That’s the sand of time, slipping away,
As you try to greedily hold on to everyday.
The smudge of your memory on the horizon,
Is fading into legend; the words, they are done.
We drink from the chalice of forgetfulness,
And dance the mute minuet of sorrow.
Is it true that our eyes confess,
How we dread the dawn of the morrow?
Or Don’t Panic. Just take me to your leader
“Hi, my name is Peter, aged twenty three,
I have a terrible fear of growing up”, says he.
“Not very different to other millennial men,”
I laugh, “you should fit right here then.”
He flirts. “I am all paid up on a nice asteroid,
Right off Hyde Park, just into the Oort Cloud.
And, if you’d like, we can live there comfortably,
In the asteroid, just the three of us, honey.”
“Three of us?” I echo. (not quite a witty repartee)
“You, me and my robot valet, Jeeves, ‘Tis three.”
“Does this asteroid have three volcanoes?”, I enquire,
“Yes!” he says, “Have you been to this land of extinguished fire?”
“No. But it does seem you have come a long way,
From pining after a rose to having robots”, I say.
“Well yes. I did make a few billion rupees, *
From this book I call the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”
My mind works in ways that are too mysterious even for me to fully comprehend. So, if anyone asked you what you’d get if you combined the works of Antoine de Saint Exupery, J M Barrie, P G Wodehouse and Douglas Adams in a hodge podge of Futurama meets a romantic comedy, the answer is this poem. Just so you know.
* Clearly, the Prince knew I was Indian
And, these players? They sit through the morose night,
Watching their listless life pass by in a flickering,
For the game belongs neither to the player nor the played,
It belongs to the restless regrets of the unmourned morning.
Her screams were like those of a bird of prey. “Don’t touch me. Just leave. Just LEAVE.”
He was threatening her, “You do know it’s your fault, don’t you?”
I was awake in my bed, at 3:30 AM listening to the neighbours playing out their tumultuous relationship.
The screaming match had started at 2:30 AM – or maybe that was when the sound had penetrated the fuzziness of my sleep. I tried muffling the sound with my pillow for a while, but that didn’t work. One hour in, I was lying on my back staring at the spotlights in my ceiling (the previous owner was an artist, apparently), wondering if this fight was going to cut into any more of my precious weekend Zs.
“I wonder what happened here. Was it a case of she-cheated-he cheated? Sounds like it… or was it just a case of gradual drifting apart, till no love remained? Is this how love feels – in the middle of the night, hoarse voices and aching heads, many threats – right in the middle of a wintry Australian night?”
There was some clattering from next door. A mundane thought struck me, “Is she throwing his stuff downstairs in a fit of theatricality? I hope not – we are 16 floors up.”
Downstairs, the sounds of drunken revelry floated up; the last of the party-goers were winding their tipsy way past the Surry Hills Police Station. Next door, the fight was still in full swing.
“Why aren’t you leaving? There’s the door.”
I was lying still in my warm bed, hoping to hear the bang of a door and to hear the end of the argument. Common sense, however, dictated that there was nowhere the man could leave to in the wee hours of the morning.
“Why don’t you leave? It’s MY house.”
“Ah,” I thought, “the plot thickens. I hope they don’t own a pet. Or a baby. I wouldn’t like to see the fight about that.”
Another ten minutes of this back and forth followed. This argument was becoming tedious. The voices, however, had gotten fainter – it seemed like someone was getting closer to the front door.
Suddenly, the woman raised her voice, “Help me, someone, help me.” Her voice had become less bird of prey, more cockatoo.
It became more insistent, “Help me!”
I sat up, wondering if I should do something. Bang my fist on the common wall and ask them what was going on? Walk out and knock on the door, asking if everything was alright? Or do nothing? Because doing nothing is easy, isn’t it? My fickle mind threw up another thought, “Am I suffering from bystander effect? I am the neighbour that did nothing, aren’t I?”
The man murmured something. It sounded threatening, if murmurs could sound threatening.
I was still in two minds, thinking in run-in sentences – “Go to the flat, knock on the door, check if the woman is okay – will we become best friends because I helped her out in bad times? Or is this a normal couple’s quarrel? After all, they had fought last week too and will I be interfering in what was a weekly routine? Wait-a-minute. If it’s a weekly routine, should I ask them to pipe down? What’s the etiquette in this situation? Will she throw dishes at him next?”
There was silence. And then again, the croak of the cockatoo-woman, “Leaveeeee!”
This was the theatricality of the mundane. And there we all were, the players and the writer, the theatrical and the mundane – existing side by side. Watching the last embers of love die.
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.