What does it mean to experience something as yourself and not as per the influence of others on “how” you should feel?
We feel when we let ourselves be. When we truly allow our mind and body to react as they do, not as we think they ought to. Our thoughts and perceptions are molded by our environment — by the people we grow up watching, the people we interact with, the people that raise us, directly or indirectly. Not everyone is cognizant of this influence, but there are those of us who can pinpoint exactly where certain phrases, hand movements, facial expressions, style of laugh, style of smile, or body language have been picked up from. Thus, most of those are learned behaviors, unlike that of feelings.
Although many people are unfortunate enough to be told how they should feel in certain scenarios or society tries to dictate how one “should” feel to be considered as having an “appropriate” reaction to an occurrence, this is not how feelings operate. How you feel about something comes from within you in the form of an involuntary reaction to the situation. How you truly feel about something is your first reaction to it. Not the reaction afterwards where you recalibrate what is expected of you in that moment, but rather the reaction you naturally respond with.
To accept who you are and how you respond to the world, without the influence of perceptions and thoughts, is your acknowledgement of nobody-but-yourself. Society would like nothing more than for you to forego this acknowledgement and bend to the “norms” it or the infamous they have defined as appropriate. But to live and to breathe as nobody-but-yourself is the greatest feat of them all. It’s not an easy one, anyone who’s done so or is doing so can vouch for this, but to live as oneself, for oneself, and in spite of the world’s assault against it, is one of the most admirable achievements in life.
Thank you, Sushant, for showing the world how beautiful a soul can be when it is nobody-but-itself.
In honor of Sushant Singh Rajput, the late Bollywood actor and brilliant mind, on the anniversary of his passing, and for the loss of such a beautiful soul.
To be oneself And no one else Is a feat itself Among all else
The world attempts Day in and out To make you change What you’re about
Oh what strength If in all that You remain you One can respect that
A saree is a paradox in cloth form. Its versatility as Bollywood actress Vidya Balan so aptly describes, comes from its ability to be what the desired wearer needs it to be. It has the beauty and grace of the culture of India, all within yards of woven cloth, and part of the beauty of both is that they are adaptable to the regions and their people.
Here we have a Kanjivaram or Kanchipuram saree, traditionally woven in Tamil Nadu, India. The saree is woven from pure mulberry silk thread and paired with zari, fine gold thread.
On the saree spectrum, Kanjivarams are definitely one of my favorites because there is something so beautiful about this particular weaving. The level of grace I feel in these sarees also make it perfect for formal events, in this case my best friend’s Walima. The silk and zari combo brings a shine to the fabric that stands out in person and in pictures, and so with this particular blue, I felt it perfect for a beautiful spring wedding event!
This saree, from our Polki-Dolki collection (coming soon!) features a typical wide border that runs the length of the saree and a heavier pallu, or mundhi – the larger design at the end of the saree. I love the way the weaving features small petals throughout the blue with gold booties or motifs breaking up the color and adding some depth to the design. The gold majority of the pallu helps it stand out when draped over one’s arm, creating a complimentary contrast in the design. I’m a huge fan of the umbi designs on the pallu because they flow well with the floral theme of the saree and the design itself is traditional in essence.
The blouse of traditional sarees are usually adorned with the same border designs and booties so that one may get it made to match the full look. I prefer to customize my blouses to add a bit of a flare to the saree alongside the graceful borders. My mother actually designed this particular blouse by keeping the original saree blouse cloth for the bust area, sleeves, and lower back, but added an embroidered, cutwork design to cover and accentuate the back. The yellow birds add a pop of color as well to make the cutwork stand out and aptly break up the way the gold somewhat blends with my lighter skin tone. We chose mega sleeves because they work well with this fabric, look, and size of the accent borders. The front of the blouse was kept plain so that the beauty of the zari saree border would maintain as it is draped across it.
I wanted the saree to be the focal point of the look, so even though it was my best friend’s wedding event, where one typically wears their heaviest outfits and jewelry, I went for more accent accessories than a large jewelry set. For my particular face structure and personality, chand balis have always been a favorite, so here I wore gold chand balis from Harsahaimal Shiamlal Jewellers in Moradabad, India adorned with diamonds, pearls, and semi-precious turquoise stones throughout. The hint of white from the pearls brightens the look, while the size of the stones maintain the delicacy of the outfit so as not to embolden it.
To continue with the gol (rounded) theme that stems from the floral designs in the saree and now the balis, I added a diamond and gold tikka from The Pink Bazaar. This was a brilliant find at one of their pop-up shops in New York City, and has been my go-to tikka for a variety of my desi wear. The delicate tear drop shape and smaller drops off the edge matched perfectly with the umbi design of the saree’s pallu and the droplets of my earrings.
When I chose this saree, I wanted to ensure I had two key elements in my outfit: maintain the tradition look but accentuate with modernity. To maintain the traditional aspect, I kept my hair in a non-elaborate updo with a low bun, very typical of South Indian looks with sarees (hair by Salon Simran in Dayton, NJ). To add to the modernity, I added synthetic fabric flowers that matched the antique gold and white accents of my look, instead of the usual gajras one would wear with this saree. Finally, to close out the traditional look, I coordinated a 5-inch set of chudiyan that matched my colors as a large set of chudiyan add to the look without overbearing it.
This look is perfect for any formal event, especially if it’s a traditional one like a pooja, wedding, or more conservative occasion. The hint of modernity allows you to align with the traditional with a bit of flare – adding to the beautiful paradox!
This year’s Memorial Day goal was to relax and take a breath before the beautiful summer begins. With a focus on errands and recharging for the week, I was not focused on hair or makeup, but rather enjoying the day and getting things done. I pulled together this outfit to do just that, so I left my hair up and took the day with just an SPF moisturizer.
The goal for the day’s outfit was comfy, cute, and chill. Even though this particular holiday marks the start of the summer fashion season, it was abnormally chilly and called for something cozy as well.
Although primarily a polyester blend on the outside with the signature Adidas logo and stripes in white, it features a soft fleece lining that made it perfect for the chilly weather. The best part is that it’s matching set with crop top and hooded jacket so that no matter which way the weather swung, I was prepared.
I absolutely love the color because it aligned perfectly with the mood I was going for – chill and relaxing. Psychologically, the color blue invokes those moods in us and it successfully did so today. It also helped that it matched perfectly with the Memorial Day theme of our American Flag!
But to fully tie in the beautiful red of our flag’s colors, I paired this look with my Tommy Hilfiger Bucket Bag that aligned perfectly with this sporty fit. I’m obsessed with this bag because it’s not quite a backpack and not a polished purse either, so it’s perfect for that in-between look for days like these. It features a beautiful leather strap that is comfortable to hold in my hand or on my arm. If you’re looking for functionality, it even comes with a longer leather strap inside. I keep it in the bag at all times just in case I ever need it! There’s definitely enough space for the strap and so much more given its size. It’s great for someone like me who always carries a ton of stuff but still wants the cute look, so I very much appreciate the two pockets inside along with the one on the front (perfect for my keys!) to keep everything organized. The gold emblem on the corner is just enough to give this casual look a little bit of flare without overpowering the comfort look and pairs really well with my everyday gold and diamond jewelry.
I’m a stickler for matching, so of course I closed out the look with my white and gold Guess sneaker wedges. More often than not, you will find me in heels because I have an incredibly high arch, so flat shoes can actually be painful after a while, and because I love the grace that comes in my posture with a heel! That’s why I love these because they give me the sneaker look and comfort that I want, with the added bonus of the posture I’m looking for with a heel. Guess currently has two beautiful options similar to mine and they’re on sale!
Life is and always will be unpredictable, sometimes it catches us completely off guard, and that’s okay. That’s life. What’s important to remember is that every time life throws a curve in your path (sometimes a complete cyclone, but that’s relative), it’s testing you and pushing you to either grow in the way you haven’t been able to on your own or learn a lesson you didn’t know you needed to learn. For some, those lessons or growth moments are one and done life-changing moments, and for others, the lessons are persistent. I’d like to think that those who receive that latter do so because they’re meant to do more, be more, and tasked to bring real change to the world. Either way, these moments come to help us, and we have to remember that and work our way through them rather than let them overcome us completely.
Sometimes the curve ball or cyclone come in the form of life getting overwhelming – everything happening at once, like a burnout – which is sometimes caused by ourselves and sometimes by the world around us. When that happens, the key is to acknowledge that it’s okay to take time for you to work through the moment. But it’s also important not to remain hidden from the world. It’s important to find yourself again, redefine yourself, and push forward. It’s most definitely easier said than done, but there are some methods you can use to get through.
1. Get back to your basics
Each individual is raised with a certain set of principles, morals, or general perspectives on how life should be lived and why. For some those may be religiously founded while for others those may be culturally founded. Either way, each of us has a core perspective of the world that grounds us, whether we’re aware of it or not.
For example, when I reached one life changing moment, I lost everything that I had in the world, which left me literally with nothing. At that point of my life’s rock bottom, I was forced to realize that those things and people were not what defined my existence because I was still there, still alive, and so something else had to remain within me for that to be the case. It was then that I realized that my foundation was my philosophical perspective and my set of beliefs & principles that stemmed from it. By exploring these aspects, I became aware that they grounded me. By remembering what I believed life to be, what it was worth, what my purpose was in it, and what aspects were the most important to me, I was grounded in those notions and able to rebuild.
So the question is, what are your basics? Take a blank sheet of paper and answer the following:
What do you believe life is and what it is for?
What do you believe about yourself and your best qualities? (not what other people tell you or have made you believe)
What do you think your purpose is in life and why?
If you don’t know your purpose, then think about what in this world calls you to action? This is not about what job you do or your career path – it’s about what piques your interest and makes you want to learn, explore, and do more in this world.
What are your principles? Meaning, identify what guides you when making decisions.
What are you grateful for? These don’t have to be things or people, but anything that makes you feel gratitude.
2. Reprioritize your life
You had a certain set of priorities before everything crumbled on itself in that glorious or disastrous life moment. Now that you have a moment to reset your life, and you’ve identified what grounds you, you have a chance to reset those priorities as well. The things that worked for you and were ever so important before that moment were great until then. Now they may not be what you need to focus on or give yourself to – especially if they don’t align with who you are, who you want to be, or how you want your life to be.
From experience, there came a point when I had prioritized my career that was supposed to be a life-long path, the “life moments” that society had defined for me – grades, job promotions, marriage, children, etc. – that were supposed to be of utmost importance, my “family” by blood irrespective of their treatment of me and mine, and vanity in its truest sense because I was told and made to believe I was not attractive and had much work to do in that department. Those priorities were CLEARLY misplaced. When I hit my reset moment and took the time to reevaluate, I realized that my priorities had changed significantly and I aligned with my new priorities so much more. These new priorities were also much simpler (as your priorities should be). My new priorities were to be transparently me, take care of myself and my people, maintain a circle of respect and trust (everyone else got the boot), spend time with those that I love, and do things that I love. These priorities have made it so easy for me to decide if something in my life deserves my time and emotions. If it doesn’t, then it is removed immediately without a second thought or remorse.
As you think through your priorities, ask yourself:
Does it align with who I am or want to be?
Is it adding or detracting from my life?
Is it leading me to my dream life or distracting from it?
Does it make me happy?
3. Make space for happiness
At any drastic moment in life, you will notice that your mind immediately reverts first to the despair at hand, and then to the moments that made you happy and the desire to do more of those things. A perfect example of this is when you ask anyone who is past the age of retirement or who is terminally ill what they regret not doing in life, and they normally tell you that they regret not pursuing their dreams or the things that truly made them happy. It is sad that we only realize this at the end of our lives, and so I implore those who recognize these special “reset moments” in life to really feel through the things you are doing in life and recognize what makes you genuinely happy. Identify those things, activities, or people, and consciously make space for them in your life.
When we engage in things that make us happy, we experience an indescribable fullness that carries into other aspects of our lives. The more you engage in these happy-inducing things, the more you will experience bliss that only comes with living a life full of such deep joy.
Since my burnout and reset years ago, I catch myself smiling stupidly at least once a day at the pure joy of living a life I love. There are always things that make the day tough and there are still things I need to change further, but even with the normal life hiccups, I find time to engage in the things that make me happy and that always results in a burst of pure love for being alive.
Tips for making space for your happy things:
The Sheen 15. We have the ability to sustain focus for about 20 minutes according to research by Dianne Dukette and David Cornish (2009). That means we should work on any item for that period of time and then take a break, switch to something else, and then return to that task or move to another. Even a break of 15 minutes, gives the mind the breath it needs to refocus. Once you’ve identified your happy things, figure out what items/hobbies can fit into a 15 minute window. Now look at your daily schedule and slot 15 minute breaks throughout the day and mark each for a different happy thing. For example, I absolutely love learning new languages, so I take 15 minutes every day to practice a language through Duolingo.
Setting self-care expectations with others. Boundaries are key to ensuring that you are able to keep the time you’ve set aside for what makes you happy. You must set the expectation with others that your self-care time is important for you to be able to give the best version of yourself during your non-self-care time. This time is for you to clear your head, uplift your mood, and get back in the game stronger than before.
These are just a few ways to bring yourself back, but honestly the key is to exercise introspection. So use these methods or introspect on what makes you the best you and work that more into your life.
The thundering wave Tries to overcome all the same Each thrust hits different But hits hard in this game
There comes a moment When all you can do Is let it hit as it will But not engulf you
The tide will settle You will emerge That sparkle hits different When you’ve survived a surge
As an Indian residing in the United States, it’s hard to truly know the extent of your ancestral country’s hardships…that is until you are caught in the middle of one. The COVID-19 pandemic had struck the world hard in 2020, leaving most to hope 2021 would be better. Well, we’re in April of 2021, and India is in absolute despair due to a sudden outburst of the virus that is running rampant throughout the country and breaking all pandemic records till date. Innocently, I was traveling to India for urgent reasons and to spend time with my grandparents & family, knowing the pandemic could take anyone we loved without discrimination at any time. Having taken all necessary precautions advised – negative tests before traveling & on arrival, masks on masks for protection, and various hand sanitizers and disinfectants always handy – it seemed the trip would go as expected. My trip began and everything was seemingly going as planned, when suddenly reports came rushing through that India was seeing record increases in COVID cases and the High Court sent notices to all states imploring them to take significant actions to control the aggressively worsening situation.
Stranded in the Middle of a Biological Conquest
At the time I was heading to Delhi, my usual residence because my grandparents and most of my family resides in and surrounding the Capitol, when we were informed that the city was implementing strict curfews and considering a full lockdown. With optimism, I continued my journey to Delhi in hopes that the curfew would be manageable and the condition would improve as it had in 2020. Needless to say, that is not how things progressed. Within days the situation worsened, forcing the capital of Delhi and the states of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh (MP), and Karnataka were entering full lockdowns for the rest of the month until they could reassess the situation. If that wasn’t terrifying enough for someone in the middle of interstate transit, we received word that my grandmother, my Nani, was down with COVID along with a few other family members. As per the pandemic restrictions, my destination was now inaccessible because we could not enter Delhi and my reason for coming was postponed because my Nani’s house and all individuals living there would get locked down until officials determined it was clear of the virus. So as I sat in my Haryana hotel, I realized that I was potentially stranded in a country rampant with the pandemic.
They say that trauma survivors live in survival mode and that it’s not a way to live, yet what kicks in during a time like this are those exact survival instincts. What people deem as paranoia or overly-cautious become necessary perspectives and precautions in order to make it through such a situation. In the middle of a pandemic, in a country where women are not safe in normal scenarios such as on the highways (definitely not at night), and in a situation where lockdowns mean increased poverty for those who can’t run their businesses and resort to thievery, survival instincts come in the form of do-what-you-need-to-in-order-to-survive-worry-about-everything-else-later. I was already considering a break from the world because of almost-burnout from my work life (first world issues of course), but the situation made the choice that much clearer – I needed to step away from the world and focus on making it through physically and mentally however I needed to. Rather than enjoy my transit by reading my e-books or listening to music, I managed my battery-life purely for GPS and emergency purposes for the lengthy drive I had to get home without stopping, all the while observing the India I love react to its present conqueror.
As I travelled through the country, I took away two things: 1) India is unrecognizable when its people are nowhere to be seen and falling apart and 2) somehow people retain their humanity and are still able to enjoy life in the midst of it all.
The India I Cannot Recognize
Since the onset of the pandemic, many countries have imposed “lockdowns”, but not all have been quite as strict in their rules around these lockdowns as others. India is an interesting case because it falls within both perspectives on lockdown methods. There are states which imposed the lockdown and enforce it with armed guards, fines, and police brutality (the brutality varying depending on your state and what lockdown rule you broke). Then there are states that are more worried about the stereotypical perspective of “log kya kehenge” (translation: what will people say) that they are hiding the true impact of the pandemic on the state in question by not reporting the true number of cases and deaths, and leave the lockdown/curfew enforcements up to each municipality. The latter method almost always resulting in many villages and smaller towns closing some institutions but not all, not actively enforcing masks, and definitely not restricting large gatherings in marketplaces during non-curfew times.
What’s worse is that these states and their people would like to abide by the procedures and guidelines, but not all can. Those villages and smaller towns are actually grateful that they are not being forced to follow lockdown rules because they can’t afford it. If they did, the people would not necessarily survive irrespective of the virus. The farmer who is already run down by the months of aggravated agricultural regulation upheavals from the current administration must continue to work on the farm to keep one’s family alive with the food from the fields and the money it brings in by bringing the goods to the big cities and selling them in open markets. Not continuing their work would result in more harm to more people and they need the exceptions or leeway their state allows.
It almost feels like the scene in Sholay just before Gabbar makes his entry to attack the village; the calm before the proverbial storm.
Sholay is considered among the best Hindi films of all time – Hindustan Times
At the same time, if you were to enter an area fully enforcing the lockdown or during the strict curfew hours, it’s as though the world as we know it has disappeared. The streets are empty, besides a bull, cow, or dog casually roaming the seemingly abandoned vicinity. The store fronts are locked shut and all the lights are out. The wind blows the dust around the streets uninterrupted, not a being for miles at a stretch, and you can see the heat of an Indian summer reflecting off the highway with barely a vehicle in sight. It’s as though the human race has disappeared altogether. It almost feels like the scene in Sholay just before Gabbar makes his entry to attack the village; the calm before the proverbial storm (See the epic Bollywood movie to understand the reference).
The only places where things get lively as they never did before are at the highway toll booths where delivery trucks are showing their lockdown exception passes, waiting for interstate transit approval, and around medical facilities. Pre-pandemic, these facilities only ever had a security guard or two to perform the usual checks before entry – standard vehicle and bag scans. Now in the face of a pandemic on steroids, the larger facilities have police support and the surrounding streets of major cities have armored vehicles because the facilities are getting out of hand. It’s one thing to hear of the impacts of the virus on one’s community in a place you remember so beautifully, and entirely another to experience its devastation first hand.
Indians Always Remember the Importance of Life
Even as the pandemic rears its very ugly head, the worst of situations still has the country buzzing with communal support and moments of pure joy. I have travelled to various countries, and nowhere have I seen people come together for humanity, try to survive together, while still finding time to truly enjoy happy moments, as they have here.
As the cases in India rise, the community response has simultaneously increased domestically and internationally. Every news channel, media outlet, and individual social media presence is actively sharing the latest status and resources. The resources ranging from domestic information on where oxygen tanks have become available to international sponsorship & donations to send more supplies. It is amazing to see how the global South Asian community has banded together in one nation’s time of need to send not only money & medical devices, but also advocate and lobby their respective governments to stand with humanity and support India however they can.
The South Asian diaspora is known to be full of diverse traditions and colorful celebrations across regions, languages, and religious beliefs, and in this country that represents so many of the aforementioned, the brilliance of the cultures remains vibrant even during such a dreadful time. Although the Indian government could do a MUCH better job of providing strict guidelines around how to celebrate key traditions and religious/sporting/personal events to contain the spread of the virus, the Indian people are finding ways to still celebrate the happy moments amongst the madness. From the safety and comfort of my hotel room, I can hear nearby homes and people rumbling with pure exaltation when their favorite team excels in the Cricket IPL, or the grace and joy of coming together with the family they still have for iftaar, or even gleefully enjoying the time they finally have with the people they love while watching their sitcoms and latest Bollywood movies. Many are gratefully following protocol with their masks and social distancing, while others have rested their full faith on their religions in choosing to assemble within protocols, knowing full well that they are taking a risk, all in the belief that these moments with their loved ones – for what could be the last time – is worth it. Either way, in the midst of the traumatic state of the country, there is some joy and it is beautiful to witness.
What Needs to Be Done & How You Can Help
As the news in India rages on about the pending government elections (the least of priorities from a humanitarian standpoint), followed by the rampage of immoral folks blasphemously stealing and selling oxygen machines & necessary medicine on the black market, Indians are faced with the pandemic survival dilemma: stay in and follow lockdown/curfew procedures or risk losing the people you love because you need to earn an income or need to get them medical support to survive any way you can. The result is that people are communicating almost by the minute that someone they love or know has passed away either from the virus or because of a separate, easily treatable medical issue that didn’t get the attention it normally would have. The medical infrastructure of a country inhabited by 1.4 billion people has been brutally exposed to the point that hotels and private institutions have been mandated by the government to act as hospital extensions to house more patients and medical services, and the nation must rely on allies to send support.
We’re losing people not just to the virus itself but also to the lack of services and medical equipment. India needs help and it needs it now. Here’s what you can do today:
If you’re in India
FACE THE FACTS & CHANGE THE COURSE
India has reached this point because many things failed – the government’s leadership, the medical infrastructure, and everyone’s common sense during a pandemic with regard to the importance of precautionary & proactive measures. It is time that each individual realize that their individual choices to forego the pandemic protocol can affect the nation.
Follow lockdown protocol. For starters, please take this straightforward approach. The protocols are put in place to protect you AND the people around you. If you are able to, stay home.
Take ALL precautions. If you need to leave your home for whatever reason, wear a mask, wash your hands as directed, and sanitize frequently. If you have been to a location where you were at risk, quarantine yourself for the next 14 days to ensure you don’t contribute to spreading the virus. DO NOT STOP doing taking these precautions because you have received a vaccine or because you think the location is sanitary. Even the experts don’t understand the virus and it’s variants enough to take such risks. Stay cautious.
Share resources. If you have information about local resources that can help someone, share it as far and wide as you can. You don’t know who needs it, and many do. Use your networks and platforms to share the information you have or have come across to spread it further. (see the list of resources below to get started)
If you’re outside of India
YOU CAN STILL HELP & YOU SHOULD
The world has enjoyed the knowledge and culture of India for eons and it is time to save that very same part of the world everyone has enjoyed for their own benefits.
Support/Donate. There are many Indian or South Asian organizations that are pooling funds to purchase medical equipment to send to India and to support families that do not have the funds to survive. Use the resources outlined below to guide you to the option that works best for you.
Advocate. Reach out to your elected officials and request their support for India. Your voice has an impact and can make a difference.
India COVID-19 Relief Dashboard: IT specialists across India created this dashboard to locate live resources through social media. Search or select your city and click the resource you’re looking for to see the latest tweets for details (see examples below).
GiveIndia COVID-19 Missions: GiveIndia is India’s largest crowd-funding platform that verifies the transparency and credibility of their fundraisers. They have a large relief fund for broad-spectrum support and outline specific missions you can select to support and donate towards.
India COVID Response Fund-2: GiveIndia launched India COVID Response Fund-1 in April 2020 raising ₹220+Cr from individuals, foundations & corporations. With the second deadly wave now upon us, they have launched ICRF-2 to support gaps in healthcare and other critical needs.
When we’re young, it truly seems as though we have a lifetime ahead, meaning we have all the time in the world to do the things we want to do. The problem is that no one really teaches you that irrespective of how much time you have, it’s still important to take advantage of the time you have today and right now. This is particularly important when it comes to working towards the life you want to live and the work you want to do for the world.
Society tells us that there are steps we must take to be “successful” or to become “contributing members of society”, and each step has its appropriate time in our life. We are born, we reach the “right” age to enter school, we attend a school system for 12-13 years (depending on what age you entered the institution of formal education), we go to university, we get a job, and then we retire. The reality is that this does not work for everyone (whether it works for anyone really is a topic for another day). Everyone has their own path to their own definition of success. There is no one-size-fits-all methodology to life paths, and quite honestly, that’s the beauty of it. But whether you follow society’s path or define your own, there is one thing that holds true for everyone – you must work hard to reach any goal on your path, and that work is best done early.
I was fortunate enough to have parents that learned and shared this value with me early on, so I was able to apply it and enjoy the fruits of that early labor (not child labor, just more effort at a younger age!). The way they positioned it was that if you know what you want to do in life, and you know the kind of lifestyle you want to live, then you must place the necessary effort into the things that lead to those goals now, so that you have to do less work later and get paid more – in compensation and freedom. It may have seemed frivolous in middle school or high school when they first said it, but what they said seemed logical and so I applied it.
In elementary school, I studied hard and aced my classes, leading me to higher level classes in middle school. In middle school, I studied harder, took on extracurriculars to expand my scope, and aced my classes, leading me to the higher entry point classes in high school. Upon entering high school, I learned that if you had already completed core competencies or reached the highest levels of main courses, you had free-reign to select the types of subjects you wanted to learn. The efforts of my previous schooling resulted in my ability to have the flexibility and freedom of choice in my high school years to take university level courses and explore knowledge that was in line with my passions. The hard work in high school, and the ability to diversify courses and extracurriculars (what universities look for), granted me entry into great universities for higher education with hefty scholarships, placed me out of core competencies due to my grades, and gifted me the ability to graduate earlier than expected so that I could start working sooner.
During my university years, the opportunities to work and intern and build my own company required more effort than others were applying, with minimal returns in the beginning, but I pushed through because I had to, and because I had already recognized there was freedom in going the extra mile. Upon entering the corporate workforce, I learned that my effort was most valued at this point because the world recognized these efforts above all else – above what brand name school I went to, what scores I had, or what internship I held. What the world valued most was the effort I displayed, the real knowledge I gathered, and the manner in which I learned to apply everything I had experienced up until then. At that point, all I had to do was apply my knowledge aptly, and that alone brought me a more than satisfying return on my earlier investments because I was able to put in less time while making more, leaving more time to explore other fulfilling life opportunities.
That’s when it made most sense to me. The efforts early on made it so that no matter what path I chose, I would always remain a cut above the norm because while I was applying my knowledge and experience, others were still learning and experiencing. As others spent time learning A and B, I was well on to L, M, N, O and P – but with additional bonus elements because no one was expecting me to already be at that level at my age. While others were still figuring out their paths, I was already on a path that was secure in ways that I wouldn’t realize until later when I had to rely entirely upon it to revive my life. While others dreamed of financial freedom, exploring the world, and contributing to the world, I was already there – living the life I had wanted and having the freedom to design my life the way I wanted without restriction.
I may not have been the most successful person in the world (as defined by society – making billions or established as a public figure of sorts), but I was happy, I was enjoying the work I was doing, I was learning as I was growing, I was earning enough for my needs and beyond my wants, and I was free to do as I pleased. I was successful by my terms because I was living the life I wanted (at the time), earlier than I anticipated, and more fruitfully than I imagined. And that success was all because I had worked harder than those around me early on. As Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson once said, “We do today what they won’t so tomorrow we can accomplish what they can’t.”
Was I perfect in my efforts? No.
Could I have done more? Absolutely.
Could I have worked even harder to be that billionaire, public figure? Sure.
But for the path that I had chosen and with the understanding I had of myself, I worked as hard as I could and it paid off in the best of ways. I’m glad it wasn’t perfect, I’m glad I didn’t overdo it, and I’m glad I didn’t strain to become successful the way that society determined, because I was happy and fulfilled and knew that my life was on my path in my way. I didn’t feel as though I was fighting my way through my work and my life – instead I was able to enjoy it because I had fought through the difficult parts early on and built a strong foundation for anything I desired thereafter.
And that’s the key. It’s not just about doing all of the things that society says – good grades, high test scores, great school, perfect job – it’s about building a foundation so strong that regardless of the path you take later on in life, or how that paths changes along the way, you are prepared for what comes your way and able to pivot to match your life’s trajectory. Building your strong foundation could mean studying smarter, practicing longer, or training harder, but at its core it means putting in the extra effort earlier so that you’re ahead of the pack in your life’s track.
Life is but a game This we all too well know A marathon, not a race Work hard as you go
What you do now Determines what you have later A strong foundation is key It’s a strong indicator
The effort you put in Is directly correlated To the gifts you get later Time, freedom unregulated
Tomorrow’s path is unknown This moment is still with you Put more effort today and Tomorrow you can do what you want to
How bizarre is it that a moment of pure joy could result in a barrage of tears? Especially, when there’s no reason for it. I wasn’t particularly sad about anything in that moment. In fact, I’ve finally rested after quite some time and laughed so openly. Yet, immediately upon recognizing that level of happiness I broke into tears.
As I think about it, it might have been the fact that I get to be so openly happy because I’m free. There was a time and a place where I was terrified to openly express how I was feeling or to express the extent I felt something because it wasn’t accepted. I wasn’t accepted. Because of that, I held back my laughter. I held back my smiles. I held back my love. I held back the best of what I had to offer the world because the people who should have loved it the most were the ones that didn’t want it and reprimanded me for it. If I laughed too hard, I was told I was being fake. If I smiled too big, I was being too childish. If I loved too much, with compliments and hugs, I was trying too hard. The people that I put my love and trust in, and were supposed to love and accept me, were the same people that didn’t want me to be who I was, as I was.
It was like being trapped in my own body. A slave in my home already, and now a slave in my body. People often forget that freedom is not just the ability to move in the world with your own intentions. It is also the ability to live true to who you are. The moment others try and succeed in controlling the way you are, you are enslaved to their perspective of how you should be. This is similar to being enslaved to a place they determine you should be in. The difference is that if you’re confined to a space, you can still be yourself in that space. If you’re confined to a way of thinking and being, there is no room for your true self to exist. It is something I liken to being murdered while you’re still alive. It is such an unfortunate way to live, to know you’re dead inside, but all the while being able to watch life continue to play out from the confines of your seemingly living body.
The worst part is, you don’t fully realize that you’re dead because you’re technically still moving. You’re going about the world, living it the way your oppressors want you to. You’re doing the things you’re supposed to do, all the while knowing this is not your life. You’re not living it. You’re just observing it. A fate worse than death is living a life completely out of your control. It makes you wonder why you’re still alive at all. Why do they keep you alive? Why is this acceptable? Do they not realize that they killed you already? And yet they don’t. They continue living and acting and believing that you’re happy in this life, the way they are. Yes, they are happy, even though they know they’ve murdered every ounce of your being except your physical presence.
Maybe that’s why when I catch myself feeling things freely or recognize a moment where I’m doing something I couldn’t before, it overwhelms me. I feel all of the things I kept inside during my enslavement. I feel all the pain that I didn’t express or share. I unwillingly remember that the person I was had died, and the person I am now is my chance to live. I’m alive. I’m alive, not just because I am breathing and moving, but because I’m moving through life as me. I’m making my choices. I’m laughing as largely and as loudly as I do. I’m smiling as broadly and as childishly happy as I do. And I’m loving, as openly and repeatedly as only I can and do. I’m sharing my truest self with the world every day because I get to be alive and be me, and that’s the most freeing thing I can choose to do and be.
So, yes, I cry when I feel overwhelmingly happy because I recall my death and it makes me grateful that I’m alive. I am alive and I am finally, freely me.
I laughed Then I cried And at first I didn’t know why The past had came forth And it made me feel All the pain I’d hidden The pain that made me keel
I had died once I was no longer here Everyone saw me But didn’t see my fear My fear to be me My fear to live All because they controlled me Controlled the me I could give
What a way to be Alive and yet dead Seeing it all Yet nothing could be said I stayed confined Physically and inside Moving as they wanted Not a thought could be mine
They had taken everything Every ounce of my life Leaving a shell, a puppet Just a thing without life I was truly dead Moving, but not there Showing a smile And hiding the dread
Now when I’m free I know what that means I get to be alive I get to be me I make my choices I make my mistakes I choose my life One I’m free to make
Every time someone wants to make a case for why you should forgive and accept the people that are your blood relatives, no matter how horrible they may have been or are currently to you, they use the phrase “blood is thicker than water”. Blood may be thicker than water in the literal sense, but then blood also literally leaves your body when your body is damaged, whilst water does not. The common phrase might make sense to the individual saying the phrase because they have not experienced the extent to which a blood relative can betray you more than someone you have just met. However, that is no reason to push someone to accept blood relatives if they don’t want to. One’s own experience is no reason to force a belief on another. Rather it is more important to understand another’s perspective and respect that they may have good reason to hold the belief they do. In this case, you never really know what someone’s family is like and the reality is that even within family there are people you are closer to and then there are those who you’d rather not engage with. For some, their entire family may fall under the latter and so their chosen family is more reliable than the biologically related ones.
The actual quote here that people misquote all too often is “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” It has been misconstrued over the years to make people believe that you should stick to your family over your friends. The phrase was originally intended to convey that the blood shed on the battlefield forms a stronger bond between soldiers than the bonds of biological relationships. I have experienced this first hand, not as a soldier in battle, but as a warrior in life who has experienced life-threatening adversity repeatedly. Those who have followed my story know that I speak often of loving the family I choose rather than just my family in its most commonly accepted sense. I speak as such because I have found people in my life – some that have been with me for years, and some that were complete strangers I’d never thought of bonding with – that have been far more supportive in every aspect of my life, and especially during adversity, than those who I am biologically related to.
In fact, I have been able to rely on my bonds of friendship and chosen family far more than I ever could with my biological family. When my life fell apart, my biological family was as much or even more opportunistic than my enemies were (some were even the cause). They took advantage of my pain and displayed their pride and ego to belittle or isolate me instead of supporting and lifting me up. They victimized themselves from the adversity that had befallen me, declaring me as the reason for all of that had happened, instead of helping me know with confidence that I wasn’t the problem, my abusers were.
Instead it was my friends – my amazing, god-sent friends – that rushed to my side, picked up all of my shattered pieces, and brought me back to life. Some I hadn’t spoken to in years, some I wasn’t even on talking terms with at that moment in time, but when I reached out – broken and in need – they came running and ensured that I never felt alone. We hadn’t gone through war together; we did not go through adversity together, but we somehow bonded as soul friends along our journeys, and proved that our covenant of friendship is much stronger than the forced assignment of family.
This is not to say that there are not family members that I have incredibly strong bonds with, there absolutely are, but the bond is not simply because we are related. The bond I hold with the family I still have with me is because we have built it on the basis of respect, trust, and friendship. My mother always told me that friendship is the basis of every relationship – parental, familial, even marital. I didn’t fully understand that until my life fell apart and I saw that the bonds based on true friendship stayed strong, while the rest easily withered away. The family that truly respected me and honored the trust I had in them, are the ones I have close to me today. They are part of the family I choose, as are my dearest friends. That is why when I refer to my family, it is the group of people that are my chosen people in life, irrespective of biological relations.
My adversity showed me how wrong it is to force relationships, when that is not their purpose. You enter this world with the people you do because that is your fate, not your choice. Once you have the awareness of choice, you have the personal responsibility to discern whose bond should remain and whose are unworthy of your spirit. If someone does not or cannot respect you, then you have no obligation to maintain the relationship. Being cordial is not the same as having a bond. It is important people understand the difference.
For example, in South Asian cultures, it is expected that you respect your elders, even if they are overtly disrespectful (as many of them often are). South Asians should not accept this disrespect, but they do in the name of family and culture. I am South Asian, and I have elders that are disrespectful (horribly so), but I absolutely do not accept or condone their actions. I respect them as humans, am cordial in their presence, but I will not act beyond that. If you have disrespected me, you have no place in my circle. Even if your presence is one that I cannot avoid because of the relationship we have, I hold no obligation to engage with you beyond acknowledging your existence as I acknowledge the existence of all humans, and engaging with you only when and where necessary. If that comes off as disrespectful, you will absolutely hear exactly why my actions are justified. Every time you are disrespectful, you will also be informed of and held accountable for your actions. You may choose to ask me to leave or tell me I’m disrespectful, and I will respond accordingly. You get what you give in both respect and actions, irrespective of your age or relationship to my life. It’s high time more people lived like this, too.
You have to respect yourself and your life enough to make the choice of who is allowed to be a part of your circle and gets access to you. You are valuable and it is in knowing that value that you will realize the people that don’t see that value are just leeching off of your spirit. Even if those people are family, you are not bound to them. Being related does not qualify them as being trustworthy or respectful. It just means…you’re related. As much as society and culture want to tell you to keep biological relations closest, you have to remember that your circle is your choice. And your circle impacts your life in a big way – in happy moments and in adversity. The choice doesn’t mean you have to be unnecessarily disrespectful or inhumane, for you can still be cordial, but it does mean that you limit the burden these undeserving individuals place on your life.
Choose you, And choose your life. Choose your circle, For celebrations and for strife. For you are not bound by blood. Your covenant is not for life.
Those that respect your value should remain The rest are just for you to know, To remember they are human, Respect them, but let them go. Your life is far too precious For you to remain bound To those that hold blood against you But in adversity won’t make a sound.
’Tis true that blood is thicker But what of the covenants you choose Those covenants are always stronger Because your bond they will not abuse. So look at those around you The relations and friends whose Bond with you is truly valuable The rest you can afford to lose.
In the past year of the pandemic, more people than ever have come face to face with how unexpected life can be. No one expected the lockdowns. No one expected the restrictions. No one expected their livelihoods to be threatened or dissolved completely because of the harsh realities of the actions that needed to be taken to protect as many people as possible. Now more than ever did it solidify for me that one of the greatest lessons I have learned is that life can change in a matter of seconds. It takes one moment, one minute millisecond, for your entire world to change.
This reality is quite harsh, but now more apparent to many than pre-pandemic. The magnitude of this reality is only clear if you’ve undergone that complete shift – that complete overhaul of what you expected from your life based on its current trajectory and how that future will never be, or rather can never be, after that one moment. The latter being because of life circumstances preventing that possibility or because your perspective of the world so gravely changes from that one moment that you could never return to seeing the world with the same lens as you did before.
For those infected by Covid-19, it could be the moment you coughed and suddenly couldn’t breathe – landing you in the hospital in a near-death state. For those who had small businesses, it could be the moment you received the federal update that all non-essential facilities would no longer be open, realizing that you wouldn’t make rent that month. Pre-pandemic, it may have been the day you encountered a life-threatening accident or incident, or when you found out that the person you trusted – parent or significant other – was defrauding you for longer and more deeply than you’d like to admit. In these moments, one of two things definitely crossed your mind – will I survive until tomorrow and what is my life going to be like if I do survive.
There is nothing more humbling than these life-altering moments because they force you to think about who you actually are and what you actually want from life. They force you to feel and let those feelings guide you. It is in these moments that the facade of what we are expected to do, expected to feel, expected to mark as our life trajectory just completely fades away. When that happens, you have only yourself to rely upon to find the answers to those questions. You are left to reconcile with what is within you – within the core of your being – that remains, and what it is directing you towards. You can envision this feeling as whatever you want – your conscience, a voice, a religious entity – whatever aligns to your perspective of the world, but at the end of the day it is the only thing that isn’t guiding you based on what society or the external entities expect of you.
The moment you begin to wonder “what will people think” or “what am I supposed to do”, you are placing external pressures on your internal guidance. The beauty of life-altering moments is that the lens of those expectations and pressures is removed. That lens is removed and you can finally see that life truly is what you make it or make of it. You, as the sole individual you were brought into this world as, have the ability to decide the next choice and the perspective you want to take. If life has changed once, it can change again, and again for an infinite number of times – that choice is not in your hands. The choice that is in your hands is what you do with your life so that you are fulfilled, so that even if life flips again, you know your direction or your path, and you know that you can always start again because you know your life’s value at it’s core.
After that life-altering moment, if you are alive and have the ability to think from your mind and feel from your heart, then you have the ability to define and rebuild your life, irrespective of where you’ve landed. This is not to say it is easy, or that the life-alteration does not come with the burden and baggage of trauma and healing. It does, and it’s not lightweight either. The fact of the matter is that it can take a tremendous toll on you and your mental health, and it will result in impacts to most, if not all, aspects of your life (hence the term life-altering…).
What one must come to terms with is that no one or no entity outside of yourself will ever know the magnitude of what you experienced. You and you alone experienced that moment in the manner that you did because of what you had experienced in and perceived of this world up until that moment. No friend, no therapist, no family, or no significant other will or can ever know exactly what you experienced. And anyone who does not experience that moment the way that you did, has no authority over how you respond to it, how you move on from it, or how you make decisions after it. If that is not the clarity you need that you and you alone can decide your life outside of externally driven circumstances, then what will be? At what point do you acknowledge that this life is yours and you are allowed to choose how you live it? At what point do you accept that you are allowed to build your life the way you want to, and you are allowed to remove anyone that does not accept that? That point is whenever you choose it, but it is most apparent in these moments where it is blatantly a life of your own.
Your friend, your therapist, your family, or your significant other will not experience your illness. They will not be the ones who are without money if your business fails. They will not be the ones who are paralyzed after an accident (unless impacted peripherally by it). They will not be the ones who are single or theoretically-orphaned by the broken trust or abuse. They could be additionally impacted if you are the breadwinner or if they are saddened by your pain, but they will never and can never be the ones whose life-altered in the way yours did because that moment happened to you. When the hospitals are in lockdown, only you are admitted for treatment. When rent is due, only your name will be on the eviction or collections notices as the sole individual responsible for the business loss and inability to pay. If you died from any of these scenarios, whether by external factors or by suicide for the pressure and toll it took on you, only you would be missing from this world and only your name would on that obituary. So when only you are responsible and even society isolates you in these scenarios, why would you live your life based on what all of these periphery individuals think of your life?
Learning this lesson can feel like a curse in the moment, but it is a gift once you survive it. The moment feels like your whole existence is irrelevant and makes you question “why me” and “for what purpose”, but it is only in surviving through the moment and taking one step at a time to rebuild based on what is true to you and your core being that you realize how beautiful life can be. You realize how free and peaceful life is when you remove all the expectations of other individuals and society, and truly live life the way you want to. The most beautiful part is that people and a society that accepts you and the life you choose will find you. The beauty of that is the clarity that you are born into this world with the life and people you are granted, but you have a choice to live within those means and with that society, or you can define your life on your own. Making the choice instead of accepting it is as it is made for you is true bliss.
So whether you have faced such life-altering moments or you are faced with the expectations of the people and society that surrounds you, I want you to remember that you are solely responsible for your life. You can make the choice to live it on your terms. You just have to be prepared and well-founded in the core of who you are to have the strength to undertake the losses that will come with. You will lose people. You will lose community. But you will gain yourself and the beauty that is life.
Life is what you make it That is what they say You don’t realize it’s truth Until it’s forced upon you one day
Your life is yours No one lives it like you do So choose your way now Or live it like they want you to
As an ardent believer in love and a hopeless romantic believing in the possibility of true romanticized love, I’ve always searched for a relationship with someone that embodied those beliefs. It was only after finding what was seemingly that relationship I so desired, and that very relationship tearing me apart, that I realized that love is more than just the romanticized version we’re sold on. It is more than a relationship with another being. Love is an essence that one should recognize within themselves first to truly experience it in all aspects of life. It was upon this realization that I knew that I was my greatest love story.
As women, we are often told that we should aspire to have and to build this romantic tale between two people, yet society forgets that a woman is the essence of love herself. A woman is the being that breeds love unconditionally and literally breeds from love and with love. Women do not require love to be complete, in fact it’s the other way around. The world needs women in order to feel love and grow in the way that it does. Society tells us that we should look for love because it does not want women to recognize the strength we have within to give or withhold the beauty that is love from the world. This essence resides within us and that is to be honored and respected in order to be worthy of experiencing it.
In recognizing this love within ourselves, we free ourselves from the bondage of this fairytale, and instead can learn to map our lives around our worth. As such, I offer this affirmation to all women on this Women’s Day:
I am love. The love I am and the love I give is invaluable. To receive this love one must match this love and honor it’s presence. By honoring me, one honors my love. By honoring my love, one experiences love truly. And that is why I am my greatest love story.