Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Happy Umbrella


It was May 2009 when the Burj Khalifa was getting its finishing touches and skyrocketing cranes could be seen everywhere you looked. There was no Dubai Mall and the Sheikh Zayed Road did not shine as bright as it does today but there was an underlying sense of new beginnings in the dry, sandy air. 

I had just got my first ever passport stamp and I was in Dubai - jaw open and wide eyed, marvelling at the architecture, the speed at which we drove and the posh cars that overtook us. I remember the song Empire State of Mind playing on the radio and thinking to myself, if I can make it here, maybe, I can earn enough to buy a ticket to New York City one day. The universe was listening. 

Eleven months later, on the 7thof April 2010, with ten thousand Dirhams in my pocket, butterflies in my tummy and a big red American Tourister stuffed with shirts, pants and jackets from Marks and Spencer, I arrived in Dubai. 

 

I had a job, but I didn’t have an apartment, household necessities or even the knowledge that to get off the bus, I needed to press the stop button. In India, you just had to shout as loudly as you could for your voice to travel through a wave of bodies and across the bus for the driver to know that he needed to press the brakes for a passenger to deboard but in Dubai everything was so high-tech. 

 

The thing about being young and optimistic is that your faith is strong in the illusion that somehow things will work out by themselves. It took me a week to move to a studio apartment that had the biggest French windows, a whole wall as a wardrobe and was just a fifteen minutes’ walk to the Mall of Emirates Metro station.

 

Every day at 8.30am I set out in the piercing April heat to the metro, walking as fast as I could so the air conditioning at the station would soothe my parched skin.  And every day, I learnt something new. I would get over one fear to discover that I had developed a new one. Those daily walks to the metro station made me question my decision to move to Dubai. Even though I had been living alone for the past twelve years but this was a new experience. I was in a foreign land with little or no clue about what the next day would bring.

 

I was alone, I didn’t have a long term plan, I knew I was being paid peanuts at the job that I was doing and to add to my miseries my Marks and Spencer pant suits didn’t match up to the impeccably stitched couture I saw around me. Walking in the heat made me sweat and my cotton shirts wrinkle and just that was enough to bring down my confidence levels several notches.

 

Over the years I have become very particular about my space and comfort but that June these were the last things on my mind as I prepared my small home for the impending visit of my parents and Grandma (Dadda). The heat was at its peak and it was just the wrong time for anyone to visit Dubai, but I was excited as I furnished my home with a sofa bed and a mattress. As we all huddled together in that small studio with the minimal facilities the square footage didn’t matter. For our hearts were full. For them - overflowing with pride to see me making it on my own and for me just having them around – a sense of home that comes from the same stories being told over and over again, mom’s cooking and the uncountable hugs. I had missed it all so much.

 

Dadda would observe me get dressed every day in my professional pant suit with great pride. For a  woman who had defeated the odds that society and life threw at her, bought up three children on her own, found a job when it was unimaginable for women to work and demonstrated to us what commitment and hard work meant each and every day, the sheer joy of seeing her grandchild make a professional career in a foreign land was an out of world experience. 

 

She didn’t say much to me but I have always wondered about what must have gone through her mind then – did she think of me as the little girl who always wanted to share her food and wait for cuddles or did she marvel at the way in which that little girl was now all grown up, talking of topics she didn’t really understand. She failed in words, but I could see her eyes sparkle with pride every time she looked at me. Every day that she was in Dubai with me, she would watch me walk out in the sun and patiently listen to me complain in the evening about how hot it was, how I unsure I was about what I was doing and how much I would miss them once they went back. 

 

The day before they were to leave for India, Dadda got me a gift that she had picked up from Lulu supermarket. She gave me an umbrella because she didn’t like me walking in the scorching sun. I remember her telling me how proud she was of me and that I shouldn’t worry at all about what life would throw at me. All I needed to do was to believe in myself, be happy, be true to who I was, and the path would always uncover itself. 

 

What was more important to her was that I protect myself from the sun. 

 

When my studio apartment lease expired in April 2010, I moved to a one-bedroom apartment. I also found another job that paid me much more and helped me revamp my closet with clothes from Zara and stiletto heeled shoes. The Marks and Spencer pant suits were folded and kept on the top shelf and never really worn again. I realized that a fitted jacket with skinny jeans and pointed heels made me fit in and feel better. I got more stamps on my passport, even making it to NYC. I made new friends, learnt to drive, bought a car and slowly, along with the red American tourister everything from that first year in Dubai faded or was given to charity. 

 

But the one thing that remained with me was the umbrella that Dadda gifted me – my constant all weather companion. The brand name HAPPY always brought a smile to my face and it travelled with me to Europe, South America and Asia. It was thrown at the backseat of my car, shoved inside my work drawer and finally seven years later when it was time to leave Dubai, it accompanied me to Singapore. 

 

Back to square one in a foreign land and all alone once again, I explored rain-soaked Singapore with my Happy umbrella. I was anxious once again to prove myself. The umbrella was a constant reminder of Dadda and I felt comforted in the knowledge that there were people in the world who loved me unconditionally and even though Singapore felt like an endless work meeting, I would eventually crack the code to build a life here.

 

And just when Singapore was finally feeling less like a fast-paced meeting, COVID-19 hit us, and the world went on lockdown.

 

In the early months of the lockdown, my walks to the supermarket were the only things I looked forward to. Like everyone else around me, adjusting to working from home, dealing with the sense of uncertainty and loss of control was extremely hard. I stayed up many nights wondering if/when I could see my family – my constant cheerleaders, my backbone. I survived by telling myself that everyone, all over the world was going through similar anxieties but it was tough. My anxiousness impacted my work, my health and everything else around me. 

 

Yesterday, as I got dressed to leave for an appointment, I couldn’t find my Happy umbrella. I searched every corner of my home, the closets and other storage areas. I mentally kicked myself for not remembering what I had done with it and worse – where had I lost it. It is moments like this that make you realize that the smallest things can bring you comfort. Especially ones that connect you to unconditional love. 

 

My Happy umbrella – a companion that had been with me through scorching sun and thunderstorms, my connection to how far I had come, a memory of those who had stood by me and a constant reminder to always believe in myself had simply vanished. All of a sudden, the last six months came crashing down all around me. 

 

I called Dadda to tell her about the loss of the umbrella, but she didn’t remember anything about gifting it to me. She, however, said the same thing to me that she always does – be happy, be yourself – everything will work itself out. 

 

After a frantic, despondent, and somewhat tragic morning, I eventually found the umbrella in my handbag. Strange, how I never bothered to look for it in the one thing that was right in front of me. 

 

And that is how life is sometimes. We are so unnerved about not having control, not knowing what tomorrow will bring or if we will even survive the change that we forget to see the joys that are right there in front of us. As the rain poured down and I walked into the thunderstorm, I felt a sense of relief, realizing that one must be in the here and now and not look too far into the future. Just like the Happy Umbrella that wasn’t really lost, life too reveals its magic when we are least expecting it.  

If I can walk today in the rain and sun with my happy umbrella, and unapologetically be myself just like Dadda taught me, I think I will be alright and this too, shall pass. 

 

 

 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Here's To The Next Ten!

On the island of Gozo in Malta stand the Ġgantija temples. 5500 years in age, they are the second oldest existing manmade religious structures we know of. Unassuming at the first glance, they are simply a bunch of stones arranged in a flower like pattern on the top of a flat hill. What takes your breath away is the view of endless green pastures, painted over a inky, cotton adorned sky.


As you turn to enter the structure, the large stones tower over you as if they want to make you feel miniscule. In 1840, an Englishman decided to display his artistic abilities as graffiti on one of the stones. As my hand traces the 1840 etched on this stone for eternity, it hits me that I’m probably not the first one to do this. The man just before me did this and perhaps a few hundred people standing in the line at the entrance will do it too. Each one of us with our own little story to tell. 
How many eyes have seen the view from these temples and gasped at the sheer beauty nature has to offer? How many feet have walked these steps and wondered at our amazing ability as humans to dream, create, discover and destroy? 

In this very brief magical moment, I realise that even though I am a tiny speck in the vastness of time, I am so lucky to be a part of this insanely beautiful thing called life. 

This year and probably most of the last decade has been about movement. Sometimes slow but most often a whirlwind with bits of balance thrown in-between for sanity measures. 

Moving out of the homeland, creating a space called home, filling it with friends and family, watching a little boy grow up to be a teenager and our parents get older, overcoming fears, owning a car, falling in love, breaking someones heart, having my heart broken a few times, embracing the joy of solo travel, checking off bucket lists, learning to be alone and loving my own company, discovering where my soul is at peace, dancing, dreaming, exploring and when the chance presented itself, packing and moving again. 
As the decade ends, I have come full circle, once again, I am on the brink of a new adventure. 

As I walk away from the Ġgantija temples just a few hours before the decade ends, I wonder what the next ten years will bring? 

With the new adventures, places and people, I hope life continues to surprise. It never becomes boring and always makes me awestruck at its splendour. 

I hope I can find more time for things and people I love. I hope I can stand up to what I believe in and fight for what is right. 
I hope as a race, we overcome differences and break walls that are being built around us. We become better, stronger and happier individuals. 





I hope that a thousand years from now when another soul stands at the Ġgantija temples and traces the 1840 etching wondering at the millions who came before her, she is living this insanely beautiful thing called life in a green, happy, violence & hatred free world. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Singapore Love Affair





A few weeks ago, Singapore and I celebrated our first anniversary. It wasn’t a fancy affair. In fact, I wasn’t even here to celebrate it. I danced the night away in Phuket, only raising a silent toast to our blossoming relationship from afar.

Like lovers who make inspirations for romance novels, we’ve had a classic partnership that feels like forever and yet so new.

Around four hundred days ago when I sat in an empty apartment with three suitcases and a dozen brown boxes, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I tried to predict how my life would turn out in the coming year and I drew a blank. 

I was starting from scratch, yet another time. I wondered if I was too old to make the change, find new friends and throw myself in to work that I was not acquainted with.

Leaving familiarity is one of the hardest things to do. We end up staying in relationships, places and jobs because we are accustomed to them. We take the same route to work, pick up our coffee from the café where the barista prepares our order in advance, we know the buttons to press with our colleagues, round up at the regular bar for a drink and have repeated conversations with our friends about jobs that suck and dreams that remain unfulfilled.

I was breaking my current rut but something inside me hoped that I wasn’t getting myself into another one.

When the plane took off from Dubai and I glanced at the fading lights for one last time, I wished on them. 

A year and some later, I think about that day in the apartment. I try to remember the uneasiness, but it’s gone. 
I try to picture myself, but I can’t. I see another person sitting around the brown boxes – anxious and confused.
I’m glad I don’t know that person.

Love should feel like home. It should be easy and yet make your heart beat just a little bit faster. It should make you smile even when it’s gloomy because you know that sunshine is right around the corner.

When I landed in Singapore and we exchanged glances for the first time, I didn’t expect to fall in love. It happened slowly, and it was in the long-drawn process that I tried to find little reasons to smile every day.




Waking up in an apartment that overlooks the river.

A short walk to work.

Learning to cycle again


New friends who feel like forever.

Solitude.


A job that doesn’t feel like one.


Embracing dim sum for breakfast.

Hundred and fifty dollars return tickets to Bali.



Happy hour.

Bartenders that know that you need gin & tonic at 5pm on a Friday evening.

The joy of having Sunday off.


Whatsapp calling.

Traveling for work.


Packing away heels and fancy clothes - embracing shorts and slippers.

Cooking at home.

Spotify.

Becoming content with nothingness.

A gym with a hair dryer that’s better than the one I have at home.



The unfamiliar is frightening but we seldom realise that it’s in the unknown that magic happens.

On the 15th of June 2017, seated in that plane, I wished for playfulness, I wished to discover a part of me that got a bit side lined over the years.

By searching tiny reasons to smile every day and through this exciting, surprising, playful ride over the past year, Singapore has taught me to be grateful. To give, receive and embrace love, once again, unconditionally.

I can't wait to see what you have planned for me next. 
Here’s to us, Singers.





Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 - The Year Of Living Unconditionally



I’m sitting in a café with a glass of prosecco, the view of the Singapore River and my New Year notebook on one of those beautiful, rainy days that force you to reminisce. The notebook has documented my year-end thoughts and resolutions for over ten years. I read what I have written year after year and finally accept that an exercise regimen might not be my cup of tea. Travel to far off lands and random things like working towards fulfilling my dreams are more achievable. It’s just a matter of when they manifest in my life.

************************************************************************

Four years ago, on the last day of 2013, I promised myself that 2014 would be the year when I would leave Dubai for a new city. I spoke to my colleagues, found some contacts and secured an interview in Singapore at the start of January. As luck would have it, on the 1st day of 2014, I met a boy. It was love at first sight. Through my trip to Singapore and Bali later that month, we chatted continuously. I told him how much I loved this city and could see myself living here and he told me how he couldn’t wait to have me back so we could start dating. “If I can’t make it work with you, I can’t make it work with anyone,” he said to me a few weeks later.

The interview went well and they even made an offer. But, I was smitten. Everything he did was perfect. The way he called out my name, how he would cook for me on weekends, his plans to travel the world, his frown, his smile – everything. I decided to let go of the job because who needs a job when (you think) you’ve found your soulmate, right?
Many blissful months and an amazing holiday in Spain later, he suddenly got a job transfer, broke up with me and left Dubai in a week.

He moved to Singapore.
While my heart was trying to process this, what pissed the rational part of my brain was that he moved to Singapore.
That was supposed to be my move. He couldn’t steal that from me.

I stayed on in Dubai, cried for a few months - first for losing him and then for being silly enough to let go of the job. Eventually, I dated some nice and some weird people, I learned to drive, bought a car, climbed a mountain, rode a horse, started speaking Spanish, danced the tango and took a sabbatical to study art among other silly pursuits and resolutions in the years that followed.

I started to thank him a little each day for hurting me. The only way I could recover was to learn that I couldn’t take my one, precious life for granted.

Every day, my belief that the pieces of the puzzle would come together became stronger.

I was in Greece when I finally forgave him. It was early December, a few days before we were supposed to leave the island to go back to normal life. I was sitting on the rocks next to the beach with my New Year notebook, ready to document what life had meant to me in the past year. It was the feeling of coming out of a storm to a place and people who made me feel complete.

I wanted to write about the new experiences, the creative process, the family I found, the capacity to love I discovered, the absence of the need for validation from everyone and the purity of the island but each time I started, I burst out crying. I had no words to describe it. I was full gratitude and content but the words wouldn’t come and the tears wouldn’t stop.

I was happy.

Overjoyed to the brim, there was no room or reason for pain, hurt and grudge in my heart.
He was just someone who came and left. But what I felt at that moment and everything that led to it, was forever and truly mine.

I wrote what I was feeling – ‘Unconditional’

No resolutions or promises. 2017 would simply be unconditonal.

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I stare at the scribble on my notebook for a long-time tracing back the past 54 weeks to that time on the rocks in Paros.

I’m not sure if it was letting go, my conscious effort to embrace everything that came my way, fighting for what I wanted or the butterfly effect but somewhere, a star was waiting to shine on me. Life came full circle and there I was a few months into the year, fitting my life in ten boxes and taking back what was always mine – moving to Singapore.

This year is special not only because I moved to a city that I always wanted to live in but it is also a reminder for so much more -

To relentlessly chase dreams no matter how hard or far-fetched they may seem.

To take risks.

To believe that there is a better version of you just waiting to be peeled off.

To not give up when you feel like the stupidest person in the room or that all your choices were a mistake - To learn and come back stronger and with faith in who you are.

To ever so often, say, “NO, it’s not good enough,” – when it isn’t.

To embrace new friendships and find missing parts of yourself in people you’ve just met.

To have gratitude because everything comes together when it has to.

Most importantly, a reminder that it is inevitable that at some point again, doubt and fear could engulf me and I might feel everything is amiss.
I might end up stuck in a job, relationship or place where I am not appreciated.
I might become unsure of what I want to do with my life and who I want to be.
But amidst all this commotion, competition and things that might happen, I will let go.
There is a place I call home – where the beach is rocky, the sea has myriad shades of blue, people love without judgment or conditions, where none of this exists and I carry that unconditional love with me, all the time.

Here’s to living even more unconditionally in 2018.
To sharing, spreading, and embracing absoluteness.
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To new cities, friends, experiences, and stars that are just waiting to shine.

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