About

What I studied, where I worked thus far and a throwaway line about my interests are blasé. I decided to do what for me is brave: Give you a peek into my life. In the spirit of conquering fears, here we go: The abridged version of the life of Monica Pillai, so far.

Madras, 1977: Minutes after I was born, my mum apparently complained to hers, about her ill-mannered new born not thanking her. Reality check aside, this sort of expectation meant that I learnt to value good manners in myself and others, pushing myself and working hard. As any Transactional Analysis person would tell you, that also set the tone for being a “please others”. Balancing that is a continued work-in-progress.

Books mark my life: I started reading books almost as soon as I picked up the motor skills to turn the page. To date, turning the page to new chapters remains a strength. I continue to depend on new learning for joy. Also, my hermithood was firmly established.

Monica Pillai

The hills are alive: Early childhood in Coonoor and Bangalore gave me a hardcoded love for the mountains. Foggy lakes, weather that changes four times a day, and a quiet pace of life – these are a few of my favourite things. My intention is to bring in my 50th, established as a resident of the Nilgiris/ Palani hills.

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The best of everything good on earth: Another favourite from an early stint in Bangalore is a brother I dote on – the best thing that’s happened to me, in life. I’ll need another entire website to talk about him. Moving lightly on…

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Getting schooled: Boy, did I get schooled in Delhi in more ways than one. If you want to hear about how the ’80s and ’90s were not the best time for a highly sensitive child, I’m the one to talk to. I got schooled on classism, institutional caste systems and regional attitudes and how they hurt a growing child’s sense of security. These experiences shuttered off my ability to be vulnerable and honest – all in the name of resilience… Something I’ve picked up an am working on now. You will also find in me a willing and learning ally to recent global movement to note and call out entrenched systems of divisiveness, hate or inequity.

“A feral child, raised by libraries”: That’s what Neil Gaiman called himself. I was within walking distance of my dad’s office, NCERT, and their in-house library was my refuge. I grew up in the safe spaces of various beautiful homes of tomes. In addition to a love for the written word I have plenty more for those who write books, publish them, stock and sell them.

Dance: I spent 20 years learning, performing and teaching the craft of Bharathanatyam. This added a dimension of storytelling and fearlessness. I am still benefitting from the physical rigours of that life. A few other significant benefits from all those years is respect for routine and discipline, the tendency to do a lot in 24 hours, and significant spatial intelligence.

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Sporting spirit: My dad’s been a lifelong sportsperson. So, I got to play Table Tennis and Badminton through childhood – a blessing for an otherwise non-athletic person. Learning a few sports as a child meant that I imbibed a keen sense of fair play and the spirit of sportsmanship. For a kid of the 70s, was a rare gift, and one that I value.

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Education’s end: I had a mostly unremarkable trip through academics. School was a WMD for my emotional range, so actual learning happened on my own. Undergrad studies were in the Arts: English Literature, Psychology and Political Science – this fed my love for languages, my curiosity about humans, and a possibility of a political career (misguided youthful optimism). Postgrad was an MBA because that’s what you did if you missed the engineering/ medicine boat. Now, this wasn’t the “with-it” move in the 90s, when opportunities for the mentally endowed mostly consisted of a scramble into a premier institute, followed by seeking fortunes abroad. Sadly for other stakeholders in my career, I had more confidence in my abilities than was considered modest at the time. Which brings me to…

“Immigrants, they get the job done”: My last 20 years of work can be summed up by that Lin-Manuel Miranda line. 20 years of HR, 7 years of training, 10 years of writing, 2 months of environmental education in schools, working with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, women’s rights work, POSH committees, setting the stage for and making happen marathons & ultras, working on events like the TiE Entrepreneurship Summit,  helping set up and supporting the best bicycle store in the country, doing history and culture tours of Bangalore & taking kids on tours of Karnataka to appreciate its beauty, with friends who pioneered this business… if I like an area of work, I find a way to shoehorn myself in. In Bangalore, I have found large pockets of opportunity to do just that, and the space to be myself.

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The language of loss: In the past four years, I’ve lost seven friends, their ages ranging from the 20s to the 60s. Struggling with these losses is, without a doubt, the hardest thing I’ve done. They coincided with another personal loss – that of being able-bodied. A bout of viral arthritis has rendered all my running and cycling to a grinding halt. I also have to seek other paths to gain the mental clarity that cardio efforts had allowed me. These events have made me take stock of the benedictions in my life, and of life itself. I’m finding myself more sombre, more mindful, and when laughter does ring out, it rings out truer.

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At the literal end of the day, there’s nothing I appreciate more than giving thanks to life, the lives of those I cherish, for the many “normal” moments of the day, eat a meal, curl up with a good book, listen to the sounds of life in the tree outside my window, and the satisfaction of knowing it’s been a day well-lived.