Confessions of an unconventional life — the unspoken emotions of unfulfilled life purpose, whilst chasing giraffes on Safari. (This is not a romance novel.)
I grew up on a diet of books that promised me a happily ever after. I used to visit the book exchange in the small farm village, called “Green Cat Book Exchange” which had rows upon rows of a lavender framed paperback series called “Silhouette” with swooning non BIPOC couples on the cover, whitewashing me to believe life the way it was portrayed. Or I could choose Mills and Boon, which displayed a distinctive red rose on the cover, in the middle of the “and” in “Mills and Boon,” symbolizing love and swooning romance. Each book had a different enticingly colored frame, with titles like “Love made the choice” or “Love rekindled.” They looked like colorful quality street chocolates, waiting to be unwrapped to discover the delicious delights inside. Just the sight of these books excited me with the potential escapism that awaited me.
For added variety, I could choose Harlequin historical novels, featuring the infamous long-haired Fabio on most covers, which promised tall, blonde and handsome even to the Indian girl snacking on green mangos and chili powder in the heat of summer in Verulam. Of course, there were other genres too, such as Dean Koontz and Stephen King. But for a girl in a small town without much happening besides the Saturday farmers market, romance novels promised an escape from reality. They offered a hope in happily ever after — and a respite from reality.
The books shared steamy love sessions and ended in marriage which my precocious mind lapped up. At that impressionable, precocious age, my mind was conditioned to believe that I would meet someone, have steamy love sessions then end up with happily ever after… with kids and an abundant life in tow..
Why couldn’t there have been books available at that time, that could have warned me of the fact that happily ever after is something rare, it never works out like that… for some people… and I am one of those some people?
Why couldn’t there have been books that warned me that throwing money at a problem like embarking on fertility treatment would not guarantee a child or pregnancy? That practicing positive thinking or the power of manifestation doesn’t miraculously give you what you so desire, neither would regular acupuncture treatment and traditional Chinese medication along with the treatment… that I would have to give away those carefully chosen baby clothes that I bought with delight and anticipation, that these along with the popular book “What to expect when Expecting” all would be given to family members who would be falling pregnant despite the pregnancy thing missing me totally. Watching successive family members consistently expect to term, while that door remained closed to me, despite me wanting it so badly.
Why couldn’t there have been a book that told me that my dreams of having a mini-me, dressing her, buying her dolls and tea sets and re-enacting my childhood games didn’t mean that it would happen. And that for years after I would still look at babies or toddlers and feel a sharp pang of loss, loss of my maternal abilities, to be denied of knowing what it feels like to be a biological parent; a world I would forever be barred from.
Where is the book that could have warned me that instead of happily ever after I would be spending years paying for a house that I was not living in and that my bad choices in a marriage would force me to lose money? Because life doesn’t work on fairness. Where is the book that could have told me, that if I wasn’t brave and learnt to be self-reliant, I would be unhappy. Because self-reliance is power.
Where were the books that would warn me that just because I turned 45, didn’t mean that I would have my shit together. That I could turn 45 and still be living my life alone, despite temporary diversions into partnership and joy. That nobody would understand my pain, as others naturally progressed into life’s next stages or chapters as we are meant to, whilst time stood still for me, rendering me barren, childless and partnerless..
Where are the books that would show me that I would need to hang on to my brave facade and pretend that these things don’t matter to me and that I am happy the way I am… celibate and alone..
Where are the books that would warn me that at 45 I would still be searching for my life’s purpose, I would still be this person who was directionless, unable to finish things I have started and always seeking … that I would constantly be battling with my weight issues, and that fat always comes back when you slip up and eat too much and become lazy… that one can suffer with deep body image issues and it will never go away unless you literally starve yourself from sugar and carbs…that hot girls are not made of sugar, spice and all things nice, but from nutraceuticals, supplements, gym, veggies and Botox.
Where is the book that would warn me that that if I starting eating like crap again I was still going to suffer intense fibroid pain and feel like crap, erasing years of my good efforts, as if they never occurred. (okay they were many books around like that, promoting healthy eating, I just had to add that in there because of the current state I’m in.)
Where are the books that would warn me that I would be besieged by social media images of “thin” beautiful women pretending to have body image issues and saying it’s ok to be fat or voluptuous or have no make-up on but have banging figures without knowledge of what fat is, or fabulous faces without makeup anyways. Or that I would encounter strong proponents of anti-size zero, talking about loving the body you are in, who themselves have no fucking clue what it feels like to go into a store and have nothing fit or look good on you because you are too big. Or famous makeup brand owners talking about their journey to feel proud without makeup, and go natural, whilst omitting the fact that this journey entailed numerous visits to the aesthetician for skin peels, fillers, Botox, threads, nose jobs etc. Please, own your shit.
I wish there was a book that could have warned me that in the midst of my body laser hair reduction treatment, the world would be plunged into an uncertain, never-ending pandemic and that my hairy parts would remain in that terrain of hair limbo; patches of smooth amidst other patches of hairs still growing in abandon, long, hardy and strong like weeds..
Or a book that could have warned me that it’s possible to find contentment in life, and be happy with your current state of affairs but it could all change in a flash. That I could enjoy for a period that lovely feeling of having someone hold my hand and drive me around; taking me to the supermarket and constantly carrying my bags; but the next moment I could be flying during a pandemic to a different country and grapple with different societal norms and thinking, and having to drive myself everywhere and carry my own groceries, feeling like an alien in my own birth country. As Joan Didion wrote: “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” In my case I sat on a plane, drank copious cups of cardamom karak, and when I landed, life as I knew it ended. The goodbye to my gorgeous bevy of friends was not a hello to a new clique of friends.
Where is the book that could have warned me that everything is fragile, one day you can feel on top of the world and living your best life and the next day everything you loved is gone (or a lot of everything you love)?
Where are the books that would warn me that my trials and tribulations at 45 hold ears of sympathy with those in their 30s and 20s because that’s the generation that is going through what I go through. Where is the book that would warn me that I could end up like those single spinsters I used to wonder about, was their life situation their choice or something that the hand of fate dealt them?
Where is the book that would warn me that there is this phenomenon called the great resignation, and at 44, I could be quitting my job and still searching for the way forward?? Are life’s accomplishments measured by a successful marriage, or having children — how much you proceate, or a successful career? These are things that define people so much, and how we identify people. If I have been unable to secure any of those achievements, what is my life measured by? What then, is my purpose on earth? Where are the books that could have warned me, that at 45 I would still be seeking, asking and searching for all these answers and still be unsure about my life’s purpose..
Where is the book that could have warned me that the nomadic lifestyle I chose of living in different continents for 5–6 years at a time, then returning back home, came with huge rewards but risks too, as I would forever be struggling to integrate into different places I was at, including my home country? Where is the book that would tell me that its possible to never feel comfortable in one’s own community as one’s ideas and way of living, were too non-conformist? Or that it’s ok not to feel one belongs, in a nation that despite time, is still healing from the horrors of apartheid-enforced living.
Where is the book that could have warned me that therapy, meditation, acupuncture, gym etc. was not going to make me whole and that nothing can make me whole besides acceptance. Where is the book that warned me that yes money isn’t the key to happiness but having it really helps!!
Where is the book that could have warned me that I could find myself at 44, in my childhood home with my immediate family, spending a Christmas similar to my childhood and adolescence, feeling as if nothing has changed for me?
Of course I think there are many books that address all of the above, but the most important time to have access to those books are during one’s formative years. During my formative years I only had the Green Cat Book Exchange with its plethora of cliched romance, and happy endings…I feel that the Green Cat gave me expectations that were far too steeped in fantasyland and I am still struggling to accept the reality of a life so different from what was promised or idealized.
Was it a bad thing that I grew up believing in fantasies and love and happily ever after, as it didn’t prepare me for real life or was it a good thing that I had so much of hope, optimism and naïveté about the way things really are?
Why wasn’t there a book that explained that most animals roam in packs for protection and feeding and most animals always couple, but that doesn’t mean that all humans have the same natural progression. Brianna Wiest says that “human beings are hard-wired for connection to others and to a group.” What about life during a pandemic or when one is in a space where one is constantly alone for years? Where is the book that would warn me how to cope with that? To cope with loneliness and a life alone, exacerbated even further by an endless pandemic. And to not start hoarding toilet paper in alarm! Where is the book that could have warned me that relocating to another country during a pandemic would mean starting over, and that during a pandemic I would be forced to live a solitary life for years, unable to socialize and acclimatize?
Brian Chesky wrote in his letter on what makes Airbnb, Airbnb (the revised form S1 for the 2020 IPO), that “people are feeling increasingly disconnected in the world, and loneliness is pervading our society. The opposite of loneliness is belonging- the feeling of deep and genuine connection to a person, a place, or community. It’s the feeling of being “at home.” The feeling of being known and loved. As the world continues to change, people’s fundamental need for connection and belonging will not.” Brian I’m glad that you are writing about this now as this is a valid concern, and I wish there were an Airbnb.org when I was a kid, leading the way with refugee support and relief housing. You and your “art of hospitality” (ok I borrowed that phrase from Sequoia Capital) really changed the hospitality industry on its head! Too bad about your customer service.
p.s. I love that one of your first guests was an Indian! (Amol Surve — sharing the name, in case you, like me, find yourself often doing a deep dive down a rabbithole of the most random google searches. It’s an exceptional story not just of accommodation but of giving experiences. He wrote on his blog: “it’s amazing how one trip can have such an impact on your life.” P.p.s- when they changed the Airbnb logo I immediately thought and still do that it looks like a butthole….)
Why wasn’t Dr Vivek Murthy (former US surgeon general) around, to publish his book: “Together: the healing power of human connection in a sometimes lonely world”, talking about the three types of loneliness: intimate, relational or collective loneliness?
On the eve before my 45th birthday, I booked myself in a game reserve for some solitude and reflection in a beautiful environment. I saw many wild animals living their best lives in large groups. I learnt that springbok mums raise their kids together to protect from hyenas and jackals, so one will always see them in a group. It seemed to me that most animals are societal, living in groups for various purposes and benefits.
I drove for 3 hours in the magical savannah, chasing elusive giraffes which was the highlight and a perfect conclusion to the safari. I made friends with Kero the curious giraffe, who preferred human company to his own partner Ella, so has not made her pregnant yet. I wondered if Kero was my spirit animal, trying to send me a message, that’s it’s ok to be a kook and spend time gallivanting on random solitary adventures despite a normal life awaiting you.
I also took the time to reflect and pray- staying away from my satanic slut of a phone constantly calling for attention and mindless scrolling. I do feel a lot to be grateful for; grateful for my good health (so grateful- especially after reading “Between 2 kingdoms” — Suleika Jaouad, “The year of magical thinking” — Joan Didion and “Crying in H-Mart”- Michelle Zauner). Grateful for being able to visit this beautiful place and for all the beautiful places that my nomadic soul has seen so far. Grateful for my life experiences to date. Grateful for my family, who have always been a support to me despite the distance and who have accepted and tolerated my different way of thinking and acting things out. Grateful for a mother who allowed me to travel and accepted that I was never going to be around, grateful for a sister that believes she is the older one, and constantly wanting to mother me..
Grateful for the friends I have made and that are scattered around the world…I feel lonely at this stage in my life and fearful that the bonds I have with them may break or fade due to the distance, but I have hope that they don’t. From Italy to Sweden to Peru to New Zealand to Senegal to Ecuador to the USA … I hope and pray that we always have these bonds, and can pick up where we left, despite the years of absence. Grateful that despite feeling this way, I have made friends who have similar experiences to me, and together we can share our emotions. Grateful to love my own company and be comfortable in traveling alone. Grateful for this time of reflection..
If sharing my feelings of emptiness, loneliness and lack of direction has touched one person, I would be happy, because I want to be that book that shows that happily ever after is not something that is real, you can have moments of it, and you can also have moments of happiness being alone too, along with moments of intense sadness either way.
I want to be that book that teaches and reveals that you can still enrich your soul as a childless, partnerless, person and you can still be searching for the meaning and purpose of life even at 45. And it’s ok, as if it isn’t, what choices does one have? I want to be that book that reveals that you can be 45 going on 25 but feeling like 65. Keep on moving and searching, on this mysterious journey called life.
See what I did there? I tried to give it a happy or positive spin! Because. Power of positive thinking and hope! But. This is NOT a romance novel.