I was born a fairly smiley person, befriending people with inadvertent grins, and responding to most situations in life with laughter, sometimes even at inappropriate moments (which has led to some very awkward conversations and many threats of “we can’t take you anywhere” but c’est la vie). This quality has led to a pretty free existence over all; don’t get me wrong, I’m all about open, clear communication but conflicts resolve pretty quickly when you can’t take yourself seriously and it’s hard to stay mad for long when conversations inadvertently devolve into a fit of giggles. This changed in 2011 when I made it to India for my first extended stay. As I navigated the Indian party of my Indian-American identity, I quickly realized that my smiles or laughs, especially with men, were quickly being interpreted as sexual availability. For example, I’d have guys sing me songs and true to form, I’d laugh (I don’t regret this decision) and then panic when they’d try and follow me home. I remember a tailor who took my smile as an invitation to grope my boob when he was measuring me. Within the course of a month, I went from happy-go-lucky Radhika to relaxed bitch face, perpetually on guard Radhika. What started as a survival mechanism slowly grew into a confounding observation upon my return: I had stopped smiling at people I didn’t know, averting my eyes in fear that they’d approach me or even worse, talk to me. About a month ago, I decided to change this pattern. I’ve started smiling at random strangers and have become more conscious of shifty eyes and panicked glances at my phone, desperately trying to prevent human connection. It’s so much easier to avoid people than it is to engage with their humanity, look them in their eyes, confidently speak (even if you’re just saying “no thank you”) and move on with your day. While I’d like to say I’ve progressed from the initial panic, I’ve realized that we all do it. We seem to have turned smiling, eye contact and organic conversations into “awkward” forms of social interaction. Today I’m grateful for this cognizance in the hope that I can trust my intuition when something is off, yes, but not discount all exchanges as malefic. Deep down, we all crave acknowledgement and love, why give up on that idealism because of a few isolated interactions?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a girl named Radhika has had a love affair with ice cream since her childhood. Seriously can’t believe I’ve made it this far without expressing my immense gratitude for my favorite food in the entire world, ice cream. To make up for not making this abundantly clear, I will have you know that I take ice cream very seriously. I cherish my tubs (not cones because come on) by making sure they remain in my freezer for less than 3 days. If my calorie counter and South Asian genetics told me otherwise, I’d bring that down to 24 hours. I’m probably composed of at least 25% ice cream. It is an ideal food – calcium rich, essential fat rich, chocolate rich, I could go on. In the crazy heat of the summer and who am I kidding, the freezing cold of the winter, there is nothing I’d cheat on my diet with or be more grateful for. I am aware this picture doesn’t do my ice cream justice, take my word that it was resplendent and grand looking but then I just couldn’t wait.
In less than month now, I’ll be 25. This event has always held significance for me. Perhaps because my mother would always tell me that 25 is when my brain would fully develop and I could consider myself a “real” adult or perhaps it’s because 25 felt so far away in my freshman year of college that I created a “25 goals” list to accomplish in that distant future. I joke sometimes that I was a new age hippie before it was mainstream. Way before intentions, manifestations and turmeric lattes, eight year old me was creating lists of things I’d like to accomplish by the end of that year. These lists started out with petty (but monumental at age 8) objectives like “get a playset in the backyard”, “buy “x” items from the Ikea catalog” and slowly evolved into “go to London”, “get into Stanford”, “get the highest grade in honors biology”. The interesting thing about these lists was that even if they didn’t come true in my anticipated timeframe, they almost always happened. Two observations: as college began and reality set in, the goals became vague, pronouncedly less descriptive,”iffy”, more about accomplishing the insurmountable steps on the journey than the objective and more in line with what society would have liked to happen to me rather than what I imagined for myself. And perhaps it was that inauthenticity that prompted my last ever list, “25 goals”, divided into pre- and post-, that I intended to accomplish by that monumental age. These goals encompassed both my hopes and my fears, my intent to do normal things like “graduate with honors BA in English and South Asian Studies”, “take the LSAT once”, and “buy a car” as well as, “spend substantial time in India”, “learn how to use a gun”, “write and publish something” and “do what feels right with dance”. Secondly, many of these goals simply happened, without much fanfare. I expected to graduate with honors and I did. I intended to learn to drive and purchase a car so I did. I mention this because while they seemed to me the logical next step, I hardly ever paused to think about the enormous effort, the everyday doing that surmounted to these possibilities coming into fruition. And that is the thing with intentions, we set them afloat into the ether while they swim in our soul, scribbled on a page but etched in our minds hoping that they will magically come true, forgetting that we hold them deep down inside of us, in their truest form, all along. We are our limitations. I’m learning to let go of my grown up expectations, instead reverting back to my childlike purposefulness and perception of time and its limitations as malleable. I hope to stop instating caveats to save me from potential pitfalls and societally-imposed deadlines. Everything happens in due course, on its own timeline. I’ll have to decide how much effort I’ll put in to manifest my intentions.
Today I’m grateful for da real MVP, the unsung hero of my life, the purveyor of restful nights and restless mornings, my bed. Lord knows I need to spend more time with you. Friday night was particularly special because I got to spend an entire, totally shameless, luxurious, 14 hours, fully recuperating, nestled in your company. My deep slumber that night was comparable to my epic collegiate snooze fests. Totally delightful. Here’s to sleep in all forms, including glorious naps 😴
One of the biggest realizations this gratitude project has elicited is that I’m so grateful for my family. You’ve all probably noticed how ubiquitous they are both in my posts and in my reality and for some time, I was embarrassed of that. When I started college, it was as if my closeness to my family and the absence of a large friend circle I spent all my time with predicated something wrong with my social skills. In every family dynamic, we all have different needs, reactions to idiosyncrasies and personal traumas we carry. In my case, I’m lucky my family is a consistent source of gratitude. How often is it that you meet people who are so invested in YOU? Your story, the odd and ever changing cast of characters in it, your emotions, your quirks, your need to chat for hours…it’s really a massive blessing, a metric I measure my success with and a key component of my well being. I struggled writing some of the posts in this series – the ones about Aindra baba and my father were drawn from places of deep vulnerability. I wish I could say we live in a society where it’s easy to share our positive memories of other people. The sad reality is that we often wait until someone passes away (because it can take that long and that absence to realize it) to let them know how much they mean to us. It can be nerve wracking to randomly share your happiest moments or statements of gratitude with someone who has so far just been in your thoughts. Not to sound like a Nike ad, but just do it. I can tell you now, from personal experience, that doing it is INFINITELY liberating. They know how you feel, you know how you feel, it’s concrete and isn’t just floating in the ether of your mind. Sometimes they’ll forget but you’ve shared from your heart what they meant to you and often, that is everything. How my family ties into this you ask? Well, they consistently encourage me to be me and write my heart out, sure, with a healthy dose of judgment, the occasional revelation that they didn’t read a post or two but always with the reassurance that no matter what I say, they’ve got my back, fam. That, to me, is everything.
Grateful for the serendipity of this beautiful wall art matching my dress, the company of my smiley favorite people, and the food filled day at Venice that really was everything over this Independence holiday.
Grateful for cold watermelón, sandia, tarbuj, 🍉 – the only way to get through the Southern Californian summertime without losing ones’ mind. Also much gratitude to the makers of tajín, this Indian brown California girl’s gratefully appropriated Mexican alternative to chat masala.