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  • Writer's pictureKanika Bhatia

Appetite for Ashes

What do I distinctly remember from school lessons? Phoenix and amoeba diagrams. Vast in scope, I am aware. But these two never left my thoughts. Multiple rewrites of information have layered my mind since then, but life, my life in particular, has been mapped between these two, very visual oddities. One a mythological creation and the other invisible to the naked eye, how then do they define anyone’s thought so much? Is symbolism that ardent?

The Phoenix represents rebirth, the idea to start over and recreate a complete different story with sheer elegance. Amoeba from our 6th, 7th and 8th class biology lessons symbolise the graceful movement of swallowing elements we come across. Using parts of those elements that help us grow and poop the trash out. The idea being that you have to keep putting in the work, surround it, absorb it until only chosen good bits form you. At least the ‘you’, you imagined or hoped.

To tell you I have romanticised these concepts sometimes as validation for my chosen career would be the honest, hideous, privileged truth. I have been the poster child of multiple gigs at any given time, a mosaic of skill sets I have picked along the way, while using the emblematic amoeba to explain how it’s only natural for a rebel to not give into the cookie cutter definitions of labels. Who wants to be only a designer, an artist or a writer? Why aren’t we normalising the idea of generalists who excel, or partially excel in multiple things that excite them? Exploring this theory for a decade or more, has been my identity crisis North Star.

Like nearly everyone else, I have grown up in a household where everyone played designated roles in their chosen paths, and the question “What do you want to be?” was often raised. Educated, top of the class, I could say anything, and no one would doubt it. No one even questioned the viability, resources or even game plan, such was the faith. And when has faith ever cared for logic? Each time I faced the hopeful question, I had a different answer. Varying from a dancer (I had just performed on stage) to gardener (our grooming classes had shown us the colour range of dog flowers), my imagination didn’t curtail itself. What’s more, I was the best at what I imagined. The conviction of being the absolute greatest at no matter what I picked, resonated so well that it stayed. I could be the Phoenix that rose from ashes of its own creation, wiser and better. Not once, did it strike, you have to die a million times in the process.

I picked skills like a voracious reader who goes through ten books a week, sometimes confusing titles with authors, but loving each story, each passage with equal fervour. From PR, marketing, shoes, apparels, writing, policy I have tried to do it all and loved the process even more. We are all collages of small influences, the only difference being that am part of the handful that made it their life goal. My picture is still unprecedented, and every pixel is borrowed. Admittedly, I borrow haphazardly, and if you’re still keen on labels, you may call it modern art.

I juggled, and continue to do so. Sometimes I realised that lack of motivation, early in the process. IT was a great idea, but not something that could retain my interest for a long time. Other times, I burned out and quit. In a way that smoking a pack in a single sitting will make one never want to smoke again. But those that stayed are the ones I plan to carry forward. Speaking to my “influencer” friends (and I mean the air quotes in the best possible way) on how to deal with private moments of doubt in a very public life, I get measured against what the world we know today demands. To quote one of them, “It’s a good thing to do, and anyway, showing multiple things that you do is how you stay relevant now.” But if social media gurus approve, why is the disdain so strong? Didn’t we spend hours into hobby classes as kids, trying multiple instruments, rushing from art, to dance to hockey classes after school? What happened to that child? When did growing up mean choosing one or two and sticking to it. More options? You’re astray, doomed to never be great.

I don’t claim to be the first or last to have this reckoning, far from it. It doesn’t come with its pitfalls either. On bad days, the symphony within me can easily convert into tuneless guitars and badly beaten drums. Like any other person, with any choice of path in life, the average doubter exists. The little voice that rebukes us for being vocal about multiple gigs, only to self doubt in solitude. Why did you declare it to the world? Won’t you have to stick to the script till someone says ‘cut’ to the role that you picked? Won’t falling out mean a character assassination of the protagonist? But what happens if like Rachel Hollis famously repeats, we “flip the script.” Imagine the scenario where I have it all figured out, I know the path I am taking, excelling in one field only, and probably end up mastering it. There is no uncertainty whatsoever, no doubt. Is there contentment though? Because in my not so short experience of living, it’s in those moments of self doubt, discomfort of not knowing, the space where I am unashamedly uncertain is where I have grown the most.

My closest friend often looks out of the window with a solemn expression, the kind that resembles hope, faith and closure, to remark on this approach of my life. He believes one day, one of these chosen paths will widen more than the others to success, the measure of it of course being my own. This reminds me of Peniocereus Greggii, a cacti species that grows in Arizona, Texas. For 364 days of the year, it resembles a dead bush. But one night in the middle of summer, it opens up to a beautiful trumpet shaped white flower that’s about 8 inches wide. It flowers, and so will I.

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