Chapter: New

Adjusting in Singapore hasn’t been as much of a hassle as adjusting in Europe was. Indians do occupy 9.2% of the population after all.  We have an entire community called “Little India” dedicated to us. If being in a foreign land ever bugged us we could just catch a bus and go there to be […]

Singapore it is..

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So after a lot of deliberation and sleepless nights, I have finally decided – Singapore is going to be the country where I will go for my BA (Hons) in Dance. LASALLE was one of my dream universities a few years ago. I remember citing it as the place I would like to study further in after finishing a pre-professional course in a school in Denmark, but I never got the visa for Denmark and a lot of my plans went haywire. Anyhow, I applied this year again and luckily, with a good portfolio and an interview given on a sleepless night + 5 cups of coffee – I got in.

I loved Singapore when I visited it last time. It’s a melting pot of so many different cultures and people from a range of backgrounds. Everyone gets absorbed into it’s fast-growing economy and rapidly progressing culture. I had no trouble fitting in (except for the one time that I took the wrong metro route and got insanely lost – I had to walk mad distance) and people were welcoming and happy. It’s a beautiful place, with places like Clarke Quay, Marina Bay, Botanical Gardens, Singapore Zoo and my absolute favorite – Universal Studios! *heart eyes* I swear I can never get enough of that place. Who knew a day wasn’t going to be enough to explore the humongous place. I could live with those minions forever. Thankfully enough, Singapore has an entire neighborhood for Indians called “Little India”, that has shops that play tamil/telugu/malyalam music on the regular and has plenty of reasonably priced Indian restaurants. So if I ever feel homesick, I can always go there and lovingly look at desis bargaining for $1. Sigh.

More than it’s touristy attractions though, I’m really excited about this new chapter in my life. It’s going to be a tough 3 years (starting this july)- dance training is never a breeze through. I’m basically married to dance for the next 3 years. I will live and breathe for it. It really makes me reminisce about all the years that I relentlessly put into my training. But I’m still nowhere close to where I want to be, so I have to keep pushing ahead with an even stronger conviction. Its not just a journey toward becoming a professional dancer or choreographer, it’s journey of self-discovery. There are plenty dancers in the world – much more talented than me. Then what exactly makes me stand out?

What makes me stand out is me. There may be a lot of dancers in the world but there is only one me and that’s what needs to come out through my art as well. I have to be true to who I really am and put that into my movement. That movement will be mine, and mine only. If it deserves applause, it might get that too. But regardless of that, I’ll still have contributed to my field in a different way and that’s what matters. I feel very strongly about dancers who are constantly striving hard to “fit in”. Art is a very subjective field, if we wanted to be forced into templates we would have chosen MBA. So why conform to what everyone thinks a dancer should be like? I tried to fit in for a very long time too. But thankfully, I realized that will never work out for me. I will end up a failure no matter how many times I try. I’m weird and will always be. So now I have decided to be a weird dancer #SuccessAdvice

I have a lot of ideas that I want to work on in the long run, and hopefully these 3 years will take me a step closer to that. Vibgyor is my dream child and I want it to go places – there is so much I want to do under the banner. It’s scary and overwhelming at the same time. I try not to think about the flip side too much, that it’ll all come crashing down and I won’t even be able to achieve 1% of what I want to. This is a choice I have made for myself and I won’t have anyone to put the blame on. I will own both the success and the failure.

I don’t care much about monetary success or fame. I never have. I, for one, am very clear about my priorities in life and one would have to dig right down to the core of the earth to find out if it’s even on my list. People who run after monetary success are the unhappiest people in the world, because their net achievement is zero. Trust me folks, there will always be someone who has better bank balance, a better house or better curtains. That shit never ends. But I do care about one thing – putting my ideas out in the world. I chose to channel them through dance, and all I want is to be able to do that well in my life. That’s success for me. A wise man once said “Promote your idea, not your name. It will follow” (Just kidding, it’s my original line)

I’m excited and terrified at the same time. I don’t know if I’m going to do well or absolutely suck. But I do know one thing – I’m not giving up anytime soon.

#Relentless.

Roller Coaster Ride

I was greeted by the familiar heat wave as I landed in Delhi. It was snowing in Amsterdam when I left. 11 hours later, I was waiting to get back home and turn the fan on full blast. Such is my life. I have become so used to travelling in the past 8 months or so – that being in one place for more than a while starts getting to me. From Isreal to Bangalore to Italy to Amsterdam to Delhi to Brussels to Berlin to Amsterdam (again) and now back to Delhi. I will be leaving soon again in a couple of months. One would say that living a life of a nomad (in a manner of speaking) can be exhausting physically and emotionally. It surely is, but it’s also the only way I feel like I can move ahead in life. Heal. Feel. Be happy.

This trip was such a roller coaster ride. I landed in Brussels one day before my audition, 10 days after my surgery and one day after my DJ stent was removed (not fun, seriously), totally unprepared for the intensive and tiring process of an audition. Needless to say, I was really really bad. They didn’t select me and obviously, I was very very dejected. I left Brussels with a broken heart and damaged self-esteem, but a stronger sense of conviction to crack the next one. I landed in Berlin and hustled as hard as I could. I attended classes and worked on myself before and after. I couldn’t afford to lose another opportunity for two reasons – 1) I loved the school (Tanzfabrik, for dance lovers) and 2) I didn’t think my ego would be able to take another blow. In the meanwhile, I fell in love with Berlin. The city has class. It has a persistent neo-noir feel to it, combined with it’s traditional architecture and active art scene. I loved walking in the city. Every road, every wall, every U-Bahn station had something different to offer visually. I could imagine myself living there.

(Special mention – Berlin Hauptbahnhof is effing awesome)

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I walked into my audition feeling and looking confident. I knew I had this. I gave it my best shot, and walked out feeling a little bit content with what I had done. I got selected and patted myself on the back for having recovered from an initial loss. But I had no time to celebrate as my tiring journey was not about to end anytime soon. I started packing for Amsterdam immediately after.

By the way, I always make this mistake of not carrying anything to eat during train/bus rides in Europe, which basically means 6+ hours of no food and water unless you decide to get up and cross all the compartments to find the pantry car. But I think I’ve made stupider mistakes in Europe so I’ll let that one pass. Either way, the moment I stepped foot in Amsterdam all my exhaustion basically vanished because I.am.in.love.with.the.city! Everyone talks about having a soulmate. Well, I have a soulcity: Amsterdam. There is something about this place that just makes me happy. I don’t really know what it is. Maybe it is the sight of the river, or the perennially happy people, or the infinite bicycles, or the beautifully lit cafes and restaurants, or the amazing (!!) architecture, or the canal rides, or the way it looks like at night, or just the liveliness of the place, or the way it makes me feel. Maybe it’s all of them. I don’t really know; all I know is that I could live here for an eternity and beyond.

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Unfortunately though, just like everywhere else, I didn’t really get a chance to do any touristy things. I dove head on into classes and choreography. My days were all about dancing, cleaning the house, finding food and drinking too much white wine. True story, I had way too much white wine in Amsterdam. Not my fault its cheap and great. One fine day though, I managed to lock myself out of my apartment at night and had to call an emergency locksmith to open it for me. Had to spend a fortune on it and the guilt still eats at me. I hate the lock system in Europe. Other than this small (but financially big) hiccup, Amsterdam was as awesome as ever. Tiring, but still awesome.

I did manage to do one of the things I had fallen in love with last time – take a ferry ride. I shed tears throughout (Nostalgia does that)

In the meanwhile, I also got selected at Lasalle College of Arts, Singapore – something I had wanted for a while. But couldn’t make it at Amsterdam school of arts – which depressed me so much that I spent a whole day sulking and yes, drinking wine. I really, really wanted it. I would have chosen it without a second thought. But the competition in the dance world is cutthroat and maybe I wasn’t good enough. Nevertheless, the university is amazing and I hope I get a chance to study there at some point. It’s about prestige now.

Life is Europe is always a blur for me. Days fuse into nights fuse into days. It all feels like a matter of a couple of seconds. There is not enough time to stop and think. The garbage needs to be put out, the clothes need to be washed, breakfast needs to be cooked, dishes need to be done, house needs to be cleaned, money needs to be spent judiciously, transport needs to be figured out, adequate groceries need to be bought – other than working on your main objective, of course. I get tired and I love that. In Delhi, I can afford to take so much for granted but not in a foreign land – that keeps me on my toes constantly and I love being in that state. It’s always an experience I learn alot from. I never come back empty handed.

I am still in the hustle mode from Europe and I want to continue to be in it for as long as I’m here. If I stop and pause, I’ll crumble, and I can’t afford that.

Random ramblings

Here I am, sitting in one of the expensive-for-no-reason DB trains, travelling from Berlin to Amsterdam and tapping my fingers on the keypad thinking about what to write. I am normally very bad at coming up with good topics to write about. My thoughts are too scattered and open-ended to come up with a concrete idea. My mind jumps from one topic to the other in a matter of seconds, and all the content that I thought of for the previous topic(s) is immediately lost. So I think it’s better for me to write a running commentary.

Trains journeys are the best metaphor for life. Just like a train ride, life meanders through different terrains and stops in one place for some time. People come and go in your life throughout it’s course, people come and go throughout the course of a train ride too. None of them are permanent, even if you manage to develop a strong bond with them. Everyone leaves at some point or the other. You are only left with your own company.

I often think about what “being content” means. Sometimes I think it’s about chasing your dream to the best of your ability, other times I think it’s about finding that one person who makes you feel like you’re home. But then there are moments of clarity when I realize that maybe it’s about feeling happy when you are with yourself. None of us really love ourselves. We are constantly looking for something, someone to fulfill a void we can’t fill ourselves. It’s not an easy feat. Heck, definitely not for a royally messed up person like me. God knows I have issues that will take several lifetimes for me to fix before I can love myself. I am a loner because that’s my comfort zone; not because I love my own company. If I had to spend an entire evening with my own clone, I would dash for the first exit. True story, I would not date my male counterpart. The two of us would rip eachother’s hair off.

It’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that there is no one who is meant to be by your side forever, especially not in a world that tries to sell us the concept of ‘eternal love’ all the time. Movies like The Notebook make you believe that you will die in your soulmate’s arms in the hospital bed. Who doesn’t want to believe that? It’s the most comforting idea in the world. I want to believe that too. I want to be able to close my eyes and not feel scared. We want another human being for that comfort and security because going through life and all it’s problems all alone is too much to imagine. We just might be capable of it; but the idea still scares the crap out of us.

Does that mean we should all declare celibacy and head to the mountains to meditate? Hell no. I cannot abandon a lot of small comforts for anything. I think maybe what I’m trying to say is that we need to stop trying to find ‘contentment’, because we are just too mortal to find nirvana (unless you’re snort coke) We will always be in a state of unrest. We will always be looking for something, despite not knowing what is truly is. Perhaps learning from the journey is more important than dwelling over the destination, because you don’t know if you will ever get there…or if it will be what you wanted if you do get there.

If you have something that makes you feel happy right now and makes you smile before drifting off to sleep, fight for it. It can be anything – a dream, a person, a job, an idea, a friend, a new recipe or a tv show. Don’t give up before giving it your heart and soul, because you never know when it’s going to slip through your hands. Trading present happiness for an expected future gain is the worst bargain in life. (Not to be confused with ‘not stepping out of your comfort zone’. There is a difference between being comfortable & lazy and truly happy)

Anyone who knows me knows I hustle hard. I never think I’ve done a good enough job. Whether it is doing the dishes or putting up a choreography – I will always be dissatisfied (not satisfied with this post either) But this constant relay makes me happy. It makes me feel like there is one thing I can truly call my own.

And I will fight for it until the day I die.

 

Back to Europe

Three months have lapsed since I was here. I had thought that when I would be back it would feel like an eternity. It should feel like an eternity. I’ve been through so much in these 3 months. My life has been turned upside down. I’ve had a surgery, been beaten up (over a parking issue!) and been through an emotional roller coaster ride. I released my first ever group choreography and shed tears when it was received brilliantly. But it feels like it was just yesterday that I was walking across the streets of Europe to find an open restaurant at 10 pm at night, trying to find the best possible route to class, cleaning the house and washroom myself, trying not to get lost (!), trying to find people who speak english (for the love of god!) and – trying not to look like an idiot.

That, honestly, is the biggest struggle. As an Indian you are brought up to believe that  the white race is superior. Every time that a white woman/man was spotted on the streets of a small town, the crowds would ogle them shamelessly as though they were aliens. I was a part of that crowd. I saw the firangs as people who belonged to a completely different world. When I was a kid and lived in a small town called Kashipur (a little away from Ramnagar), an american couple were brought home by my cousin uncle (we were a family of show-offs. Apparently he promised he would tell them everything they needed to know. He knew zilch, btw) and my god it was like Radha-Krishna had entered our home. Every single resource was devoted to making them comfortable. My entire family turned into Indian historians. I, too, was quite overwhelmed. I stood there like a darbaan waiting to salute them when they left. And that’s what I did.

Anyway, the point is that that experience is still very vivid in my mind. Out of all the extraordinary experiences I may have had as a child, this is one of the very few that is still as clear as it gets. The only reason being that we were noticed by foreigners. Wow, isn’t that a big thing.

That is the reason why the possibility of making a fool out of myself infront of these posh, highly sophisticated breed of homo sapiens causes me extreme anxiety. Having a cup of coffee in a cafe can sap me of all my energy. What if I pronounce ‘cappuccino’ wrong? What if I enter the cafe and then they tell me that it is already closed? Won’t I look like such a fool then? What if the owner/waiter doesn’t know english? What if I don’t like what I order? Would it be okay if I left it untouched? Would they think I’m insulting them by not liking their food? – are just some of the thoughts that go through my head when I undertake the simple task of ordering a cup of coffee. There is a plethora of other things of course – accidentally walking on the cyclists lane, not knowing whether or not it’s okay to cross the road even when there is no zebra crossing, not knowing where to buy the train/tram/bus ticket, not knowing how to buy the train/tram/bus ticket, not knowing whether to place an order in a restaurant at the counter or at the table, not knowing whether to settle the bill at the counter or at the table, whether to say “take away” or “to go” when getting food packed, not knowing if it would be okay to pee after 10:30 at night or the neighbor might call the police for making noise etc.

Yes, living in Europe is a struggle for Indians. Especially a lazy and lost Indian like me. Makes me realize how many things we take for granted in our country. Today, I went to a mobile store to buy a local pre-paid sim. I had to wait an hour before that guy could attend to me because he was attending to another customer. Had it been India I would have made an angry remark and got the job done in 10 minutes.

Despite my struggles though, I feel like I manage myself reasonably okay when I’m here. I wash my clothes on time and manage to put some food in my stomach. Sure, sometimes I have to eat utter garbage in the name of “vegetarian food”, but that’s when I thank the lord that I know how to cook and for Indian restaurants. I manage to figure out the public transport system and the lanes/streets (One thing I can never figure out is the lock system here. True story – I always forget which way to turn the key to open the door) Most importantly though – it keeps me on my toes all the time. I’m in zero chill mode in Europe.

I like being in the hustle mode. It gives me a sense of purpose and direction. It helps me overcome a lot of challenges. It isn’t always a party though; being alone all the time can get to anyone – but that’s why I hustle harder, so that it doesn’t overwhelm me. More than anything else – I get to focus on and explore dance to the fullest, which is what I live for.

This trip has been a rush so far. I went to Brussells for two days and now I’m in Berlin for a couple of days, followed by a yet undecided destination for a few days and finally to Amsterdam. No enjoyment anywhere though – just auditions, auditions, auditions!

 

When being a vegetarian was a curse

Being a vegetarian is the new ‘cool’, isn’t it? Apparently the phenomenon isn’t yet global – as seen during my recent trip to Singapore. Now, Singapore is an amazing place. I loved the landscapes, the organized neighborhoods and the amazing amalgamation of culture and technology. But, and this is a pretty heavy ‘but’ (soaked in the syrup of doubt, panic and survival instincts), if you are a vegetarian and want food after 10:30 in the night, you will have to suck it up and sleep on biscuits, my friend.

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Now, there are plenty of Indian restaurants in Singapore. I’m sure there are some that are open late in the night too. But it’s like trying to look for a needle in the haystack in the middle of the night. Forget Indian food, vegetarian food is like an endangered species on that island. I mean, you are visiting for a couple of days and are staying in a hotel. After fiddling around with your Singapore guide map for hours and trying your best to get a simple request across to the Singlish speaking staff in the hotel, you finally manage to find a vegetarian (and hopefully, Indian) restaurant somewhere, but by that time, you are so hungry and tired that the additional 1 hour journey seems like Dandi March in slow motion that just isn’t worth it.

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Key point here being – accessibility. Yes, Indian and vegetarian restaurants are scattered across the island, but they aren’t even 1% as accessible as the local hawker centres that are almost within a km of each other and are open till 3 am in the morning. They’re like chowpatties in Mumbai, minus the eatable food. What do they offer? Seafood and it’s pungent (=disgusting) smell that looms over double the radius of the actual centre. Crabs, prawns, fish, lobsters, shrimps, frogs (?!?!?!?!) are all fair game as far as food is concerned. Mind you, I don’t mean to offend any culture, I just find it hard to imagine for someone to be salivating over a crab or frog. FYI, frog porridge is a very famous delicacy of the streets of Singapore. [Insert poker face emoji]

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So having converted to vegetarianism a decade back, and lived in Delhi for almost 8 years now where my midnight cravings have always opened up a vista of possibilities, (=drawer full of home delivery menus) being a vegetarian and a midnight muncher in Singapore combined to put me through my worst nightmare.

The room service menu was extensive, the veg options however, were limited to an eggplant (baigan) sandwich and garden salad – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yes, true story. The only veg option the buffet had to offer was the smallest version of the Samosa that you could ever come across, presented on a table like it was some exotic delicacy. There was also pasta in white sauce, which the staff weren’t sure contained beef or not. Usually I love risks, but I abstained from this one.

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Thankfully though, Singapore has a lot of South Indians and consequently South Indian joints. We were lucky enough to be staying in a hotel right next to one. Thankfully for them the term ‘vegetarian’ didn’t also cover chicken and fish. The only minute problem with them was that they spoke only and only Malay, so communicating with them was as hard as watching a local wolfing down a huge crab. So finding another Indian joint elsewhere, without doing a 101 course in Malay first, was out of the question. So we travelled all the way from Changi to Downtown to Marina Bay to Singapore Zoo and then came back and had Masala Dosa at that South Indian joint at 2 in the morning.

And I simply could not understand their obsession with eggplant. Anything vegetarian had to have eggplant in it – eggplant in sandwiches, as pizza toppings, in pasta, heck even in the samosa filling! I have not had as much baigan as I did in these seven days in my entire life. Who the hell likes baigan anyway?

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Clearly, this part of Asia is still way behind on catching up on the vegetarian trend. While the ability to eat anything that moves on four legs is a handy survival instinct, I think in an apocalyptic situation, the thought of eating frog porridge will kill me before the actual apocalypse.

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