhi, not Ghandi (Americans!).
  • The book covers a wide range of plots and lives and the author seems to have rushed through it in many places. Spending a little more time on some of the scenarios would have enriched the book the mysterious happenings at the labour accommodation; Manu and Sanjana’s relationship; Maryam and Ali’s interaction; the disconnect between Cindy and Paul.
  • At several instances it seemed like the writer thought of a great idea, but instead of developing it, just drops it there between the pages, running away to meet the next shiny idea. Maybe that’s what a sequel would address. Maybe.
  • While the expatriate environment and that of the Arab household has a sense of familiarity, the brief look into Nepal and the labour accommodation seems borrowed. More research would have helped.

I am not sure I would classify it as a crime-thriller. Not yet.

Do pick up the book, it’s definitely a good read. I read it in just a day and a half. That’s not to say it’s an easy read. The loneliness of the characters, their struggles and the faint reflection of our own lives will leave you thinking about the sequel.

PS: May I also suggest you pick up Love Comes Later & Dohmestics by the same author? They both give rarely available insights into life in the Gulf.

[BOOK REVIEW] Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama

51b2TjcrtxL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_The book was first published a quarter century ago (edition I read was the 1998 one with a new foreword) and much has happened since.

Over the last few months I have been reading several books on Buddhist philosophies, and to my surprise this one impressed me the least.

Maybe it’s in the telling, more than the teller, but there were contradictions that even on the premise of the ‘middle path’ seems too strong to ignore.

On the one hand The Dalai Lama believes that politics and religion go hand in hand, and expects (rightfully) that the world pulls up China on its b***s**t. On the other, he distances himself from global politics that beg reprimand. After all, he is not just a religious leader, but the head of state, albeit in exile.

Or maybe because I expected to know more about his journey as a Buddhist, not just his journey. Clearly this reader was seeking philosophical answers, not political discourse.

What I enjoyed most about the book are the stories from his childhood. The escapades of the little boy – newly-discovered reincarnation of the the 13th Dalai Lama – in a monastery full of ageing men.

Once his political journey begins, with the Chinese and then away from them, into India, the story lost me.  His, in comparison to his compatriots, has been a privileged life, and he acknowledges it quite openly. Because there just isn’t enough depth to that part of the story, and enough insights into Buddhism when things are toughest, I felt a little cheated.

It’s probably time to read the other books the Dalai Lama has since written, and as a compendium his story and philosophy would make a greater impact.

 

Me, me, me

This is a long overdue post. Doaa Jabir A.K.A Hungrybirdsdoha tagged me a while ago, and I finally got down to it.

What is your blog about?

I don’t know. It’s just my verbal incontinence finding another  platform.

How important is it to be blogging in today’s world?

Any form of expression is welcome. So blogging at any level is good.

How do you inspire yourself on a boring routine?

Honestly, I don’t feel or get bored. In fact, my problem is the opposite. There’s way to much to be done, that’s interesting, than time could permit. I blog when I really feel a need to say something, that I can’t do on the work platforms.

What motivates you to keep up with your blog on a writer’s block phase?

My earlier answer applies here?

What would you change in your early 20s if given a chance?

The correct answer is ‘nothing’. Right?

I wish I hadn’t been so careful and had taken some reckless decisions. Owned my sexuality, indulged in my health and tripped a bit more… More of that here.

What is your favourite post?

This is a tough one. There are a few.

One that made me question my role in everything I criticise.

The one on how I fell in love.

The one on making big changes.

A short story.

Favourite form of social media?

Twitter.

Favourite travel destination?

There are so many. But one that is very personal, and was about me alone. Bhutan.

Suggest a new book to read?

There are plenty. And the book reviews should offer suggestions.

One that I am completely hooked to now is The Monk and The Philosopher.

What is your favourite quote?

Look top right. That was the first thing I added when I started blogging.

 

So now I am supposed to:

 

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their site (Check!)
  • Write a post answering the questions you were given (Check!)
  • Nominate 5 – 11 other bloggers for the award (let them know you have done so!) and come up with a set of 10 – 11 questions for them to answer (All of you reading this, pretty please answer the questions below? And tag me if on your site, or leave it in comments.)
  1. If tomorrow you could wake up in a different place and situation, what would it be?
  2. If you were to woo yourself, what would you tell yourself?
  3. Your favourite song at the moment?
  4. How are you feeling today? Describe it in the minutest details… It’s therapy.
  5. Where in your body do you physically feel love?
  6. And pain?
  7. What would you want to be doing at 80?

Making love to myself

Everyday and at my will. Slowly and gently… but not always. Some days I pump it up.

No one told me how powerful making love to yourself could be. No one told me that it would awaken nerve endings I never knew existed.

Why wasn’t I taught to do so when I was in school? When I hit puberty and saw only a struggle in the mirror? Why didn’t I realise it when I was old enough to let someone else make love to me? Why didn’t I realise that that’s what one of my favourite writers was talking about…

To treat every morsel I place on my tongue as a caress and not a curse.

To throw my shoulders back and own what I hid behind clutched books and bags, or an ugly stoop.

To make my overbite part of my laugh.

That’s just the beginning… you truly start making love to yourself when every action of yours checks back with what you truly want.

As I look deeper into the mirror, taking in the shape of my lips and eyes; the way my skin changes in colour and texture depending on exposure; how my hair curls and greys; how my jaw goes awry as I smile. I spend time seeing myself. I feel my skin. I touch myself. The smoothness and the bumps. Some days I start making love to myself by feeling who I am on the surface.

Somedays it is by immersing myself in a job well done. I let my brain feel passionately loved. And when it is not a job well done – because that happens too – I don’t lick my wound, but kiss it better. I love it back to well-being.

I make love to myself in a myriad different ways, every single day…

As I pump weights or do a cardio routine, sweat dripping and pulse raising.

As I buy the largest waffle cone at Cold Stone and sit in the middle of a mall slowly savouring every lick, even as my embarrassed daughter looks on.

As I stand at the sink chopping a stack of vegetables, feeling the juices stain my fingers, smelling the chicken on roast.

As I politely turn down jobs because it doesn’t woo my soul.

As I kick my longterm tenant Mr Guilt out.

As I make time for my tears and fears and listen to it without judgement.

Just as importantly, as I make time for all that makes me laugh and gives me joy.

As I binge-watch Scott and Bailey.

As I stand under the shower, with no thought of what next.

As I lie in bed, woolgathering.

As I make fearless plans, without hedging my happiness on its realisation.

As I walk into a crowded cinema alone, because I don’t need company to enjoy myself.

As I look people in the eye, ready to embrace their criticism or praise, making neither about me.

Thing is, I was making love to myself for months before I knew what I was doing. Realisation crept in when I stood in front of the mirror, and saw myself as ‘beautiful’. And finally saw that the best day of my life could only be TODAY.

Bad hair day? So what!

A sudden panic attack? I will do what good friends do . Listen and be kinder to myself.

Skin breaking out? Will just smile wider.

Big breasts? Yes, thank you.

A roll of fat for paunch? Nothing a good jeans won’t forgive.

Too broke for a massage? Well, that’s a little hard to fix…

A bit of heartbreak? I will just love myself more intensely.

This making love to yourself business is not a one-off investment. It’s not easy either. It’s undoing years of doing the opposite. It’s a daily practice of falling in love again and again. One that I am learning from celibate monks.

How do you make love?