My alarm goes off at 4:30 am. My hand slaps towards my phone as if it is an actual clock, finally managing to silence it, if only momentarily. As a precaution I have set an alarm at 4:25, 4:35 and 4:40 lest my body goes on strike and I miss my flight (which has happened). I hate my life in those early moments of the morning, the sky is still dark and the city (whichever city it is I’m in) is still sleeping.
I’m dazed for the first few moments of whatever musical interlude I’ve chosen to jolt me out of my REM cycles and then all of a sudden my body is almost excessively alert. I sit up straight and especially of late, have a few moments of not remembering where I am.
Once I figure that out, I panic again when I try to remember where it is I’m supposed to be going today. As I rub the sleep out of my eyes, small details of my itinerary emerge through the haze, my initial perceived inability to start a new day has passed, and sooner rather than later I’m indulging my on again – off again romance with Uber and Mumbai Airport Terminal 2.
Since May 2016, I have been traveling anywhere from twice to four times a month, a grueling schedule which escalated over last summer. To make things even more complicated, in mid-September, after more than 30 years, we moved out of our family home, to a flat on Golf Course road. Two weeks later, I moved to Mumbai.
I’m back in Delhi once a month, but because I’m not really used to either my Mumbai flat or my parents’ place yet, I often lose track of possessions between the two. On more than one occasion, I’ve pulled out my entire wardrobe looking for a shirt, which unbeknownst to me, is lurking silently in another closet, in another city.
People often tell me how lucky I am that I have a job that allows me to travel, and you know what? They’re right: I never get bored of the routine because there is no routine. I have a lot of long drives and plane rides and airport waiting and boring nights in strange hotels so I get a lot of reading done.
Traveling makes you a better writer as you experience life in places very different from your own with people very different from yourself. And lastly, my life is never, ever, dull.
But it comes with it’s share of challenges.
I don’t buy groceries for weeks at a time because I am simply home for a day or two in between and the food won’t stay till my next return. My fridge currently has nothing in it but chocolate and beer (that I’ll probably never drink).
My exercise schedule goes haywire, because even if my hotels have gyms, I’m often too physically exhausted or I have more 4-6am wake ups, which leave very little time for recreation, or I have to go back to the hotel room and work.
Eating out doesn’t help the exercise bit, and my stomach is sensitive so I get sick a bit more often from eating lunches and dinners in strange places.
Menstruating while spending hours on dusty stretches of industrial roads with limited access to clean washrooms is a fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Most washrooms have neither toilet paper nor hand soap, availability of sanitary napkins is scarce.
Tampons are just a whole other ordeal, because you have no idea where you’ll be in eight hours. I once changed three in as many hours so that I’d make it through the end of the day without having to worry about safe disposal and changes.
Then if you have an overactive imagination like I do, and you cross that sacred threshold that the health and safety pamphlets warn you about, you make mental notes to google symptoms of toxic shock syndrome, and the like. And of course once you google symptoms, any symptoms really, they start to appear like phantom limbs – you feel them but they’re not really there.
If you’re a male reader and this is making you uncomfortable, my apologies, but this is a harsh reality when you spend lots of time travelling to factories. The fact of the matter is, sometimes a really great meeting can make my day, and other times, all it takes are the restroom facilities at the local Dominoes Pizza joint.
I have no personal life. It’s impossible for me to plan beyond the next 2-3 weeks and even within that, I usually have to cancel or change plans a million times. Any sales (or customer service) job involves a huge amount of emotional energy. When you’re a naturally introverted person, no matter how much you love being social, you need time and space to recover and recuperate.
This is why I live alone. I have, with much difficulty, managed to furnish an apartment in Mumbai, during these 8 months. It’s taken all the extra energy I have and then some to do this. Doing up a house in India is a whole different ball game than it is anywhere else, fraught with late deliveries, broken pieces and wayward carpenters.
But today, now that I’m almost done, my flat is my safe space, the place where I can get my own time back, and find my bearings. And while I get lonely and crave company sometimes, I also really crave my solitude. Time and space where I don’t have to talk to anyone, and don’t have to do anything.
This means, that when I get back from any time on the road, making plans becomes an effort and exhausting because I’m simply too tired and the thought of voluntary human contact is overwhelming.
Many friends did not understand this change at first. I’ve had people walk out of my life (in one case permanently) because they felt disrespected or like I wasn’t there for them anymore. These are people I always made time to listen to in the past, but with my new schedule, things were tougher and I was overwhelmed a lot more.
In the case of the friend who walked out permanently, it was just that it was beyond what I was physically capable to pick up the phone. I knew we would just discuss the same issues he had been having for the last three years (which, I might add, he hadn’t bothered to actually do anything about), and I knew I didn’t have the energy.
Men who ask me out, are often put out that I’ll cancel at the last minute or struggle to make plans with them at all. Often, rather arrogantly, they’ll assume I am some sort of basket case or nervous wreck, who was simply waiting for the right companion (read: them) to step in and save the day. Sometimes, in an amusing twist, they think I’m playing hard to get, when the reality is that I couldn’t be bothered.
This means when I actually find time to spend with them, during the occasional quiet spell, they get weird, tell me they’re seeing me too much, and vanish. The fact that I’m usually relieved is telling. Whatever the case is, the motivation to go out there and connect with people is fickle and evaporates quickly.
The good thing about being so exhausted is you walk away from things easier. When I had the time to sit and worry about what people thought of me, it plagued me and filled me with negativity. Today I can just let it go, because there are a hundred things more important than it. My work, my writing, my reading and my yoga.
Somehow, between furniture deliveries, interstate journeys, reading, writing, and trying to maintain some sort of fitness regime, I have found some semblance of peace, a happy medium, or space to exist, if you will.
It is the people I am still connected to that inspire me to be better, in the various different areas of my life. I want to keep working, keep learning, and keep growing as I go. While I am thankful for this, I am also terrified that something may upset the balance at any moment. I’m doing a lot of things I love, and that’s where my focus stays these days.
For now, it is one day at a time. I’ll figure out the rest as I go.