I lacked discipline in the most elementary level of leading my life. There was no routine, no defining habits. Odd working hours, interspersed with frequent night duties; bizarre sleeping habit oscillating between insomnia and near catalepsy; using meals only as sustenance, gobbling down food indifferently; reading and writing erratically; allowing people and circumstances to disrupt my attempts of an organized day; I was drifting through life without any direction. My family often chided that I was in my late twenties and yet as disorganized as a toddler! The hours I kept were discordant with my family. But I couldn't go through life trying to mold my days into a routine set by others. I needed to function according to my own habits, and I wanted keep it flexible too. And finally I have found a routine that suits me.
In 'What I talk about when I talk about running', Haruki Murakami mentions going to bed at sundown and waking up with the sun. My immediate thought was, "Is he mental?" But then I asked myself what important tasks kept me busy at night to scoff at other people going to bed early. Apart from bi-weekly night duties and occasional night outs with friends, I spent them dazed in front of the television, surfing the net mindlessly, delaying dinner and eventually sleep, only to wake up groggy the following morning. I am not married, I don't have children, and not obliged to sync my life with anyone else yet. So, much to the surprise of my family and friends, I've started going to bed frighteningly early, at about seven pm, on the nights when I don't have to work or go out with friends. It suits me, as my energy starts to slump after a long day. Dinner is at six. I chat with my family and watch television for an hour before retiring to my room, and I no longer stay awake for hours battling insomnia, going to bed at this early hour befits me. I drift off to sleep within minutes.
I wake frighteningly early too, at midnight! I had always found the hours between midnight and dawn magical. Time seems to expand in these quiet hours, and I work better in the solitude. After freshening up and drinking some tea, I sit at my desk to study. Textbooks are better tolerated at this hour and my mind is more receptive to learning. But restlessness starts to set in by three am.
I shut the big fat tomes of pathology and begin my favorite time of the day, where I can accommodate all the things I love. Mostly I sit by the window, escaping into unknown lands and forgotten decades and centuries-14th century Iceland, 1950s Boston, 1920s Paris or 1990s Shillong-through the books at hand. Imagination runs rampant. I finally have enough time to read, unhurried and undisturbed. Sometime after four, the day starts to dawn and it never ceases to delight me, this first light.
Depending on the weather, I go for a walk or do yoga. No longer do I have an excuse to avoid exercise. And I surprise myself in looking forward to it! I had enough of gyms and the diets that I had never been able to follow beyond a day. I never lost weight, or gained it all back. I lacked discipline and my poor self-image didn't help either. I have discovered that the simple acceptance of accepting my body the way it was and not being hassled about attaining a certain weight within a certain time frame has removed my distaste for exercise and stubborn lethargy. I love walking, the simple act of moving my limbs, listening to my favorite music-Greg Brown currently-a mile more, and one more, and one more after that. Maybe it stems from my love for swimming, the movements of limbs in sync and the meditative state of mind.
By five I am back home with a real appetite for food. A sumptuous breakfast follows, none of those bland oatmeal or other health foods. I really indulge in this first meal of the day. Various permutations of the following; paranthas with a dollop of desi ghee, buttered toast with fluffy omelette, fruit juice or milk, poha, idlis, paneer sanwiches, spaghetti; pile up on my plate.
An hour of writing follows. I have often wondered at the productivity of my favorite authors, churning out books at astonishingly frequent intervals. Like everything in life, in the absence of an innate talent, only persistent practice will hone the skills one wants to develop. Writing is no different, it requires the same discipline and effort. The flow of ideas and words is directly proportional to the time one invests in writing. There is so much to learn, so much to unlearn, and so much to experiment with. I had given up on fiction and never had the patience and dedication to write anything apart from short stories. But I am trying to build the habit of writing a few hundred words every day that would hopefully realize my dream of penning down the stories that had been trapped in my mind due to sheer laziness.
By seven thirty am I have showered, read the paper, checked mail and facebook, and ready to face the rest of my day. I never used to have time to do anything, was perpetually tired, wasted time on activities that didn't bring about any personal growth, and neglected my health. Now my day seems to have miraculously expanded to accommodate everything I want to do, all the books I want to read, study attentively, write, have sufficient sleep (five hours works for me), no longer shun exercise, and finally eat with a healthy appetite.
Disruptions still occur in my routine. Emotional outbursts, unavoidable circumstances, sudden big tasks, travels, family troubles, illness and most often other people make my routine an absolute mess. Instead of fussing about these breaks, I have learned to allow flexibility and slowly get back to organizing my day that suits me the best. There are no set formative years of life, experimenting never stops. Maybe someday I would have to adjust my life around another person, but till then I love beginning my day at midnight.