In 2010, I was 27, invincible, arrogant, all mixed-up, and primed to hit adulthood with everything I (thought I) had. I had just foolishly accepted the calamitous job of setting up and running a new science magazine for one of India’s grand old publishing companies, which also meant I was making fancy money for the first time in my working life, and I had recently found the love of a beautiful, funny and kind woman who was willing to ignore my eccentricities, my moodiness, my tardiness, my physical imperfections, and accept me fully for the odd bird I was.
This was that glorious alignment of events that would define my life and career, I was certain. It was all happening. What wonders would follow? Perhaps I would finally finish that novel I had been rewriting and discarding once every year like clockwork. Or perhaps I would work on making that big movie I had been putting off ever since film school (for lack of funds, people, better ideas, drive, energy, [insert list of excuses]). The air was still somewhat breathable, Lonesome George was still alive, and the future looked eminently editable. The blues was only my favourite genre of music, and not yet the defining narrative template for all of existence.
I am 37 today, entirely different, and perhaps even a bit upgraded, simply for having been repeatedly broken down and remade until I have been left with no edge, minimal airs, and the fewest of fucks to hand out for free. There is a lot of perspective to be gained from a constant state of agitation. The last decade took three grandparents from me, but it also gave me a marriage and a lovely new family. During its course, I had to carefully navigate the abduction of a loved one by a set of hardened international criminals, but this event also restored (some of) my faith in our country’s bureaucracy. The science magazine I had put so much thought and effort into was subverted, broken down, shut down and sold, but exiting it also returned me to children’s books (an industry that I had entered only half-heartedly back in 2002, and had roundly rejected by the end of the Noughties — I am now in it for the long haul, minus all prior misgivings).
I quit a job that came with big perks and a clear long-term trajectory, but it led me to starting a studio that brought me some truly fun branding projects. I lost much of my good health, which I took for granted thus far, to unexpected new allergies and chronic ailments, but these setbacks also led me to martial arts, which in turn led me to rediscover yoga, meditation, and a cleaner diet. My depression intensified in several respects, but its recurrence also gave me better insights into how to manage it (and sometimes even harness it). Nearly twenty years since I began the attempt, I am still writing, discarding and rewriting that old novel, but I am getting more disciplined at the process of writing, my ideas are clearer, and I now know better than to discard the map and turn back the moment I hit an uphill stretch.
And then there is the music, my one true love. In this decade, I have learnt to play blues harmonica, and sing well enough to play live gigs, and hold my own while jamming with seasoned pros. (My fourteen-year-old self would be proud!) But I have also been in at least four bands and multiple music projects that died premature deaths, and the slow decay of the Bangalore music scene has been heartbreaking to watch. It’s always great until it sucks, and vice versa.
Many crises will carry over into tomorrow’s decade: the precarious state of India’s democracy and its economy, the erosion of liberal values and the rise of authoritarianism across the world, the seemingly irreparable condition of our environment, the endless landslide of species loss, etc., etc., etc. I know it’s probably mawkish, given the horror of this situation, to talk of silver linings, but my experience of the past decade has taught me one thing above all: to value optimism. The tough part is in defining that optimism within an achievable framework. And so my wish for you, in this new decade, in your unknowable new future, is that same optimism — a cautious, precise optimism, but also an ultimately liberating one.
Happy new year!