Priya Balasubramanian

Physician and Writer

New Year 2019

elephant seal.jpg

On a short family vacation last week, we drove on Highway 1 along the miles of breathtaking coastline between Monterey and San Simeon. It was on one of the many beaches along the way that I came upon a certain elephant seal. He lay on his massive belly in his own small curve of beach, a little way off from a larger collection of his compatriots who were clustered together. And as we watched, he snorted or snored (we disagreed a bit on which it was, or if it was a belch) and then he lifted his flipper in a wave, before settling back into sleep. It felt like a moment of un-looked-for joy, and I can’t really explain why it would feel that way. But it feels apt to share it with you, unknown reader, who perhaps happened upon this page in similar serendipity.

It’s a New Year, and a chance to start over. The resolutions I considered were similar to years past: exercise daily, write consistently every day to an egg timer, clean out my closet or take up meditation. They are all absolutely things I need to do. But I’ve learned a bit from the graveyard of resolutions of years past, and the one I have settled on is simply this: to be more like my friend the elephant seal. To be as comfortable in my skin as that, and perhaps to bring a moment of joy to the people who cross my path. It seems liberating and joyful already, in contrast to all that I have set myself up to do in the past. So here’s my gift to you for 2019— a wish that you will be the best and most comfortable version of yourself, and that as you count the steps or run the mile, clean out closets, or cook healthier meals, or do any and all the things that you really should, you find joy, for yourself and for those around you.

(You’ll notice that I am no marine biologist, and have no real knowledge of elephant seals. I assume my friend is male, but I really have no idea. I also know the picture does not do him justice—but you can read all about elephant seals, if you are so inclined, here, where they have a treasure trove of better pictures.)


I came to writing relatively late in life, and at the most inopportune of times. I had just finished the gruelling years of residency and fellowship, and started my first real job. Of my two children, one was not quite two years old. I hadn't written anything creative for years. And yet there I was, attempting with the determination of the foolhardy, to write a novel. It was one that was propelled by an image that arrived out of nowhere and with increasing frequency: an old white sari clad woman with a child holding on to her little finger. I had no idea yet of the book it would become, or the years it would take to write.

Years passed. I got to know the little girl, Mira, her grandmother, the white sari clad Ajji, and all the people who filled their world. The novel grew, and it changed. What began almost as an ode to my childhood home, Bangalore, became progressively darker. Long held disquiets made their way into the novel. There was corruption, political expediency, inequality of many types, betrayal and treachery. There were surprises; there was redemption. And finally, there it was, the book I called The Alchemy of Secrets.

Along the way, I found strangers who became dear friends. There were people, places and experiences that I encountered only because I wrote. There were workshops and books on craft. There was the constant self-doubt that is so common to anyone who writes, and mine felt more deserved than most. There was rejection, and heartbreak. There was, and is, joy.

For years I wrote in secret. Even when it was no longer a secret, I hesitated to use that word: Writer. But here we are, at this space. It's an online home for my writing self, quite separate from the world I inhabit each day. I hope that you stay awhile, and that you find something new, possibly interesting or amusing, each time you visit.




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