Time To Reflect, To Look Back At 2018

Stuti Ashok Gupta

Honestly, I am a huge fan of reflective exercises, I know it may seem nerdy to some of you but I am still going to flaunt about how I love to look at things by first zooming in with a closer perspective and then zooming out to take in the larger picture. Are you ready to unravel my thoughts with me about the year that just passed?

Since I was on the roads most of December, first Nepal for my birthday and then Himachal for Year Ending, I kept ruminating about what structure did I want to give to my reflections. Did I want it to be “18 days of 2018” [like that of Sejal Kumar?] or did I want to talk about each month and how it went? I couldn’t come to a final consensus amidst the pool of ideas I had about this particular blog. I just couldn’t. So, you may not see a solid boundary-type structure in this blog, but I am hoping that by the end of this, it would make sense to both you and me – about how loosely tied this structure was and it may not entirely look like “THE YEAR” of my life but I know that it is going to be very significantly defining 12 months of my life.

Enough of my pre-face, let’s come to the point.

January 2018, I was still clueless.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a Businesswoman [apart from being a passionate writer and a low-key psychotherapist], while some may just confuse me as a traveller, an influencer, a motivational speaker, a blogger and what not. Interestingly, I would have been okay with all those labels attached to me exactly one-year ago – because clearly, I was clueless about where life was taking me. However, one year later – I am at a stage where I can give a better Introduction of myself vis-a-vis how I did it a year ago.

Anyway, back in Jan 2018, it had been 9 months to me moving to Gwalior, living with my parents. I would wake up in the morning around 7 or 8, have my milk, take a shower, go to the temple, come back, have my breakfast, pack my laptop and other things and go to Office. Now, my home and office are in the same building. Basement, Ground and First floor is the office and the Third Floor is my home. So I would have to simply climb down to reach my workplace.

Things had just begun to churn in the Amrutam space, where we had launched a new website with a small range of products. I wasn’t taking any salary, as I hadn’t started earning anything from the e-store. Most of the times, I had to make up things to do because there wasn’t any work. I’d kept myself occupied with social media posts, photos, videos, just doodling something in my diary for Amrutam’s blog, just something to make myself feel that I did something today. My only aim for each day was to spend my 10 hours working. I’d reach Office at 10ish in the morning, and stay there till 7 in the evening. Spend good two hours hanging out with friends, just the usual car ride, music and sometimes a joint – and then come back home to long Skype calls. I was still heading Gramiksha, then, and it would take most of my night time. I felt so cluttered. So, it was at the beginning of 2018 that I decided to take this problem a little too seriously and find a solution.

Decluttering became my major aim. I did not know how to, but I knew I had to.

I went on a 12-day long road trip with my family from Gwalior to Kerala covering the East Coast and returned through the West Coast. First trip of the year – it had Nagpur’s Dhabas and Sri Sailam’s Mallika Arjun, Tirupati to Tirumala, Vellore, Kanipaakam, Andhra’s unexplored east-coast beaches amidst the tiny villages to Guruwaayur’s beautiful art forms, Kerala’s beautiful highways and sunsets, attended a wedding of my twin friends from college, drove all the way up to Mangalore, stopped at Kohlapur for Devi Temple and back to home. It was a very rich experience. I tried making a video out of my experience and gave a voice over of a poem I wrote during the whole journey. You can watch it here.

February 2018, Valentine’s Day came as a huge turning point.

I know you must be thinking that it has something to do with my love life, but funnily, it ain’t related to love, but work. Yash and I started to think about ideas for “What could we do for Valentine’s Day as Amrutam?” and we somehow landed up at the idea of “Self-Care” and then, we got down to curating 5 products from the 500 licensed products of Amrutam Pharmaceuticals [the manufacturing company owned by my parents]. It hit me hard how much I have loved the Do-it-Yourself Hair Spa that was developed 3 years ago for my personal use. I decided to launch it as a product on the Amrutam e-store. That’s when we first introduced the Self-Care Basket which had Kuntal Care Hair Spa among other products.

A little backstory: Amrutam was a simple Herbal Product Manufacturing Company, originally – recognized by Doctors, Medical Stores and Patients and its supply chain management was restricted to this chain. Launching an e-store for our OTC [over the counter] products came to my brother initially, and then, he went on to work on his own start-up full time and I took those bits and built upon it.

Until the self-care range was launched, I felt a little disconnected from what I was trying to sell, emotionally. It was in February 2018, after 10 months of my time devoted to Amrutam, that I felt the true spark in me. We launched our personal care range and then gradually, researched and developed more and more of it. Now, of course, you can see a wider range – but it was started with just 5 products of personal care.

I visited Bangalore to try my hand at the Exhibitions for Amrutam and to meet my friends as it had been a while that I had met them. I understood that Offline Marketing wasn’t my cup of tea. Right after, I came back from Bangalore, I visited Bombay for an Architectural conference – 361 degrees, with my brother. Both of the experiences were a great learning time – exposing myself to new information, thinking, tech, etc – it helped me get a perspective in the decisions I was about to make.

March 2018, I actively took part in cleaning up the clutter that I had created.

I was invited as a guest for Tripoto’s Women’s Day Meet and Greet and it was quite an honour to share the stage with four other women travellers [also, Social Media Influencers]. I met a few people who came up to me, appreciated my work and it was a good feeling. On the outside, the fame and popularity looked glamorous but inside, nothing could penetrate my system – people were praising my work and I just could not feel that contentment and inner satisfaction. The question “what am I doing with my life?” was haunting me.

I visited Manali right after the event in Delhi got over, I rushed to catch my bus. I intended to make sense out of what was happening with the business in the hostel, as I had been quite absent from there. I learnt that The Lost Tribe was something that I created out of love and passion and I could never see it as something I could make a living out of, or become  financially independent.

Visiting there, this sinking realization of “it won’t work out for me” made me feel even more hollow. But I did not want to give up, so I kept on fighting for the things that were going wrong. Deep in my heart, I knew that things will work according to me if I come back and live here. Somehow, I did not see that as an option as a life choice. I lived there for a few days, and travelled around Himachal, gave myself time to ponder over.

It was getting rapidly hectic, day by day. Amrutam was picking up, I had been absent in the operational work of The Lost Tribe for a while and organizational dynamics in Gramiksha had become too stressful. I had to take a call and some circumstances pushed me to take a sabbatical from Gramiksha for 6 months. It was difficult to say that I was leaving, and somewhere I thought I’d probably make time for it, after 6 months of focus on solely one thing alone. I came down from being associated with three organizations to two in March. It was a beginning to rearranging my life.

April 2018, it all began.

Now, that I had stopped working with Gramiksha, I could feel that personal space in my life. I did not have to go through over 200 unread chats every day and had enough time for myself in the night as well. I knew I had to focus majorly on Amrutam now.

Yash printed a sheet with a table in it, it had three columns. The first column had month’s names written, second and third were empty spaces – to write down our monthly goal for sales and the number achieved, respectively.

Meanwhile, my Instagram already had roughly 8k followers, and I loved that feeling of having a little community of my own. I was always travelling somewhere, and clicking pictures out of habit. I would share my travel content and also, use the space to get feedback about Amrutam. Instagram was a huge support and a major factor in building confidence in the brand that I was trying to create.

Amrutam helped me combine my skills of community building and social media to reach out to people as a brand. We were not investing much in our advertising, for we were hunting for ways to do it more responsibly. During the Holi campaign, one of the digital ad agency shot an email for one-month free trial – and we latched ourselves on this chance. We took a free trial and realized how important marketing and advertising are – and while some of you may wonder what is so surprising about it – it was quite an exciting revelation for me as someone who had studied Masters in Clinical Psychology and had nothing to do with selling physical products, and Ayurvedic Herbal ones on top of that. We started with them, and things unfolded in beautiful ways. We did not reach the target we had written on that table for April, though, but I knew that Amrutam is finding its own means to reach the people and we will get there.

Meanwhile, I visited Manali again – and this time, I went with a plan. I thought I could solve it, but it all seemed like the inception of problems. I lived there for 10 days or so, and stared at the mountains most of the times. Drank a lot of green tea and took long walks in Jagatsukh. If I looked at it from one side – life seemed just so beautiful and blissful, for I was in my favourite place, with a home of my own, dogs, fresh cherries and snow-capped mountains wherever I looked and on other hand, things looked beyond my control. I did not like the feeling where I could not put a structure to things – and that was my learning – I learnt to Surrender.

May 2018, life flooded itself with a whole lotta art.

I love traditions, especially the ones that I make. One such tradition has been The Art Festival of TLT. This time, we organized the 4th Edition of The Lost Tribe Art Festival – Mountains 18, and we were blessed to have Platform For Artists [PFA] on board with us and it added 100 times more charm to what it already was. PFA is a startup based out of Pune which organizes several Art Programs and one such was the Art Getaway. In all, we had roughly 45 artists who came and lived at the hostel in Manali for three days. It was an amalgamation of various forms of art – visual art, photography, music, dance, videography, graphics designing, yoga, bonfire and so on.

Most of my May was packed with the preparations, getting guests on board to make the experience was enriching. We had Ritu Arya, a dear friend of mine, based out of Bangalore, who joined us for the festival the second time in a row and took charge of documenting the entire festival and also took an insightful session about Social Media and different ways of documenting your artwork in the digital world. Disha Deshpande, a loving member of the Tribe, who took various sessions of mixing Yoga with Hiking, Yoga with Experiential Art and Music Therapy.

This was also the first time that we did it on a huge scale and had people pay us a registration fee for the festival. I learnt that there was so much potential in bringing people together and creating such safe spaces full of art, emotions and learning.

While my work life had begun to swing in the upward direction, my emotional state felt so damaged by the kind of choices I was making. I learnt that being too forgiving also comes with a cost of self-confidence [but about this, some other time].

June 2018, paid more attention to my lifestyle!

It had been a month that I had put all my focus on Amrutam alone after the Art Festival was over and I was back to Gwalior from Manali. There was just something very upsetting that lingered inside. I wanted to do something about it. The first response was to fall into the bad habit patterns – and I was aware of it. I knew that if one thing that could help me deal with the emotional turmoil – it was to really vent it out physiologically. I started going for long walks and running in the evening at the University. I’d go up to 10,000 steps on an average. Sometimes I had company and sometimes I was alone with earphones plugged – and I was consciously taking charge of dealing with the inner chaos.

It had been a month that I had put all my focus on Amrutam alone after the Art Festival was over and I was back to Gwalior from Manali. There was just something very upsetting that lingered inside. I wanted to do something about it. The first response was to fall into the bad habit patterns – and I was aware of it. I knew that if one thing that could help me deal with the emotional turmoil – it was to really vent it out physiologically. I started going for long walks and running in the evening at the University. I’d go up to 10,000 steps on an average. Sometimes I had company and sometimes I was alone with earphones plugged – and I was consciously taking charge of dealing with the inner chaos.

Everyone faces problems, it is how to look at it and deal with it that makes you stand out.

I strongly feel that Social Media makes everything look so pretty and glamorous, while people usually have no clue what a person you think is living the dream life is going through on the inside. My life may look just perfect to some of you but the truth is, there’s always good with the bad that comes along. Life knows how to maintain a balance at all times, it’s just that I choose to see the positive side, but the part that is hurting still exists and I am constantly looking for ways to deal with it.

A mid-year crisis could be a thing, I don’t know.

July 2018, I can only remember the monsoons, long car-rides and Guru Purnima.

Some of you might have just given up reading this blog by now and that’s sort of a comforting feeling in a way. When I tell myself that nobody is reading, words come pouring out without much filter at all. I am usually a ruthless person when it comes to speaking the truth, but sometimes, knowing that my words influence young people – I take up that responsibility more seriously.

There’s something about the rains that come with mixed emotion – everything just seems so intense – be it feeling happy or empty. During the time of Guru Purnima, my parents decided to visit Shyam Sundar Das Baba in Chitrakoot, the same guru that Krishna Das comes to India for, to meet him every year. Even though that trip was only for 3 days roughly, it was a feeling of bliss. I don’t know whether you have heard me say this before, but Krishna Das always says that Love is not a feeling, it is a place to be in and for me, being around that cult where Baba is, it feels like I am at that place. A lot of tea, a lot of laughter.

Saraswati Maa was the reason that I actually went there. She is this super-fit Yoga Teacher in her 50s or 60s, from North Carolina, the US. I call her ‘Maa’ because we share quite a mother-daughter relationship, she’s come home and lived with my family and my parents have been her host. Only in a few meetings, we have built a certain bond. I had decided to make a video on “Rediscovering Ayurveda with Saraswati Markus” for Amrutam where I interviewed her. We woke really early in the morning and it was pouring. She performed her usual asanas in the rain while I filmed her and recorded her talking about her experience.

It was around that time when we were doing this that she told me that there was a retreat happening in Maui, an island in Hawaii – which happens every year organized by Ram Dass and Krishna Das. That thought got stuck to my head. I read more about it once I was back home, and I saw that one ticket costs a bomb and I won’t be able to afford it and surfing a little more on the website I got to know that the tickets were all sold out, anyway. A week later, Saraswati Maa and I were talking on Messenger when she asked me if I would like to join her for the Maui retreat in Hawaii. My heart skipped a beat because I knew she was serious. She conducts Dao Flow sessions in the Open Your Heart Retreat every year, and Raghu, her husband and also a dear friend of my family, is the President of Love Serve Remember Foundation.

I asked her how much would it cost me to attend the retreat. I could not believe that she was serious. She took a couple of days to figure out how they could fit me in because the slots were full. She informed that I would stay with her, Raghu and KRISHNA DAS and that I will not have to pay anything. I just had to cover my Visa and Flight expenses.

I told my parents and they were in full support. They told me that it was an experience that I should have and deserve. I had never crossed borders and it was one of my goals in 2018 to go somewhere outside India. And it was hard to believe that the first place I could possibly go was Hawaii. The best of the bests, someone from the US once told me. I checked my passport and my photo and sign had water spilt over it – and therefore, I took no amount of time to apply for a change of photograph and signature on my passport.

August 2018, things were scattering and dispersing and collecting itself.

I took a train in the morning from Gwalior to Delhi, my passport renewal was supposed to be in Gurgaon. I visited the Passport Seva Kendra after juggling with so many means of transportation and ended up in a long cue of human beings. When my turn came, I was told that I had applied in the tatkal category and I would have to go back home and change the details and come again when the next appointment was available. Now, the retreat was scheduled for November end and I had already entered August without the right passport. I was panicking my guts out. I just had to do everything in my will to go to Hawaii – solely to meet Krishna Das. The first time that I had met him back in 2017 when he came home, I knew that he is old and I need to meet him at least once a year for life is fragile and I want to spend enough time around him. So, obviously, I reapplied for the passport and got an appointment for two weeks later.

During this period, Yash was diagnosed with Ligament Tear in his ankle. He had been suffering from severe pain and uneasiness in walking for a few months now. He has visited multiple doctors, it was always a new diagnosis and a new set of medicines. This time Doctor advised him to be on bed rest. He started working from home, and that sort of affected me – because I was back to working alone in the Office. Yash and I had planned to move out of Gwalior by December of 2018, and before that, as a part of an experiment, we had decided to first move to Manali for a month or two and try doing things from there.

Manali was a good option for two reasons:
1. I thought that things could only be fixed at The Lost Tribe if I live there and set up a proper structure to things.
2. Amrutam was doing well, and we had placed a proper structure for operational work [production, packaging, shipments] and we thought of stepping out and build a core team.

Now that Yash was on bed rest and I had already planned two events, CO-ART 18, an art entrepreneurship project and JYOTIRGAMAYA, an ayurvedic retreat [organized by Amrutam], at the hostel, I had to be there for September and October anyway.

I had hunted for interns through my Instagram and got a lot of entries. I selected four out of the many applications. When I moved to Manali, only one intern landed and everyone else backed out. I realized how most people talk about living a certain “dream life in the mountains” but when an opportunity strikes one’s door – they don’t have enough guts to actually live it. Everyone had their own personal reasons but of course, it was disheartening to see why only a little number of people actually live the dream.

September 2018, too many expectations from self

I was living in my mountain home, with my dogs and my lost tribe. I thought I could fix everything and make everything work. I was trying to balance my Amrutam work remotely, and managing the marketing campaigns of Co-Art 18, trying to get media partners and guests to do workshops and the days were running. I had made so many plans but there was only so much I could do. I would wake up in the morning, make my to-do list and the autumn evenings arrived too early, the sun shone out of my front yard mountains and leaves were falling too quickly – I had too many apples to eat, and math to do.

A week before the Co-Art 18 was supposed to commence, I got a message from the Passport Dept. about getting the Police Verification done, which I meant I had to rush back home, get my work done and come back quickly to host a project at the hostel. We had enough participants, a good number of workshops and a great structure. It was going to be my dream project – mixing Art and Entrepreneurship together.

So I left with a small-sized backpack, which had my laptop and a handful of clothes in it. I thought I’d be back in no time. I reached Gwalior and got my work done, I booked my train tickets to leave for Manali the following morning. The same night, the Beas River flooded the roads aggressively, the Patlikul bridge broke and things turned horrifying at the place. Media made it all look worse. Parents of the participants and mine too adamantly stopped us from reaching there. I was still counting on things to get better, there were two more days left for Co-Art 18 to start. I had worked really hard to put everything in place and I couldn’t accept that it was going to be cancelled in any condition. But it did. Over a 1000 people were reported missing in the floods, buses sank and it was a real natural calamity. I had to call it off. I was shattered.

I had to stay back home for another 10 days before situation calmed down. My passport arrived too [and apparently, I had to be there to collect it and if I hadn’t been, they would have returned it to origin]. I learnt one important thing that Krishna Das had said to me about a year before this happened. He said “I can only try, but it is up to Him to finally make it happen” and I finally resonated with it. I did everything in my capacity to chart out my dream project, get people to sign up, organized little bits of it but everything fell apart and it was not in my control.

October 2018, I took the flood incident as a sign.

I decided to not conduct Jyotirgamaya and called it off as well – because people were scared and the conditions of the road were still not okay. I went back to Jagatsukh, Himachal Pradesh – lived there for a few more days, let my intern go back to Delhi, where she lives, and wrapped up everything and came back home. I spent my time in August and September planning an art entrepreneurship project and an ayurvedic retreat and both the things did come to life. I took that time as a learning period and got back home.

You won’t believe what happened the morning after I reached home. I woke up and picked up my phone, and the first thing I saw on my Instagram was a picture of Chitrakoot Baba. His American disciples have made an IG account and they keep uploading pictures of him sometimes. My eyes were hardly opened yet, and screen light was entering from the little that I could manage to see from. It was a carousel post and in the second picture, I saw Krishna Das with his harmonium. I suddenly woke up from my sleep and went to the profile and saw the tagged pictures and found another person’s profile and saw the stories of them bathing in the river – a bunch of 20 Americans including Krishna Das with Baba.

I went straight to my father and said “Krishna Das is in India” and he said “Yes, I know. It has been a week.” and I was furious “WHY DID YOU NOT TELL ME??” and he said “because I knew you would run to Chitrakoot to see him” and I said “Of course! I am catching a train and going.”

My parents and I went on a 12-hour bumpy ride to reach Chitrakoot. Krishna Das was leaving after one day, so I just had one day to spend with him. And I did. The day was just so beautiful [and I plan on sharing another blog about this day].

Everything suddenly started to make sense. Had I not left for Gwalior on the day I did, I would have missed the chance to see KD and spend a lovely time in the jungle ashram, singing, laughing and eating bananas.

I felt this unexplainable contentment – after a while of disappointment about my plans not working out. I left Instagram because I wanted to keep this special inner satisfaction stored for as long as I could.

November 2018, rollercoaster rides.

I had my US visa interview scheduled for 8th Nov, which was the morning after Diwali night. So, I celebrated Diwali, caught Bhopal Express at 3 am, reached the Visa Centre directly from the railway station. Waiting in the line, got inside the place after multiple checkpoints and made it to the interview window.

The interview had begun well, and it was going just fine – and in the middle of it – this American interviewer abruptly ended the interview and said “Sorry, you are not applicable for the visa right now” and handed over a leaflet. I said “I have all the documents, you can check” and he said “US visa policies are very strict” and I went into an absolute shock. My plans to go to Hawaii were wrecked. 

I did not know what did I do. I could not understand for a bit. I stepped out, bought myself a cheese sandwich, sat on the roadsides of Embassy and ate it. I started walking, more like dragging my feet, and crawled for over 3-4 km to calm myself down. Then, I caught an auto for the station, bought a general ticket and ran to catch the latest train back to home. The leaflet mentioned that I was an unmarried woman, and I may go there, find a man and get settled there. Which century are we living in, again?

My original plan of crossing the border and checking it off the list failed. So, I called up Hina, my best friend, and asked her what she was doing during my birthday week. I told her “See, I want to cross the borders and we can definitely do Nepal” and she agreed. It was really impulsive of both of us. We booked our flight tickets, found a clean beautiful Airbnb for the day of our arrival to Kathmandu and kept sharing places we wanted to visit on a Whatsapp chat for a course of 3 weeks.

December 2018, the most beautiful goodbye.

From the first day of December, I can feel the joy in the air and everything goes merry. I dont know if it is all in my head but I know that I go an extra mile each day of this month to feel as if all 31 days are Christmas.

My Hawaii plan had left me feeling shattered, for I thought I’d spend my 25th birthday backpacking solo in Hawaii after the retreat was over. So I shifted myself according to where life decided to take me.

I can never emphasise on my belief enough that “in surrendering, I find the deepest hidden treasures of happiness.” So I did. I surrendered, completely.

I particularly remember getting an anxiety attack on the night before I left for Delhi to catch my flight to Kathmandu. I was constantly feeling so disoriented and worried about things, and how it would be turn out. I did not know what to expect and while most people would argue is the best thing to do – I just somehow couldnt deal with the intricacies of unknown.

Despite travelling all throughout the year, and working towards something that comes with a whole lot of ambiguities of its own – I was still serving some purpose. It seemed to me that I couldn’t recollect how it felt to just wander without a purpose – or to put it in better words – wandering was itself the purpose and the means. However, when I landed in Nepal, with Hina, we both sensed this together – as if some sort of “energy” was looking after us. This energy was watching out for us – the Airbnb we stayed in for the first two nights, the free Nepal sim we got from a Nepali Daaju, strangers walking in and weaving further plans for us, making us catch buses, ending up at the house of Champakali, a 30-yr old elephant [that is also my biggest highlight of 2018 traveling stories] – every little thing that we or should I say things that happened to us thought out the trip spoke of some magic, out of our control.

It was also my 25th birthday and it was really strange to see myself feeling so different relative to all my college birthdays, those were full of grandeur, a lot of celebration and people. This was calm and quiet with just the two of us. I told Hina that I didn’t want to cut the cake at midnight; so we woke up at 4:30 am, only to drive up to Sarangkot with an Uncle from Tamil Nadu we found the minute we got down at Pokhara the previous day.

I cut the cake sitting at the edge of a mountain – watching the moody sunrise amidst the cloudy Annapurna range covered with fresh white snow.

After being away from work, with not much internet, for over a week – I came back to analysing our 2018 at Amrutam. Influencer Marketing worked a great deal for us this year – and the most important achievements were –

  1. we worked towards an optimized and safe packaging,
  2. Figured out methods of reaching out to people through the internet.
  3. How the concept of community is a strong force in every business.
  4. Last, but not the least, we have developed a clearer understanding of where Amrutam is going.

Christmas was cosily spent at a friend’s place in Gwalior, with homemade mulled wine, long conversations about work, gender and politics. I left for my mountain home, after working for about a week post-Nepal trip, to end the year and welcome new one with mother nature at close proximity.

While the year ended as a backpacker, I began my new year at an extremely lavish stay – Gone Fishing Cottages, what a Pinterest-y place to live in – and I remember how I jokingly mentioned to a friend who had invited me there –

“from backpacking to a stay in luxury cottage – maybe this is a metaphor of me walking from 2018 into 2019”

Now when I scroll up to read all that I have written, I found the right structure to reflect on how beautiful and meaningful this passing year was – and how it would fit in as one of the crucial milestones for Amrutam, and me.

Hope you enjoyed reading it. If you did read it. Hope you read it. If you really did, thank you for reading.

Lots and lots of love to everyone.

I decided to not put pictures on purpose, so that I can be true to my words in this space. You can just go open Instagram to get enough mental stimulation after all.

Do share what was your year like, in the comment section?
For regular updates – just keep in touch with me here: @bijniswoman

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  1. Sometimes not getting what we want means that something better has been planned for us, I believe Stuti. I know it might be heart breaking for you that you couldn’t make it to Hawaii and you had to cancel 2 of your programs which you had painstakingly organized. But I would just like to say one thing remember everything happens for a reason. Lots of love to you ❤️😘

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