Inspired by an unexpected note from a cat lady in Pondicherry, this piece “All Along You Were Blooming” is about yogurt, mental mosaics, and the ongoing elaborate metamorphosis called life
In August last year, I spent 15 days in a small town called Pondicherry, in India. My friends and I ordered some fun* brownies from a lady who lives in a small house, abundant in sunlight, plants, and cats – yes, it was quite dreamy. When we picked up the brownies, the bag had a note with my name on it, and it ended with the words ‘all along you were blooming’. I haven’t stopped thinking about the phrase since.
Hence this piece, inspired by an unexpected note from the cat lady in Pondicherry who bakes amazing brownies.
My favourite yogurt shop
There’s a tiny pink yogurt shop in Mumbai, located in a narrow by-lane of Bandra – it’s almost unnoticeable to a passer-by. It’s so small, sometimes I wonder how the man who runs it even gets in. How the enormous yogurt machines or the mile-wide topping-trays made it in. Sometimes there is not one, but two men in the shop. Honestly, such a mystery!
You’d think since I said it’s my favourite yogurt shop that the yogurt must be out of this world, but it’s not. The yogurt shop is my favourite the way an old blanket becomes a favourite over time. Even if it’s fading, and the new one is better in absolute terms, you still want the old one, because of all the hugs it has wrapped you in over the years. This shop is my warm, welcoming hug.
It has seen the 19-year-old I used to be, who learned new things about herself and the world while nibbling on the yogurt spoon, while strolling aimlessly in the lanes of Bandra. It has seen the grown up I think I am today, who deals with the uncomfortable growth of my mid-twenties one extra topping at a time. Part of me has come to associate the nostalgia of growth with this yogurt shop.
As I look back on my visits, I realise how my life’s milestones have come to be earmarked with yogurt-shop visits; and how through the visits, I have never been the same person twice – always a new one, using the same yogurt to mark a new milestone.
I wondered if there were others, too. People who came back to the same place, like me, and used the same yogurt as me, to earmark their journeys; interpreting the same yogurt in entirely different ways.
Our ego-stroking brains like to believe we are un-influenced, un-affected, unique beings. But the truth is, we are made up of all the people we have ever let into our lives. Every interaction, a piece of tinted glass – each piece unique in its own way, none like any other. The people we experience – in fiction as well as in real life – enter our subconscious, and impact everything we say, do, and feel; as if we’re looking through the lens of the tinted glass – except it’s not one single piece of glass. It’s a mosaic.
“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
As we go along life, we mourn the loss of the people we leave behind. But we forget to notice that they never really leave us. All of these people become part of us – their idiosyncrasies latch on to us. We take their behaviours, world-views, phrases,.. and depending on how unsettling or unique our minds interpret them as, they latch on to our subconscious auto-responders, forming a mosaic. The deeper the impact, the bigger their piece. This mosaic then blends with our personal interpretations, thoughts, and unique idiosyncrasies. It’s beautiful to think that our worldview is really ours, but it’s also theirs. Our lives, an ode to all the people we have ever felt moved by.
I’ve realised I write like some authors I discovered at a pivotal point in my life. My thoughts and behaviours are an amalgamation of the philosophers I’ve read and the experiences I’ve had. They are also just as coloured by a friend’s advice, my father’s dad jokes, my 8th grade English teacher’s way of correcting my grammar, my mother’s love for plants, my ex boyfriend’s way of seeing the world, my first boss’ way of approaching things she didn’t know – “so what, let’s give it a shot”, my grandmother’s use of food as a love language,… – a mosaic.
What you impress onto another person’s mosaic is then essentially in-part you, and in-part all of the people who made it to your mosaic. This means that we are all, in effect, carrying a little bit of each other in ourselves, and the world is essentially a place where everyone is connected on some level – through past, present, or future.
Mary Oliver called it ‘the family of things’ —
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese,
harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Building your mosaic
“It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.” ― Jean-Luc Godard
You’re the one putting your mosaic together. You’re in control of the input – the people you choose to let into your life, the writers who inspire you, the music, poetry, sights, and tastes you consume – they all make you, uniquely you. You take these interpretations in, and form your own versions of truth for the world.
And as you evolve, so do your versions of truth. You visit a new person’s past, and watch how the people, places, and experiences choreographed the life you live now.
Metamorphoses, and revisiting your yogurt-shop
The past always seems simpler in retrospect because we’re wiser now; more emotionally and intellectually equipped. And we berate the person we used to be for not having known better. We’re funny. We want the gratification of knowing better, but we don’t want the rocky life experiences that bring us there. We tend to feel stuck because our resistance to metamorphosis overpowers our desire for gratification.
When faced with a tough situation, I’ve realised it helps to remember the series of transformations you have already witnessed, and a visit to your proverbial yogurt-shop every once in a while helps you see how far you have come.
Note: your yogurt-shop-equivalent doesn’t have to be a place. It could be the journals you’ve kept over the years, old photos, mementos from happy memories, … Any thing, person, or place that is totemic to your gradual evolution.
When you visit your pink-yogurt-shop-equivalent five, ten, fifteen years from now, you will see —
That you grew up.
You built new selves, while holding quiet funerals for the ones you left behind.
You learned grief, and loss, and how the dark is important to make the light feel brighter.
You learned how growth is a thin line between being the bigger person and standing up for yourself.
You learned how to forgive your childhood heroes for being human.
Most of all, you learned how you’re still learning.
How you will forever be in the process of learning, and unlearning — life, an elaborate series of metamorphoses.
And the sooner you learn to let go of the fear of endings, the sooner you will embrace the beginnings that they also make way for.
And when you stand outside your pink-yogurt-shop equivalent, an adult-ier adult, you will see,
That all along you were blooming.
Just regular smart.
(This article first appeared on the author’s substack on 2nd January, 2022.)
Yashmi is a fin-tech marketer with an undying curiosity in people and their psychologies. She writes Not Super Smart, a newsletter born out of this curiosity, which looks for aha moments in the mundane.