My three week stint in Paris draws to an end tomorrow. It’s been a work trip peppered with lots of outings with family, though they did way more sight seeing and touristy activities than me. That’s what they have been here for. As for me, I have thoroughly enjoyed having solo time at work. This is a luxury in India, where the work place is a juggling act involving much more than the core components of research like fieldwork, analysis, reading and writing. Much time is spent in project and team management and in attending meetings and conferences too. I enjoy all that buzz as well, so carving out time for more solitary kind of work has been very challenging indeed!
Here in Paris, the work environment has been conducive for solo activity, though I share an office space with two other researchers, both senior to me from whom I am learning a lot through observation and everyday conversations. The solitude has helped me increase my concentration span and somewhat improve my ability to schedule work more realistically. It has also taught me the value of reading beyond my subject, something I have wanted to do for a long time. The importance of embarking on a PhD at this stage in life has come home to me as well, as I interact with academic researchers at various stages of their careers.
For the most part, I find my colleagues here immensely focused and dedicated to their own sliver of research (though not in a restrictive way). PhD students and scholars working on remote Asian and African nations have spent years teaching themselves new languages, delving deep into understanding the cultural traditions and political economy of faraway lands as well as spending vast amounts of time physically experiencing these geographies and cultures. As a relatively new entrant to social science research, I realize my training as an urban planner somewhat limits my attitudes because I tend to focus on solution-oriented approaches without adequately steeping myself in the context. This is a drawback I am determined to address going forward.
Being outside my comfort zone and a change of scenario also helps me reflect on myself in other, more personal ways. My time here has strengthened by belief that life must be a delicate balance of self-confidence and humility. The former in the sense that I imbibe the importance of being myself, not judging myself too harshly, not overthinking everyday decisions and certainly not worrying about appearances or what other folks think of you! This has been a work in progress for the last few years and its got a fillip here in Paris. Humility in the sense of being open to new ideas, really listening through when other people talk, opening out the senses without judgement and leaving the ‘I’ out of as much a possible. To be honest, I have not progressed as much in this because temperamentally I am the talker/do-er/impression-maker type. Stepping back and toning down when I need to is something I am aware of but have not been able to practice as well.
All in all, these reflections form the base for my second stint here in September this year. I will be unaccompanied by family or friends then and will be living alone for a month for perhaps the first time in my life (yes, believe it or not!). During that trip, I intend to catch up on the missed out parts of tourism, the alternate experiences in Paris and also work much more on my journey towards serious and focused research.
I ushered in 2014 with a warm fuzzy feeling of being surrounded by love and laughter. From the party last night with all our closest family and friends (and many not in town who we missed hugely) to the picnic at Lodi Gardens today with college friends, I kept thinking about how my sense of well being is hugely impacted by the kind of relationships I have with the people around me.
Who we hang out with says a lot about us? What are the values that bind us? That’s the question on which hinge most of the relationships in my life that I have chosen to nurture. And because I am driven by people and relationships (including the one with myself), I find it important to introspect on these lines on the first day of the New Year.
Respect, honesty, loyalty, empathy and integrity. These are the five values that I feel most aptly describe what I have in common with my dear ones. I value the friend who can say the most unsavory truth to me, the one who can accept my silliness without judgement, the one who stands by me in my hour of need but also the one who seeks me out when she is in trouble.
A big thank you to everyone who has, in the past year, held me together when I fell apart, shared in my happy moments, been sensitive to my feelings and needs. To those who let me be, to those who held my hand, to those who pulled me into their lives. To those who cemented bonds that long stood strong, to those that forged delightful new ones, to those who dipped their feet into the pool of friendship.
I feel upbeat about 2014. I have never felt so sure about myself before (must be something about getting closer to the big Four ‘O’)! Looking forward to more work, more fun, more writing, more travel, more introspection, more outreach, more joy in the small things of life, more big decisions……
There are some days when I have an acute sense of incompleteness. Abstract questions torment me. What is the purpose of my life? At what point am I right now? Where am I going from here?
Today is one of those days and while I know this isn’t exactly something to blog about…seeing as precious few read my blog on a weekend, I’m going ahead anyway.
I always grew up with a sense (misplaced, perhaps) that I am special, that I would go on to do big things, achieve greatness of some sort. My parents were instrumental, in part, in giving me that idea. They always appreciated my efforts at whatever I did and genuinely believed I was talented.
Unfortunately, my adult life has not followed through in that way. At some point, my confidence sagged (probably in that hallowed institution called SPA), I have spent precious energy exploring possibilities and today I have become some sort to Jack of many trades and Master of none at all.
Today, this was brought home to me by a discussion at my kathak guru’s home. A fellow student was describing the long arduous process of getting her son a music guru, and she was ecstatic about her success, profusely thanking our dance guru for her advise and assistance. Now the same music guru had been recommended to me as well months ago, but something, part lack of confidence, part doubts about how much time I would be able to devote, had stopped from acting on the mission. The short conversation sent me into a deeply reflective mode. Why did I not call him? Why do I not seek to devote my energies to stuff that I am good at, am interested in? I know I have an immensely emotional connection with music, to the point that it scares me. What stops me from facing that challenge head on and why do I keep procrastinating, pushing forward the day I will have to take the inevitable call to commit my time to music?
It says a lot, this set of questions I have described above, about my peculiar and utterly disappointing trait of running away from important stuff. This and my supreme lack of focus are responsible for my sense of underachievement, even as I live a happy, reasonably fulfilled life. As I inch towards my 40s and many other things in life fall in place, this self-journey is starting to take center-stage in my head. I see this happening to others around me as well, the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle slowly fitting together. I cannot run away from my needs for very long and I will have to find ways to do all of the things I passionately want to do. I cannot push the pursuit of music to another day, another week, another time. I need to do it now, in the proper way, with the right guidance, or remain guilty of its neglect.
I know that now and I am trying to resolve to address this soon. This piece isn’t about seeking attention or soliciting advice, but it is about sharing the kind of crazy reflective processes the mind can be grappling with, even as you trawl a mall on a Sunday afternoon, watch your kid eat ice cream and have completely inane, though delightful, conversations with friends!