I know you missed me terribly. I know that, in the words of some immortal Mallus (my mother usually), that you were waiting for me, kannil ena ozhichu (with oil in your eyes – isn’t Malayalam very descriptive?)
Things have changed, muchahos. I no longer live in the so-European of cities – Brussels. This is what transpired…
Sometime in the end of last year, I took stock of my life and decided that, whilst I really loved travelling, I wanted a place to call home, and a home I loved. I then decided that I would either change my job, or my home. Things fell into place, I decided I would move to Sydney and 3 weeks later, the decision was made.
So, now I live in Sydney.
And-I-saw-a-submarine-parked-in-my-backyard-bay-isn’t-that-amazeballs? Yes, I have regressed; I use the word amazeballs in a non-ironic manner. It WAS amazeballs.
I am utterly, un-cynically in love with Sydney. I wake up every weekend, with vague plans of what to do. These plans are usually scuppered, because all I can think of doing is curling up with a book in the park next to home and watch the million dollar yachts bobbing in the water. And of course, skip over to the Opera House to watch a show or two. And whilst there, pinch myself; because the weekend has just been perfect.
I am also utterly in love with my flat. For once, the house feels like home – it has things I love in it. (The story of how I sidled sideways into my couch will eventually be told… someday) Books, paintings, a kitchen that is big enough to use, and horrors, a home office with a chair!
I have grown up. And I even bought a washing machine.
It’s ridiculous really.
So, the nephew runs in my mother’s house at Mach speed, enroute stopping at the sofa to throw two cushions at me.
“Sweetie, do you want dosas? Ammachi has made the batter for you.”
“Dosaaaaa. I am SO hungry.”
My sister told him, “We need to go to the house and have lunch in an hour. So don’t eat dosas here and make ammachi cook.”
He was insistent and this went on for a while – “I want dosas. I am hungry. Ammachi, can I have some dosas?”
So my mother made him a dosa whilst my sister took a break and went downstairs. He wolfed the first down as if a pack of wild dogs was chasing him to partake of it and went back to the kitchen for another.
“Ammachi, can you give me another one before mamma comes back?” (His mother still hadn’t give him permission)
My mother’s heart, of course, melted for his innocent button eyes and she gave him another dosa. In the meanwhile, his sister was eating cupcakes.
He immediately decided he needed a cupcake. ”Ammachi, can I have a cupcake? They are so yummy.”
My sister came back and my mother went to report the success of I-made-your-son-eat-food-so-hah plan. She’d, by then, seen her son munching on the cake and turned to my mother saying, “You have spoilt his appetite”
Meanwhile the scamp had decided he wanted to get out of any (prospective) trouble with his mother. ”Mamma, ammachi gave me cupcakes. I don’t know why.” Again those innocent I-don’t-know-why-people-give-me-stuff eyes, just a little let-down by the fact that he was still eating the unwanted cupcake.
Everyone laughed, which gave him a little courage. So he went downstairs to the car and told his father, “Please wait, dadda. I am having my cupcake.”
Everyone laughed again, which pleased the little clown no end. By then his cupcake was over; so he turned to my mother, raised a little finger and declaimed, “Next time, ammachi, listen to my mamma.”
This is what is known as having your cupcake and eating it. I see a bright future for him as a politician.
My first and only experience with Delhi was not good. I was 15, just fresh from my Board exams, on jaunt through Himachal Pradesh, Punjab (oh, birth state) and Delhi. We’d clambered on to the Rajdhani Express – my mom, great uncle and aunt and I – in Mumbai and we had found ourselves, a day later, in Hazrat Nizamuddin.
And I felt eyes on me. I looked around and saw a man leering at me, gesturing. I cringed and moved back, trying to break eye contact and feeling just a bit disturbed.
I was, after all, a salwar-kameez wearing, very sheltered and nice little Kerala girl, who (perish forbid) did not even take buses in her home town or venture out alone (or with friends) after 4:30 PM. I did not know how to deal with this.
Then we came from Chandigarh to New Delhi railway station one night. We found ourselves on the wrong side of the station and then attracted the largest crowd of men I had ever found myself in. Around 15 men surrounded us, sensing that we were not the typical Delhiites they were used to seeing. I kept saying, “Please chale jaao” to them in a kind of litany, hoping they would leave.
But they didn’t and they pressed closer and closer, groping a 15 year old girl in front of their guardians. I simultaneously lost all trust in Delhi as a city and my wide-eyed small town girl naiveté that day.
Walk with your head down. Don’t make eye contact with the boys at the junction. Pretend to not hear what they are saying. Walk with your head down…
Life in Kerala 70 years ago was different. We come from a matrilineal society, from a culture of tolerance fostered by the Nair-Nasrani-Mapilla amalgamation, where education is prized beyond all and which was not always tainted by the effects of (No, not the West) North India.
We contemptuously dismiss the Northies, yet post-Independence, the Malayalees pounced on that disturbing habit of dowry. The bride’s family pays for the 100-sovereign bedecked Malayalee Manga and for the boy’s fragile ego.
Make no mistake, the Malayalee man has a fragile ego. It must be nurtured like the bright little flower it is not. I had no intention to do it when I was young, and I have none now.
There was no phrase I hated more from my well-meaning mother than, “… but you are a girl…” My answer, then and now, is the same. “So?”
But I did learn to walk with my head down.
Everyone knows this. Everyone knows women are not treated the same as the ones blessed with a Y chromosome.
You can agitate all you want on Facebook, around India Gate, and vent to your heart’s frustration on your blogs (how ironic, Shruti). Unless the Indian attitude towards women changes from “… but you are a girl” to “of course, you can do it”, there will be more atrocities against women. And ultimately, there will be indifference.
India, it’s time for your sexual (wait, well brought up Indian women don’t use the S word)… gender revolution.
Learning the first letters from the Cyrillic alphabet – D-O-M-E-V and S-K-A (Domodedovo, Moskva)
Going to Red Square (Krasnaya) in the middle of a blustery winter night, snow piled all over St. Basil’s and seeing Lenin’s mausoleum,
Of course, making “In Soviet Russia,” jokes.
Being rather optimistic about my choice of footwear at Belarouska (you could skate to the office in my flats),
Bonding with the Russians in a local café, complete with Czech beer and German bratwurst (really),
Going into the Moscow metro with trepidation, rather happy about the Ukrainian team-mate,
Getting yelled at by local goons (“You speak English? Fucccckkkkkk youuuuu.”)
Bye Moscow. You scare me, but I will be back for St Petersburg and your train line.
Canada and USA
Pacific Northwest and the West Coast
Partying in Vancouver with the youngest team (median age of 25),
Comparing lengths of skirts (“These are unpaid ones…”),
Checking Gastown and the great Vancouver weather out every weekend,
Going for a Vancouver Giants game,
Flying in a 14 seater to Vancouver Island every week,
Changing the colours in the best SUV in the world to pimp red,
Watching TV in the bathroom of the Fairmont Pacific (It was in the mirror!),
Working next to the prettiest waterfall in Vancouver Island,
Having a rather protracted winter (till May) in the mountains,
Saying howdy to the brown bears back from hibernation, stupid deer jumping on to roads and bald eagles sunning themselves on the curbside,
Testing the limits of the car to find new mining shafts and dams in the middle of the national parks,
Waking up every morning to the prettiest sight – lakes, waterfalls and mountains,
Falling on my dignity in Whistler due to afore-mentioned optimism about footwear, (I am shaking my fist at you, Michael Kors),
Going “whale watching in Tofino” after a rather long drive across the island,
Taking a Ford Mustang road trip to Seattle with the young ‘uns,
Waking up to the glorious Seattle night skyline,
Getting lost and walking 12 miles in Seattle to the Fremont troll,
Going to the fanciest restaurant in town as the only underage threesome (“I think they thought we were some rich kids whose parents had left them with a credit card over the weekend.”, “Speak for yourself”),
Getting just slightly uncomfortable in Sin City, Las Vegas,
Going to a Cirque du Soleil production with Vinay,
Losing money ($1) in slots and shopping (let’s not go there),
Pounding the strip, looking down and seeing the pictures of naked women all over the footpath (Sorry, conservative South Indian family who thought it was a good idea to bring their patti to LV),
Watching the Bellagio fountains from the café 90 minutes before my return flight,
Spending Easter in Maui, Hawaii…
… in a Magnum P.I like Jeep Wrangler,
Finding the pretty waterfalls and mountains in Maui much better than the windy Pacific sea,
Watching a school of dolphins turn somersaults off the coast with undisguised glee, (I think I clapped),
Getting lost in Honolulu airport (Not a good thing, trust me),
Sleeping over the armrests on the Air Canada flight back.
Going to San Francisco with flowers in my hair and falling in love with the quirky city (Hi, Pier 39!),
Walking up and down, side to side with aching feet, (Hoit tower, Golden Gate, crookedest street),
Getting down and groovy with it in Haight-Ashbury (Helllooo, hippies!),
Getting a few free rides on the streetcars because the conductor wanted me to remember him!
Getting pulled into a psychic reading by a halfway demented girl (“Give me $2000 so that you can find true love!”),
Turning up at a Michelin star restaurant wearing flip-flops,
Watching batman flip and flop his way across town,
Flying home with a member of the Canadian national hockey jocks sitting next to me.
Quebec, Ontario and the best of the rest
Going from the French frying pan into the French fire (the Quebecois accent is hilarious),
Hating the commute from Montreal to the working place (1 hour flight, 3.5 hours drive),
Dismissing Montreal with a wave of the imperious hand,
Missing the flight back to the working place because of poutine,
Ending up driving for seven hours,
Living in close quarters with the team (lot of drama and falling roof tiles, cooking and cleaning later),
Walking through Quebec City in search for vegetarian fare,
Finding Europe-ana in the midst of North America vaguely unsettling,
Decamping to the Chateau Frontenac for the best views of St Lawrence and La Ville du Quebec,
Going on the worst walking tour I have ever been in (Sorry, Marie. You were not good),
Meeting a Vietnam war vet who had fond memories of falling into the Quebec City canon,
Almost missing the plane because of maple syrup lollipops (Notice a trend?),
Going to Toronto to eat Indian food (really),
Visiting Niagara Falls (The smoke that thunders)…
… getting stuck in the cave because the elevator stopped working for 2 hours…
… and, of course, missing our Toronto-Montreal flight.
Fighting all the way through our drive back to the apartment after a re-routed flight,
Seeing the Aurora Borealis in the midst of a particularly spirited argument,
And learning the third life lesson, (“Always expect the unexpected”),
Tip-tapping through New York City with friends,
Getting introduced as “the boss” to people and completely not living up to the reputation,
Drinking the best margaritas on Upper West Side and painting the town red,
Redefining shopping till you drop in Century 21 (Oscar de la Renta heels!),
Gossiping through lunch, tea and dinner with old friends,
Checking out the Canadian parliament in Ottawa and the Canadian museum of civilisation in Gatineau,
Drinking cocktails in the W lounge every weekend,
Deciding to eat at the Valley of Gold, and missing our flight (again) to Montreal,
Experiencing the Southern charm of Atlanta, complete with IIMB reunion over reception parties, gossip sessions and Indian tapas.
Bopping my head to Mumford & Sons, Regina Spector, the Editors and Kasabian in Rock Werchter,
Enjoying a great 28th birthday in Berlin with a cake, champagne and a wonderful dinner,
Hanging out with friends (and Mexican border collies) across Brussels,
Drinking the best cocktails at Conrad Brussels, dancing at Havana and Madame Moustache,
Stuffing my face with food at Rue Americaine (home sweet home).
Eating behind closed curtains (Ramadan season) at the IFC in Dubai,
Playing “hide and I will drink water” at the W Doha,
Checking out the dish-dash wearing teenage Qataris joy-riding in their classic Corvette,
Indulging in Emirati luxury… just ‘cos.
Running around Orchard Road and the Australian Embassy,
Sitting on the road to Sentosa Island with family, reading a book.
Flying to Australia (via Singapore) on 10 hours’ notice (Welcome to my world),
Watching South Africa demolish Australia on Day 2 of the Final Test in the WACA, Perth, (I was supporting the Proteas, wearing a Kangaroos’ cowboy hat under duress),
Having lunch at a brewery in Freemont, and taking a wine tasting boat ride back to Perth,
Going back to Sydney to rekindle my love affair with the city, watching the skyline from Taronga zoo,
Taking a 10 hour flight (Perth-Sydney-Ayers Rock) for a single day in the Red Centre of Australia, Uluru,
Feeling overwhelmed by the beauty of the pristine Southern sky…
… with Lesson 4 in my mind, (“Insignificance in the face of Nature is a good thing”),
At sunrise, craning my neck between Uluru and Kata Tjuta, and wondering if the stay could be prolonged.
Flying to Trivandrum via Madras and Singapore.
Dedicated to my foul weather friends (you know who you are!)…
I might be tardy about calling you, emailing you, chatting with you or texting you. I might not keep abreast with your day to day annoyances. I might even be the biggest fool in the world and forget your birthday (I now have alarms in my calendar to remind me which days those fall on).
But when I think of you, I usually light up inside. I remember your little foibles and quirks, the times we spent together and everything that made our time togther utterly special.
Let me thank you for…
Pushing an obstinate Fiat down Overbridge with tooting horns and angry traffic policemen,
Driving behind me on your bike at 1 AM in deserted roads in Kerala,
Laughing at something I said, which was very usual!
Comforting me, hand on head, when I was tired and alone,
Giving me a shoulder to put my head on and bawl my heart out for some completely forgotten misery,
Letting me fall asleep while you were discussing Solid State Devices very earnestly,
Giving me a hug when I needed it most,
Thinking I am mostly-perfect (only in your eyes) and that I can do no wrong – your confidence touches and simultaneously scares me,
Helping me build up Ikea furniture through the weekend and insisting that it was exactly what you wanted to do,
Gossiping with me about your life and mine when you are too far for a hug,
Letting me call you at midnight and listen to me yell about your horrible life choices, you absolute idiot,
Coming to pick me up at assorted airports, always with a smile and a huge hug,
Never asking me why I didn’t call for ages and now remembered you,
Sharing breakfast and placing a bandaid on old wounds,
Dropping in unannounced in my room, at whatever time, and declaring that you want to spend time with me,
Eating everything I cook and declaring that I have surpassed myself – ALL the time,
Dropping everything and coming to my rescue when I could hardly breathe for crying,
Going utterly out of your way to come have breakfast, lunch, coffee, dinner with me, regardless of how late I have worked or how much you have to do,
Listening to me complain about such-and-such mostly imagined problems – I have a vivid imagination,
Never saying no to me even when I know you should have,
Coming to see me at home so that even a city 9000 km away feels like 10 years ago,
Giving me unsolicited (often imagined to be good) advice about what I should do with my life,
Knowing that I am a sucker for emotional blackmail and using the weapon very well,
Just being you and being there for me.
Thank you. I love you.
Every two years, we try and discuss the last two years in song. It is, as I have said it before, time.
I sound manic depressive with these music choices, don’t I?
September 2010: (Basel) Nowadays (You can like the life you’re living/ You can live the life you like/ You can even marry Harry/ But mess around with Ike/ And that’s… good, isn’t it? Great, isn’t it? Fun…)
October 2010: (Istanbul, Turkey) We no speak Americano (Comme te po’/ Comme te po’/ Comme te po’ capì chi te vò bene/ Si tu le parle ‘mmiezzo americano?/ Quando se fa l’ammore sotto ‘a luna/ Come te vene ‘capa e di: “I love you!?”)
November 2010: (Maputo, Mozambique) Barbara Streisand (Barbara Streisand/ woo woo woo woo woo woo woo/ woo woo woo woo woo woo woo/ woo woo woo woo woo woo woo)
December 2010: (Johannesburg) I wanna break free (I want to break free/ I want to break free/ I want to break free from your lies/ You’re so self satisfied I don’t need you/ I’ve got to break free/ God knows, God knows I want to break free)
January 2011: (Swakopmund, Namibia) Dynamite (I throw my hands up in the air sometimes/ Saying AYO!/ Gotta let go!/ I wanna celebrate and live my life/ Saying AYO!/ Baby, let’s go!)
February 2011: (Johannesburg) With or without you (Through the storm we reach the shore/ You give it all but I want more/ And I’m waiting for you/ With or without you/ With or without you/ I can’t live with or without you)
March 2011: (Brussels) Rockstar (It’s like the bottom of the ninth/ And I’m never gonna win/ This life hasn’t turned out/ Quite the way I want it to be)
April 2011: (New York) New York, New York (These vagabond shoes / They are longing to stray / Right through the very heart of it / New York, New York)
May 2011: (Kalamata, Greece) Tonight’s gonna be a good night (I gotta feeling, that tonight’s gonna be a good night, that tonight’s gonna be a good night…)
June 2011: (Kitzbuehl) Club can’t handle me right now (You know I know how/ To make em stop and stare as I zone out/ The club can’t even handle me right now/ Watchin’ you watchin’ me I go all out)
July 2011: (Johannesburg) Glycerine (Don’t let the days go by/Gylcerine/ Could have been easier on you/ Couldn’t change though I wanted to)
August 2011: (Cape Town) Alors Danse (Mais c’est ton corps c’est pas le ciel alors tu t’bouche plus les oreilles/Et là tu cries encore plus fort et ca persiste…/Alors on chante)
September 2011: (Kruger) Rollin’ in the Deep (The scars of your love remind me of us/ They keep me thinking that we almost had it all/ The scars of your love, they leave me breathless/ I can’t help feeling/ We could have had it all)
October 2011: (London) Carmen Burana (Loud overture ;-))
November 2011: (Milan) Paradise (Life goes on, it gets so heavy /The wheel breaks the butterfly / Every tear a waterfall / In the night the stormy night she’ll close her eyes /In the night the stormy night away she’d fly)
December 2011: (Sydney, Australia) What a wonderful world (The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky/ Are also on the faces of people going by/ I see friends shaking hands, saying how do do you do?/ They’re really saying, I love you)
January 2012: (Trivandrum) Somewhere over a rainbow (Somewhere over the rainbow/Skies are blue/And the dreams that you dare to dream/Really do come true)
February 2012: (Moscow) Aaromale (Mamaleyeri varrum thennal/ Puthu mannavaalan thennal/ Palli medeye thottu thalodi kurushil thozhudu varunbol/ Varavelppinu Malayalee karra manasamadhan choriyum/ Aaromale, Aaromale)
March 2012: (Vancouver) On the Floor (If you go hard you gotta get on the floor/ If you’re a party freak then step on the floor/If you’re an animal then tear up the floor)
April 2012: (Vancouver) Somebody that I used to know (Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over/ But had me believing it was always something that I’d done/ And I don’t wanna live that way/ Reading into every word you say/ You said that you could let it go/ And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know)
May 2012: (Seattle) Nantes (Well, it’s been a long time, long time now/ Since I’ve seen you smile/ And I’ll gamble away my fright/ And I’ll gamble away my time)
June 2012: (San Francisco) San Francisco (Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair) (All across the nation such a strange vibration/ People in motion/ There’s a whole generation with a new explanation/ People in motion people in motion)
I know you spin your gossamer dreams in your heart,
Cherishing them against the vagaries of life,
The mundaneness, the pains and the strife,
And they who would stomp your dreams into the dirt.
I know what you are thinking when you idly chat,
Your eyes flickering from face to face,
You’re searching for that safe place,
Where you are who you are and just that.
You’ve lived your life like a personal quest,
Left a piece of you at each milestone,
Purposeful steps from dusk to dawn,
Your wandering mind knows no sleep or rest.
Tell me your dreams, hopes and all your desires,
I’ll let you be you and I will still be me,
I will walk beside you in this journey,
Together, we shall brave the world’s tepid fires.
So, I was flying from Vancouver to Brussels on seat 14A. As I was contemplating the distance to which I had to toss my bag into the hold, a tall man sauntered up the aisle and said…
I was confused, apologised myself and sat down in my seat and looked out of the window (First rule of flying – do not look at fellow travellers)
The guy opened his suitcase, took a banana and placed it in the seat holders, then took a vegan bar. By now I was curious, and I peeked a look at him. Tall, Dutch/German looking standard traveller (Aryan type – thanks very much).
I went back to looking out of the window, trying to depress my curiosity.
“Where are you from?”
The question knocked me a bit, “Excuse me?”
“Where are you from?”
“I live in Brussels.”
“Where is that?”
“Uhm, Belgium, in Europe.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I work here. Now I am going home for a week.”
“That is a long way to go to go home…”
“Yeah. I am a bit homesick.”
I broke it this time, “So what do you do?”
“I play hockey.”
“Ahhh. For which team?”
Awkward silence, while I debated if he was expecting me to fawn on him or pretend I even knew him.
“Amazing, I am next to a celebrity”, I mumbled.
“Nothing. So where are you going?”
“Zurich. So, where is Brussels?”
“Uhm, it’s next to Amsterdam.” I pulled out the Lufthansa map and pointed it to him.
“So, have you travelled in Europe?”
“Yeah, when I was younger”
“Where can I go? Is Southern Spain nice?”
“Barcelona? Greece? Greece is dangerous, isn’t it? St. Tropez, Ibiza?”
The guy started messaging on his iPhone at top speed, inspite of the attendant warning him repeatedly.
My head was aching a bit. So I pretended to watch the clouds.
He told me, “There are seats in front”
“Okay” (“Does he expect me to leave this seat?”)
“If we move, we can get more space…”
He sat there for take-off, while I pretended to be busy with watching paint dry. By now, I had a huge smile on my face. For the first time in my life, I had met a jock type.
I took my laptop out and connected it to the onboard WiFi.
“You have internet here?”
He took his iPad out and stared at it as if it would magically sprout wings and have WiFi.
“How does this work?”
I was a little baffled, but showed him how to use the tablet that was designed for your grandmother to use. But not jocks evidently.
He stared at it after connecting. “Still doesn’t work”
“Why don’t you type google.com?”
He typed labouriously.
That pretty much made my day.
Thank you, cute jock boy who plays for Team Canada. That was the most fun I ever had on one of my flights. Ever. All the best in Zurich.
I hear Croatia is great this time of the year.
We met on the first day of school, do you remember? We sat together, reading our A’s and B’s – you, with your mischievous smile and I, with my perennially cropped hair.
We became friends; it was prosaic in its inevitability.
I didn’t get you. We now had a love-hate relationship.
We stopped talking. We were indifferent to each other.
We moved on. If I remembered school, it was only to laugh at how utterly innocent and wide-eyed I was.
You emailed me some days ago, speaking about the best days of your life. Learning your A’s and B’s next to me.
You were somebody I used to know.
We were sitting together in companionable silence.
I’d squeezed your hand and said, “I am glad to know you.” You smiled that usual heart-stopping smile, squeezed my hand and said, “Ditto, sweetheart.”
We were sitting together in comfortable silence. I was idly flipping through the TV channels. You were cutting your nails into the dustbin.
There was silence and the yearning distance.
You were somebody I used to know.
I was reading your old blogs. I was tracing my fingers on old photographs and wondering…
I looked into the mirror and whispered,
“You were somebody I used to know”
[Inspired by my newest ear-worm, Somebody I used to know, by Gotye - featuring Kimbra. I must have listened to this song on loop 50 times this weekend.]