(4/6) The Firebranders

Patience.

That was the first thing I learnt when I waited half hour for him to show up for my interview.

Patience.

It’s what I saw when he told me to come back to work when I know I should have been fired.

Patience.

It’s what they all embraced while I created havoc.

But never once was I stopped.

In a world where degrees were a necessity, Arvind hired me for my ability. Never once were my squashed dreams a hiccup. It was always what I could do and couldn’t do. And if I couldn’t do something, he was right there, willing to teach.

I walked in on a bunch of guys that acted like a stranger had crashed their secret club. I actually had to complain to the boss that they wouldn’t talk to me. Not even to get work done! I was hoping he would talk to them in private. But you see, that was never Arvind’s style. In he walked, to the middle of our space, and announced out loud, “Shame, you guys. A girl has to complain that you won’t talk to her. What are you all doing?”

I bet sometimes he wished he hadn’t done that. Because that became the beginning of one of the best years of my life.

There weren’t that many of us. It gave us the ability to get to know each other.
The Philosopher (Hey Raj!)
The Married Man (Girish Thaatha)
The Patient Yogi (*coughs*Arun*coughs*)
The Brat (Mannoooj)
The Boss Man (He hates being called that)
The Fun Traveler (She doesn’t mind being called that)
And how can I ever forget… The Intern (Meri Shaaaamil)

Shamil was the only other girl in the gang. She also was the first person to talk to me besides the boss. We’re almost the same age. She laughed at all my jokes. She flicked me every time I swore. We got along brilliantly.

The two of us began to work our way into the secret club. With post-its about smoking, tsk-ing about nothing and laughing over everything, the wall was finally broken and the boys remain friendly until today for which Sham and I take full credit. You’re welcome newbies.

Amidst our achievements I found out that my boss wasn’t actually my boss. Arvind told me she’ll come to office at some point during the week. I expected a stuck-up and bossy human to come dictate my life. The person who walked in was anything but. She is chaotic fun redefined. “Poornima! Nice to meet you! You’ll come to my reception no?” I’d only met her ten seconds ago.

Karishma. She is your dream boss. She is my dream boss. She doesn’t care if you show up at noon. She doesn’t care if you’re working at night and wasting all day. She doesn’t care if you take a trip in the middle of the week. You can be in Antarctica, drinking with Panda bears, she won’t say a thing. “Just get the work done and have the client approve.” It was the best! 

She is downright the most chilled out boss you’ll ever meet. She’ll even be your therapist if you’re struggling with something. Her reception is also where the ice was finally broken and the team became a team

I learnt social media at this company. I learnt how good I am with ppts at this company. I learnt how to get work done at this company. And most importantly, I learnt how not to judge a book by its cover here.

The shared office space meant more people – Bushu, Laaloo and Tanya. All the people I first looked at thinking, “I bet they’re snooty af.” All the people I call with problems and gossip today. I haven’t bought something they don’t have a picture of so far. There’s not much about my life they don’t know. I can’t imagine a world where they’re not on my last ten whatsapped. The number of coffee breaks we’d take just for the heck of it. Their boss hated it so much.

Mine would join us. Both of them. That was the best part about my year. My bosses never acted completely like bosses. I’d get yelled at, obviously. But if we walked out of that meeting, they didn’t carry that fight with them. It was one of the first things Arvind told me at my interview. “We’ll argue. We’ll fight. But that’s not personal. Work is work. You can’t take it against the person in this company.” And that’s how it was. Always. Like a big gang of friends.

When I curled up sobbing about a boy, when I couldn’t finish a particular work because I wasn’t feeling upto it, when I felt sick, when I needed to go on a date, when I needed to vent – Oh my God! The number of times I needed to vent! – when I needed a punching bag, when I acted childish, when I demanded things I couldn’t afford, when I started things others couldn’t be bothered with – Nothing scared them. Nothing made them go, “Absolutely not!” I got them to play Charlie Charlie, a game that invites the demon, and they did!

And when I told them I’m leaving them in a hurry because I get to go back to study and couldn’t do much hand holding to the next guy, they smiled instead of complain. That’s why this place is so amazing.

I still go to the office. More often than most people do. I miss faces like Deepika, Tharini, Ramya Akka, Duggu and Reshma when I walk in. But they’re replaced with faces I got to know towards the end of my time there like Renuga and Vinoth. It always feels comfortable.

I still call my bosses to chit chat. When I find things that make sense to me, I always pass it their way.

I got to keep so much from my time with them. The golisoda bottle, the tiny despicable me character, the secret Santa presents, the insane birthday memories. The best of all? The friends. Sharath, Akku, Manoj, Raj and the entire lot.

The first time I saw High School Musical, I wanted to be Gabriella somewhere. I got to be her at Firebrand Labs. I got to be me at Firebrand Labs.

To finish it off the HSM way,
Once a Firebrander, ALWAYS a Firebrander.

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(3/6) The Brother

From “What nonsense are you wearing? Go put on something decent,” to “If you’re getting a registered marriage, call me. I’ll come sign witness,” he’s been all possible types of a brother to me.

We fight, of course. OH MY GOD, WE FIGHT. I have an ego because it’s passed down to me in my genes (thanks, Dad) and he has one because… well, he’s the older brother. He obviously has one. And the two clash. ALL THE TIME. He’s made promises about cutting ties with me “forever.” It’s never happened. *knocks on wood*

That’s him though. It’s so easy to look at him from the outside and go, “He screams or yells so much.” Yet, if you know him, you’ll know it’s anything but.

If I have a problem, if my mother has a problem, if my sister has a problem, if we’re unsure about what to do in a situation, if there’s drama in the family, if we need to gossip, if we need to bitch, if we want to go on vacation, if we want to plan a pilgrimage, if we want to figure out how a movie is or how a restaurant is – we only have to call.

It doesn’t matter what time it is or what shit he’s dealing with while we interrupt him with the silliest of things, he’ll still deal with it like he always does.

I still remember when we officially crossed that bridge where I no longer had to pretend to be a child. He always knew it but to establish it as a fact…

“Poornima, look.” I looked up to a flash going off. “Just wait till I show your mother this.”

I was terrified for the first hour. He could tell mom. He is older. He does tell her a lot of things honestly. I should be worried.

Yeah. It’s been two years. He’s got pictures of me with glasses, of me with other people’s beer (I swear to God, I hate beer. It wasn’t mine.) and in bars / pubs. We’ve sat in a car in the middle of a cold war between us and he picked up my farewell party video claiming, “I’m going to show it to her.” He hasn’t. I don’t think he ever will. It’s just him being a stereotypical brother.

But that’s the thing! I’ve grown up with a sister that acts exactly like a sister. We fight and two days later, we’re shopping for clothes where she hates my style and I hate hers. We don’t dictate, we don’t playfully punch the other’s arm, we don’t pull hair from the seat behind, we don’t throw empty threats. Those aren’t things sisters do. Those are things a brother does to his sister. Like he does to me.

It always makes me smile when I realise, while I thought I only grew up with my younger sister, I’ve also grown up with an older brother who acts EXACTLY like an older brother.

And when you push away that playfulness and look at the big picture, he’s also helped me out like an older brother. With things as little as getting a scratch guard for my phone to first day first show Rajinikanth movie tickets. Two minutes after he teases me about my jet lag or broken aircon or sudden fever, he’ll come up with solutions to fix it – Always willing to help.

But the biggest one was the phone call that said, “A friend’s company is looking for a writer. You won’t lose anything by applying. Just send him your resume today,” followed by all the reminders until I finally sent it.

I got that job. It turned my world upside down. The internships were great but that job was what finally got me back on my feet. I learnt what I can do in life because of that job. So many people so important to me are here in my life today because of that job.

And in the two and half years since he made that call, I’ve never heard him mention how he helped get me that opportunity. The one time I tried to mention it, he said, “I got you the introduction. You got yourself the job.” But isn’t that the most difficult thing to get today? An introduction?

So I’ll say it, maybe never to your face because I’ll cry and you’ll say I’m putting scene and walk off and my mom will cry and you know… the usual? But I’ll say it here.

THANK YOU FOR BEING SUCH A STEREOTYPICAL OLDER BROTHER. LIFE WOULD HAVE BEEN SO DIFFERENT (not the good kind) WITHOUT YOU!

Also, I know you’re not the greatest fan of pictures on public platforms. So here goes.. 😀 (This is why I get into trouble!)

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(2/6) The Best Friend

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Shrti.

Oh my God, Shrti.

If it were true that people are a reflection of their best friends…

I remember when she said she was coming to visit. She’d just graduated from the dream I’d lost and my mother asked me, “Are you sure this won’t affect you?” The answer was a reflex – She won’t let it affect me. Just wait till you two meet.

The first time I ever saw her – white shirt, black slacks, high heels and a no-nonsense smile – I thought to myself, Yeah, we’re never going to be friends. But then she said, “Hi” and I couldn’t imagine anything else.

We were as different as two people can be. I was that girl you see in class but don’t really want to be seen with. And she was… She is that person who makes heads turn when she walks into a room. But she sat next to me everyday. I’d fight like a child and she’d take it in stride. She ignored my silent judgements and my open bitching made her laugh. I never understood why.

Then came that fight. The one that showed my ugly side. It brought our friendship to a screeching halt. This is it. This is how it ends. On my way to present, she came running to say, “You’re going to do just fine.” That’s who she was. She fixed things with one line.

She taught me how to socialise, how to ask for things I want, how it’s not your body that pulls of a dress – it’s your mind. She taught me to find comfort with myself and if I couldn’t, she would be there, ready with a hug.

When I moved away, I thought the distance would create a lot of space. But she didn’t let it. Irrelevant of when, didn’t matter what – All I had to do was pick up the phone and call. You see why, when she said she’s coming to visit, I couldn’t stop grinning?!

She found herself an internship and we became roommates. The last time we’d done this, it hadn’t been so bad. But I knew this time would be different. My room was my safe haven. Yet, it was okay. And not because of me.

She would insist we went out. I wasn’t allowed to whine. She’d force me out of bed for those walks that made me better. I could only complain about one thing at a time. Every time I thought I was giving up, she would all but kick my butt until I didn’t know what I was thinking about.

I’m not joking. I’m not exaggerating. I’m not being extra nice. The honest truth is – She saved me from myself.

Three months. That’s how long it took her to pick me up from my state of depression and have me signing up for internships and smiling. She’d get a cab all the way from across town to get lunch with me before we headed back to work.  She didn’t have to. She could have been that person that shrugged her shoulders and muttered, “Get over it.” Nobody
ever insisted she take that effort. But she did. Day after day until she knew I was okay.

And then she moved away. To a different house and then to her home city.

Looking back, I often wonder – maybe she came to live with me at that point just so I wouldn’t drown completely. Maybe she was meant to be my lifeguard and when she was done with it, she had to leave. Like destiny.

I never formally said ‘thank you‘ to her. We never talked about it as something significant. She didn’t do it for gratitude. But that’s what I feel when I think of it all. For the love she continues to give. For her non-judgemental listening. For her motivation. For her care. For her.

If it were true that people are a reflection of their best friends, I’d be the best damned human there ever was and Shrti, you are one of the reasons for it.

Thank you for being you. For loving me the way you do.

And always remember, I love you, too. ❤

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(1/6) The Graduate

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You remember that moment? That one moment when you’re laughing, you look around and think to yourself  I’m so happy. I hope this doesn’t go away. Imagine living everyday like that. That was university to me.

I had a ligament tear. The doctor begged me to stay in bed and rest my leg for two days. I was back in class the next morning. I couldn’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be. I was going to be a Creative Director and have Saatchi & Saatchi never let go of me.

I remember my Dad say, “Things might get a little bit bad.” I didn’t listen. I didn’t think anything was going to mess up this life. Fate wouldn’t do that to me.

If only.

It came crashing down on me. That moment when I knew it was over. I’ve been through bad things, I’ve had to handle my emotions more times than one. But nothing prepared me for this. For the moment when you watch everything you planned, every dream you dreamt be taken away from you for no fault of yours.

I… I sank into depression. I’d sit by that window on my side of the bed, watching people park their cars. I’d think to myself, Maybe if I stand there, they’d run me over. Imagine that. And to think, I’m not even suicidal. But at that moment, anything to stop the ache was a welcome present.

It’s difficult to talk about this. It’s easier to talk about my childhood than this particular year. A part of me crashed and I didn’t know how to put it back together. I needed someone to blame because that’s what you do during a heartbreak, right? You pin it on someone. Either on you or the person who was involved in the story that broke you. So I blamed it on my father. I spent hours imagining how I’d run away from it all, my life would get better and then I’d come back. I’ll show them how I had the ability to do incredible things and they almost wrecked it. It would be the perfect revenge.

And as I lived an imaginary life, my sister began university locally. She asked me to go with to pay her fees. It’s my sister, how would I say, “No?” How would I tell her that watching her take those steps into a life that was no longer mine was emotionally destroying me? How would I explain that if I go with her I would spend the rest of my night crying into my blanket, praying to be taken away from this mess? It wasn’t jealousy. It was longing for what she had.

It cost me the three steps I’d forced myself to take forward. I took six steps back. I didn’t hate her for it. I just hated myself. For not moving on. For not finding peace. For not being supportive and positive of her life and the big steps she was taking towards getting where she wanted to be.

I began to lose control over my emotions. Anger and tears were put on hold to come rushing at any moment, in the middle of any conversation. I didn’t notice. I didn’t observe long enough to know that my sanity had been replaced with hurt, with depression, with failure. I didn’t stop long enough to think that I was no longer thinking. Because thinking meant remembering. Remembering meant hurting. Hurting meant anger. And my anger was self harming. So I numbed myself to a part of my life that I wanted to pretend wasn’t real. So much that I stood there stunned when it happened.

I didn’t realise how bad it had gotten. How I no longer controlled the things I said or did. Not until my sister stood there, crying and I couldn’t explain myself because I didn’t know what had happened. I didn’t understand what came over me. Her tears made me realise that my pain had taken over my life. It was clouding every inch of my existence and I no longer existed.

I volunteered to see a therapist. I knew I needed it. It was the best decision I’d ever made for myself. He prescribed medicines and walking. I put that pill in my wallet and told myself, “I’ll walk first.” Nature calmed me down. The silence of 5p.m. helped me breathe. Life began to seep itself into me and my best friend said words I needed to hear – “Get off your ass. Go find an internship.” So I did. I began a blog. I published articles in a newspaper. I was suddenly not dying in a hellhole.

I got a job offer I didn’t want to take. But I took it. I met people that would make life liveable again. I found comfort and for the first time in two years, I found a future. I would do this. I would live here. In this country that I was born in. This city that will always be my home. I will remain here, forever. And it’ll be okay. I was finally.. okay.

My father walked into my room – “I’m going to send you back again. It’s happening.” I didn’t believe it. Because.. What if it happens? Even worse, what if it doesn’t? I refused to let myself buy into that dream again.

But he was right. It happened. I made that call that would let me continue a dream I’d once lost. I enrolled back into university. I might not have my best friends beside me. It might not be the exact same life I lost. But I’m studying again! Or at least, I was.

You see, I graduated.

Six years after it all began, it finally ended. After our ceremony, back in my room, I picked up my wallet. Buried deep within the last pocket was the pill I was prescribed when I thought I’d lost it all. I never took it. But I kept it with me. As a reminder of where I’ve been. Of how far I’ve come. Of my grandfather’s words – This too shall pass. It made me cry. Because if it were upto me, I wouldn’t have survived.

And so you’ll see in the posts over the next few weeks. The people who kept me alive. The reason I have my dream. Because they deserve more than just a part of this story. They deserve a spotlight of their own.

Until then..

 

Crimson Tide

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I remember that day like it was yesterday,

My mother called my father and we went home again.

“You’re lucky we spotted it.

Bring some rice, Magesh. You please sit.”

 

Four days after that day,

Family and friends came to celebrate.

“This isn’t a joyful occasion,” I screamed.

But you see,

My first period is a sign of my reproductive capability.

“And it’s tradition to celebrate it.”

Or so she said.

 

“Do not enter the kitchen.

Do not hang out with men.

Do not run or exercise.

Just those four days be quiet.”

 

If I’d lived by their rules, I’d have failed every class,

Made no friends,

Met no men.

If I’d lived by their rules, I wouldn’t have lived at all.

But I had a father who hated tradition,

“She wants water, she’ll walk into the kitchen.

She’s not a princess, you’re not her boss.

It’s just her period. It doesn’t change it all.”

 

Eleven years later,  headed to a party,

A colleague stood by me.

As I bought *shhh*, the other nudged my shoulder,

“Told you not to buy it.”

Please do tell me – DOESN’T HIS WIFE GET HER PERIOD?

 

I’ll be honest,

My moods do change

My emotions run high

My irritation stays.

But here’s the thing – it’s not always about those four days.

 

When I’m angry, I’m not bleeding.

When I’m crying, I don’t have cramps.

When I’m flustered, I’m not PMS-ing.

When I’m laughing, it hasn’t passed.

 

So don’t ask me if it’s “one of those days”

Don’t roll your eyes when you see me cry.

Don’t talk about pads like a sinful secret,

It’s not shameful. I don’t have to hide.

 

So I get my period,

There’s no reason to lie.

It’s just another day.

It’s just a Crimson Tide.

Kaatru Veliyidai

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Dear Varun,

It’s been a while. Almost six years. The details had slowly become a blur but the feelings remain like it was only yesterday. When you held my hands and confessed love one week after our first date. Sounds ridiculous now. But oh, how I swooned! The cute guy with a cheeky smile and silence that was constantly inviting. You were almost too good to be true with trouble written all over you.

It was summer. I was home. You called and asked me to marry you. We’d been together less than a year. I was 19 and I wanted to. My parents hated you. That eloping plan sounded perfect for then.

Nobody had cared. People around me too busy wrapped up in their own lives to ever tell me what to do. And when you did, I felt adored. Like someone was finally looking beyond the surface. I should’ve sensed the red light but all I felt was love. Oh how much he must care if he takes the time to tell me what to wear! I should have seen the control freak in you.

One week. That’s how long I spent trying to track you down. Knowing you were in pain didn’t help the fact that you were gone. Phone calls, emails, there’s nothing I wouldn’t have done. Just to know you were okay. Just to hear your voice. I should’ve known you didn’t want to be found.

Layers. Your sisters told me “it wasn’t easy growing up.” I nodded my head and pretended to know what they talked about. It wasn’t until Christmas vacation that I finally understood. You were a different person when I wasn’t right next to you. You had so many sides, I wouldn’t know where to look. I should’ve asked for more. I didn’t know if I could.

The anger. That secret seething rage you hid so well until it was too late. Shoved against a door. Your hand mid-air. I wished I’d done more than listened. Maybe asked. Maybe helped. So I began. Untying the knots that made you sink when you needed to swim.

Suddenly I was weak. For not running. For not leaving. For staying. For loving. The child abandoned and his fear of being left. His anger for letting himself care. His need to keep me by his side and always know where I am so he can sleep with knowledge that I’m not halfway to hell. How could I blame a man that feels like a caged child for actions he wishes he didn’t commit? Someone who helps others with their emotions but has no control over his own? How do I call a man undone an emotional abuser?

I wasn’t old enough to analyse, let alone fix. But I tried. In my way, letting you know – no matter what, I’ll always stay. Even if I’m hurt. If I’m scarred. I’ll sit by your side. But marriage was not a choice. And so I watched you punch a wall. My heart hammered for how red your knuckles turned. But I wouldn’t say yes.

So you did what you feared I would. I’m not ready for this. I can’t be a life partner right now. You hung up the phone and you left.

I tried to keep track but you know how those things go.

Six years later, I saw “you” in a movie. One so many seem to hate. And I know how many layers his emotions have. I know why he feels anger he can’t control. I know why she stayed as stupid as it sounds. And it reminded me of you. I can’t even tell you. So I thought I’d write a blog.

Maybe, in some part of this world, you’ll click on a stranger’s link and find this. When you do, I hope it’ll remind you of us. And if it does, I want you to know – If I had to do it all over again..

I would.

Love,

Leela.

The Same Old Story

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It’s the same old story
That night at a party,
A drink every minute
But I never said you could.

It’s the same old story
Last evening in your cubicle,
I was doing my job
The description never said you.

It’s the same old story
This morning in a crowded bus,
My naked legs where your hands end
What could you do?

It’s the same old story
My desperate No is a drunk Yes
My reflex step back is begging to be touched
If only you knew the truth.

It’s the same old story
He’s a swimmer, not a rapist
She’s immoral, not a victim
“We’re sorry, let it go.”

It’s the same old story
It’s man bashing.
I mean, how can he be raped?
Isn’t all we want what he got?

It’s the same old story
Virginity is only for me.
For him, it’s sex.
She can’t be the victim
But neither can he.

It’s the same old story
Abuse is a conversation
Victims, liars
Abusers, oh how dare you?

It’s the same old story
It’s just another month.
What good is a conversation
When we move on to another one?

It’s the same old story.

 

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. If you find yourself looking at someone that is a victim of sexual assault, know that it’s difficult for them to admit it and they need you at that moment. But they’ll need you more when they try to go back to normal life with the inability to feel secure. Don’t ask them to hold back, don’t treat it like it’s a sin. Talk about it. Get them help. And give them the voice they can’t find within themselves.

Yes, men are also sexually abused. And any fight against abusers is not gender-based.

Find more information about SAAM at: Wikipedia SAAM

Here’s one video that NEEDS to be watched: The Boss

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