Categories
Mind Personal Essays Women

Into The Wild: A Self-Expedition

Into The Wild: A Self-Expedition

By Ushasi Sengupta

April 01, 2021

It was a Wednesday morning. My wristwatch showed 10.00 am. By the time I reached the bus stop, climbing down the stairs in a rush, skipping two stairs to save time, and navigating through a crowded street hoping that the bus driver might be late as well, my bus had already left. I realized that the bypass route to reach my office would be so congested that a private cab would not be able to help me reach the office on time. My hope to show up at the morning meeting was shattered. It is fair to mention here that this was the fourth time in a row that week when I was missing the morning meeting.

My mind crawled through the brain’s cache and projected consequences of a delayed day—questioning glances scanning a late-comer, unfinished works piling up, working overtime to clean up the queue, and totally exhausted by the time I would be in bed. Spending an entire day seemed an upheaval task for me. Amidst traffic, roads, and people, I found myself helpless.

My daily encounters with failure, be it missing the bus, not being able to reach the office on time despite my best intentions, unable to complete my work and to maintain a balance among responsibilities, and to not accomplish my plan, afflicted me. Slippages were tearing me up, wrapping me in a damp pouch of apprehension of failure. I was unable to figure out how I could realign my distorting life and find a breather for peace and happiness.

Inevitably, I chose to escape. Off-loading the failures on someone might help me find avenues for self-compassion. So, I looked for reasons for my unhappiness and failures—family, marriage, office, home, past, and aspirations. I started focusing more on the search for excuses. I looked up external ailments to heal my ruptures. My wound deepened. The lack of self-compassion turned my life outward-focused; nothing silenced my shapeless chaos.

I thought that being the center of attention would bring me happiness. I tried to live up to others’ expectations by altering my food habits, attires, and routines. My situation did not improve. Distraction was siphoning off my confidence and courage.

“Accept yourself. Start with a minimal accomplishment but make it a habit. It is okay to fail.” I found a person who understood my problems. My mentor’s relentless patience and empathy helped me empathize with myself.

It is said that “necessity is the mother of invention.” But unless we realize our core problem, the idiom barely makes sense. I realized that I had been facing an existential crisis.

Amidst noise and distraction, I heard my voice: “I am fine. Only I can make me happy.”

Self-compassion aided in healing my internal ruptures. I managed to focus on my priorities. Paying attention to the internal system improved my emotional state and efficiency. My performance soared eventually.

I achieved my faith in failure.

However, continuous juggling between household work and office vex me at times. Grief, frustration, and fear of drifting still bother me. Complaints still pile up in my heart and congest my head.

“Why do I need to indulge in household work? Just because I am a married woman. Yet, I am also earning, and my husband and I are equally qualified! I should better stay alone.”

“Where do you see yourself, when you are successful in your life? All alone?” “Pen down your thoughts, channel your grief and anger in a better way.” My mentor’s continuous guidance steered me to clear my blurred vision and ascertain a greater purpose.

My inner voice echoed: “It is not the first time you are thrown into an ocean of pressure in life. However, always remember that you are a swimmer.”

I have reflected on my experiences and failures, but this time with compassion and confidence.

The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy can’t be created or destroyed. Energy can only be conserved. We see a wide application of this principle. However, during the process, a part of the energy gets dissipated. That is because of system friction. I found that the principle holds true for my internal energy, too. The lesser the system resistance, the more efficient the outcome.

I am still learning how better I can manifest my internal energy.

 

Ushasi Sengupta is a senior research analyst at Tata Consultancy Services. She completed her Post Graduate Diploma in General Management from XLRI, Jamshedpur, in 2019. Other than working from home and working for home, in parallel, she is spending her new normal exploring the unchartered territories. She is a sports enthusiast. Running is her newly developed habit.

Share on email
Email
Categories
LGBTQIA+ Mind Personal Essays Relationships Social Issues

I Survived, Dad

I Survived, Dad

Anonymous

January 10, 2021

I’ve been living a lie my entire life. A twisted sick retelling of a long lost twin’s sorry story. Even at the best moments of my tale, there is just so much malice in my wonderland. Mostly myself. I’ve been a sucker for self-harm, the idea of the bubble bursting so much more wholesome than the bubble. So as the author of this heavily rewritten book, let me show you a few pages of my life.

I say heavily rewritten as my disease has the added curse of a terrible memory. Whatever I don’t remember clearly, I rescript to suit my convenience or make a better story. I don’t remember a lot of my glory days, have entirely blocked out tear jerkers, and a lot of my suicidal moments feel a lot more subdued when I recall them now. The distortion doesn’t just restrict itself to my recollections. It alters the way I look at things. I used to be a pessimist and can recall this one incident where a boy had gifted me a flower for my birthday. After he left, I shredded it and stomped it to the ground. Flowers are just reminders of how impermanent life and beauty are. That all things eventually die.

My happiest songs are the ones which tell the saddest tales. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy up-tempo bangers. The notes which pluck the strings of my soul however are wrought with woe. Life shouldn’t have to feel this way. Jumping of a terrace despite my vertigo shouldn’t be the first thought that comes to mind. Contemplating least painful ways of offing myself shouldn’t be routine. I see people breezing through life and sometimes wish things were that easy. Dandelion seeds floating with the wind while I’m lugging my anchor around everywhere.

Relationships with people become complex. Family often becomes the crutch which broke the leg. (Childhood stress and trauma are common contributors for an early onset of manic depression). While on medication, the feelings and emotions become numb. Creativity, often associated with mental health problems, takes a backseat. For a person living their life in highs and lows, this new flat-lining can come as an unwelcome shocker. The predilection for the emotional rush can be quite overpowering. We tend to resort to drugs or quitting medication to experience the altered reality once more as the new normal feels quite bland. That is why a support system is quite necessary to monitor the initial phases of recovery and to prevent a relapse.

During depression, even the most supportive friends may feel unwanted. Judgement goes for a toss and we end up not thinking about consequences. This often leads to burning bridges and more often than not, there’s no going back. I am lucky to have so many people who understand my disease or try to. I haven’t been that lucky always. I was in an abusive live-in where the other person’s push and pull on my emotions made them go haywire. He just added fuel to the fire. Despite dropping me off to my psychologist, he refused to believe that I was ill and thought that I was deliberately acting crazy because I enjoyed that. I’m much choosier about the people I let into my life these days. Once I used to indulge in self-destruction. Nowadays it doesn’t take me a second to cut off someone who could harm me for the sake of self-preservation.

I survived delirium, borderline insanity, anxiety sucking away at me like leeches. I survived the horrors of the world not ending in 2012. I survived a speeding truck while fully loaded on three drugs. I survived bullies, I survived this, I survived that. I survived Dad. I survived, Dad.

I feel like the Destiny’s Child song. I’m surviving despite the odds of bipolar death rates (doubled due to increased chances of heart failure) and I’m not just talking suicide. We are hypersexual as well, often resulting in risky behavioural patterns and promiscuity. I have survived 6 HIV tests in as many years. I’m surviving not because I want to. I’ve tried the other options and failed, so why not make the best of living a loud life and making the best of it. Currently I’m surviving to hopefully see a day where I enjoy living and am excited about opening my eyes the next morning.

 

The author is bravely dealing with their mental health problems. The article has been published without any edits.

Share on email
Email
Categories
Health and Fitness Personal Essays

My Diet Story: How I Regained Control of My Health

My Diet Story: How I Regained Control of My Health

By Suraj Sharma

January 08, 2021

Though wellness entrepreneur Agatha Achindu once said “good health starts in our kitchens,” I blissfully chose to ignore it. I have been a fitness enthusiast for many years now. My focus has always been on training—a combination of weight training and cardio. As I started exercising from an early age, I was visibly healthy. Hence, I believed that I have earned the right to eat a bit of unhealthy food. My friends were bingeing on junk and were not even exercising. I lived in Kolkata from 2013 to 2016 and had an incredible time with my friends. Independent financially and otherwise, I enjoyed the freedom to hop bars and pubs every week. I would also work out diligently at one of Kolkata’s best gyms. Everything was running smoothly—I had a good job, I was engaged in self-improvement activities, I used to work out, hence, I could party and eat junk without compromising my health or wealth. I was in decent health. My body fat percentage was around 17 percent and I appeared to be strong and well built.

In 2016, I joined one of the finest business schools in the country. I was overwhelmed with all the knowledge, new friend circles, and career opportunities that the place provided. Business school curriculum is demanding; it may become emotionally and physically stressful because of the rigor and the competition among the bright minds to churn out the best. I tried my best to get the most out of the place, and decided to give all my time and effort to get involved with the school and its people. Hence, I stopped working out because of lack of time. In order to cope with the intensity and pressure, I would often treat myself with a good meal. There was a monumental pressure to perform well; and I ended up ordering delicious meals, such as biryani, ice creams, thick shakes, etc., often. Food was one of the escape routes from the competition. By the time I graduated, I was loaded with wisdom and weight. I had gained around 12 kilograms in a matter of few months. Even my parents were surprised at my physical transformation (or deterioration?). I didn’t bother as the tradeoff of not exercising was quite rewarding.

I was about to join a new organization and my employer asked me to get a basic health checkup as a mandatory requirement. The results of the health checkup were shocking. I had cholesterol level of 500, enough to give me a heart attack. My blood sugar levels were also on the higher side. I was terrified after gaining knowledge of my worrying state of health. Diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol are prevalent in my family, and I am highly susceptible to them. I was horrified at the thought that I may have diabetes and I wanted to do anything to get back to a normal, healthy life.

I relocated to a new city to join the organization and immediately joined a gym. My doctor had prescribed medicines for cholesterol and advised me to lose weight as a more sustainable way of balancing health and lifestyle. I had to lose the extra 12 kilograms to get back to a normal, disease-free lifestyle. I was determined to lose weight and, hence, started talking to fitness trainers, did online research, etc. Everything directed me toward optimizing calorie intake and training. I decided to do something that I had previously chose to ignore—focus on my diet. I started focusing 60 percent on diet and 40 percent on exercise; that was my mindset at that time. Diet may be ignored at a younger age when metabolism rates are high but as one approaches the age of 30 or is beyond that, then an eye on the diet should be strictly maintained.

I started keeping a calorie count of all the food that I ate every day. The idea was to stay a bit lower than the maintenance calorie required with a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, and good fats. My height is 182 centimeters and, at that time, I weighed 103 kilograms. The calories required to maintain the bodyweight was around 2800 and if I had to drop weight, I had to cut calories. I made a diet chart that would meet a calorie requirement of 2000 calories (high deficit) and macro nutrients of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in the proportion of 40/40/20—that is, 800 calories from carbohydrate, 800 calories from protein, and 400 calories from fats.

Basic calculation: 1 gram of carbohydrates ~ 4 calorie, 1 gram of protein ~ 4 calorie, and 1 gram of fats ~ 9 calories. 100 grams of chicken ~ 20 grams of protein, 100 grams of cooked rice ~ 20 grams of carbohydrates, and fats from almonds, walnuts, etc.

For eight months, my meal comprised of the following:

  • Six meals per day: Pre-Breakfast, breakfast, lunch, mid-lunch snack, pre-workout meal, and dinner

  • Pre-breakfast: Protein shake immediately after waking up (24 grams of protein, 5 grams of carbohydrate)

  • Breakfast: 2 pieces of bread (35 grams of carbohydrate) or roti and 3 whole eggs (18 grams of protein)

  • Lunch: 200 grams rice (45 grams of carbohydrate) and 150 grams of chicken (30 grams of protein)

  • Mid-lunch snack: 4 egg-white omelets (12 grams of protein) and almonds

  • Pre-workout snack: 60 grams oats (40 grams of carbohydrate and 8 grams of protein) with protein shake (24 grams of protein)

  • Dinner: 200 grams rice (45 grams of carbohydrate), 200 grams chicken (40 grams of protein), and vegetables

Carbohydrate and protein were present in every food I ate; I have only mentioned the primary macro contributors. I was getting extra ~ 40–50 grams of carbohydrates and proteins. I measured my food on a small weighing scale and tracked my calories on a mobile application. Weighing continuously for two to three weeks would help give an estimate of the weight and portion size of the meal; daily weighing may not be required after that. Tracking calories can also be done similarly. Eating junk once a week is, however, fine.

The benefits of following a disciplined diet and regular exercise exceeded my expectations way beyond my imagination. I hoped to lose 6 to 7 kilograms in a year but I was dropping ~1.5 kilograms every month and by the yearend, I shed 11 kilograms. An extraordinary feat never achieved before.

The diet that I followed is called a calorie-deficit diet. Listed below are few of my learnings from my experiences.

Things that went well:

  • Excess weight reduction: It is a guaranteed way of shredding excess fats.

  • Increase in energy: This leads to an increase in energy which is observed after a few months and not immediately. This may be due to reduced body fat percentage and cholesterol level.

  • Increase in muscle mass: Since protein intake gets high, muscle mass doesn’t not deplete much. Further to maintain muscle mass, weight training with cardio at the end is suggested. Only cardio depletes muscle mass.

Things that could have been done in a better way:

Rather than going on a high calorie deficit diet, I could have started with lesser deficit diet, such as 2600 calories per day and then could have reduced 150 calories every two weeks. This would have reduced the downsides significantly. The downsides were:

a) The starting phase of the program is filled with hunger and cravings.

b) Mood swings during the initial phase.

c) Reduced testosterone level by the second/third month due to continuous starvation.

d) Reduced energy and fatigue: My energy level was down in the early phases and it reflected in my appearance, too.

After rigorously maintaining my diet for nearly ten months, I went easy on my diet and started enjoying the food that I loved, of course, being mindful at the same time. My daily consumption of calories has been close to my maintenance calorie of ~2300 calories since then. My weight didn’t drop or increase any further.

Here are a few diet tips that I follow now, so as not to lose control over the health:

  • I am aware of how much calories I consume and don’t exceed my maintenance calorie frequently. Maintenance calorie is the number of calories required to maintain the body weight. It is a factor of height, weight, age, and level of physical activity. The entire diet plan revolves around maintenance calorie.

  • Calorie consumption should be as per the individual’s goal. Muscle gain and weight gain require calorie surplus over maintenance calorie and fat loss requires calorie deficit from the maintenance calorie. Excessive eating beyond the maintenance calorie may be done less frequently, if lifestyle is sedentary.

  • Maintain a balanced combination of macros in the diet: protein/carbohydrates/fats in 30:40:30 ratio.

  • Focus more on macros from natural sources rather that supplements.

  • Enjoy a good meal once or twice a week whenever on a deficit diet, especially in the starting phase. This helps maintain the focus.

As I acknowledge the importance of diet in one’s lifestyle, I have also very recently started experimenting with various forms of dieting. One such was suggested by my exercise trainer who specialized in body weight training and weight management. He suggested me to try “Intermittent fasting.” For someone who is unaware of it, intermittent fasting is fasting for major part of the day (16/18 hours) and eating in a limited window of 6 to 8 hours. Curious to know what it was, I did my own research on Google and YouTube. Turns out that the Internet has all praises for intermittent fasting. It is told by many experts that intermittent fasting improves metabolism, regulates blood sugar level, and enhances fat reduction ensuring muscle mass, improving focus, and many more.

I was very skeptical of it initially as I was not used to skipping breakfast but, nevertheless, I went ahead. I decided to do the 16-hour fasting as was suggested by experts on the Internet. I had my last meal of the day at around 10:30 p.m. and the first meal of next day at around 2:30 p.m., fasting for 16 hours and eating in the 8-hour window.

Guiding principles of intermittent fasting are as follows:

  • Fasting can be for 16/18/20 hours. This is the time between the last meal of the previous day and the first meal of the next day.

  • No calories to be consumed in this fasting period, not even milk tea or milk coffee. Only water, black coffee, and similar calorie-free items may be consumed. Meals to be consumed within the eating window only.

What I did:

  • First meal at 1:30 p.m. (rice, chicken, and dal)

  • A cup of milk tea at around 3 p.m.

  • Pre-workout snack (oats, protein, and berries) at around 5 p.m.

  • Dinner at around 9:30 p.m. (rice, chicken, and vegetables)

  • Little things here and there within the permitted eating window.

I felt hungry at around 11 a.m. in the first few days but later I got adjusted to the routine. I prefer it over six meals per day with, perhaps, larger portion size. Since I was only eating during the eating window, excessive eating didn’t seem possible and I was always eating around my maintenance calories.

Few things to consider during intermittent fasting:

  • Don’t overeat the first meal.

  • First meal should have some proteins.

  • Intermittent fasting can be done for 3 to 5 days a week depending on the person’s comfort.

  • For optimum loss of fat, exercise when fasting. I didn’t do that, however.

My experience:

  • It is a good way of maintaining body weight as overeating is generally not feasible.

  • My sugar and blood pressure levels were also in the normal range.

  • I allowed myself good meals once or twice a week without worrying about gaining fat.

Armed with the knowledge of different diet programs, I have been maintaining a moderately disciplined diet for the last three and half months, and often would resort to a combination of calorie deficit and intermittent fasting whenever I felt out of track.

Fitness programs and diet plans should not be stressful in the long run. I would advise everyone to pick programs, workouts, and diets that are enjoyable and can be sustained for a longer period. Listen to your body before starting a diet program or any training program. Body gives signals, such as headache, nausea, and similar others, whenever in excessive stress. Discard the program for a few days if discomfort is observed. To efficiently execute a program, incremental progress is preferred, such as incremental deficit/excess of 50 to 100 calories every fortnight is preferred over calorie deficit/excess of 500 on the first day. Similarly, fasting may be done incrementally from 13/14/16 hours rather than starting with an 18-hour fast.

 

Suraj lives with his wife Alankrita in New Delhi. He is a Chief Manager at Sterlite Power. Apart from fitness, Suraj is passionate about rock music. He listens to classic rock bands, such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, AC DC, etc. He has also started learning guitar more seriously now, after failing in the first three attempts because of lack of practice. He is fond of travelling, too. Suraj studied Electrical Engineering at the National Institute of Technology, Silchar and pursued MBA at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.

Share on email
Email
Categories
Empathy and Compassion Ideas Personal Essays Scatter Diagram Women

Scatter Diagram in a Scatterbrain: A Story of Self-Compassion

Scatter Diagram in a Scatterbrain: A Story of Self-Compassion

By Srija Chakraborty

January 04, 2021

Though we subject ourselves to a spartan diet of effective communication skills, we fail to shed the extra calories that result in a gamut of misunderstandings and sufferings amongst our fellow human beings: just like the unwanted flab around your waist after living on a frugal diet and practicing a rigorous workout regimen. So, what is it that will get the world in shape?

Compassion! And it begins with self-compassion.

True compassion is the tool that unmasks the very basic purpose of communication. That is, recognizing and understanding one’s own needs and those of others, leading to a spiral of more profound and positive relationships around the world or even a small little corner of it. It is imperative that we gain a fuller grasp of how we can practice self-compassion in order to effectively communicate with ourselves and in turn with others so as to build a better world.

“I love you.”

You must have uttered these three “oh-so-important” words on innumerable occasions in your life. But, how often have you addressed the “YOU” to yourself? The idea might seem strange or even narcissistic, for most of us fail to distinguish the not-so-thin line between narcissism and self-compassion. Conversely, we attach “I am” more easily and frequently than “You are” to the adjectives “stupid” and “unworthy.”

It is evident that, more often than not, we inadvertently fail to establish a compassionate communication with our own selves. This handicapped self-communication stifles our self-confidence and smothers our self-esteem, thereby negatively affecting our decisions and behavioral patterns and degrading the quality of our lives.

Now, let us take this to a slightly higher level. This distorted self-communication affects us not only at the individual level but also at the group level. When our lack of self-compassionate communication stimulates wrong decisions, attitude, and perspectives in a group, we fail collectively as well.

Going to even higher levels, let us apply this to our society. The success of a society lies in the collaborative inputs from individuals or from the groups of individuals comprising the society as a whole. Failed self-compassionate communication is bound to have ramifications. The way we communicate with ourselves has a direct bearing on how we affect our lives and our society. The more compassionate our communication with our own selves, the more compassionate and adhesive our society.

Self-Compassion through Scatter Diagram

For us to inculcate self-compassionate communication in our everyday lives, self-awareness, self-worth, and self-acceptance are of primary importance. Here’s where the scatter diagram comes into play. Scatter Diagram fosters self-compassion by facilitating the following techniques:

  1. Self-awareness: If we stay tuned to our strengths, we can avert the vicious cycles of self-sabotage and move towards extending compassion to our own selves. Scatter Diagram provides us with a shot of self-awareness and introspection to identify and stay tuned in to our strengths. These strengths are called “points” on a Scatter Diagram. The techniques of Scatter Diagram help keep us focused on our inner landscape, making it a curtain-raiser in the journey towards establishing a seamless compassionate communication with the self.

  2. Self-worth: It is a hard truth that we cannot always achieve what we want to achieve. When we confront this reality, we question our self-worth; we feel threatened by the fear of being perceived by the society as an unworthy individual. We tend to become crippled with pessimistic thoughts of being shamed and criticized by others. The “self-worth” technique reinforces our real strengths and competencies, and helps us design our life based on these strengths. Scatter Diagram, by reminding us of the strong “points” of our personality, helps us derive our sense of self-worth. This technique administers hope and optimism within us and guards us from the apprehension of rejection in the future. By applying the techniques of Scatter Diagram, we inoculate ourselves from self-critical and self-blaming communication. This is achieved by reducing our irrational self-beliefs and fear of shame-proneness and failure.

  3. Self-acceptance: One of the barriers on the path to achieving self-compassion is conditional self-acceptance. It is humane to accept only our positives and not accept our flaws and deficiencies. In doing so, we allow our shortcomings to define us. We fail to treat our identities and our limitations as separate entities. We draw our self- portrait only in terms of our weaknesses and all the positive attributes seem disjointed. By applying the techniques of the Scatter Diagram, we are able to connect all those disjointed positive attributes that seemed unrelated to us and paint our self-portrait in terms of not only our weaknesses but also our strengths. By employing the Scatter Diagram technique, we also build on our strengths and this, in turn, engenders positivity in us to diagnose our less-desirable traits, find meaning in them, and embrace them. This is how the Scatter Diagram technique fosters an objective and self-accepting communication within ourselves.

How the Scatter Diagram Technique has helped me cultivate Self-Compassion

Before you read on how the Scatter Diagram has made a positive difference to my life, it would be worth knowing as to “Who am I?”

In my early childhood, the answer to the question went something like this: “I am a friendly, caring, impulsive, hot-headed girl who is talented, decent at academics, and good at Kathak,” or something like “I am a fair, pretty, and charming young girl.”

However, in my mid-twenties the answer to the same question changed. It read, “I am an underachiever who is not talented enough to be good at anything, and an ugly-looking person who doesn’t look good in any outfit.”

In providing answers to the same question in different stages of my life, I have simply super-imposed others’ perceptional image of myself and heavily relied upon those perceptions to arrive at my conclusions. In childhood, the others, for example, my teachers at school or my relatives, thought highly of me, perceived me as a very good student securing either the first or the second position in class throughout my academic life. After Class 12, I was accepted by several prestigious universities in India for pursuing an Honors degree in Physics. I had always wanted to do so.

However, heavily influenced by my parents and unable to maintain my stance of pursuing an Honors degree in Physics, I decided to take up engineering as a career. It is then, that, the well-intentioned significant others in my life, especially my relatives and friends, changed their perception of me.

I started casting doubts upon my talent. Despite the fact that with very little preparation I managed to find myself within the top two per cent of the State Level Joint Entrance Examination candidates, I borrowed my self-image of my capabilities as a student from those others. I doubted my academic capabilities.

Over the initial years of my professional life, I put my heart and soul into all my assignments but never garnered any attention, let alone appreciation, from my bosses. I constantly compared myself with my colleagues. I saw them outshine me the way I had used to others, back in my school days. I blanketed myself in fear of failure. I paid little or no attention to the potential that I was yet to tap. Gradually, I developed a very thick coat of low confidence and low self-worth.

This influenced the way I communicated and also affected the way I responded to communications. I feared clarifying my doubts from my bosses. I allowed them to overpower me, to criticize me, or to belittle me even when I did not deserve such treatment. I retreated. I lost my voice. I forgot my positives. I perceived myself as an unworthy, incompetent, and good-for-nothing individual. I found myself trapped in a vicious cycle. I could not quit my job in fear of being shamed by others and found it difficult to continue either. This sense of unworthiness was etched so deep into my mind over a period of two to three years that even without realizing, my dreams of pursuing a master’s degree in business administration and of becoming a strategist and eventually a highly successful woman became dormant.

My focus shifted its trajectory from my goals to my appearance. I emphasized only on my looks. Even “obsessed” would be an understatement. I gambled away all my self-esteem on how good I could appear. I defined myself only in terms of my appearance. Consequently, I suffered the ill effects. I became overtly anxious of each and every public appearance, even if that meant stepping out of the house for grocery shopping. I could not take a respite from checking myself on every mirror or windowpane that I passed by when I stepped out. I freaked out when I thought I looked bad, so much so that I could not manage to step outdoors; walking confidently on the street was a dream far-gone. I strived to look perfect in every photo or selfie, failing which I felt naked as though all my flaws were exposed to the world.

Every now and then I would find myself waged in self-defeating wars on social media, constantly comparing my photographs with those of others. I anchored on the weakest weapons such as makeup and beauty filters. I forgot to leverage my most powerful weapons: my confidence and my smile. In the process, I lost my stride in my uniqueness and my self-worth became contingent on my outer—not inner—topography.

It was at this time that I got introduced to this beautiful concept of scatter diagram by my mentor. No wonder, the first thought that ran through my self-critical mind was as to how could a person like me have any point on the Scatter Diagram. But therein lies the beauty of the technique. It requires delving deep within the horizons of your brain. It was for the first time that I started an in-depth analysis of my habits (good and bad), values, passion, hobbies, strengths, and goals.

And, it was not like eureka that I had my Scatter Diagram ready. I had to dig really deep to communicate with my inner self. My brain feasted on the deepest of musings on the following questionnaire:

a) What are the things that give me perpetual happiness?

b) Self-satisfaction or recognition by others, which one blooms me?

c) Benchmark that I set for myself or on the one that others set for me—which one is my motivator?

d) What were the occasions on which I was respected or appreciated? What were the occasions on which I was berated?

e) What do I want people to remember me for?

f) What are my accidental slips?

g) Am I courageous enough to recognize and embrace my imperfections?

Step 1: In my attempts to find answers to these questions, the Scatter Diagram has helped me rediscover things that motivated me like dancing, cooking, writing, and watching movies. It also helped me find my character strengths such as diligence, meticulousness, and courage. That I am good at dancing, cooking, writing journals was a disjointed event of the past. Scatter Diagram reinstated them. My conception of my self was, until now, defined only in terms of my appearance. Scatter Diagram gave me a wholesome and complete definition of my self by reintroducing my inner qualities.

Step 2: I envisioned my long-term and short-term goals. My goal of getting admission into a top business school and becoming a highly successful woman, which I thought was intangible, seemed attainable. My past achievements (points on the Scatter Diagram) served as constant reminders and sources of hope for an optimistic future.

Rigorous practice of the technique facilitates internalizing hope. The injection of hope through Scatter Diagram enables an improved ability to deal with the fear of shame-proneness arising out of a fear of failure and thereby propels one towards the set goals.

The psychological barrier stemming from a fear of criticism and embarrassment was the number-one barrier that impeded an effective communication between my manager and me. Now that I evaluate my self-esteem in terms of my capabilities, I can deal with any negative feedback more objectively: I treat the criticism and my identity as two separate entities.

So, the fear of criticism is not so aversive. I do not feel afraid to ask my boss as to what his expectations are from the work assigned to me. I do not stumble, if I need to clarify my doubts. Because of my improved self-communication, I can ably understand the information communicated to me by my manager in a manner intended by him. Consequently, I can deliver the expected results and also communicate my ideas and thought processes unambiguously.

Step 3: I chalked out ways to achieve my long-term and short-term goals by making use of points on the Scatter Diagram. This step distinguishes the Scatter Diagram technique from other therapies or counseling techniques. Let us analyze a bit in depth to understand how the Scatter Diagram technique is unique in its operational effectiveness.

The Scatter Diagram technique, like strength-based counseling, aids in providing solutions to people who have poor self-esteem, want to overcome challenges, and achieve their goals but often feel stuck in life. Strength-based counseling helps in identifying strengths and in realizing goals by capitalizing solely on strengths. Unarguably, though working on strengths offers a plethora of benefits, yet focusing only on the strengths can sometimes be a disadvantageous attitude. Emphasizing only on what works for you may leave unaddressed underlying maladaptive thoughts stemming from what does not work for you.

Our weaknesses are our problem areas. The general human tendency is to look for solutions that have worked for us in the past. When you practice the Scatter Diagram technique, you have a natural inclination towards scouting for points with similar situations or problems and, thereafter, deriving workable solutions from them. In doing so, Scatter Diagram not only focuses on strengths but also addresses the underlying issues or problems arising from weaknesses.

Scatter Diagram by the sheer nature of it—that is, scattered—explains why you cannot always focus just on your strengths, and, sometimes, how the best way to move forward is to embrace the imperfections and address the underlying problems arising from those imperfections. In the process, the weaknesses themselves could become the points on the Scatter Diagram and serve as reminders that those weaknesses themselves can be turned into strengths by accepting them and addressing them.

A constant point on the Scatter Diagram could be the ability to take up one’s weaknesses. It is needless to say how embracing weaknesses does not result in misplaced perceptions of reality and in chasing unrealistic targets. For instance, one of my strengths is “meticulousness.” When I leveraged only on meticulousness, I tried to perfect every minute aspect of my appearance and when unable to do so, I could not accept the asymmetry and settle for anything less. I found myself invariably trapped in the self-harming vicious cycles.

Movies, a constant point on my Scatter Diagram, introduced me to Olive from the 2006 award-winning American blockbuster movie Little Miss Sunshine and made me believe in the dictum: “Let Olive be Olive.” From Olive, I learnt that it is okay to not conform to the conventional standards of beauty and that it is more important to embody one’s wholeness. Scatter Diagram gave me ample resources to broaden the horizon of my idea of beauty and encouraged me to become more self-accepting and love every bit of me. Now, I use meticulousness to fuel self-improvement without being destructive. With continued practice, the ability to find comfort from discomfort could become one of my points on the scatter plot.

The Scatter Diagram technique, in enabling me to harness the power of self-compassion, has streamlined my inner and outer communication skills. I feel safer and more-cared-for with my new self. I am bestowed with more courage to practice imperfections. I have garnered more resilience to strive towards my personal and professional goals. My transformation from a stingily self-compassionate to a self-loving person was definitely not a cakewalk and certainly not an overnight phenomenon.

However, the intermediary trek to get me there is worth savoring every bit.

The Bottom Line

The most crucial yet less-touched-upon faucet of communication is the ability to avoid misunderstanding. Lack of compassion and, more importantly, the lack of self-compassion blocks our ability to understand ourselves and others. At the heart of the Scatter Diagram technique is the process to inculcate self-compassion. Scatter Diagram technique makes you self-aware by making you revisit the arenas from where your self-esteem stems, redesigns your life based on the positives inside you, and aligns your self-image with the reality free from your biases.

More importantly, Scatter Diagram, in its uniqueness, helps you identify your negative triggers and rather than sweeping them under the rug, allows you to embrace those negatives. It also gives you the opportunity to tap the best out of our negatives.

I have shared my story. So, all the people out there with poor self-esteem jammed with distorted inner and outer communication skills and unable to navigate your way through the pits towards your goals, please try your hands on the Scatter Diagram tool to become a more self-loving, a healthier self-esteemed, a better self-managed person and, last but definitely not the least, a more effective communicator.

The key to mastering this technique is the old cliché: “The more you practice, the better you’ll be.”

Practice, till it becomes your reflex.

 

Srija Chakraborty is an Assistant Manager at Tata Consulting Engineers Limited. Other than the challenges in Mechanical Design Engineering, she is also keen on designing her life. She is a food nerd. Cooking is her stress-buster and she loves backpacking, too. She is a trained Kathak dancer. She adorned her feet with the ghungroo at the age of six and practices the patience and perseverance that Kathak has taught her.

Share on email
Email
Categories
Personal Essays Women

The New Woman of My Nation

The New Woman of My Nation

By PPD

November 6, 2020

Do breaking stereotypes, crushing comfort zones, pacing stagnation, lifting the burden, and doing the unexpected unlock the possibility of living a life of freedom? No, not for the women of my nation. “Women” of my nation have to live according to the perceived notion of womanhood first before living the life of a free “human.”

I was born and raised in an Army household. Naturally, discipline and norms were made to be an integral part of my life. A tight schedule without late nights or night outs, pocket money of which every penny was accounted for, good grades, and minimum friendships were few of the rules that I was made to follow. When my friends would go partying and on tours, I would sit back and revise my notes. I didn’t have any complaints barring a few teenage disappointments. I realized that strict parents raise rebels; I know this from my first-hand experiences. I do have my share of rebellious and mischievous tales, again with no complaints or regrets except for, let’s say, a few adulthood disappointments. 

But who would have imagined that amidst playfully disobeying and escaping these household rules, life would take a fast-paced turn and throw me off my game? I realized that my existence was, and would be, bound by the societal expectations of an ideal woman of my nation?

Well, living in a world where casual sexism goes unnoticed in almost every household, having been born in India was an incidental cherry on the top of a rather rotten pie!

While growing up, I witnessed the numerous ways in which women were treated “a tad” bit different from men. Women, both working professionals and housewives, were the only ones taking care of the entire household and their children. Girls had to greet people with unrealistic kindness and entertain them as a “girl” was supposed to. And there were constant lessons about adjustments and keeping one’s family happy. Back then, being a mere child, I never really “noticed” or “questioned” these gross undermining. Why? I didn’t know any other way and thought it was just what it was. 

This is exactly how most of the modern-day tragedies are born. 

We often forget the value of terms like “selfless,” “sacrifice,” or “nurturing” when it comes to describing a woman. They have become so “natural” and “obvious” that people rarely ever pay attention to the underlying hypocrisy! 

Men, on the other side, are consciously and almost repeatedly perceived as “strong,” “powerful,” or “successful.” 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with admiring selfless motherhood, but who made motherhood a gender-specific, universal concept? Who bestowed weaknesses in sacrifice? And who exactly thought that compassion could never take you on the road to success? Guess we’ll never know. 

From women accepting their casual dismissal as submissive “entities” to standing against the face of “misogyny” today, modern feminism in the 21st century of India did not come easy. Going as back as to the mythological figure Draupadi, considered one of the first feminists merely for possessing a sound consciousness about her virtue as a respectable “person,” womanhood has challenged this society for the longest of time. Be it the question of Draupadi’s self-respect, Rani Laxmi Bai’s unmatched bravery, Savitri Bai Phule’s empowerment, or the sheer rebellion of today’s women, Indian women have seen and done it all. We will keep progressing and are indebted to tons of women who tore the societal bonds and stereotypes to emerge fearless and as women of substance.

As a kid, traveling around the country and leaving behind my friends and my comfort zone became absolutely normal over time. Unfortunately, it did leave me behind with no “childhood friends” or a specific place to call home, but then again, it made me realize the importance of being self-aware, sufficient, and opinionated. 

This “adaptation to change” trait also made it possible for me to settle in the latest phase of my life—the college life in Delhi. Delhi is the infamous rape capital; the polluter of the nation; a city where stalkers, goons, and molesters are neighbors. Yet I decided to live here “independently.”

In this city full of mansplainers ready to knock you, a sense of competition and the constant need to prove myself as a woman became a part of my lifestyle. Before expressing what unique I could bring to the table, I had to justify how I was capable of doing the same tasks as my “male” counterparts. 

I recollect the apparently controversial Pinjra Tod movement on the campus that hit a spur among those trying to bring women down for illogical reasons.

Why do these girls need to go out at night? We need your parents’ permission to let you step out of the room. You definitely cannot wear “that” here. What character does this behavior give away?

This movement, wherein women had to demand the minutest decency to let them live their lives like adults and to make their own decisions, was an eye-opener for our ridiculously unfair society.

This reminds me of Gayatri Devi, the Maharani of Jaipur, a celebrated idol since the 1930s, who refused to be confined by the purdah system back when even stepping out for women required the “approval” of the heads of families. Although married into royalty, she didn’t compromise her boldness and free spirit to regard her family’s “respect,” and dared to have an opinion. After her victorious welcome to the Lok Sabha, she even curbed the purdah practice in Rajasthan to let women face the real world. 

These powerful women of today, protesting and standing for their most basic rights, showcase how India’s young, educated, and modern women are in for anything but confinement.

Fitting into the idea of an ideal woman—with a family-oriented mind, a tiny waist, fair complexion, and having a next-to-no opinion—always gave me a bit of a chuckle. It depicted nothing but the frustration of this society where people needed something or someone “weaker” to draw upon their insecurities. 

The normalization of a woman’s life revolving around her “character” and accustoming her to the unrealistic and demeaning norms have surely brought down millions of unique brains, but at the same time, the normalization instilled the will of breaking free in Indian women. The women of my nation have come a long way from being homemakers with no apparent ambitions to living independently, equally, and successfully. 

I recall the path-breaking poetess Amrita Pritam, who shattered every absurd standard set for a woman’s character with her work, one poem at a time. Amrita lived as a modern romantic and welcomed contemporary relationships. She was married to an editor at a young age of 16, only to get divorced within a few years, back in the 1960s. Her passion for writing took her and her two children to Delhi, and soon she fell in love with the work of the renowned lyricist Saahir Ludhianvi. She believed “Love is freedom, it must set you free,” and lived by it. Their affair caught the limelight but when she couldn’t find commitment, she left him to live independently with her children, defying the unjust notion of “need for a man” in a household.

Amrita moved on to become one of the most cherished names in the history of Indian authors and, till the day, inspires young individuals to set their lives free of the customs. She later moved in with the famous painter Imroz, and the two lived as life-long partners without the tag of marriage until her demise in 2005.  

Stories of women like Amrita have given today’s women that missing, absent “consent” to pursue an independent and choice-driven relationship. This sense of control has led women to realize their significance and has given them a voice to stand up against the wrong conducts in their personal lives. The liberty of having a “say” in their personal lives was long overdue anyway. 

I am thankful enough to be in an environment where normalizing the topics that are deemed to be a taboo is welcomed open-mindedly. Living in a surrounding full of enthusiastic and woke youth, people have publicly talked about the most natural and common things that go around in a woman’s life. I, too, have sat down with my male peers to talk, educate, and discuss periods, sex, body image, physical and mental abuse, and mental health.

It came as a surprise to most of my male peers that nearly every woman around them had faced the horrors of molestation, eve-teasing, and sexual abuse that they “only saw” in news headlines.

It is both saddening and infuriating to spot the ineffectiveness in educating children about these important subjects in the early stages of their lives.

Fortunately, in a world where even the most powerful have disregarded the importance of early education and self-awareness in children, I had the honor to work with young entrepreneurs imparting the same education along with creative knowledge to young minds. 

These young women entrepreneurs started this project of teaching performing arts, awareness, and communication to underprivileged children with the motive to help them build a positive conscience. The stubbornness with which these women traveled for hours, conducted workshops, worked without any secure (male) presence in sleek corners of the city, and managed their studies well, was a slap on the face of this society which tagged them as “too ambitious” and “western.”

The tags—“western,” “bold,” “demanding,” and “outspoken”—this society has given to the modern women have helped them to develop an attitude where the more the society tries to bring them down, the more they rebound and rebel. Be it thrashing the age-old standards by speaking what is on their minds in places full of judgments, unapologetically competing with the men, staying up at nights to work or celebrate, wearing anything and everything despite the “inviting” allegations, not settling in to the idea of being just mothers or homemakers, and living independently bereft of a male figure in their lives, or simply supporting the “idea” of being modern, however small the step and stepping-up be, in a nation known for its discrimination and patriarchal triumph, a woman to even live ambitiously and freely is rather commendable. 

These questions and opinions that I am privileged enough to draw today, even the mere thought of these problems didn’t cross my mind back in the time. Fortunately, along the thin line of evolving, I have seen the parallels between an independent and ethical woman get shattered. I have witnessed the notion of a woman needing protective gear (man) to save her from the “cruel” world get busted. I have seen the compliments for females shifting from mere physical appearances to their creative and professional accomplishments. And I have witnessed working women take charge of their own life first instead of the entire family.

And. 

I have witnessed the rise of the new woman in India, because I am the new woman of India!

 

Shrutty Sharma is a recent commerce graduate from Shri Ram College of Commerce. She is a budding writer and a theatre enthusiast who strongly emphasizes on devoting herself to art and creativity and continues to pursue the same at every step of her professional and personal lifestyle. Although based in Gurugram, she has traveled across 15 Indian states and has grown up across the country. She likes to be opinionated when it comes to social causes and welcomes empowerment and adventures. 

 
Share on email
Email
Categories
Personal Essays Relationships Women

Bracing Adversities

Bracing Adversities

By Manami Talukder

August 28, 2020

It is often believed that people can’t estimate their threshold unless they face an appropriate competition or a befitting competitor. A state of uncertainty brings forth one’s firefighting instincts that usually surface under extraordinary circumstances. I, too, had found myself in such a situation when I thought the ground was swept away from beneath my feet without any prior intimation. I emerged as a changed person after that phase. Acquaintances who came to know me after the phase have seen a radically different version of me.

However, before getting into the nitty-gritties of that phase, I want to share a little bit about my childhood. My parents dedicated their entire lives to the upbringing of their only child. Although I grew up in a middle-class family, I never saw the face of scarcity. My father provided me with the best lifestyle, one that would be conducive to a healthy childhood. However, don’t for a second think that I was spoilt. My parents disciplined me well and, for that, I am grateful to them. It never culminated into resentment and I never felt unloved as I was never chided without a reason. They prioritized my education above everything and, maybe, due to the pressure of their expectations, I was a nervous child. Examinations were always a nightmare, although I fared quite well and always maintained the top position in my class. The fact that I ranked first every year added onto that pressure. You could say I was a nerdy bookworm who didn’t like talking unnecessarily during recess or after school as I considered that part unproductive. It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends or that I didn’t have hobbies, but I just wasn’t talkative. It is difficult for a lot of my friends to imagine the changed person who came into their life later.

Now, let me introduce you to my parents, who play a huge role in shaping the person I am today. I have inherited a lot of my characteristics from them. My mother is the youngest of seven siblings and has a twin sister who is older than her by three minutes. Maa is a major in Mathematics and has spent a lion’s share of her life as a teacher. She is someone who is never deterred by anything that life throws at her. She bravely prioritized motherhood over her higher studies, for which I will always remain indebted to her. However, a staunch believer of the ideology “it is never too late,” she went ahead and completed her master’s degree in Mathematics and received a Bachelor of Education degree after the age of fifty. Her hobbies know no end. She is a singer, an actor, and a theatre director, and currently holds the position of the cultural secretary of our colony. She has a knack for interior design—she could have easily pursued a career in that—and has a terrace garden with all types of house plants. I will never be able to match her level of youthful energy and her eagerness to learn new things every day, be it operating new smartphones or using tripods to record videos. Let me also add that she had two miscarriages, fought against and conquered Hepatitis B, and battled clinical depression. The darkness from which she has pulled herself out is unthinkable, yet she remains the unnerving light in my house who does not stop showing the world what living means.

My father, the eldest of four siblings, faced hardships since he was young. His mother passed on when he was just seven while his father took to be an ascetic and forsook all responsibilities. So, my father and my aunts, the youngest only two-month-old, were, in all sense, orphaned. It was his aunts who sheltered them, for which he remained grateful till his last breath. He always taught me to be humble, loyal and, above all, grateful for what I have. But childhood without parents was jarring and he had to miss out on many opportunities as he could not afford them and could not expect his relatives to spend on him after all that they had already done for him and his sisters. This entailed losing his chance to complete his higher education even after securing an opportunity to study medical sciences. Struggles that you or I will shudder to imagine was his everyday life. As a child, he used to spend Holi inside his house out of fear of ruining his sole good shirt. Hence, to become an established bank manager in one of the leading institutions of the country, after coming from such a background, was more than he could dream of. I don’t think I have to emphasize that I am an extremely proud daughter of a self-made man and value hard work above everything.

Naturally, when my father, the strongest person I had ever encountered, someone who had never even caught a cold, was diagnosed with the last stage of cancer, it was nothing less than a bolt of lightning from the blue. It was in the month of October in 2009, a few days after Diwali, that he visited our family doctor as he perpetually felt tired and was abnormally losing weight. Few tests were prescribed. The CT scan identified lumps, in one of his lungs, that turned out to be malignant. As I have already mentioned, struggles had always been a part and parcel of his life. Maybe, that’s why he didn’t pay much heed to his discomfort while the malignant tumours started nurturing inside him. The following few weeks were akin to a nightmare. Like any other eighteen-year-old who had just started college, I too had left home for studies for the first time with lots of hopes and dreams for my future. Destiny, howbeit, had planned something different for me. My whole life was turned upside down in the span of a month.

Well, we all know what “cancer” is. But until it hits someone close to you and whom you care for, you don’t understand how devastating and draining this disease can be, not only for the patient but also for the entire family. My mother was told by the doctor that my dad hardly had six to ten months left as he was diagnosed at the last stage. My father refused to undergo chemotherapy as he realized it would only add to the pain and wouldn’t cure him. My mother was a warrior, as she always has been, through those days; my father was a hero till the very end. I never heard him cry or whine although he was in pain day in, day out. Naive as it might seem, I strongly believed we would get him back and life would again go back to being “normal.” I prayed a lot during that time as I had full faith in God. However, my father didn’t have to suffer for long, and on Wednesday, November 25 2009, he passed on. I became the unofficial head of the family.

I promised my father that day that his struggles would not go in vain and that I would take care of the family as he had done throughout his life. Another thing changed that day. I lost faith in God. I don’t pray anymore. I don’t believe that the omnipresent will solve all our problems. From that day, I realized that everything that happens is predestined and is not in our control. No amount of prayer will change it, so why bother God?! Instead, divert all that faith into yourself so that when life plays tough games with you, you stay strong and collide head-on without thinking of the outcomes—as did my parents against cancer. I don’t believe we lost against cancer as it has failed to dampen our will to live a vibrant life. On the contrary, it made me stronger. Anxiety doesn’t freak me out anymore because I don’t rely on miracles to happen. I trust in myself and believe that I can handle anything that will come my way. Both my mother and I believe that my dad hasn’t left us. He is always there to show us the path and guide us to happiness and peace.

My father’s death brought me face to face with the real world and I knew I needed to learn to protect myself. Nothing is permanent. You can’t be dependent on anyone for long, as people move on once their purpose in your life is fulfilled. You should learn to get up when you fall rather than searching for a hand to pull you up. My parents are my inspirations, be it in life or in death. I have learned to never give up, to always feel there will be light if you persevere, and that spirit has helped me through all my struggles so far. I appeared for my first semester examinations in college five days after my father’s death. While others suggested I should skip it and repeat a year, I knew my father had sacrificed so much for my education and he wouldn’t have settled for anything less.

Let me elaborate on some prominent changes that appeared in my personality after my father passed on. I started talking more. I started interacting a lot more with people and made many friends. I started talking about my father with my friends and family; it very well could have been a coping mechanism or a way of remembering him, however you want to perceive it. Talking about my father meant keeping his memories alive and sharing it with more people. But I want to clarify that I never did this to arouse any sympathy as I didn’t want people to pity me. It was an inevitable mishap and I can’t deny that it created a huge void in my life, but it is something neither can I blame anyone for nor can I change. It is a part of my life and I must deal with it. I didn’t allow it to break me. One must accept that life is not always kind. However, I feel I was fortunate to have proper shelter, food, clothes, and all other luxuries of life that my parents always provided for me. Baba had completed his tenure and our well-being wasn’t hampered after his demise.

I evolved into a more practical person. I don’t get surprised a lot with uncanny events or news anymore. After being hit with such a stark change within a month, I realized anything can happen, no matter how bizarre it sounds. Truth is stranger than fiction. And above all, I started to accept that death is ineludible and the most real thing in life, and one must not ponder over whether someone’s death was timed well or deserving. I don’t think I have become uncaring or cold, but I have become more accepting of the weird whims and fancies of destiny. I still get a bit nervous before examinations or interviews, but during such moments, when I start losing trust in my abilities, I remind myself that I have gone through much worse and nothing can be as difficult as living and smiling without a parent.

The last and the hardest thing to overcome was to accept that this loss will forever remain in my life and I should not expect anyone to fill it. A father is like the shade of a banyan tree—you can rest in peace underneath knowing it will not let any harm touch you. I tried to look for that shade in friends, family, and prospective life partners, but soon realized that it was a futile search and somewhat unfair towards the other person. I also learned not to dwell in negativity. Instead, I try to relive those good memories with my father and keep him alive in me. Every milestone in life now seems to have one part missing as I can’t share it with my father and can only imagine what he would have said had he been there. I miss those debates when our opinions would clash. Now that I have become wiser and know more about the worldly affairs, how fun it would have been to discuss economics, politics, films, and sports with my father. And above all, I miss my banker dad the most when I have to file my taxes or plan my loan EMIs. My father was loved by one and all around him. Even now, whenever my family gets together, somehow, something he said or did pops up in our conversations and we relive those beautiful days. As I have grown up, I have lost a lot of close people—both family and friends—and there is no denying that it is something I wish could be undone. However, I have slowly but surely learned to stop fighting the past and live in the present. I try to keep those I lost alive in my memories, in my learnings, and in my day-to-day experiences. What I am today is an amalgamation of the learnings I have got from all those who have had any impression on me along the way and a part of them shall forever remain within me.

It would be wrong to say that it was an easy transition and that I didn’t see dark days. Everyone has their own ways to deal with hardships and so did I. Whenever it got hard to communicate the pain I was going through, I used to write my thoughts in a journal and found it to be an amazing way to express myself. It is very important for everyone to learn to accept the reality and try to gauge the best options ahead. Life is beautiful and gives you new opportunities every day. There will be struggles along the way, but I am quite assured from my own experiences that the struggles make you stronger for the road ahead.

Back in 2009, smartphones were not abundant like the present times, so there weren’t a lot of videos of my father except some videos during family weddings and a few recorded conversations during such gatherings. Sometimes it feels I might forget how he sounded or the way he walked but then I close my eyes, and he appears in front of my eyes, ever healthy and smiling, assuring me that there is no way a daughter can forget her father in her lifetime.

I think it is clear that I can go on for ages talking about my father, but, for now, I should stop. If anyone is going through a tough phase in life and feels that there is no road ahead, please feel free to connect with me and, maybe, I will be able to help you. At the end of the day, this is what life is all about.

 

Manami Talukder is currently adapting to the Work from Home norms while quarantining at her hometown—Kolkata. She studied Electrical Engineering at Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Shibpur; worked as a Technology Consultant; and completed Post-Graduation from the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode before entering the mythical world of Management Consulting in 2018. She got married in December 2019, in a traditional Bengali-Tamil style, before the trend of attending weddings over Zoom became the new standard. She loves to spend her time learning new sketching and painting techniques, and utilized the initial periods of lockdown perfecting her baking and roti-making skills. She likes to spend time at home and hasn’t yet lost her sanity because of the pandemic-induced isolation. She is also a trained Bharatnatyam dancer and tries to learn new choreographies during weekends. Manami is mostly a nocturnal being and finds it hard to sleep on time, and hence has recently got addicted to audio stories to accompany her long nights. Her recent interests include solving puzzles, playing carrom, and revisiting Bengali classic novels and movies. Manami spent the first nine years of her life in Siliguri before migrating to Kolkata for most of her student life before work and higher studies pulled her to places like Mumbai, Kerala, Pune, Bordeaux, Hyderabad, and back to Kolkata. She likes to express her opinions strongly but isn’t unwilling to hear others out and is always up for a healthy argument.

She can be contacted on [email protected].

Share on email
Email
Categories
Health and Fitness Personal Essays

My Fitness Journey

My Fitness Journey

By Suraj Sharma

July 24, 2020

“Pick up a fitness routine, if you haven’t done so already, and persevere without any expectation.”

Early Life

I was born in 1987 in a quaint city of India—Guwahati, popularly known as “The Gateway to Northeast India.” From a very early age, I was fascinated with cricket, and would rarely miss any match of the Indian Cricket Team. I intended and dreamed of becoming a professional cricketer by the age of eighteen.

Chasing that dream became an obsession. I played cricket whenever I got time—after school on weekdays and the entire day on Sundays. At the age of ten, I joined a cricket club to train under the guidance of a coach. I would go to the club every day after school to practice. However, reality was quite the opposite. I didn’t fare well in any sports, including cricket. With a frail constitution, I couldn’t run fast and my bowling lacked in pace and precision. I used to be scared of facing a fast bowler in nets while batting. Any batsman with average skill could easily hit my deliveries. Even at school, where we played with tennis balls, I got demoted to Team B, whereas initially I used to play for Team A of my section. When I turned twelve, realization dawned upon me that I could never become a cricketer. Most of the boys in my school, who played good cricket, used to represent their clubs in Under-13 tournaments. I never played for my club in any tournament—not even as a substitute. Later, my family relocated and that put an end to my going to the cricket club. But I continued to enjoy cricket and kept playing with my neighbors, although my competence remained the same. Because of my fragile built, I was always overpowered by everyone. Such was my fate that my weakness even reflected during friendly physical altercations with my classmates.

I was an average student and didn’t possess any other skillset. My school used to emphasize a lot on learning music and dance. I started learning dance and participated in group dance during various school programs. But lo, I was terrible at that as well! I used to be at the back and often played the part of a filler.

My life became more entertaining when my family got the cable connection. It was around the year of 1999. I used to watch WWE, known as WWF at that time, twice a week. It became a part of my being. I used to breathe, eat, and sleep WWF. Even in school, I used to always talk about WWF. From 1999 to 2005, I remember watching almost every episode of WWE, RAW, and Smackdown. I started to fantasize myself as Stone Cold Steve Austin. Hollywood movies filled with action sequences were also my favorites—mostly because of my inability to understand what the actors were saying. I remember watching Rocky, Rambo, Blood Sports, and Double Team multiple times. Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme became my idols. I decided to build a physique like them. I thought, this would compensate for my lack of skill in any field and boost my confidence. I planned—like I always used to do—to start exercising after my 10th board exam, and made up my mind to make my lack of confidence and my frailty a thing of the past.

I wanted to work out but didn’t know how to go about it. My cousin, who was only a year older to me, had been working out at the gym for some time and the changes were clearly visible. He appeared to be gigantic thanks to his broad shoulders and well-developed muscles. I looked like a pencil-thin, malnourished fellow in his presence. I sought his guidance to begin a workout program. My parents did not allow me to go to a gym. Instead, like most Indian parents, they wanted me to focus on my studies. All I could do was freehand exercises. Following my cousin’s suggestion, I started doing jumping jacks, high knees, push-ups, pull-ups, dips, and crunches; and frankly, given my parents’ priorities, that’s all I could manage to do. For two years straight, I did these exercises regularly for four days a week. Surprisingly, for the first time, those came naturally to me. I didn’t struggle the way I did in cricket. I started with five push-ups, which gradually increased to sets of five, sets of ten, sets of twenty, and by the end of a year, I was doing around 250 push-ups regularly in sets of thirty to forty. To gain strength, I started eating more. However, my pull-ups were disastrous. I couldn’t do a single pull-up. All I could do was to hang from a high raise slab for more than a minute with my chin above the slab. I used to enjoy the ritual of those twenty to thirty-five minutes. Somedays, I would go for a run early in the morning with two of my friends and often, we would run around six to eight kilometers. The only competition I had was with myself. I became stronger and developed some muscles, although I was the only one who could see that. I grew taller as well—precisely six-feet tall—and left behind most of my friends who had been taller than me a few years back. My shoulders became faintly broader and my body became slightly athletic.

Engineering Education

In the meantime, I got through a reputed engineering college. I had little over a month for the college to start. As there was nothing else to do, I decided to join a gym. My parents also agreed; my prize for clearing the engineering entrance exam was a month’s gym membership. I joined “Red Indian Gym,” which was close to my home and required minimum membership fee. It had some basic equipment, mostly old, rusty, and worn out. The roof leaked during rain. There wasn’t any trainer or coach, just a few members who did whatever they wished or could. I would wake up early, pick up my friend, who would still be asleep, and rush to the gym on my father’s scooter. We didn’t follow any routine; we just did whatever we willed.

Post that, I started attending college, which was in a different city. I used to stay in a hostel with 100 odd boys and was allotted a newly constructed hostel with no seniors. I didn’t exercise for the first five months. During the second term, my friend and I started going to the college gym, which was cleaner and better equipped. Many seniors, with whom I gradually started interacting, exercised there too. Within a couple of months, I metamorphosed from freehand to gym workout. My exercise regime, which I followed during my entire tenure at college, included barbell chest press, lat pull-down, biceps curl, skull crushers, leg presses, pullover, chest fly, shoulder press, and rowing. At that time, I didn’t do squats or deadlifts as I was unaware of those exercises. Also, parties and unhealthy food went hand in hand.

When my hostel mates started forming a sports team, my name appeared on the list of probable sportsmen—not because of my skills but because of lack of options, as we had few students in the hostel. I became part of the cricket team, thereby playing more than 30 matches as a bowler and the Number 8 batsman. My bowling skills improved. I played a crucial role in winning a few matches. My batting skills, however, remained the same with hardly a double-digit score in any match. I remember hitting only one boundary in an entire year. The reason for this was not lack of strength but lack of skills.

Another instance of gratification came when I was chosen to be a part of the fashion show to represent my college in the annual fest. I didn’t do anything to get the opportunity; it just came my way. This time round, I wasn’t a filler and it was indeed a proud moment.

Professional life

I joined an organization after completing engineering and I was back to my hometown. I immediately enrolled in a gym. It was a basic gym like the one in college. I kept doing the same things that I did. Basically, I followed the same routine for about five years. There wasn’t any improvement in my structure or strength and they remained the same for most part of those five years—neither increased nor decreased. Two years later, I joined a premier gym chain—the Talwalkars—and it was a significant up-gradation in my gym journey. The equipment was of top quality, the gym was air-conditioned, and had a good number of trainers. It felt like a luxury lounge. Few months later, I decided to hire a personal trainer, and exercising under the guidance of a personal trainer was an enriching experience. My trainer focused more on compound exercises, something that I had been ignoring this whole time. I did a lot of deadlifts, weighted squats, and bench presses. Compound exercises are great for building full-body strength as they target and engage multiple muscle groups. Beginners should focus on mastering the compound movements, but with caution as these exercises can cause serious injury. Hence, having a trainer is crucial. I had been doing a few exercises incorrectly. I learned breathing technique: exhale while pressing the bar and inhale in the other motion. The sets per exercise and reps per set also increased. I used to sweat profusely during the workout sessions, but it felt amazing. I used to wait the entire day for the evening. Workout became fun and challenging. I trained under the supervision of the trainer for six months. During this time, I gained a lot of knowledge about workout and my fitness level enhanced. I kept following the routine as prescribed by my trainer on my own for a few months.

I changed city after three years into my job to a metro city. There I enrolled in Gold’s Gym; it was grander. A lot of members had already achieved advanced levels of fitness and the trainers looked like professional bodybuilders. After initially continuing with my old routine set, I thought of getting a trainer in the hope of gaining more insights. After consulting a few members and observing them train, I shortlisted a trainer. He was huge and used to compete professionally as a bodybuilder and demanded a hefty monthly fee. I started training under his guidance. It felt like shifting from the third to the fourth gear. Under his direction, I followed a periodization workout plan. Periodization is important to avoid plateau in a workout regime. For the first three months, I focused on gaining muscles. This required me to be on a calorie-surplus diet and eat adequate amount of proteins. Till then, I believed I could outwork a bad diet; I was wrong. Diet is the key. So, I started eating clean, and reduced junk and alcohol. I started making a mental map of the food I was consuming. Gaining weight was easy for me. I was around 90 kilograms and had to consume around 3,000 calories. As I ate more, I could lift more. There wasn’t any shortage of energy. I became bulkier and gained around four kilograms. The exercise focused on maximizing weights with reps ranging from six to eight and sets ranging from three to four. The key was to reach failure at the eighth rep; failure entailed not being able to perform even one more rep. This enhanced maximum muscle growth. Resting time between sets was not a constraint in this phase. I focused primarily on bigger muscle groups, such as back, legs, chest, and shoulders. Smaller groups, such as biceps, triceps, and calf, were not completely ignored. Then came the difficult phase—cutting fats and conserving muscles. In this phase, calorie intake, primarily carb, should be reduced gradually, and I was supposed to be on a calorie-deficit diet. It was challenging. Workout also changed as rep range and sets increased, and the focus was to keep the heart rate up while feeling the full contraction of the specific muscle group. Cardio, too, was introduced that had to be done after weight training. I was able to perform the exercises but couldn’t stay hungry. Nevertheless, I did what I could, and the outcome was satisfactory.

I worked out in Gold’s gym for two years and that phase was the golden period of my fitness expedition. I met a lot of amazing people who were equally passionate about fitness, and learned a lot about diet, timing of food, different workout plans, etc. These takeaways have helped me become efficient.

The tricks that I gained are:

    • Keep changing the workout every few months; human body is very smart and adaptive.

    • To derive the best results, one must continuously shock the body. Hence, progressive overloading is advised. Keep increasing weights whenever comfort kicks in, even if it is for two reps. Keep changing workout programs. German Volume Training is a good one to break plateau.

    • Diet is the key element of fitness. One can never outwork a bad diet.

    • Rest is important for recovery; else the strained muscles would not grow. That’s why it is not advisable to exercise the same body part twice in consecutive days.

All the points mentioned are applicable to any fitness-related activity.

I also enrolled myself in other forms of fitness routine, such as Yoga, Fitness Boxing, and CrossFit, in multiple fitness centers. All these activities have helped me break my own limitations.

Things that went well for me are:

  • I started early. I was only fifteen, and even though I did twenty-five to thirty minutes of few basic exercises, the benefits were remarkable and helped me build a good foundation.

  • I stuck to it and enjoyed it like any other sports. I followed the same routine, which is not advisable, for a very long time. It is better than doing nothing.

Things that I could have done better are:

    • Focus on diet. For the first eight years, I did not focus on diet. I ate whatever I found tempting and used to consume alcohol regularly. This impaired the result that I was expecting.

    • I stuck to the same routine for a long time. My fitness level reached a plateau and didn’t change.

But in hindsight, I am glad that I did what I did—the benefits have been extensive.

Previously, I was also susceptible to falling sick multiple times a year. Every season change would lead to fever, running nose, cold, etc. I also suffered from acid refluxes. My parents are diabetic and have high blood pressure levels. I was also showing similar signs when I was 25. I am much healthier now and don’t fall sick with change in season as often as I did. Also, I recover faster. I am also able to gradually control the temptation of food and alcohol; from drinking heavily thrice a week, these days I drink moderately once in two months. I am mindful of what I eat, and this has resulted in managing my weight. I once had cholesterol level close to 500 and my body fat percentage was more than thirty-five.

Lastly, fitness has enabled me to control my emotions. There was a time when my professional career was going downhill and I had to brave moments of humiliation.

I was filled with rage and frustration, and didn’t want to share my problems even with close ones. All I could do was lift some iron in the gym. Those days, I would spend half an hour more in the gym and sweat till I dropped dead. It made me calm. Further, I got to interact with people who never bothered to enquire about my professional or personal life.

As a closing remark, I would suggest anyone reading this to pick up a fitness routine, if you haven’t done so already, and persevere without any expectation. Soon, it might be one of the most fun things you do.

 

Suraj lives with his wife Alankrita in New Delhi. He is a Chief Manager at Sterlite Power. Apart from fitness, Suraj is passionate about rock music. He listens to classic rock bands, such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, AC DC, etc. He has also started learning guitar more seriously now, after failing in the first three attempts because of lack of practice. He is fond of travelling, too. Suraj studied Electrical Engineering at the National Institute of Technology, Silchar and pursued MBA at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.

Share on email
Email