On the Same Boat

It was a large, unending ocean. And in that ocean was a single boat, small and weak, with a lone girl in it. Her hair was matted, her eyes sunken, and her arms and legs covered in scars. The waves would toss the boat dangerously and sometimes, the water would splash onto her, causing the salt to sting her wounds. She spent most of her days curled up into a ball, wanting either to die or to be found by somebody else in the desolate ocean.

The boat had been stuck in this ocean for months. She didn’t know where exactly she was. She didn’t know which way land was or how far she was from it. She didn’t even know how she’d landed up here. Everything before her life on the boat felt like a hazy dream.

It was just another day. There was still no sign of help. She wasn’t sure if anybody missed her and was worried enough to actually look for her. She looked out into the never-ending grey sky and sea and suddenly, spotted a speck in the distance. She couldn’t believe her eyes. All these days, she had let the water toss her around. Upon seeing the speck, she got rowing. She had to get to the speck in the distance because for the first time in many months, she felt a flicker of hope.

She rowed furiously and as she got closer, she realised that, after what seemed like a lifetime, she was not alone. There was another boat in the ocean, with another person in it.

He was exhausted when she found him. His hair was dishevelled, his eyes barely open, and his clothes hung loosely from this thin frame. When she extended her hand to hold his hand to remember what it felt like to touch another person, he recoiled. Confused, she retreated to her own boat but she was determined to not let this boat out of her sight. She wasn’t going to be alone again. Most importantly, she wasn’t going to let somebody else be as alone as she had been.

“I’m tying your boat to mine,” she said. He looked up and watched as she tied their boats together so that they could not drift away from each other. She couldn’t have been happier. She still didn’t know which way land was or how far it was but she knew now that there was somebody else who was with her and they could look for it together.

Every day, she talked to him, passed him snacks from the supplies she had, and sometimes she sang him her favourite songs to pass the time. As days went by, he began to sit up and take interest in what she was saying. Some days, he talked back. Some days he ate what she offered. Some other days, he even sang.

Sometimes, one of them would get seasick and cry. One would cry while the other would talk. But he never let her touch him. He never let her hold his hand. And so, she didn’t ask.

And then one day, her boat sprouted a leak. She woke up in the morning, her clothes wet, and she looked around and panicked. Quickly, she began to untie her boat from his. He woke up, confused. “What are you doing?” he asked. She gestured towards the water in her boat. “This boat won’t last. It’s too risky to stay together. You can find land on your own. I’ll give you my supplies.”

He stared at her. In the days that they had spent time together, it had never occurred to him that one day she might not be there and he would have to be alone again. They had never crossed into the boat of the other because they were afraid but now, there was no option. He would either have to call her over, or let her go.

She threw her supplies over to him. “When you find land,” she said, “write down what it’s like. Toss a bottle into the sea with a letter telling me all about it.”
“Are you insane?” he asked.  “I am not letting you go. Let your boat go down. You don’t have to go down with it. What’s the point in finding land if I can’t find it with you?”

She looked at him. “Are you sure? You won’t even let me touch you. How will we live on the same boat?”

“I don’t know. It’ll be difficult. But all I know is I can live without finding land and living on this boat. But I can’t live with finding land if you aren’t with me to find it. Come over, come over, come this side.”

She looked at him for a few minutes. And then, in a quick motion, she jumped over to his boat. Without speaking a word, he untied her boat and they watched as it sank. Slowly, hesitantly, she took his hand in hers. And for the first time, he didn’t withdraw. They were on the same boat.

“Ye Mera Favourite Game Hai”

I recently gave my third speech at my Toastmasters Club and found the topic (suggested by my mentor) to be one of the most enjoyable topics I have ever spoken about. Therefore, I decided to share the longer version of the speech (which I had to cut down to fit the time limit) over here. I have made the speech more article-friendly, but if it still reads like a speech at some parts, I apologise in advance! The topic fits with my personality: life lessons from Jab We Met. So, here it is!

Jab We Met is more than just an ordinary romantic comedy to me. I am not lying – I’ve watched this movie over a hundred times. Back in the seventh grade, I was even labelled ‘Geet’ by my friends, ‘Geet’ being the crazy, bubbly protagonist of the film. In my capacity as ‘Geet’, I find it fitting to present three important life lessons that I learnt from Jab We Met, lessons that I hope you can all incorporate in your lives.

Lesson Number 1: Own Your Decisions

Meri life jo bhi hogi, mujhe pata hoga ki meri wajeh se aisi hai. Toh I’ll be happy.” Geet says this when she is hiding on the terrace of her house with Aditya after a badly-planned attempt to run away from home. Her confident assertion that her decisions and consequences are her own to deal with is inspiring. Too often, we make decisions under duress and then blame the consequences on everybody else.

“I failed in college because my father made me take engineering.” “I started smoking only because my friends forced me to.” “I couldn’t study for my test because the neighbour’s music was playing too loudly.” Parents, friends, neighbours, the person sitting next to you in the bus, the situation: it always seems like everybody and everything is responsible for the consequences of our decisions except us! We should be sure of the decisions we make so that nobody else can sway us from them. If we aren’t sure of our own decisions, why should anybody else be?

Lesson Number 2: Love Yourself

Geet said, “Main apni favourite hoon.” I referred to this line in my first Toastmaster speech as well, saying that it is a mantra that I live by. Be your own favourite. Be the best version of yourself Geet was her own favourite person, and that honesty to her own personality is what fuelled her to keep going. She went about her life exactly the way she wanted to, without trying to follow somebody else. It was this attitude of hers that led to her being able to deal with her lover’s rejection of her as well. Throughout the movie, Geet is filled with love for everybody and everything around her. Such pure, untainted love for others is only possible if we love ourselves first. A little narcissism never hurt anybody. So go ahead, pull out that selfie stick, hold it up, and pull that duck face because you need to believe that you truly are the best.

Finally, the lesson that my friends (and I) believe I am best qualified to teach:

Lesson Number 3: Act like a Child

Bacchon jaisi baatein karo!” Imagine a calm lake. You are sitting on a ledge above it, swinging your legs. Would you dive in, with no good reason? Sometimes, you should! Geet did! Sometimes, to unwind, you need to consult your inner child. We all have one. I resort to my inner child in all times of need. Sad over boy problems? Sing songs about heartbreak at the top of my voice! Happy? Share my chocolate with strangers I meet on the way! Annoyed? Write all my problems on paper and tear it up! In times of trouble, turn back the clock to more innocent days and be a kid again.

There are very few movies that stay with us long after the credits roll and the popcorn is over. Jab We Met is one such movie. It taught us three lessons: to own my decisions, love myself, and not lose my childishness. Sometimes people might find these lessons hard to accept and ask you, like Aditya asked Geet, “Kyun khel rahe ho apne zindagi ke saath?” – “Why are you playing with your life?” And like Geet, you should reply, “Kyunki ye mera favourite game hai, zindagi!

Love?

Butterflies in your stomach, heart thudding away wildly in your chest, a million thoughts running through your mind: is this what love is really supposed to feel like? Is this right? Is this it? Then why is it that all that I feel with you is calm and happy, like I belong in your arms and nowhere else, and still say I love you? Then why is that every time you smile, my body automatically responds with joy and not nervous blushing, and still I say I love you? Then why is it that the butterflies in my stomach are quiet, my heart is calm, and I have only one thought and that thought is that I love you? I have none of the fears and qualms of the unknown, but all of the comforts of a home. Tell me then, is this not love?

Confessions of a “No-More Teenager” (Guest Post: Deepika Katyal)

Tomorrow, I turn 20. I have survived all the middle school lows, prudes, the high school drama, teachers who tell you how NOT to be, insecure boys, bitching, backbiting, third wheeling, being broke, being too thin, being not too thin, acne, fake friends, real friends, heartbreak, depression, tears and the quest to remain grounded. But it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, in fact it was one hell of a ride. Only now when I look back, I see what I have grown above. Who says teen years are easy, but who says they aren’t the best?

The existential crisis is what makes these years so so special .You are still discovering who you are and what you want to be on so many levels that the struggle doesn’t seem like one. It is an internal evolution of sorts ,where you realise you need to let go of the unnecessary; break free !

I have finally come to reckon with the fact that I have wasted so much time. I have wasted so much time worrying about what other people think of me, of how much they don’t or may be do like me. I have wasted so much time dwelling over how differently people would perceive me if only they knew the entire story, if only I were more outgoing and thus be seen as a more fun and pleasant person to be with. I have often looked down upon myself: the way I look, the way I talk, the way I think, being completely certain that people are equally critical of the same things.I have wasted so much time, tossed my peace and wasted my tears. The teens have taught me that my existence on earth does not depend upon opinions or how desirable or pleasing I can be. It does not depend upon how well I can mould down to fit in. It depends rather, on how far I can maintain my individuality against all the moulds forced upon me.

I am not easily outgoing and often struggle to open up, but that is fine!
I am also not an introvert at times, that is fine too!
The next time I meet someone new, they will notice the nervousness and the awkwardness, but that is fine! They will also notice that I am human!

We all seek validation . Or rather most of us .I certainly did, without realising that everyone will always have something to say, something to presume, something to judge, everyone including my own self!

No one will ever know the other part of the story: the internal monologue and struggle that leads to the good, bad, and even worse decisions I made or will make .

The beautiful seven years have dawned upon me a lesson for a lifetime. Your weight, your dark circles, your hair, your looks, your diction, the number of friends you have ,your flaws and lows, relationships you were in or will be in, the guy/girl who dumped you, the guy/girl you dumped, that one person always scoring more marks than you, that one person you assume is always better than you, do not and will never take away from the person that you are or choose to be .

Nobody is 100% confident. Nobody is flawless. I happened to read somewhere that embracing life is not really about jumping from cliffs or getting drunk in nightclubs; it is probably the process of learning to love yourself.

Nobody, absolutely nobody knows what it takes to to be you every single day! And nobody will ever know. Turning twenty has at least initiated the process of me believing in the fact that despite all my flaws and insecurities, I am pretty damn awesome and so are you!

This post was written by Deepika Katyal. 

Stardust (Guest Post: Ayushi Murli)

The enormity we cannot fathom, of galaxies that stretch far beyond our reach, we push ourselves into believing that perhaps, a day will come when we will be more than just mere specks of dust.
Long years go by, questioning our existence, finding a purpose. Forever it seems like, which is in reality just a minimal fraction of time.
Perhaps, the only purpose we’re here to serve, is no purpose at all. Just plain, pure, existence. Maybe what comes as dust, leaves as dust.
We remain oblivious of what surrounds us in this vast space.
In our little world however, it is these little particles of dust that make this tiny span of time we call life, worth living.
It is likely that we may never know what lies beyond; we may never know what our role is. We may spend our lives in the confusion of trying to comprehend whether we will leave as suddenly as we came. One supernova explosion.
It may take forever to conclude whether, for the universe we are significant.
Until then, from one speck of stardust, to another… you matter.

This post was written by my close friend, Ayushi Murli.

10 Things School Didn’t Teach Me

I wrote this almost half a year back for a purpose that never actually took off, so here it is. 

Mark Twain said, “I’ve never let my school interfere with my education.”

With fifteen years of school life and a year of college behind me, I am now in a position to say that Twain knew what he was talking about. With college underway, I finally realised that my impression that school would prepare me for life was false. We had many subjects that were compulsory: English, Mathematics, a second language. Life, however, might have been easier if we had a few other subjects that were made compulsory.

1.    Money Matters 101

How do you balance a chequebook? What are stocks and how do you invest in them? How do you budget for yourself? How do you save money for unexpected situations?

Right after school, especially if you live as a paying guest or board in hostel, you are likely to find yourself entangled in the dangerous hands of a plastic card that has, apparently, infinite money. You will find that that card gives you the confidence to splurge until you realise you have spent more money than you should have and are now in trouble. It’s a major problem.

Eventually in life, we are all forced to deal with money. It would, however, be better, if school prepared us for the same. Later in life, there will only be more numbers to deal with: rent, loans, taxes. We know what awaits us, but we are not equipped to deal with it. A lesson in money management is one that needs to be introduced at the earliest.

2.    Sex Education

No, really, what is sex? How is it done? What goes where? Can I get a guidebook?

We are at an age where too much information is available everywhere. Unfortunately, there is no control of who receives the information and so, it’s impossible to know whether the recipient of the information is capable of understanding it or not. Eleven year-old girls are confused by their periods. Boys are embarrassed by wet dreams. Hormones start acting up, puberty hits, and nobody knows what is happening and why. Children talk in hushed whispers about sex, drawing from the little they know from what they hear older children speak, which is probably wrong as well. As they grow up, pornography and a Science chapter on reproduction will convince them that they know what’s coming. They’re wrong.

Sex is complicated. There are so many things to consider: protection, how sex actually works, sexually transmitted diseases, myths about the hymen, the meaning of virginity… the worries are endless with only Yahoo Answers to the rescue. A little prep before having to experience confusing changes would do a lot of good.

3.    Self Defence

Man robbed at gunpoint. Woman raped, in critical condition. Thugs beat couple up, steal valuables.

In a world teeming with small-time pickpockets, muggers, thieves, and rapists, nothing can come in handy like some self-defence skills. Sometimes there is nothing more important than knowing how to get out of a dangerous situation. As much as we would like to live in a peaceful world, it is better to go out prepared. We live in a cocoon of overconfidence that such events are mere news reports and can only happen to somebody else. We forget that we are some person’s ‘somebody else’. It’s about time schools took up the responsibility of not ensuring health through mere ‘health tests’ (think: time required to run 50m, shot put) but also by preparing children to deal with unforeseen circumstances.

4.    Emotional Intelligence and Mental Health

Girlfriend suicidal? Best friend overly anxious? Parents irritable? Peers bullying you? How many times do you find yourself clueless about how people’s minds and feelings work and what to do about them?

Schools don’t teach you the importance of the emotional quotient and mental health. They don’t teach you how to convince your suicidal girlfriend to seek help, how to be her support while she gets better. They don’t teach you to differentiate between an anxiety disorder and plain worry. They don’t teach you to understand how best to soothe irritable people. They don’t teach you how to deal with bullies when things get rough. Growing up, children are impressionable and sensitive. If they are not taught to understand the importance of their emotions and mental health at that age, then when are they going to learn?

5.    Careers Choose You

“So, what do you want to become?”

At an age where you still have to raise your hand in class to go to the bathroom or ask your parents for permission to go to the movies with friends, you are faced with this unpleasant decision that is supposedly going to determine the course of the rest of your life: what do you want to become? Do you know the answer? Probably not. Is everybody around you confident of their answers? Not at all! Do you know that it’s okay to not know? No. And that’s the problem.

Careers are not as simple as picking one and working towards it. Very often, people don’t choose their career; it chooses them. Twists and turns in your life, in your interest, and in the market will find you landing in places that you never expected yourself to be in. You might not be good at everything, but you will find that you are certainly good at a lot of things. I could be a good petroleum engineer, teacher, or a cook. Where will my life take me? I don’t know! What should I choose? It depends! Your career is only as limited as you are going to make it. With a career aptitude test displaying some results about your potential future, school never teaches you about the endless directions that life sometimes can toss you into, all of them leading to success. That’s for you to find out and explore on your own.

6.    Take It Easy

When I was swamped in tests and assignments, school didn’t teach me to take it easy once in a while. I was always thinking about how much work I had left, which deadline was next, and what was my minimum required word count for a paper. School didn’t teach me that a year’s worth of tension would seem like the biggest problem only for that one year and that in future, I would only laugh at myself for having been silly. Any situations that seems ginormous in school become miniscule when compared to the varied experiences you are going to face in your entire life. That boy who said he would never date you? Doesn’t matter. That girl who said she didn’t want to be your friend? Not a problem! Bad hair day? Don’t worry. Relax, and laugh a little. Things get better.

7.    What Tests Don’t Test

77/80 in Social Studies, 75/80 in Hindi, 73/80 in Mathematics, 70/80 in Science, and 68/80 in English. A friend of mine scored these brilliant marks in the mid-year examination. This same friend did not know the names of many Indian states and their capitals and could hardly speak any intelligible Hindi beyond ‘what is your name’ and ‘my name is…’ He could, however, solve the Mathematics problems that left us all banging our heads on the table for hours, sometimes just in his head.

This is a big thing schools never teach you. Tests don’t test your intelligence and sometimes, even your understanding. Tests only test how well you prepared for them. If you know the pattern of questions for your exam and study accordingly, you’ll do well. If you don’t, then you might miss out some seemingly unimportant information that will show up on your paper.

Real life does not have a marking scheme that allows half-baked knowledge to be passed off as the real deal. Nobody has manufactured a Golden Guide for real life yet, and nobody ever will. If you calmly believe that just because you scored well in your Science exam after photocopying bazillions of guides into your brain, you are good at the subject, think again. School doesn’t teach you to understand, just to do.

8.    If it’s Easy, You’re Learning it Wrong

You’re a star student. You’ve aced all your life, breezing through exams. You’ve never had to stop to think if you’re going wrong somewhere because it’s all obvious from the grades in your report card and the trophies and certificates lining the shelf. Until you’re past school and thrown into a situation that requires you to actually draw from learning and not just a grade you once received in the past, you won’t realise what blatant liars those grades are.

There are overachievers in school who find life slapping them in the face once they are out. Having never had to experience doing badly ever in their life, they learn too late that learning is not as easy as it looked in school. In school, it might be difficult to differentiate between a person who is genuinely learning and one who is just scoring. It’s after school that you are forced to see the gap between the two.

9.    Failures are Obstacles, not Dead Ends

“Look at her. She failed last year and is now studying with students who were her juniors.”

For some reason, school teaches us to believe that failures are the worst thing that can happen to anybody. School does not teach you to learn from a failure. It just teaches you to never, ever let it happen.

Failing at an exam is a lesson in how not to prepare for the test. Failing at a particular stream is a lesson in not making hasty choices based on peer or parental pressure. Failing at being a part of the supposed ‘popular’ crowd is a lesson in understanding that we cannot possibly be everyone’s favourite person. Failures are not dead ends; they are obstacles that need to be crossed over. Success is a result of the lessons learnt from failures. Schools preach that ‘failure is the stepping stone to success’ and then teach us to believe that they are roadblocks.

10.                       Applying School to Life

At the end of it all, did school actually teach you anything? Did you gain nothing out of it? Was your trigonometry class a total waste? Will your knowledge of balancing forces never matter? Why did you sit through your history classes about the caste system?

Don’t let your heart break. All those things matter. Where? That’s what school doesn’t teach you. If school integrated information with our everyday life, maybe we’d know what to do with our school education. Trigonometry helps with calculating the heights of mountains, which in turn is useful to understand just how high aircrafts ought to be flying. Without understanding physics, the rollercoasters that we love so much would never be built. The caste system of the past has led to innumerable policies of the present. School teaches us pieces of information in isolation, never letting us understand why we are learning what we are learning.

Growing Up (Guest Post: Ashna)

It’s weird how some people have the power to affect you in a certain way. The way their charisma works on you. The way you are dumbfounded by their personality. The way the things they do affect you when they have no clue. No clue that they have been affecting the way you breathe, the way you act, the way you talk, the way you smile. Your smile and how it changes into a frown when they do something you would not ever expect them to do. Expectations. Expectations from them, and not wanting to ever be disappointed. The way our relationships change while growing up and meeting new people. Some people affect you in a certain way, the way you cannot help but wonder if it is only them, or do you sometimes affect them too? The way you talk, the way you walk, the way you smile, your decisions and your life choices, is it only you? Does it not matter to them? When you want to think that you matter, but can’t get anywhere, remember that there are going to be distances in all kinds of relationships. You’re not going to meet each person halfway. Some will come closer to you, and for some you will travel great lengths, which you will at some point know whether they were worth all the effort, worth all the emotional stress you went through. But when this time comes, you will have already crossed the moon for them and won’t know how to get back. Don’t think of it in a negative way, each person teaches you something. Makes you the part of your experiences which will define who you are to others. Each person has their own role to play, whether it is a happily ever after or a heartbreak or a failed friendship, every single person will teach you something that you won’t forget. So be grateful for all the experiences and treat challenge with grace and you will be surprised with how far you have gotten and how you have grown up, by meeting new people.

This post was written by one of my closest friends, Ashna Shah.