What I Learnt in 2017

What I Learnt in 2017 | Nupu Press | nupupress.com

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” — Rumi

This has been a year of big changes.

I quit some old habits (*cough*) and picked up several new practices, including meditation, running and cooking all my meals (from scratch, even mayonnaise, truffles and stock). These are things I thought I wasn’t even capable of doing, let alone enjoying. To keep evolving is a delight, but the ability to surprise myself is perhaps the most heartening.

A lifetime devotee of not just travelling but moving from country to country and continent to continent, with a suitcase always packed and ready to go, I’ve now decided to stay put for the time being and feel part of something bigger than me – a community, a tribe. It’s been a very long time since I’ve felt centred and content being exactly where I am instead of thinking I could be somewhere else. This too has come as an unexpected but welcome surprise.

My father used to say that you can tend other people’s gardens for only so long before you want to plant and grow something of your own. And this became the year that, after more than 22 years of working as a hired hand on other people’s film productions, I decided to instead put down the seeds for my own venture.

Here are some more leaps I made in 2017:

Whether I think the world is a frightening and cruel place, or that it’s full of kindness and wonder – I am always proven right.

Everything is better after a nap.

When making decisions I realised I was more often than not guided by politeness (not happiness, or inner wisdom, as much as I’d like to have believed so). This meant I was willing to put others’ comfort and ease above mine, even though the bulk of the world’s population – that is, just about everyone except for my mother – do not deserve this favour.

Misery is a great catalyst for change.

I read somewhere (on Pinterest?): “Losing weight is hard. Being fat is hard. Pick your hard.” This is so true, I now apply it in all sorts of ways. Such as: “Being single is hard. Being in a relationship is hard. Pick your hard.”

I don’t need to wait for permission to do what I know in my heart is right.

A bad boss comes into your life to teach you to put up boundaries and to appreciate your own self worth. A really bad boss comes into your life to show you it’s time to get out and create your own rules.

I used to go about having very strong opinions on being minimal and organised, travelling light, and how one should eat. Righteousness and moral superiority of any kind has a real stink about it, I was late in learning. It’s quite the most off-putting thing in the world. Live and let live. Give others the space to choose for themselves without judgment.

Do it with compassion or don’t do it at all.

All my life I imagined I could make myself impervious to hurt by protecting myself (ha!), especially when it came to matters of the heart. My greatest lesson of 2017 has been a willingness to be vulnerable. Ironically, nothing has strengthened me more. When I at last dropped the armour and spoke my truth, I was set free.

While I’m generally in favour of asking for support by consulting therapists or taking classes, sometimes it’s just as (or more) therapeutic to trust my inner guide instead.

I don’t want to spend time on social media. The more people insist I do, the more I insist I don’t. “She had 1 million followers” would be the worst epitaph ever.

Sometimes simply talking about something difficult helps ease the torment.

I’ve stopped thinking travel is a magic pill, something that can somehow fix or heal me. The same goes for retreats, therapists and diets.

A goal is not a thing, a result, or an achievement, but something as ephemeral as a feeling. I want to feel my way to what I want.

Never rely on free airport wi-fi.

Starting meditation was terrifying. I’d spent a lifetime purposely keeping myself distracted at all times so as not to face The Void. But I somehow kept a daily practice, not even sure half the time if I was doing it correctly. Eight months later I can credit meditation with unexpectedly gaining a philosophical acceptance of what I have no control over – which is, come to think of it, pretty much everything.

When in doubt, err on the side of being open-hearted.

Rather than set goals and then get upset when they don’t happen as I’d planned and thereby feel like a failure, I’ve stopped creating targets altogether. Instead I choose at every stage how I want to take the next step. This way I can incorporate newly acquired knowledge and skills – because I always know more today than I did yesterday – instead of operating on autopilot.

We teach others how we wish to be treated by the way we treat ourselves. Also, somewhat connected: if I’m feeling unsupported, I need to support myself.

I refuse to be an accountant with my life and keep score. I’d rather give with my heart and receive with my heart.

One of the two most enraging phrases in the English language is “fake it till you make it”. Urgh. I don’t want to fake anything. If I don’t know something, I prefer to ask. Learning is far more empowering. (The other most enraging phrase is “must-have”; if one must have anything it’s kindness and curiosity, not the latest gadget.)

We give advice to people instead of fixing ourselves.

If my heart knows what gives it peace, then my job is simply to honour it. She who honours her heart wins.

This is my age of bravery.

“Don’t let anyone mess with your mojo.” Almost every year since my best friend Ro said this to me, it’s made an appearance on my leap lists. It is consistently one of the wisest things I keep re-learning, so I’m repeating it here once again.

The other reminder is one I all too easily forget, but was told by my landlady when her friend was killed in a freak accident: “Life is unpredictable; make the most of it.”

The saddest part of 2017:

When my darling friend Annie Mathews left us all too soon, taken by cancer.

We first met in 1995 on Mira Nair’s Kama Sutra, the first film job for both of us. We became great friends, staying with each other in various homes and film sets across multiple cities over the decades. So much so that when I worked at Disney I christened my spare room The Annie-Aradhana Room in honour of my two most frequent guests.

Annie was always Annie, unswayed by popular opinion, intolerant of saccharine, genuine to her core. I used to say that if you cut Annie open, you’d see she was running on caffeine, nicotine and alcohol – a joke she loved sharing.

She took immense pride in her fierce reputation. She expected her team to be diligent and extraordinary, and in turn she always did right by them, protecting them at all times. This unique brand of tough/secretly tender love meant she had a swarm of colleagues and friends who were devoted to her.

And Annie’s capacity for friendship was indeed staggering. We would meet the same people at the same time, but where it would take me years to develop a bond, Annie did it in a matter of days, if not hours. It’s a special knack I witnessed many times, yet can’t explain its magic formula.

She’d tell me of going to someone’s wedding or someone’s child’s graduation (in Germany); I’d sigh about the ridiculous number of people she knew and she’d remind me that I too had worked with them. She maintained her friendships as well, which meant she was always being invited somewhere – to house-sit on a Greek island, or go hiking in Argentina – and off she would go, sometimes writing travel articles for magazines along the way.

We worked together over the years. She was my ally and right hand, the only other person who prided in being as detail-oriented and process driven. One time she created a chart so impeccable I literally cried when I saw it (in my defence, Annie had shown me precisely how my half million dollars in hotel rooms was being spent – it was colour coded and everything). Even outside of work I’d routinely call her to ask, “who’s this person and do I like them?” because Annie remembered everything. As we both often said, she at times knew me better than I knew myself. As I’d written earlier, Annie was also such a wealth of resources, contacts and information that my simplest solution to any dilemma was to ask her for advice.

Oddly enough, we had both grown up in Kuwait, though had attended different schools so hadn’t know each other then. Annie and I were opposites in many ways – I soft on the outside but often cynical inside, and she the other way around. Her brusque manner belied an unexpected sentimentality. Every gift I ever gave her (green, always a shade of green) was forever displayed and utilised in her home, and spoken of with great affection. She could never get rid of old clothes or defunct appliances, and had a cupboard full of gaffer tape – as well as old 35mm cans from when we still used them – collected from each film she had worked on.

The last time I saw her was when she’d come over to my place a few weeks before she died. She was visibly very frail. The short walk from the car to the lift, and the lift to my door weakened her. She had messaged earlier that due to her speech difficulties, I was to do all the talking. I did so for the first hour, encouraged by her hand motions to continue and elaborate. After she regained some strength, she started to talk as well, recounting the somewhat macabre trials with her health, and all the perky people (she detested perky) she had to encounter. Annie was still Annie, even if her voice was waning and her exterior no longer matched her tough spirit.

We come to know who we are and what we’re made of when faced with extreme circumstances. Annie, it became evident, was loyal. Not just to her friends and family but also to her own beliefs. One of her closest friends, Mitali Saran, wrote this wonderful tribute to Annie and her decision to go the naturopathy route once she received her diagnosis.

I was out of the country when Annie passed away, and it’s taken me some time to get my head around the fact that she’s not here any more. It still feels strange and somewhat unreal. World traveller, true friend, legendary tough nut – I miss her enormously.

What I Learnt in 2017 | Nupu Press | nupupress.com
Kama Sutra wrap party, December 1995. From left: Rudabah Nanporia, me, Annie.
More cheerful discoveries of 2017:

While I imbibe a large volume of books, films and culture, here are a few that affected me in practical ways this year. (These did not necessarily begin life in 2017, though this is when I first experienced them.)

(c) Nupu PressI read Essentialism by Greg McKeown at a time when I didn’t know what to do about my unhappy work situation. It reminded me to focus on what really matters – and I gave notice to my employer the following week.

(c) Nupu PressI never bothered/cared about the British royal family, other than the fact that my tax pounds go towards their upkeep – an unappealing thought. Watching The Crown therefore did the unthinkable and made me empathise with these ridiculous people. Who would’ve thunk it? (Plus the fact that Harry – who once apparently said to a journalist of a former girlfriend from Zimbabwe “it’s not like she’s black or anything” – has proposed to a half-black divorcée who actually seems smart and relevant has marginally lessened the dismay over my tax pounds.)

(c) Nupu PressI always found it weird how, for the longest time, stories about gay people were always about the fact that they were gay. Likewise, stories about couples where the woman is older than the man could never quite get past the age factor, as if that angle was all there was to the story. And so too has been the situation for Muslim characters in mainstream Western culture. (Moreover, as Iranian-American comedian Maz Jobrani’s book title aptly captured the dire situation: I’m Not a Terrorist, But I’ve Played One on TV.)

So I was happy to see numerous strong voices this year going beyond the predictable, tired and simplistic. These voices happen to be Muslim, and while they acknowledge what that signifies, they also thankfully go beyond it to tell stories about the human experience. Hasan Minhaj’s stand-up Homecoming King was clever and funny. While The Big Sick, written by Kumail Nanjiani (who also starred) and Emily V Gordon about their real-life relationship hit all the right notes without getting heavy-handed or preachy, as I’d mentioned here. Honourable mention goes to In Between, about three Arab roommates living in Tel Aviv; the director Maysaloun Hamoud got a fatwa for daring to tell a story showing women being independent, drink, do drugs, be gay and have sex.

(c) Nupu PressMy favourite health tip comes in two parts, and both incidentally from Sarah Wilson (she of I Quit Sugar fame). I learnt from her book Simplicious to fill an ice-cube tray with lemon juice, ginger and turmeric, topped up with water, so I can pop a cube into a mug of hot water every morning easy peasy. And the second part I learnt (from her blog) is to sip the hot water while sitting on my haunches soon after I get out of bed. It seems to help wake up my digestion and gets things moving!

(c) Nupu PressThis was my favourite joke of the year. I first heard this I believe on Tara Brach’s meditation podcast, and saw it repeated on the internet, but I’m afraid I don’t know where it originated, so apologies for the lack of acknowledgement to its rightful owner, but it’s too good to not share!

A man walking along a California beach, deep in prayer, says out loud, “Lord, please grant me one wish.”

Suddenly a booming voice says, “Because you’ve tried to be faithful to me in all ways, I’ll grant you just one wish.”

The man says, “Please, Lord, build a bridge to Hawaii so I can drive over any time I need to see the beautiful sights and alleviate the stress in my life.”

And the Lord said, “Your request is really materialistic. I mean, think of the logistics of that kind of undertaking, the supports required to reach the bottom of the Pacific, the concrete and steel... Take a little time. Think of another wish – one that could truly evoke my almighty power.”

The man thinks about it for a long time and finally says, “Lord, I wish I could understand women. I want to know how they really feel. What they’re thinking when they give me the silent treatment. Why they cry. What they mean when they say, ‘Oh, it’s nothing.’ And, most importantly, how I can make a woman truly happy.”

After a few moments, the Lord says, “You want two lanes or four on that bridge?”

“The ultimate teacher is not an experiment, not even an experience, but our own self-discovery.” — Sri Chinmoy

A very special thank you, my dear readers, for continuing to read this blog. It means so very much to me!

I wish each of you a safe, rich, exciting, healthy and gorgeously rewarding 2018!

With much love,
xxx Nupu

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9 thoughts on “What I Learnt in 2017

  1. Your thoughts resonate deep. Being a gulf kid myself and having lived in many continents and traveled to a fair bit more, I (to my surprise) felt a disconnect with people around me who boast about ‘being in love with travelling… Living to travel… Etc’. This discomfort nagged me till I read your words, about how self nourishment and self discovery reign further and stronger than the ‘magic pill’ fixes in life. Meditation intimidates me still, hopefully I will overcome that fear.
    Shout out to the most endearing learnings you wrote, ‘I want to feel my way to what I want.’. I can print me a t-shirt with this quote :)
    Much love, power and peace your way. Keep writing!

  2. Just saw your blog update in my mailbox , and can’t stop myself reading it and responding on it. wonderful feeling ! as always , the way you approach and travel in your experiences , understandings and feelings; is so alive.

    for me this year was year of introspection , actualisation and getting back my innocence . Since my first english feature film (Life flows on) released last year (21st october, 2016) , I was disappointed , exhausted and disheartened by releasing process and responses , the very way this project get treated by distributors and industry , as well as my actualisation of the ‘chaos and politics ‘ (which is our indian film industry) , made me little cynical , why I have to face this? what’s wrong with me? i have always been a seeker , since 12-13 years I always try to work on myself than preaching others , trying to find out what is the best I can do in any situation , never try to compete with some one, have always good intentions , i always rely on my ‘own experiences’ and ‘knowledge’, then why I have face such negativity and rude behaviour of my patrons and even by some of my team members. I have decided go away from my surrounding for some time , and live in isolation.

    I have decided to go through deep introspection and self enquiry , and also started revisiting my experiences , acquired knowledge and the very process how I get stuck to something which I understood as ‘knowledge’ . The process was deeply painful , as I started digging , found my ‘ego’ attached to many things which is not me . In appearance it looks very normal and soft but inside its not less than any growing disease . After sometime , being in this process of introspection and self enquiry I found its an endless process , why i am doing this ? , isn’t i am looking for some ‘knowledge’ again , ‘some experience’ from where I can draw a conclusion ?

    so I stopped that analytical process and started a very peaceful way of living , totally stress free , relaxing and doing what I feel like doing, in few weeks I got this insight that actually the more I go deeper the I more I realise that “I don’t know” , Even in the most authentic, deep and intense experience of ‘myself ‘, from which I got stuck with long time , it was nothing but a deep realisation that ‘I am not able to know or explain’ even if I am able to live it automatically but not able to express what exactly it is. and then I saw , my ego , my anger and frustrations , disappearing .

    By end of this year , I am feeling free , peaceful and mysteriously childish . Wishing you, friends and myself a loving , blissful , productive , creative and prosperous 2018 !!! Lets celebrate love , life and creativity together in coming year/s !!!

    1. Thank you, Vishaal, for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Rising above difficult experiences requires both self-awareness and self-worth – kudos to you for having both. Wishing you a rewarding year ahead!

  3. Nupu – a great reflection full of insights, big and simple truths. “pick your hard” << I'm going to steal that. Wishing you lots of love and further insight in 2018.

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