See also: From Dior to Dharma: Meet the Author
From Dior to Dharma, Chapter 1 (Part 1/3)
“Who leaves Paris?” Michaela obviously didn’t know what a good leaver I was. I had left many times before. You name it and I had left it – people, cities, jobs, countries, even continents. There’s not that many things I could say with much certainty about my life, especially at that point, but there was one thing I was sure quite about – I was good at leaving.
“Who leaves a two year relationship to go to South Korea?” I retorted, stomping petulantly on the crunchy leaves. Six months on, I wasn’t fully healed from the heartbreak. But though there were hurt emotions, there was no desire to reconcile with Charles. The only thing I was reconciled to was the illusion and frustration I had found in a city where people supposedly routinely found love.
I looked away towards the Seine, breathing in its chilly freshness. At this time of the morning, there weren’t many other joggers along the banks. It was a breathtaking jog; not only because of exertion but because of the stunning images along the river, of delicate cherry blossoms creeping up on desolate churchyards and flamboyant buildings yawning in the fledgling sunlight. I remembered my first visit to the city, some ten years ago and how jealous I had been of the Parisians running by the Eiffel tower in their sweatpants. Here I was, one of them now but I didn’t feel like I had any reason left to stay anymore. To Michaela’s question, not only was I fully capable, given the aforementioned natural proclivity, but I was also fully ready to leave Paris.
“But you’re doing so well in your career,” Michaela argued, attempting to change the subject to something more positive than my love life.
Ha! If only she knew how I had to drag myself to work every day and do the same thing I’d been doing for three years. The same colleagues, the same work, the same desk, the same stress. Yes, I was doing well – I was a Director at only 31 and received a very substantial paycheck every month. But the job was not that interesting anymore in that it was not…..what was that word people always used…….fulfilling. And while I had made a concerted effort after business school, to find something where I would have a good work-life balance, this had not turned out to be it. I was exhausted from working almost every weekend and packing my work laptop for vacations. Since the recession, that was no longer a valid complaint. More work for less pay had long become the norm almost everywhere. Meanwhile job-search grape vines were bursting with stories of people facing visa issues, being offered roles that they were overqualified for and sometimes finding that the position they were interviewing for disappeared midway through the recruitment process. With such a bleak outlook for desirable jobs, sticking to whatever one had was considered wisest.
“You know what, I don’t feel so good. I’m going to take the bus home.” I felt a strong urge to be alone, preferably curled up in my bed under a warm cozy blanket and ideally watching Agatha Christie movies.
“Ok, please take care of yourself Maya, and call me if you need anything!” Michaela panted, pulling me in for the mandatory French bisous and jogged off.
“Can I have two chocolate croissants and four of those macarons please?” I knew that by speaking English to the baker, I was stacking in my favour, the odds of being served the worst pieces of the ordered items that he had available, but I didn’t care. Since I was generally done trying and failing, that naturally also extended to the French language. I was tired of struggling to get the grammar right only to realise that I had messed up the pronunciation or vice versa. I was tired of being a foreigner.
Reaching home, I changed into my most comfortable PJs to savour my sour mood and my unnecessarily calorific breakfast and go through all my unopened mail from the last few weeks. I looked around at the beautiful large apartment with its high ceilings and two terraces. I was very fortunate to have a living space like this in central Paris, complete with a wardrobe full of designer wear. But what was the use of it all if I had to live all by myself? The recent horrific terror attacks in Paris had highlighted the briefness of life. I missed my family. What was the point of working late nights for promotions, living in a foreign country for the sake of travel and adventure if in the end I was miserable and alone? I was pretty sure I could have achieved this state without all the hard work and heartache. Paris had been a failure.
As I was about to drop heavily onto the living room couch, I caught my old diary peeping out from under the pile of books on a white shelf in the wall. It was just the thing I needed to help me figure out how I had come to be in this undesirable place in life, macarons and Dior notwithstanding. I yanked it out and flipped open the light-blue cover of coarse handmade paper. A carelessly folded piece of paper flew onto the floor. I picked it up and opened it. It must’ve been really old because it had that translucence you get when you apply time to paper. It was typed. It read:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…” – Henry David Thoreau
A little shiver went through me as I recalled how much those words had meant to me ten years ago. I sat down on the couch and began to flip through the pages of the diary. A wave of memories came rolling in, bringing a whiff of the ocean of ancient dreams and aspirations that covered the somewhat faded pages. I remembered what had started me off on my journey. I had wanted, quite simply, for my life to be ‘spectacular’. To strive against the dullness of ordinary experience, the struggles of average means, the unremarkableness of mediocre achievement and the discontent that stalks an average life.
A memory of standing in the scintillating Rainbow Room, with all of New York laid out before me in sunset, flashed in my mind. At 22, I had been one of the youngest of the elite group of young bankers invited to mingle with industry leaders over dangerously expensive champagne and hors d’oeuvres in an ambience of aspirational luxury. I was hardly able to believe how everything had worked out so closely to plan in those days. I remembered standing in that 65th floor dining room, tracing the famous skyline over and over with my eyes and thinking, What do you do when dreams come true? And at the same time, another part of my mind was wondering, How much higher can this go?
From the sultry Mumbai summers spent burning the midnight oil in my teenage years, my hard work and academic perseverance had delivered me to the dreamy spires of Cambridge with many scholarships and awards marking the way, including a full scholarship for Cambridge. After graduating from Cambridge, I was hired by a prestigious bank in London in spite of my complete lack of any work experience or internship. I could hardly believe my luck. Those were the days I believed in chasing dreams, setting goals, working hard and believing in myself over and above anything else.
I remembered my first visit to New York in July 2006 like it was yesterday. There had been something familiar about the New York summer. There was the same blazing sun and air infused with humidity, heat and the smell of people that reminded me of my native Mumbai. The same hurried pavements in non-stop motion. The roads flowing down like mighty, hot, effervescent streams carrying a motley and expressive collection of humanity and its machine-toys. Spending two months in a swanky hotel in Times Square was an overwhelming and somewhat surreal experience for someone in the initial weeks of their first job ever. My fellow graduate recruits and I were treated like royalty, the future heirs to the kingdom of Power and Privilege.
The job itself had turned out to be quite unlike anything I had expected. I was fully mentally prepared to take on the nastiness and tough lifestyle that big banks were reputed for, but in the tight-knit structured finance team I worked in, life was great. At least at first. The hours were not as unearthly as the other investment banking teams and my occasional willingness to work until midnight was rewarded with effusive appreciation and expensive dinners or tickets to events like the Wimbledon and the Cirque de Soleil. Everyone was friendly and helpful and jokes and banter rescued us on many a slow afternoon. Continue Reading Chapter 1
See also: From Dior to Dharma: Meet the Author
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