May 2018 was special. I voted for the first time ever. Not for the lack of intent or initiative. I was just never around in my home city to get myself registered before elections or on the actual polling days. I had attempted to register on two occasions during non-election season, but it was not meant to be. For years I saw an acknowledgment slip tacked on the father’s notice board, alongside his tasks listed for the day. And I’m certain he looked at it numerous times a day.
Meanwhile, I got myself Aadhaared, renewed the passport, got a duplicate copy of my driving license but the voter ID eluded me. Until I moved cities, and my new city embraced me. Three years, rented accommodation and a new language later, the husband procured a new identity for me during a registration drive before the state went for elections. He returned twice to secure an acknowledgement slip, upon my insistence. But the officials had neither the time nor the inclination to hand one over. They just told him to visit a fortnight later.
He did, with more scepticism than hope. And he was in for a surprise! The ID was ready. It did have one tiny mistake though. But nothing that would stop me from exercising my right, more than a decade after turning 18. To say I was on cloud nine was an understatement.
I went to the polling booth all wide-eyed and curious. Another first. The closest I had gotten to this sight was in Newton. The stern officials had little time for niceties and the wide smile plastered on my face. They each had one job. And answering my doubts wasn’t that. But my noobness was apparent, and finally someone directed me.
I was a hodgepodge of feelings on the ride back home. Elation, ecstasy, gratitude, pride, I could have filled a thesaurus.
She was only a name to me. But her words had buoyed me. There was something happy and upbeat about them. A strand of innocence that I had perhaps over time supressed within me. So when I happened to be visiting the city she lived in, I dropped her a little note, expressing interest for a face-to-face meet. I was one among her many social acquaintances on Facebook. It might have sounded like an odd request to her for sure. And because I was so keen to meet her I almost forgot that she was a new mother.
Surprised she might have been, but she graciously accepted my request and invited me for breakfast. It was only upon meeting her that I realised she was trying to keep things quiet for herself and her newborn, as is the custom in most Indian families, by being confined for about 40 days, right after delivery.
We spent the morning discussing many things. Our likes, dislikes, loves, pet peeves et al. The conversation flowed easy, transitioning from one subject to another. But there was so much that I wanted to say to her that all conversation felt inadequate. When I requested her to write more, it was more to save me than her. Because I had forgotten the joys of writing and she reacquainted me with them.
Two years on, we’ve both been heavily consumed in our own separate lives. And both of us haven’t written as much as we’d have liked to. But my mind wanders to that morning often. To savour and relive all over again the warmth, the camaraderie and spontaneity of a friendship strung primarily on words.
The last week of 2016 found me sobbing on a pillow. I was desperate for some sort of change in my life. Nine months of freelancing from home had left me discontent and miserable. I had become a slob, and dessert seemed to be the highlight of most of my days. I felt like I had nothing to look forward to.
That night, the husband convinced me otherwise. He promised that 2017 would be special. That it would be kinder to us, that we’d find renewed meaning to our lives and that I’d find a fulltime job I likelove soon.
The last was the first to fall in place. For a large part of December, I was secretly stalking a new website. Multiple times a day. Only to check if they were hiring. The husband had nudged me towards it; a subscription-driven website for business journalism. And I wanted to be a part of it. Except when I had applied upon finally seeing a vacancy, I was disappointed because I wasn’t the right fit.
However, a stray tweet soliciting work caught someone’s attention there and we started chatting. To join the newsroom was one of the quickest decisions I made, and I was eager to start. I was beginning to like 2017.
Copy editing at The Ken was immensely fulfilling. It was close to home, I liked the work (I was mostly left alone with words all day) and I was able to put in those hours. I felt privileged. And I think I was good at what I did.
I missed the freedom and spontaneity of a freelancer’s life. But I loved the high of working with words and cleaning up the copy, readying it for publishing. It was fascinating to see a story evolve from an idea to its final copy. I had fun on most days. It was my first time at an early-age startup, and I experienced first-hand the ‘passion’ that most people wax eloquent about. Intense debates, fiery tempers and fragile egos, all formed part of my learning curve.
Did I ever whine and complain? Sure, I did, as with so many other things in life. I also spent very many nights awake, oscillating between self-doubt and feeling smug. The husband patiently watched all this from the sidelines, with amusement.
Leaving The Ken was a bitter pill. I had decided to do so in a snap but it took me a while to come to terms with it. It was a short stint (I was just beginning to feel at home) but one that pushed me to excel at my craft, in terms of time, skill and effort. I was leaving for a more rewarding phase of my life. I am extremely grateful for both; but it stung and smarted and irked that I wasn’t able to have it all. That somewhere along the way I had failed because I chose one life over another.
Today, a few months later, The Ken is a distant memory. Our subscriptions ended earlier this year, and we chose not to renew. I needed to let go. To be honest, we also don’t have the time. But every once in a while, on a rough day, I allow myself the luxury of dipping into their morning emails. To remind myself that this is what fired me up a year ago!
2017 was special, in more ways than one. And my time at The Ken was one of its high points.
It read like a regular engagement invite. Time, venue, directions, et al. And I had vaguely heard about their relationship. They had been introduced to each other on Twitter by a well-meaning friend. And it had been a long-distance relationship for the last few months. She and I bonded over words. He and I were acquaintances at best.
The sun and the clouds played hide and seek that afternoon. Alternating between powerful bouts of sunshine and a gentle soothing breeze. It was a small, intimate gathering (later I remarked to the husband that I was overwhelmed that they counted us among their closest set of friends). But both sets of parents were conspicuous by their absence. A fact that nagged me the entire time.
When the couple took centre stage, after a flurry of photographs, both candid and posed, it was refreshing to see just the two of them. Standing next to each other. Alone, but together. Just like their days to come would be. One for the other. There were some awkward pauses with the microphone in hand. But they led each other by instinct. Conviction. And hope.
They exchanged rings with wide smiles on their faces. They showed off the rings like they had been rehearsing for that very moment all their lives. And they let the emotions flow. She spoke of how “normal” her fiancé is, perhaps his most endearing trait. And he acknowledged her planning skills. They sang for each other, full-throated. Oblivious that they had an audience. And both reiterated that the simplicity, intimacy and informality was a conscious decision.
It was a brave, bold thing to do. I had dreamt of an engagement ceremony just like this. But I had lacked the conviction and strength to push for it. And that Saturday afternoon showed me what I had missed. It was a subtle reminder of what I should have stood up for.
I left the venue feeling bittersweet. In awe of their courage. And a little disappointed by the lack of my own. But I knew that change was on its way. In the tiny leaps of faith, I saw that afternoon.