The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Tag: authenticity (page 1 of 3)

Style Essay

Essaouira

I wrote this essay for another blogger. But it seems to have disappeared from that site. Why waste a good piece of writing, huh? So here it is.

I wish I had a great story about my style evolution. This may be termed a good story, not great. Anyway, I am happy to share!

I believe that personal style is an extension of who you are. Does that sound very obvious? I fervently believe that everything we do in the outer world is a natural and spontaneous expression of our inner self. Call this my personal hypothesis, a pet theory, a life philosophy.

Knowing oneself can seem like a monumental task. People spend a lifetime searching. They seek help from enlightened masters, ancient teachings and practices, wisdom in books and scriptures. Does this mean that good style can only dawn, post-enlightenment? Not really. Knowing oneself may be easier than you think. One can embark on the path of self-knowledge in many ways. As you gain greater clarity and insight, life changes inside out. Appearance, perspective, outward action, expression, career, relationships… all of it.

So here I am, curious and introspective, a little more aware of myself than before, and naturally that knowledge starts to express itself in my lifestyle choices, relationships, future dreams, personal style.

As a child, I was somewhat shy but I was able to pull off the extrovert act quite well. So well that I fooled myself too. It took many years before I realized that I wasn’t an extrovert any more. Perhaps I never was one. I wore simple clothes, nothing too attention-grabbing or bright or fancy. I was (and still am) of a conservative mindset, so I’d pick inexpensive clothes. I favored plain colors, often picking shades of maroon, brown, russet, beige, cream, etc. My aunt enquired why I was dressing like an old woman. I think my style at the time may have been an extension of my personality — shy, timid, unsure, wanting to please.

As I progressed from teenage to adulthood, my style didn’t change much. I wore a lot of jeans and Tees. That was pretty much how my cohort dressed. Mumbai is a hip city, and I recall feeling intimidated by girls in miniskirts, shorts and like. My parents are fairly progressive; they wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if I’d worn shorts to college every day! But I was the self-conscious one: oh, my thick calves and fat legs! No, my calves weren’t close to thick. I also wore Indian cotton salwar suits in beautiful shades of saffron, red, ochre, forest green and like. This may have been the period in my life when my personality bloomed, and possibly my clothes reflected the inner confidence and blossoming. I had no qualms about wearing bright colors at that time. I was drawing my fair share of male attention, and my personality glowed under its heady effect.

Then it was time to get married, meaning I had to buy wedding sarees and salwar sets, jewelry, etc. And I was moving to the United States, so I also had to begin packing. Oddly enough, I hit a phase that I like to term “delayed adolescence.” Pink entered my wardrobe. I even owned a pair of deep pink heeled shoes! Again, it may have been a reflection of my life and emotions at the time. I was marrying the love of my life and moving with him to a new country. It was going to be just the two of us. It was the end of courtship and the beginning of married life. Excitement, apprehension and happiness made for an eventful entry to the U.S. But I was carrying sadness within. I had baggage to deal with. And it was dealt with in good time, and soon I felt free, light, forgiven.

Then I hit a so-called “style wall.” What was I to wear? Stores were so overwhelming. And I am a skinny person, so sizing was a problem. Plus I had to get the hang of layering.

I blundered along, picking clothes, shoes, bags, etc. as best as I could. Again, my conservative mindset prevented me from making expensive mistakes. Parallel that with my life journey where I was similarly experimenting, testing the waters, finding my true philosophy.

Fast forward to 2017. I am 38 years old. I have been a resident of the United States since late 2003.

I am a happier woman today than I was when I came to this country. I enjoy a deep sense of contentment within. It feels like all those years of soul-searching, climbing craggy hills and mountains, and wading through murky streams has brought me to a happy, verdant place. Now I can saunter along at my own will… Gazing at lilac sunsets, drinking in the quiet solitude, relishing the stillness.

I have nowhere to go, nothing to gain.

And that probably explains my current dressing style too. I have found the clothes that make me happy, comfortable. No, this isn’t a static state. As my mind expands and develops greater knowingness, so does my style. I have no one to impress. This feels like a happy medium that allows me to explore, stay curious and content, all at the same time.

My current wardrobe comprises of slim-fitting jeans and pants, an assortment of tops including blouses, linen shirts and tunics, cotton tees, a couple of dresses and skirts. I prefer natural fabrics and simple silhouettes. I am not afraid of color; I think I would wear any color that appeals to me. I hardly ever stop to think about how a color would look on me. I feel that I gravitate towards shades that I enjoy AND look good on me. I love Indian clothes. I have a decent collection of sarees in the loveliest of shades and fabrics… Navy blue, flaming orange, beige and maroon, ice blue and gray, vibrant aqua, cream and gold, deep brown, smooth silks, comfortable cottons — I love them all.

A few years ago I decided that I wouldn’t wear silk any more. So that meant the end of new silk sarees for me. It’s okay; I have no desire to acquire any more. I have a similar policy towards leather as well.

I think that my low-drama, no-fuss attitude to life has percolated into my sense of style and dressing in a natural way. I have very little desire to buy clothes. My closet looks full to me, and I genuinely enjoy wearing the clothes I have.

What does the future look like? Perhaps a continuation of the current state? As long as I remain true to who I am, all is perfect.

Lazy/Effortless

I’m a fan of effortlessness. I like things to be smooth, natural… like it’s how it was always meant to be. Not to break a sweat, not miss a line, or skip a step.

I had that attitude as a student too. As my sister sweated out the final hours leading to the exams, I’d chill. I’d tell myself, relax. It’s too late for anything to make a major difference. I’d read a book, or watch a film. Anything to take the edge off. Pretend that it’s just another day, nothing to stress about. And that’s how I’d go take the exam. And I’d wonder why my sister was stressing so much. It was only an exam.

In the 10th grade, I scored 99/100 in Samskrit. I am a fan of Samskrit, and I worked hard at it. But it never felt that I was working hard. It simply felt like I’d discovered my groove, and I slid right in, easy and smooth. It again felt effortless. I had a similar experience with Math too. I worked hard but it hardly felt like work. It came easy, and I simply had to put my mind to the task.

Thus I became a fan of effortlessness. But now I wonder, was I simply lazy all the time?

My husband is a great fan of “applying yourself,” a phrase that means/meant nothing to me most of my life. He has had to “apply himself” a lot. Not everything came easy. He had to work hard for nearly everything. Of course, there were a few sweet phases where there was ease and convenience (relatively speaking), and things came smooth to him. For most part, though, he has had to work hard to get what he wanted.

Now, that is not my story. Most things I have got have come easy to me. I haven’t really worked hard. I have always viewed “working hard” as doing something you’re not particularly inclined to, but you keep at it, long and persistent. That felt very charmless to me. I have zero qualms about working hard but I draw the line at mindless slogging. Now I know that “applying yourself” isn’t mindless at the least. But I have a tendency to discard things that don’t come naturally to me. If it’s hard at the beginning, I sometimes think it isn’t meant for me. This isn’t always true, though. I was in deep love with the idea of learning martial arts, and I spent months trying to figure out Aikido, until I wearily realized that that form wasn’t meant for me. I “applied myself,” and I am sure my husband would agree too. But I had to give up eventually. I was sore and exhausted… and not enjoying it at all.

So, here I am… nearly 40, and trying to figure out what it means to “apply myself.”

I have enjoyed success in my early years in terms of performance at school, extracurricular activities, etc. I was a quick learner, good with language and articulation and math, and I wasn’t very ambitious… so I didn’t set lofty goals or have major aspirations. I was mostly cruising on my relative smarts, and then I hit a wall. And then another. Suffices to say that by the time I graduated at 21, my confidence was at an all-time low. Then I joined the fun world of software development. I was determined to give it a real go, despite the fact that software held no charm for me. But I stuck on, tried my best to make it work. I couldn’t. I didn’t give up, though. Took another role, then another… it was so soulless for me. But I was sure that I was the one who had to make it work.

What a darned waste… or not.

Anyway, I am not quite convinced about my husband’s “apply yourself” credo. Perhaps it works for him. For me, I think I need to find what charms me, what brings me joy and beauty and nourishment. I am drawn to fulfillment in ways that are not about “applying myself,” or ”stretching” or “pushing boundaries.”

I kinda have to figure this out my way. Because you see, it is the only kind that actually works for me.