How good are you at coping with failure? Do you buckle, or does your back take on the proud, unbending straightness of a person in denial? Do you grin-and-bear-it, or do you lick your wounds and plot multiple comebacks from the safety of your lair? Do you go under the covers and shut out the noise, or do you strap on a mask that doesn’t look anything like you? Whatever your choice of coping mechanism, if it doesn’t involve a melodramatic Kirron Kher GIF, you’re doomed.
Kirron Kher GIFs, among other things, form the mundane yet useful ingredients of my personal Giant Rubber Ball of Coping Mechanisms, a steadily growing thing not very different from the actual object, forming through a careful acquisition of banalities, a thing that, added up, has no conceivable use whatsoever, but is in itself made up of very useful parts. Each part helps me live a little better with myself daily, each part contributes. And it is only now, as I watch my own case from the vantage point of calm neutrality- from the other side of the storm- that I realise this: there is no one way of coping with failure. You do what you can. You make your own Giant Rubber Ball, and you marvel at how much it means to you, and you simply don’t care that it has no use for others.
My favourite lines on failure come from author Lionel Shriver, another rubber band in my Giant Rubber Ball. “I’m fascinated by failure,” she says, “a far more difficult experience to ride out with grace than victory, which tends to bring out the best in all but gloating arseholes: magnanimity, generosity, ease, confidence, joy, relaxation, energy, festivity, and a positive outlook. In contrast, failure naturally elicits bitterness, resentment, dolour, enervation, listlessness, pessimism and low self‑esteem – a pretty ugly package. Yet, against the odds, it’s possible to fail well – to rise above the unpleasant basket of emotions that come with the territory and to not allow disappointment to sour one’s very soul. I am bowled over by the massive number of remarkable people who face down the fact that no, they are not going to be film directors, famous artists or billionaire entrepreneurs and still come out the other side as cheerful, decent, gracious human beings. As emotional achievements go, that is much more impressive than making a go of something and avoiding becoming a complete jerk.”
‘A complete jerk’ is what I’m trying to not become, given that Husband and I staked our careers on an extremely risky decision, and while it paid off for him, it did no such thing for me. So I swung wildly between whoops of ‘Jiyo mere sher!’ (for him) and secret snotty cryfests in the bathroom (for me), between wanting to rub his success in to his family (let’s just say they hated our decision) and curling up into a ball craving intravenous chocolate infusions, between treating him to celebratory dessert and weeping salty tears into said dessert and defeating its purpose. Basically, this-
And then one day, I realised that this couldn’t go on. Especially since poor Husband was reduced to murmuring platitudes to me (‘Form is temporary, class permanent’ , ‘Failures are the stepping stones to success’) at the oddest moments- in the middle of lovemaking, in the middle of me cleaning the toilet, ankle-deep in smelly water, in the middle of my sweaty, flour-covered, dough-rolling orgy for a dumplings dinner, in the middle, even, of a fight with a nasty parking attendant- “Bhaiya, main bees rupya nahin doonga 30 minutes parking ke liye. Rate dus rupya hai. Baby, remember Steve Jobs? Remember his failed LISA project? He did it..bhaiya, DIMAAG MAT KHARAAB KARO PLEASE.”
But that’s what failure is- brutally visceral. Unlike success, which has a distinctly other-wordly quality that makes you numb and floaty, failure has a way of slamming your knees to the ground, making you taste mud, shattering dreams and delusions alike. I’m no stranger to it, and I know this is only one of many. So I turn to Julian Barnes, whose sagacity is yet another rubber band that holds my world together. “When I was growing up,” he says, “failure presented itself as something clear and public: you failed an exam, you failed to clear the high-jump bar. And in the grown-up world, it was the same: marriages failed, your football team failed to gain promotion from what was then the Third Division (South). Later, I realised that failure could also be private and hidden: there was emotional, moral, sexual failure; the failure to understand another person, to make friends, to say what you meant. But even in these new areas, the binary system applied: win or lose, pass or fail. It took me a long time to understand the nuances of success and failure, to see how they are often intertwined, how success to one person is failure to another.”
So if you’re failing, or have failed recently, please remember that it’s perfectly okay. Don’t kill yourself over it. Don’t scramble to ‘react appropriately’. It’s okay to cry in private, it’s also okay to cry in public. It’s okay to crave deep fried goodies and binge-watch Orange Is The New Black. Make your own Giant Rubber Ball, and don’t give a flying f*** for what folks have to say about it. In short, it’s okay to do whatever it takes to get back to normal. But here’s what’s not okay- wallowing in self pity, and giving up on your dreams. It’s also not okay to allow others to take over; cede turf now, and you will regret it later. Pick yourself up at your own sweet speed, brush the breadcrumbs from your face and that baked bean off your shirt, and get back to whatever you were doing. Remember- as long as you fail up, you’re doing just fine.
Here’s a few noteworthy items from my personal list of coping mechanisms.
1. Books– I’m on a non-fiction spree for now with a little dark fiction thrown in. My most recent reads are ‘Smoke and Mirrors- An Experience of China’ (Pallavi Aiyar, non fiction), ‘Strictly Personal- Manmohan and Gursharan’ (Daman Singh, non fiction) and the masterly ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’ (Hilary Mantel, fiction)
2. TV Shows– I’m watching Jenji Kohan’s brilliant Orange Is The New Black (not for homophobes or for the faint-hearted), and lots of John Oliver and Saturday Night Live.
3. Matryoshka Dolls– I’m on a witch hunt (benign, of course) for these wooden beauties. Snapped up two at Dilli Haat. They now guard my bookshelves. But I’m not done yet. I’m now looking for edible ones.
4. Writing– The toughest part of my day. It’s tough to eke words out of oneself when all one can think of is melting cheese. It’s also tough, at the end of a great but entirely vestigial paragraph, to ‘kill your darlings’ per William Faulkner.
5. GIFs– I collect hordes of these, and am currently on a surrealist spree, looking for black-and-whites that chill my spine. And Spongebob. Always Spongebob.
GIFs by Kevin Weir, who animates archival phographs from the Library of Congress. My favourites-
6. Cooking– I can now make dumplings in industrial quantities. I’ve also just climbed on to the ‘Breafast As Theatre’ bandwagon, and serve gorgeous, plated meals complete with seductive menu descriptors at 8:00 AM everyday. Cooking is immensely therapeutic, and I recommend it highly.
7. Thrifting– I spend some weekends scouring markets like Sarojini and GK for stuff that pretty much shows Big Corp the middle finger. I’ve bought Zara dresses for less than Rupees 400, and lots of Mango and LOFT for even lesser. Never fails to make my day.
8. Organizing– Organizing helps me get my zen on. De-cluttering is highly under-rated- some people make wildly successful careers of it. (She sounds bonkers, but who am I to say so? No one’s ever offered me money to colour-code their socks, and pile pillowcases by threadcount.)
9. Boomerang-fantasizing– Constructive fantasising that reinforces my decisions. I like to imagine myself at one of the many incredible jobs I’ve been offered, and it always inevitably reminds me of why I quit my corporate job in the first place. It’s reassuring.
10. Connecting with friends, mentors and old bosses– These amazing folks have stood by Husband and me at a time of great personal crisis. I reach out to all of them for their wisdom and their unconditional love. Keeps me going.
11. Trawling for Quotes– I’m a Words Person, as evidenced by this flavour-of-the-moment quiz that helps you put a pin on exactly who you are in a relationship. Even ignoring variables like culture, ethnicity and age, it does have a kernel of truth! Also explains why I’m on a constant quest for great lines that inspire, or tickle, or both. My favourites are quotes by JK Rowling, Seth Godin and Nora Ephron.
12. Poetry– I’m keeping my eyes peeled for translations of Sanskrit verses and bits of Sangam literature, in addition to sneaking off to the New Yorker for their delightful collection of poems. Here’s one I loved by Campbell McGrath, about the inevitable caving in we’ve all done at one point or the other-
No sir, absolutely not, sorry, but no.
Not sorry, actually—just no.
Keep it simple, plain vanilla: nope.
Not happening. Big en, big oh.
No way, no how.
Negative, nuh-uh, ixnay, nyet.
No no, no no.
Not likely, not likely. Maybe,
but I doubt it.
Possibly, conceivably, in theory.
Uh-huh, mm-hmm . . .
Well, yeah, sure, O.K., why not,
oh definitely, yes,
wow, I mean anything,
anything at all, when can we begin?
12. Crusted Almonds– My sister in law sent us these insanely addictive crusted almonds that you’d be nuts to refuse. They’re roasted and coated in a rough, gritty, delicious-smelling mixture that tastes like cinnamon, roasted coconut, sugar, and rock salt together. They’re divine, and you can find them at Soni Bakers, Rajouri Garden. I’m going to buy them by the sackful. Here are some unflattering pictures Husband took before they dwindled into single digits-
That’s all, devis! I promise- no more navel-gazey posts no’mo’!