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How to pack your life in a bag and other moving tales

Maciej Frankiewicz - The SuitcaseMy life is at it again.

You would think a child would settle it, make a homebody out of a nomad, fix my feet in the city where family and only some remaining friends were. When my daughter began pre-school two years ago, I thought this was it. We had signed on the dotted line to be Delhi dwellers forever, or at least till she graduated. Then past fifty I would become a farmer and live in the mountains, again. But forever is a tricky thing. It’s laughing behind your back as you make plans for love and life.

So here we are, on a 14th floor apartment in chilly (if you’re sitting at home) Dubai, overlooking yachts go by in one direction and an unmanned metro crossing buildings that The Jetsons swung their hovercraft around many years ago on the telly. And I’ve been cooking every single day of the one week we’ve been here, me of the never-step-in-the-kitchen syndrome. I’ve already begun an uncertain relationship with the stove. We had our first spat today. It screamed, I shut it down. Soon enough we were okay. I’m also doing the evening slides round with the girl, something we never had time for in the almost four years she’s been around.

I’m the person all the “I’m not going to do that…” things happen to. Never not going to work (current status screams ‘Not allowed to work’ on a stamped paper in case I didn’t hear it clear enough). Not leaving the country now. Not packing like a fool. One week before departure I told everyone how I had finished packing everything and things would be smooth hereon. I wasn’t going to get sentimental and try to take everything. Instead I would take the high road, not clutter our new apartment with non-essential items. Till a few hours before leaving for the airport, I was on Round 7 of the packing-unpacking routine. “I can’t live without Rebecca West’s Black Lamb Grey Falcon or the 75th Anniversary edition of Joy of Cooking. I don’t care if they weigh 3 kilos!”

I couldn’t carry everything (except those books of course). Does it matter? Can you really ever pack your life in bags? For the most part just getting up and leaving works too. We can build it here, piece by piece, not in things we buy and hang but memories of that-time-we-lived-here, however long it lasts. My last night in Delhi, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the “Why?” Why were we leaving? Our girl has seen both sets of grandparents around her from the time she was born. And isn’t family all that really matters. Why move to another city now. A better job perhaps but is it really. What if I sit on that white desk in the new apartment and can’t write at all? What if Delhi is where all the words will be? And then I slept, not fighting it anymore. This is what we’re doing right now. This is where we will be. Virtually present with families, physically present in a trio. Learning to live by ourselves, not starting out anew but moving forward.

I went to five different schools growing up. I never have a good enough answer to “Where are you from?” I am from here and everywhere else I’ve been. I am from the people I’ve met, the books I’ve read, the stories I’ve heard about strangers. I am from the places I’ve seen and those that mark my dreams. This life can never be packed in enough suitcases and would do just fine without it. It is to be lived and kept in open jars. May it always spill over.

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Lets (R)ewind

Reunions are always fun. People have always become more/less pretty, fat, dumb, rich. And if they haven’t changed at all its the worst thing that could’ve happened to them. After the usual “Oh my god look at you”, there’s the catching up to do. I’m working here, living there, buying that house, that one’s getting married, having a baby, etcetra. Of course if you’re at somebody else’s reunion, things are a wee bit different.

You can put faces to the names you’ve heard. So that’s the host whose parents are out of town, the couple who’re leaving to get educated, the guy who married his college batch-mate, the girl who is way overdressed for the party (and whose name your husband who went to school with her can’t remember), the girl who’s that girl on TV’s sister (oh okay), the guy who asks how you met (whose surname is all you hear anyone using since his first name has been forgotten), the guy just out of hospital who has given up smoking and can’t stop talking about it and the girl your husband had a crush on at school.

When its not your reunion you’re very aware of it, from sitting on the side, smiling at others’ jokes and memories, but mostly from the overwhelming feeling of missing your friends.

When was the last time all of us were together, pulling each other’s leg, dancing like maniacs, cracking the silliest jokes, making fun of others, drinking till someone puked, singing songs till voices went hoarse and saying goodbye vouching to repeat all this soon (but never managing to).

Most of us have moved away, started our lives elsewhere, made new friends. And yet the years we spent together would always connect us. Across time, cities, even oceans (if need be). And when we find ourselves at reunions (ours or somebody else’s), there will always be a smile for that day, stories of how life has been and memories from long ago.

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The toughest four-letter verb

Jean-Antoine Watteau The Scale of Love

I once said to a friend: Love isn’t easy and that’s the beauty of it.

That people should let me get away with making statements like the above is testament to how important tolerance is among friends for the survival of their relationship. How else can one explain not having been blocked off from all communication after sending that message on learning of distraught state of above-mentioned friend on account of the lover having flown miles away.

That said, friends-in-love are exciting people to be around. You can rejoice at their heady happiness almost as if it were your own. You can dole out advice with such self-assured authority that it might seem you graduated with distinction in the subject. And you can almost always be excused for making statements that could well belong to some trashy soap opera that everybody loves but would rather die than admit to having seen.

Of course the all-important question (only if you’re so inclined) is: What is love?

As it turns out, the dictionary will show you that the word ‘love’ is a verb (apart from other things). They should put that on the pack like a statutory warning: NOT MEANT FOR A SLOTH. Other creatures may consume at their own risk. There are tobacco related deaths and then there are the ones caused by the deadly four-letter verb. It’s not funny at all, mind you.

Popular culture has made pot loads of money selling the idea of this ‘incomprehensible’ feeling. People continue to borrow from movies, songs, poetry, to aid in their understanding of love. They may prepare checklists just to be sure that what they’re experiencing is indeed this ‘glorious, all-encompassing’ feeling. There’s the ‘pinch-yourself’ test just to make sure you’re not dreaming. Also popular is the ‘pluck-poor-flower-petals-and-do-loves me/loves me not’ test where you inflict pain and torture on an innocent flower just because of your evolutionary advantage of an opposable thumb that allows for enhanced plucking ability.

The language of love is a separate industry in itself. Some say it with songs/poetry (that may well turn out to be their worst work to date but will sell for it is about love after all). Heck, some even build (or get built by thousands of underpaid craftsmen) monuments for their lovers.

To each his or her own. You can say it with a rose-without-an-occasion and still win the day.

What is more interesting is how a person’s love affair can affect those around them. That’s probably because most people you know are either in love, out of it, can’t wait to get hitched or have no inclination of stepping anywhere near it. So wherever you are on the love map there are always those who will bask in the spring sun of your love-affair and others who will tell you they always knew it was doomed when you’re left weathering the thunderstorms.

The best trick then might be to work the four-letter verb your way. Afterall, you’re the one getting all the lovin’, or not, as the case may be. So love on (if that’s your thing) or celebrate single-hood for all its worth.

Rest assured that either way there will be friends with award-winning statements and almost-professional advice cheering your whole lotta love or pulling you out of a whole lotta crap, depending on what it looks like to them.

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12 things Toddlers have in common with Drunk friends

Parenting for the most part feels like learning to fly a jet in mid-air, guided by a 5000 page manual written in German (the pictures help). But when you’re parenting a toddler it feels more like being the only sober person at a wild party.

When babies cross the magical stage of being stationary (hardly the first six months) and move into toddler-land you begin to feel like you’re dealing with a very drunk friend.

1. In supermarkets, crowded malls, parking lots everyone stares at you because your toddler will lie flat on the ground for no apparent reason.
Toddler in a mall
2. From time to time they will touch your knees inappropriately and say “I luhve you” or “I really really like you” and mostly soon after they’ve raised hell over something innocuous.
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3. At hotels you find yourself making odd requests. “Hi, Can you please send someone up to the room. Our child threw the keys in the toilet…No we didn’t flush them.”
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4. They think dancing means jumping up and down, rolling on the floor and moving their hands around wildly. (Okay, this one is unbelievably cute in toddlers. Drunk people should just get a room.)

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5. It doesn’t matter if you’re running late. If they decide to spend 45 minutes on the pot, there’s nothing you can do about it.

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6. Everything and everyone is “mine”. The car, the dogs that live nearby, the movie they saw yesterday and someone else is watching now. “Oh that’s MY movie.”

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7. They love mirrors and posing for pictures with their cheesiest smiles, looking drunker than you know they are.

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8. Their urgency to pee is in inverse proportion to your proximity to a washroom. They want to “go so bad” when you’re on a boat, visiting a protected monument or sitting on the crowded banks of a holy river during evening prayers.

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9. Exaggeration is their middle name. Prepare to be badmouthed if you refuse them something. They will go around town howling to the heavens and saying you tried to kill them.

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10. They string meaningless words together to make grandiose statements that you surprisingly understand.

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11. They are open to being pushed around in trolleys, baskets and other curious vehicles for the general merriment of all.

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12. And finally, what really makes toddlers and drunk friends two peas in a pod is that you have no control over what they will do, play with, put in their mouth, dial on your phone, cry about, love today, hate tomorrow. All you can hope to do is take control of the extinguisher and point it in the right direction. Because when the fire starts (and it will) you better do a bloody good job putting it out.

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In Search of Lost Time

Some stories are supposed to be funny, even if they don’t start out that way.

An early childhood image that often plays in my mind is my mother taking a whole bunch of kids on a picnic by the stream. This was in Himachal. I can’t be certain whether I’ve recreated this image after looking through pictures or it always existed within the dusty folds of my memory box. A permanent fixture in all play-time pictures (and memories) from that time is – let’s call him – Nikhil. He was short, (-er than me), fair, chubby, the sort of kid whose cheeks would tempt you. And he was my best friend.

picnicWhen we weren’t playing by the river, he could be found pulling my fake long hair as we played a couple at a fancy dress in traditional Indian dress, or pretend to be a photographer at my theme party when I wore roses in my hair.

And like all best friends we had our secret. Sometimes when we were alone, I would lie down near the bed (his place or mine), lift my shirt (only a little) and he would make patterns on it using the colorful pieces that actually belonged on top of a black board. Even as curious five year olds, we seemed to be aware of this being something we weren’t supposed to do. It thrilled us to bits.

Then the inevitable happened. Our parents decided to uproot us ‘in search of a better life’. I don’t remember whether his family left before ours. Neither do I recall any tearful goodbyes. We moved to a new place and new friendships were established.

I would soon be packed up for boarding school but some time in the interim, we went to visit Nikhil’s family in Delhi. He now had a baby brother. The only image from that visit is Nikhil and I sneaking under the bed, on which his little brother lay wailing, trying to recreate the thrills from our earlier game. Amidst countless giggles we found a way to enjoy lost time.

Fast-forward to thirteen. I was every bit the teenager with one discarded crush and a new one on the horizon. Life was looking up on the excitement quotient when I was informed that we would soon be visiting Nikhil’s family, who now lived in a nearby region of the national capital. This upcoming visit held countless possibilities. My childhood friend and I were now teenagers. Guilty secrets and games of the past could now be taken to a whole new level. And what a story it would be, albeit clichéd to death on screen.

My heart was pounding as we stepped out of the car and made our way up in the elevator. I tried to calm myself. For all I knew, he may not even be at home. My parents hadn’t exactly specified anything so it was possible.

My father pressed the bell and I stood beside him staring at the dark brown door. I had been smiling in my head all this time.

Finally the door opened, after what seemed like forever. And there he was. The male lead in what would be the amazing story we would tell everyone before they went all ‘awww’ on us. I hadn’t gone on to imagine telling it to our children, but they were probably out playing in the garden in my head.

He was (still) short, chubby and possibly fair. I wasn’t sure about the latter because his face was lost among a jungle of dark hair.

I was heartbroken, in the foolish way that good girls with bad dreams often are. I should have known better. How different could he have been from his childhood frame? And yet I wanted him to be something else, something that could bring on the butterflies, something I could have kissed behind a curtain, but mostly something that would make a good story.

We sat across from each other in the living room without saying a word. We had nothing we wanted to say to each other, not even trite statements about school or the weather. Perhaps this was the worst of all. Not growing up to be lovers was one thing, but being so distant was just sad.

We drove back and after relating the incident to my then best friend from school, I forgot all about Nikhil.

Until last November.

My once-best-friend-turned-stranger was getting married.

Ordinarily, I would pass up such non-events. But there were some reasons this could be done:

·         It was a reception the day after the wedding, so things would move faster

·         The venue was at a fairly decent place that was close to home

·         It was on a Sunday

·         And maybe I wanted to see how bad the years had been to Nikhil

So I went, with my parents and my fifteen month daughter in arm. As we made our way to the stage to congratulate the couple and the family, I caught a glimpse of Nikhil, beaming beside his bride. It was flashback ’89. He looked exactly like he did in our pictures from so long ago. Without knowing why, I began to laugh. I just looked at him and laughed, for the innocence of our childhood, the stupidity of my teenage self and the (possible) wisdom of youth.

As my father stepped in front of Nikhil, he looked confused, as all grooms do after greeting a countless array of faces with no end in sight. His father jumped in and in his inimitable style (he was the host of many a tambola night years before) said,

“Arrey, yeh S—– ke papa” (Hey, that’s S—- father).

The bride looked confused (and possibly murderous under her makeup) as to who this girl was. Like many a dutiful parent who embarrass their children to the best of their ability, her father-in-law explained, “There are countless pictures of S—- and Nikhil playing together as kids.”

Perhaps Nikhil’s wife was relieved to see my daughter. She made a polite “adorable” comment before we stepped off the stage.

I was still smiling as I ate junk without guilt and followed my daughter’s footsteps around the wedding venue. I was smiling for Nikhil and Upasana, for my carefree childhood, for my teen prejudices, for being old enough to have a daughter and for the stories that stay locked in, till their time comes.