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What I learned in 2013

Last updated on: December 31, 2013 20:52 IST

Photographs: Geoffery Kehrig/Creative Commons Paloma Sharma

As the year draws to a close, 18-year-old Paloma Sharma writes about what the past year has taught her.

Now that I’ve evolved fairly well from a highly functional blob of nerdy-ness to an only slightly functional human being over the span of a year, I feel it is my moral duty to share some pearls of wisdom with my fellow young people.

‘Tis the season to be jolly and to learn from the mistakes we made and experiences we had this year. I wish to share with you what I learned in 2013 in the form of a whole whopping FIVE tips!

Yes, I’m a slow learner.

(Disclaimer: I’m just writing these down for my own sake so that I don’t forget to do all of this after I see Keanu Reeves on the big screen in 47 Ronin and undergo major heartbreak and partial amnesia.)

1. Be Yourself

Photographs: Claudia Marchán/Creative Commons

Cliché as it sounds it is important to always be yourself – unless you’re Justin Bieber, in which case, please try to be someone else – anyone else.

However, if you are you (which is good news) then why would you want to be somebody different?

I suppose I do understand the pressure we’re all under to put up a pretty picture and act like everything is perfect. That was exactly what I was trying to do at the beginning of 2013. I was trying to be socially appropriate weight with socially appropriate grades and a socially appropriate status (i.e., NOT single).

But I failed at it miserably.

I self-diagnosed my condition as Lowselfesteemititus. I wasn’t all that I was trying to be and given all the pressure to be all of those things, I probably would never achieve any of them – except the weight part, of course – still got my fingers crossed on that one.

The lesson I learned is that since none of the above goals really spoke to me, I wasn’t going to give my best to accomplish them, which would only aggravate my anxiety; and somewhere along the line I’ve come to make peace with the fact that I’m a mess.

I’m also a writer, but mostly just a mess.

And that’s okay.

Maybe I’ll evolve, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll be someone else tomorrow. But for today, I am me; and that is blissfully liberating.

2. Find Your Happy Place

Image: Lake at the IIT-B campus
Photographs: Paloma Sharma

Even the most battle-hardened souls need a sanctuary. It’s like Achilles said to Briseis in Troy, “You gave me peace in a lifetime of war.”

Now, unfortunately, not all of us can be a strapping young warrior with piercing blue eyes and a mane of long, blonde hair (that’s alright, take a moment to drool) and have temple maidens falling all over us in the name of calm and comfort.

So what we mortals must do is find a place where we feel safe and at home.

Perhaps in January 2013 I would’ve laughed at this idea. How could a mere location help anything? But trust me, it does.

Every time I need a break, I hop onto bus number 424 to the IIT-B campus and land up at my all-knowing, all-pervading, omnipresent and absolutely lovely aunt’s doorstep. That’s my happy place and she’s my happy person. She sorts me out and sitting by lake for hours on end – watching the birds, the mongooses and the turtles, looking out for crocodiles – is the best thing I can think of doing with my time.

But that’s just my way of unwinding. Maybe yours is to dance it off in some happening (read: scary) nightclub with blinding, flashing light and loud, disorienting sounds. Or maybe you like to veg-out on your couch with a couple of friends and watch old movies.

Whatever it is, make sure you do it every once in a while. Remember, no matter how hard you try, eventually you are only human and even you – strong as you are – need time off.

Taking a break isn’t a bad thing. You’re not being lazy or uncommitted to your work if you take the time out to breathe. You’re just reloading your most valuable resource – you.

3. Do What You Love

Photographs: Frank Kovalchek/ Creative Commons

All of us have been to those birthday parties – the ones where your plate consists of a samosa, a piece of cake, some chips and 2 Melodies/Eclairs – where you are forced to chitchat with the neighbourhood uncles and aunts as you try to disappear in the corner. Inevitably, the question comes, “So beta, what do you do?”

“I’m a writer,” you say. Beads of sweat line your throat as you reach for the Styrofoam cup of Mirinda to relieve your drying throat. You wait for it – that smirk, that headshake, that my-son’s-an-engineer look – and surely, it comes..

Accha, very good, very good,” Uncleji nods his head in a circular motion. Then pulling up his belt buckle he clears his throat, “Toh tum writer ho? Aur kaam kya karte ho?”

Happens. Every. Time.

Sure, it’s annoying. But I’ve gotten used to it. The satisfaction of my job is more than anything any too-nosy-for-their-own-good neighbourhood gossip could say. Looking back at myself 10-11 months earlier, I feel sorry for me.

In Jan-Feb 2013, with the HSC board examinations at my door, I was sure I would never be employed. After all, I too shared the popular image of the over-worked, under-paid, jholachhaap, Kolhapuri sandal-sporting writer that the unclejis and auntyjis of the world had put into my head.

I’d probably have laughed at anyone who told me that in less than a year, I’d be living the dream.

In 2012, I’d decided to shift to Humanities from Science to write, my teachers had thought I was throwing my life away. When I went to collect my Leave Certificate from the supervisor of the Junior College I was studying in, I remember she scoffed,

“Writer ban ke kya milta hai?”

What do you get from becoming a writer? Hmm, good question. Well, for starters, movie buffs like me get to watch films before they release, for free (with free food added to that) and we get to rant about said films to fellow movie buffs, in print and to top it all, we get paid for it.

Does life get any better?

Yes, it does! It always does, if you do what you love. Yes, its difficult to find a way and people will not always be able to digest it if you’re not a doctor/lawyer/engineer/cricketer/Bollywood star and are still perfectly pleased with your job. But all those people don’t matter. The only person who needs to be happy with and proud of what you are is you.

4. Value Your Support Group

Image: Paloma Sharma with her friends.
Photographs: Courtesy Paloma Sharma

You know how some people go on and on about how they’re “100% self-made”, especially if said people are relatives from your grandpa’s generation? Well, that’s a lie.

Nobody’s completely self-made.

Sure, people with no successful backers do put in a lot of hard work and slog it out to reach the top but there are always people covering for them, giving them support and advice and most importantly, standing in their corner and cheering for them when times get tough.

There’s no shame in taking help or in accepting that people have helped you. Humans are social beings. We all need our networks to survive; and until July, 2013 I’d have never believed all the gyan I am giving you at the moment.

I’ve always been the classic introvert, and I thought I’d be that way until my first year of graduation happened and I bumped into five people who quickly turned the shy, bespectacled girl that I was into a la King Julien (from the movie Madagascar) who likes to “move it, move it”.

My friends, my parents, my very tall and somewhat menacing looking brother (believe me, as a girl, this has its advantages) and my aunt and uncle, and my dog are my support group. They’re always there and just a call (or a whistle, in my dog’s case) away. I know I can count on them and that gives me much relief.

When you know you’re not alone and that someone will be there when you begin to fall, its easier to be brave enough to attempt to fly.

5. Give

Photographs: Damir Sagolj / Reuters

I’m a hoarder; and if you too grew up in a lower middle class household, you’ll understand why.

I pick up extra sauce sachets when I go out to eat, I save tissues, plastic cutlery and store those mini-tooth pastes and soaps from hotel rooms religiously; and to top it all, I’ve always had an issue with loosening the purse strings.

So, to me, giving without reason, without a trade or expectance of something in return sounded like the most foolish thing to do.

(I really earned the kanjoos makkhichoos title in school, didn’t I?)

It was only this Christmas, on a visit to Andheri (W) that I realised how stupid I had been. There was a man dressed as Santa Claus, walking through Lokhandwala Market, giving out flowers and chocolates to strangers.

Honestly, I was suspicious of him at first. I almost believed that the chocolates were drugged, until I became one of the receptors of a flower. I realized how silly I was being but I still did not understand why he was wasting his resources on people he did not know and would probably never see again.

So, just for the heck of it, I passed the flower on to another random stranger and her smile made my day.

I guess giving doesn’t have to mean expensive gifts. Maybe we can just give something we have and don’t need to someone who would appreciate it more than we do. Maybe we could just give our time.

Giving on my part is not a selfless thing. I just do it because it makes me happy and little less guilty about the amount of privilege I have as an educated, middleclass, ‘upper caste’ woman from a non-orthodox family.

But making yourself happy and doing the same for others isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I’ve started off with giving for my own peace of mind and maybe, by the end of 2014, I’ll be able to give selflessly. For now I’m grateful that I do have something worth giving.

So while 2013 and I had our differences, now that I think about it, its been the best year of my life – till now.

Paloma Sharma is a first year graduation student at Mithibai College in Mumbai. When she isn't attending classes or watching movies and TV, she writes for You can read all her reviews and columns here!