A Rite Of Passage

In another time and another place, I adored Allan Border. Wait, make that, I loved the guy in a “heart-stopping-knees-going-weak-I-believe-only-in-you” manner. It was, for what it was worth, love in its truest form, with all eyes firmly on the present,the past discarded and the future royally disowned. Like all love stories, it must have begun with a special word or a half-etched smile or a meeting of the eyes even as time appeared to stand still. Given that I was in a tiny town in India and he was across the oceans in Australia, in all likelihood, growing up in the “cricket is our religion” family , the eyes must have met over a TV ad or a newspaper cutting or over ecstatic whoops at his batting during a cricket tournament.

Slowly and gradually over the world cup season, I graduated from a fan on the sidelines to a diehard,know-all about Australian cricket fanatic and more importantly became an authority on Border’s batting scores from the last few seasons. The final rite of passage came when I took on collective family wrath by putting up his posters in my room. With the walls bearing pockmarks of cellotape, I made the great leap into the teenage years, wearing my heart on my sleeve with his love firmly etched in my heart. I scoured for articles on him, I took any criticism to him personally ,I wrote his name in calligraphics on the back of notebooks and I played the “flames” game with his name and mine till I ran out of scraps of paper.

Young love believes in itself more than it does, in the object of its affections. And so I believed, that one day I would meet him and the sparks would fly and a fairy tale would commence. I hadn’t worked out the details, but then love has its eyes on the road and hardly ever, has any time to pack for the journey. While friends around me, flirted with the first traces of lipstick and wore their hair low to get the boy down the road look at them, I went to bed dreaming of Australia and Border, neither of which I knew much about. On the day he scored 10000 test runs, I treated a gaggle of young cousins to icecream. I stayed up later than usual staring at his photograph in the night lights and made a scrap book of his special day.

One day, some one gifted me with his autobiography which was dedicated to his wife. And like all love stories,my story met its share of tears, wasted promises and harsh awakenings. I cried myself to sleep even as I refused to give up on my dream. Yet. Over the endless summer, I gradually went back to my books and my movies and stayed away from the game. I conceded that the boy down the road was pretty good looking. I discovered lipstick and romance novels. On one such day when the earth seemed full of promises, I cleaned out my room and the posters came down. The tape marks stayed, it was just that there was nothing to define them any longer.

Cut to a decade later, in my home, in suburban Adelaide. The Aussies were reigning supreme in their quest for the Ashes, and I was solving a crossword puzzle on a lazy Sunday afternoon. And 21 across was an Australian cricket to have scored 10000 runs in test cricket. And the letters A-l-l-a-n-B-o-r-d-e-r fit perfectly. And the rest of the pieces fell into place perfectly. There it was, his name in my handwriting written on Page 35 of the The Sunday Mail in neat blue ink.

One day the best time of your life, the greatest passion you had ever felt, the sharpest pain that ever stung you, the deepest fears and the truest joys will get diluted with ounces of time. One day, the bright colours will fade and be replaced with an easier-on-the-eye sepia memory. One day, while you have been living through it all, life will come full circle. One day the loving without a thought for the outcome, the endless summer nights of promises and the possibilities of grandiose dreams coming true will make sense, even though the dreams themselves did not.

One day , a summer love story which could have been the love story of your life, will become the clue for a missing word in a crossword.  And in that instant of time, a feeling of freedom and comfort will settle around you, even as the next story begins …

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The Visitor

I find her waiting at the doorstep when I get home. In grand style and as she is wont to do, she has turned up un-announced. No luggage is in sight, she hasn’t even taken her shoes off and she is at the door poised, as if making an exit. “Were you leaving to go somewhere or were you about to come in?” I ask her politely, hoping she reads between the lines and discloses the purpose of her visit.

“It’s been ages”, she answers. That is the thing with her, she believes in brevity. There is no reading between the lines; there is no reading at all if she were to have her way all the time. She taught me long ago that you look for meanings only when you are unwilling to accept the ones you already have. “Acceptance sets you free to chase newer rainbows. If you study the rain drops and their pattern, you are left with an icy mist around the heart”, she told me once. I know it has been an age, that is the other thing about her, she states the obvious. I wonder if it is because I am unwilling to see it, since the obvious is always the last option. You come to it when every other avenue you have explored leaves you with tired feet and a dusty walk and no real answers.

I ruminate over questioning her over the length of her visit but decide against it. She arrives uninvited, makes herself at home and leaves without a warning and a trace. That is the pattern and it gives me solace that all the decisions lie with her; I am a mere player in this pantomime.

“What do you remember about my last visit?’ she asks. We all have areas in our hearts that we cordon off for ourselves for there are the truths that must not be admitted even to the self. There are vistas that are never explored, thoughts that never see the light of the day and nostalgia that is never aired. There is a mask behind the face. I dare not peek behind the face because the only face I know is the one I see in the mirror. It is an image, this much I know, but this skewed sense of reality suits me better than a truth that leaves you with nowhere to hide.

So I don’t answer the question about her last visit, because every visit of her challenges me to rip off the face and spread my truths in a jumbled heap over the floor. I remember that every visit of her starts with a burning desire to ask her to leave. She doesn’t of course, like I said before I am a player; I cannot call curtains on her role and she loves to play it with flourish. Along the way, I get used to her presence, she grows on me like a second skin and I stop wanting her to go away. She doesn’t like it then, she values her freedom and this dependency does us both no good. “You cannot define your journey by your fellow travelers”, she says. “And you cannot define it by the milestones either…you arrive when you know that you could just stop where you are and know that you had a good journey so far”.

”Why do you single me out for a visit?” I ask her. “I get along quite well, when you are not around”. At this she laughs and it is a pretty sight. “Why do I visit you? Surely you must know the answer to that one”. I don’t really know and I tell her so. She lowers her voice and leans closer, “When you look into the mirror everyday, you see what you want to see, you ignore the worry lines, you ignore the soft spot on the cheek left by a dormant dimple, you don’t notice the gleam that has been hiding behind the far away look in your eyes. You get used to a familiarity that does not allow you to wipe the cobwebs off Time’s brush ”.

I am standing before the mirror as she says this and I turn around sharply to see how she can possibly see what my eyes have been hiding from me, all along. There is no one behind me. The door rocks ever so slightly in the gentle wind outside. As I run a trembling hand over my face, I hear a voice in the wind. “If I didn’t visit you every now and then, you wouldn’t know yourself, I exist to let you know that I will continue to define you as long as you let me. When you push me away and look for what is yours before I came along and coloured it for you, you will not need a mirror, you will not need anyone, anymore”.

I walk away from the mirror and see if she is outside somewhere, she is gone, like a breeze on a hot day, like a meteor on a winter night. Somewhere far away the wind whispers to itself and a barrage of leaves arrives at my feet. “Don’t fight me too hard”, her voice says strangely disembodied over the wind, “for while I may hurt you when around, you will be uncomfortable with yourself if I were not to cross your path every now and then. You call me a Memory but I can easily become Longing or Sorrow whenever you will allow me to”.

Old Love

Old love. O-l-d l-o-v-e. She half mutters to herself as they crank up the radio for her to hear. It is late afternoon, patchy sunshine lies on the grass and a brave ray manages to reach her gnarled ankle. Time hangs heavy in mid-air. Just like her, time has nowhere else to go at the moment. Everything starts off as a ritual, spring arrives gaudily, summer follows on its toes breathlessly, you throw in a few autumns along the way, and from nowhere a pattern emerges. Time still doesn’t have a place to go to but you do and therefore you don’t notice the slow ticking of the clock. You miss the fact that clocks are never in a hurry. You miss the fact that one iteration leads to another one but you cannot break the mould, for if there is a pattern inside the circle, there is a void outside it and after a while a void can drown you, so it is safer to be confined endlessly. But a void is filling her up now, drowning her even, as she follows the clock and she is in no hurry this time and she has nowhere else where she can be. She knows now that there is nothing universal about time, a minute is an eternity when accompanied by old age.

In a short while, the sunshine will pass, easing away, walking backwards like a young child that has lingered too long: slow, retraceable steps at first and then a sudden about turn followed by a quick scampering of feet along the horizon. Not that it matters really for it has been a long time now since the sunshine managed to make its way inside her heart, she seems to be a victim of an endless dusk. He has been gone for a long time, she has spent more years cherishing his memories than holding his hand. She has aged without him, he wasn’t around when she noticed the first signs of grey hair, he wasn’t around when she learnt that time keeps a counter for you and paints your skin with wrinkles as a reward, she didn’t have to ask him to speak up because silences are always loud and especially from those who have long since gone on their own journeys. She has talked to him sometimes, when she was by herself, she would ask a question and wait for a response. When none was forthcoming, she would shake her head at where he should have been sitting. “Always a man of few words”, she would mutter as she got up with her aching knees and clear his plate for him. After a while, she stopped the role play, sometimes the characters you create don’t depart when the curtain falls, they hang around and start demanding their own lines. Sometimes, worse still, they wander away in the middle of a performance and you realize that for all the power you think you exude over your imagination, you don’t have the last word.

She goes through his words, she sifts through the times they had spent together, she lives a parallel life where she has accepted that he isn’t around and she very much is. And all the time the counter has ticked and the wrinkles have arrived, the reality of the past has been blurred and the days have become a jumbled maze falling over each other to get to the end. She smiles to herself for she knows that her days of chasing recollections are almost over. And so as the sunshine tiptoes out, and the radio hums an unfinished symphony, she gathers her wrap around her and with trembling hands opens a parchment that has seen better days. She traces his writing on the paper and thinks of his face as he went off to war and knows that in her heart, he came back a long time ago.

His words spring out and for a minute sunshine abounds everywhere.

There will be a summer some day
In a hidden corner of my heart
When an icy fog shrouds
Everything that I once knew

Through eyes that can only see
A few scattered memories
I will see you walking
Towards me, this time forever

And life will come full circle
As I hold on firmly this time
I’ll walk with you into a promised land
Leaving any parting behind us.

Old Love, O-L-D L-O-V-E,the radio continues to croons. She half nods to herself as they prepare to wheel her back to her room. She wonders if she should tell them about her old love – not a love that grew old along with her but a love that stayed around un-exorcised even when it died a young death.

The Letters that were never posted

Dear H
Its been 6 years, 3 months and 21 days since I last saw you . I don’t remember what you were wearing or what I was wearing or what the weather was like but I know that I was thankful for the darkness around us as you said goodbye, because you couldn’t see the solitary tear trickling down my face. I knew it was a final goodbye even as you said that we would perhaps meet up again someday.

It is not like I have been counting the days or anything. I have moved on and so have you. There are days when I don’t think even think of you. It is just that when I made an appointment with the hairdresser this morning for next Tuesday, that I remembered that it was your birthday on Tuesday. I knew then that no matter how hard I tried, I would never be able to forget this date. So I leaned over and told the hairdresser that it was your birthday and even as she stared at me, I told her that I hadn’t seen you for the past 6 years, 3 months and 21 days.

R

Dear M
Do you remember how you once told me that the greatest of love stories is a mere play of emotions? Do you remember that when I was clinging on to you as you packed your bags to leave, you told me that life runs in single lanes and that it is quite possible to live without the person you love the most? Do you remember that when you called up to say you were getting married, I told you that I had more loyalty to a hazy past than you would ever have and that I would love you forever? Or that no matter what you did, I would always love you this deeply?

Will you forgive me for taunting you for moving on? You see, it has taken a while and I hate to admit this but you were right. I have just finished burning all the letters you ever wrote to me and as I look at the black bits of soot on my hand, I know now that I am past this mere play of emotions and I wouldn’t even call our love the greatest of all love stories.

R

Dear V
Love does not come with guarantees of forever. It is at best vulnerable, clingy, needy and desperately in need of reassurances to fuel it and keep it going. You really have to get over what was a beautiful prelude to reality. Reality is the long term solution to dreams, you have to believe me on this. My bags are packed, the bridal dress waits in its gauzy paper. A solitary amethyst smiles to itself on my ring finger. It is a matter of hours and then I will disappear past the bend in the road. Please do not scan the roads for me. You see it doesn’t matter who passes by if you are a mere onlooker. It is not your journey anyway.

And yet as I write this, I hope you will pine away for me, I hope you will pen sonnets about the love we once had and I hope you disown reality and accept your dreams, broken as they are. I hope that you go one better and teach me that it is indeed possible to love someone…forever. I like the sound of the word, perhaps you could aim to make it a reality.

R

The Gift

He comes in as I am about to settle down to write a support email. In his usual fashion, he hasn’t knocked on the door or asked me if this is a good time to talk, instead as I stare at him with a look of mild irritation, he pulls up a chair and sits down next to me.

He is humming to himself as he does this and he keeps up the beat by tapping his foot and drumming his fingers on my desk. We sit like that for a few minutes, eventually the humming stops and he notices me staring at him. I force a smile and wait for him to say something, hoping that whatever he wants to say will be quick. I expect another lengthy explanation or excuse about some work that I have assigned to him. We have been through this many times now and I am well aware that my voice has a rather sharp edge to it when I mention deadlines.

Today however, his mood changes when he stops the humming. His face takes on a different, almost mellow expression as he asks me if he could take a further week off after Christmas. I sigh and almost start to explain why this isn’t feasible when something about the moment stops me. I can’t place my finger on it but there seems to be some subtle poignancy about the moment and the situation that makes me want to let him talk.

I wait for him to say something more by way of explanation and when none is forthcoming, I ask him if everything is alright. For a long while he says nothing and simply stares at his shoes and then suddenly all the facades of nonchalance and the “couldn’t care less” attitudes that his tattooed forearms and pierced eyebrows seem to scream out, fade away. His face softens and I suddenly find myself looking into a pair of troubled eyes.

“Its me grandmum”, he says in a muffled voice. “She is real bad, got Alzheimer’s and stuff and now they say they have detected cancer too”, he swallows a lump,” She won’t last long at this rate”. He inhales rapidly and keeps staring at his shoes.” She doesn’t recognize me over the phone now”, he adds, “And I thought I would kind of spend a week with her you know, it is not like she has lost all her marbles, some days she recognizes me fine and then it is like the old times “.

“You can take the week off”, I find myself saying as he looks up at me, “I hope she recognizes you and I hope the two of you have a lovely time together, it will be alright”. My voice trails off because there is nothing more left for me to say and nothing more left for him to hear because we both know the reality and we both want to leave the definite unsaid.

With shyness that beguiles his usual exuberance, he shyly shows me a hand bound book, his collection of poems that he has written for his grandma. Each page has painstakingly done illustrations and little notes to her of days well spent and memories well cherished. “It is nothing fancy, just my Christmas gift to her”, he says and then adds almost as an afterthought, “She might not be around the next year you know”.

“She will love this”, I say struggling to keep my voice level. I tell him something I learnt years ago, that the best gift you can give is one wherein you give a part of yourself.

Reassured,he smiles and gets up to go. When he reaches the door, he awkwardly turns and whispers thanks and tells me that he will finish all his work before he leaves. As the door softly closes behind him and I hear the familiar humming again, I almost want to call him back in and thank him. He doesn’t know it but he has just taught me my most important lesson, the wisdom that you don’t give any less just because you know the end is around the corner.

When The Red Roses Go Out Of Season…

The phone rings as I am about to leave for the day. My rather weary “Hello” is greeted with exuberance as a friend cheerily booms down into the phone. “Guess what”, he gushes, “I met this guy yesterday who is a palm reader and he reckons love is on the cards for me, in other words I am about to meet my dream girl very,very soon”. “That’s wonderful”, I murmur and hope he will leave it at that but he persists “What do you think?”.

I hear his excited voice, the unbounding optimism that the love forecast seems to have generated in him and suddenly,I want to tell him very honestly what I think…

I want to tell him that love will walk its way into his life just like that, one fine day, hardly stopping to ask him if he is ready, that no palm reader and no astrological forecast will ever prepare him for the life changing emotions that will follow.

I hope he knows that he can’t choose whom he will fall in love with, all I hope is that he loves with all his heart and follows his heart without constantly second guessing himself. Love is as much about the little things as much as it is about the big decisions and this I want him to understand. Long after the Hallmark cards and red candy boxes have been exchanged and relegated to moth ball lined drawers, what will remain etched in memory forever is a look, a kind word, a pat on the back and a squeeze of the hand.

I want to tell him that rather than finding a person who says “I love you”, I hope he finds a person who says “I’ll always be there for you” because at the end of the day it is more about support than about declarations, it is more about having a familiar number to call and pour your heart out than about having to put your best voice on.It is more about caring for the other person than guarding your own vulnerabilities.

I hope he finds a love that does not fizzle out after the red roses have gone out of season, rather I hope he finds and gives the sort of love that packs an umbrella for a rainy day and waits at the window anxiously when the other person is running late.

Long after the love ballads and the duets have been sung and they have become silent melodies buried in the recesses of the mind forever, what will sustain him on a cold wintry day is someone with whom he can have a heart warming, honest talk. Sometimes you do not need to be poetic to do your soul searching. I hope he finds someone who can make him smile and someone with whom he can laugh himself silly, you can never go wrong if you can make each other smile.

I hope he realizes that acts and facades are hard to keep up and harder still to unmask, all he can do is hope that he will meet someone who will allow him to be himself and accept him for what he is and this will be much,much harder than he thinks possible. To find someone with whom you can discuss anything under the sun, is to find your piece of heaven and I wish he grows that lucky in love. I hope his love matures from counting the stars all night to staying up with the other person all night when sick and upset.

Lastly I wish I could tell him that luck and love do not always go together, that perhaps he will love with all his heart and it will never be reciprocated. Instead of being bitter and turning into a non believer, I wish I could tell him that it does not matter, he will still win in a game that declares no winners and makes everyone lose something in a way.

There is so much I could tell him but like with all miracles, I want him to experience this one in its entirety, I want him to walk this path and perhaps stumble a bit but move on nevertheless and learn and keep his heart opens as he travels.

“Are you there?” he asks me, suddenly realizing that I haven’t said anything for a long time. “I am very happy for you” I answer, and as he says goodbye, I softly respond “It will all work out in the end, it always does”.

The Peach Tree

On a warm April day, I sit across a travel agent trying to convince him that I need to be on the next flight to Adelaide. We have had this argument several times, him telling me that I am too late, it is the holiday season and all flights are booked and me insisting that he could fit me in somewhere. How exactly I want him to do this I do not know but I sit there doggedly hoping to get a ticket. He glances at my passport and his eyes hover at the “Place of birth” field. His face softens a bit as he tells me he is from the same place himself.

“You still have family there?”, he asks as skims through the other pages of my passport. “Not really”, I mumble and by way of conversation add “My grandfather was the Principal of the Local boys’ school”. I have his attention now, he leans over and asks me almost urgently “What year? What was his name?”. When I reply, his face changes. “You are his grand-daughter?”, he asks me, his voice barely a whisper.”Do you know he turned my life around, many years ago? He could have given up on me like everyone else did but he persisted. He believed in me when I had no belief in myself, he taught me some of life’s most dignified lessons ” His voice falters and I see reverence in his eyes. I have heard many such tales about my grandfather but I have always treated them as tales…tales and anecdotes in a time now forgotten. I hardly have any memories of my grandfather and his personality has been something I have created over the years from others’ recollections and incidents. Today however as I see this middle aged man with moist eyes, I realize that some people and their deeds are for all times and that some people will be with you for no matter what, even if you never get to meet them.
Six years later on a typically cold Adelaide winter day, I stand in my garden at dusk. The air is redolent with the scent of gum trees and the grass blades crackle beneath my feet. I can hear the cicadas whirring and sound of a lone car on the nearby main road occasionally disrupting the placid stupor that seems to have settled all around me. I wander around the garden, ruminating, contemplating but mostly trying to blend in with the peaceful ambience.

There is always something to explore, there is always a feast for the senses, a brave rose bud battling winter’s first frost, a sprig of jasmine in full blossom defying nature’s time table, a sagacious bird building her nest in the gnarled branches of the lemon tree, a spider working on his gossamer web across the lattices and a defiant shower of lavender that stands up to the cold gale in resplendent colours. It is then that I notice the peach tree standing in the centre of my garden in its full glory. It has nearly no leaves to speak of, every branch is laden with fruit, glorious fruit with a vivid red-golden hue. Like drawn by an invisible force, I walk upto the tree and reach out to touch its bounty. I pluck a juicy red peach and bite into it…the tart sweetness seems to seep into me and seems to have a soothing effect in that already tranquil environment. There is something about the moment that seems to be full of deja vu…I have been through this before, this food for the soul exercise that I have just indulged in has crossed my paths earlier somewhere .

It is then that it strikes me, I have no idea who planted this garden and this peach tree. I never will know whose hands nurtured this piece of land and left me this legacy. Someone years ago planted a seed and moved on, someone sprinkled some goodness around many,many winters ago and today in the grand eternal scheme of things, I have been allowed to claim some of those gifts, some of that altruism as my own.

Goodness does not have a shelf life- this much I now know!

Autumn

When autumn, glorious autumn with its russet coloured leaves, bare vulnerable branches and bleak rays of sunlight comes to visit, my mind makes its annual journey to a time and place now hazy. For hidden in the vivid but tired foliage is a story about a very old man and the lessons he taught a very young girl about watching and applauding while nature’s cycle ran her course.

For someone who grew up largely without the presence of indulgent grandparents around, my first meeting with the old man confirmed the idea that he could be a candidate for the probable post. And so we became buddies, the septuagenarian from down the road and five year old who latched on to him and his magical world of tales and anecdotes. That summer and for the many more that were to follow we roamed the neighbourhood and watched the heat take its toll on the sleepy side walks. Together we attempted to interpret our surroundings; we welcomed the profusion of flowers that arrived gaudily on the scene in spring, we stopped at one of the many little road side bonfires on cold wintry mornings during our meanderings, we watched the cottony clouds chase each other across the skies on languid days. We shared stories under the cornflower blue skies and watched the old mango trees down the road ready themselves for the first onslaught of the monsoons

He waited patiently in his rocking chair while I raced about in his front yard to collect the hail stones from the first hail storm of the year so that we could have our own special ice-cream. He cheered with me as we watched the muddy rivulets whisk away our paper boats and they disappeared around the bend in the road. He was there in his little balcony when I got back from school and when I had escaped from out of my Mum’s hands and presented myself at his door often in my school uniform with my shoe laces trailing behind me, he filled me in on the details of the day. The whole world seemed magical and as we went on our daily walks, sometimes to pick up the newspaper from the store across the main road, sometimes to see a local football match at the park down the road, he would firmly hold my smooth small palm in his old weather beaten and rough one and warn me about not letting go. Not that I complained for there was so much to talk and so much to see that I wouldn’t have gone away even if he would have asked me to.

On one such autumn day as I explored his sun dappled garden and ran my hand over the moss growing soft on the old whitewashed compound walls, he pointed out the bare trees to me with their brave golden yellow leaves. “Try pulling off one”, he suggested and I happily obliged. “Do you know why it comes off so easily?”, he asked and even before I answered, he continued “It has no resistance left, it is willing to go wherever it will be taken, it knows it needs to make way”. This didn’t sound nice at all, never before had I seen him so sombre and I didn’t like it. I let go of the leaf and it drifted to a pile of gold at the bottom of the tree. Till that point I hadn’t known that this cycle of seasons and colours had an element of finality in it and I wasn’t sure I liked this revelation. He must have seen my confused downcast face, because he gently put his arm around me and smiled and said “It has had its place in the sun, and unless it moves elsewhere, how else will you see new shoots and new beginnings?”.

I didn’t learn the lesson right away, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to accept something that didn’t sound very pleasant. It took me years to realize that though the seasons are cyclic, their effects on all things around us are cumulative. He died on a cold autumn day a few years after he told me this and strangely while trying to deal with his death, I found myself in front of the same tree again, perhaps trying to re-learn one of life’s hardest lessons.

And while this season still brings back memories and makes me introspect on the finality of it all, I have come to realize that what he really taught me on that day many years ago was not that winters are for saying good byes but that you cannot welcome spring in your life till you accept the realities about autumn.

Summer

Summer is almost here. I know this because when I turn the corner at the familiar cross roads, the heady whiff of jasmine greets me and tells me that brighter stars, sunnier days and cottony skies are going to visit sometime soon. But the jasmine is not my only messenger………there is a place in my heart that tells me what season it is and I suspect this has something to do with dormant memories that come into their own and take me on a trip down memory lane whenever they wish.

Memories, and I strongly believe in this, go through three stages, first they hurt, then they haunt and then one day they begin to heal. Sometimes they do this all at once………and I know this for a fact, for when the languid afternoons have their siesta outside my window and when a lone bird twitters to remind the world of its presence, I ache like the proverbial Peter Pan for golden summer holidays now relegated to dusty photo albums, and then I heal when I think of the simplicity of the childhood that was.

It doesn’t take me long to escape, all I need to do is close my eyes and like scenes from a sepia film unravelling, I see the dusty roads, gnarled mango trees, summer cubby houses and paper boats sailing down overflowing canals full with the first bounty of the summer rains. Summer was pitchers of “Rasna”, summer was reading Enid Blyton beneath whirring fans, summer was the distant and reverberating friendly shouts on hot, humid evenings till we were summoned indoors after a long day in the sun.

Summer was for catching up with cousins and for having mango eating competitions, summer was for songs sung with gusto on clear starlit nights and summer was for listening to All India Radio sitting on the patio late at night…there was always the friendly neighbour out for a late evening walk and there was always the friendly family from down the block walking back after an impromptu ice-cream session that stopped by for a chat.

When the first summer rains announced their impending arrival, there was the excitement of rushing out to get the clothes off the clothes line, and lingering around till a plump drop of rain teased you as it sloshed down past you to the ground. Long after the rains had disappeared after their quick visit, there was the walking around the neighbourhood with a best friend to hunt down the rawest and the tartiest of green mangoes that were later consumed with chilli and salt over giggles and secrets, as the evening shadows lengthened. Like melted icecream on dusty faces and fading hopscotch lines on garden paths that it was so full of, summer was a magical journey that brought forth a new adventure everyday.

One day just like that the season would change its moods, the summer holidays would end, bags would be packed, cousins given the fond farewell and the dog eared school books reclaimed from their holiday. Just like that school uniforms would make their appearance, and the monsoons would really and truly roar outside the windows and the summer just spent would find its way in a school essay and a letter written to a friend far away. But there was hope, for the cycle repeated itself…or atleast I thought it repeated itself.

It must have been gradual, now that I think about it, but there came an year when I left the dusty roads, the terraced house and the golden summer behind. It hurt first, it hurt because I learnt that you truly cannot walk some paths more than once…later it haunted me that the house and the summer and the garden I left behind were probably still going through nature’s serenade without me. And one day when a bird sang somewhere and disrupted the placid monotony of the afternoon, I suddenly realized that you never lose any summer you have lived and that the cornflower skies and the memories of the magical afternoons once savoured were forever safely encased in my heart. I also realized that my heart had its own seasons, waiting to be re-lived at will and that if I heard long enough, I could hear the muffled giggles, the patter of excited feet and clang of bicycles on the tarred roads that were hot with the unrelenting sun.

It was then that the healing began……

Ramblings From Home Part II

Ramblings From Home Part II

Ramblings from Home Part 1

In a crowded café, with Bollywood beats in the background and the whirr of a fan droning on, I exchange notes with buddies I haven’t seen in ages. This is S’s café and I soak in the hospitality, the gentle urging to try out yet another delicacy from his kitchen and the insistence that I should stay back and have yet another cup of tea. I pay him another visit a couple of days later, this time with the whole family in tow and he is hospitality personified. As we move to our last course, he joins us for us a cup of tea. Maybe it’s the food, maybe it is the delight of being part of a cosy Friday night crowd, and maybe it is the fleeting feeling that nostalgia is very often an indulgence, but somehow I don’t want this evening to end. “Why don’t you migrate to Australia?” I ask him as we sit there reminiscing tales of happy times. “You could set up a place like this”, I go on. All I am trying to do really is try and take a slice of the night with me. He smiles his famous slow smile, “I would have, I really would have”, he says and then in a gentle voice tells me “But I am already home”.

And it strikes me then that the most magical journey you will ever make is the journey home. When you think of it, home is not where you start off from…it is the destination really………

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I can now say this with absolute conviction, some friends never change, some relationships never die and the world doesn’t change as fast your perceptions of things. I spend two lovely days with my best friend in Bangalore. Somewhere in the midst of exclaiming our indignation over outrageous prices, giggling helplessly and sharing a joke, a sunset and an ice-cream we also manage to exchange stories from the soul while waiting in line to pay the bill. Just like that, with no epilogues and prologues. No frills and fancies, no excuses or justifications and no explanations. She buys me an expensive dress. “You cant”, I say aghast at the price tag. For a moment her voice softens as she tells me that we don’t meet often enough and that she wants to gift me something as special as the meeting.

Maybe I am jetlagged, maybe I have just realized how much I have missed her but my voice falters too. “We just have to meet more often, for ourselves”, I tell her. For a minute, she stares at me and then puts the dress back on the rack and shakes her head. “If we are going to be meeting more often, I’ll buy you something cheaper”.

It feels good, this mixture of deep laughter, a squeeze of the hand, a pat on the back and the bonding. Two parts humour to one part emotion, the formula works each time…

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I pull out my old dog-eared phone book and call R. R is one of my closest friends. We have been friends since we were about 3 years old and we have been in the same class from Kindy to the last day of Engineering. We share a brutally honest friendship…a friendship that at the end of the day is like an old pair of well worn shoes, nothing fancy but extremely comfortable. After the initial squabbling about who was supposed to call up whom, quick updates and long talks, it is agreed that he will come down to meet me, and he does.

The day is spent haunting old spots, downing cups of coffee and my playing agony aunt to nearly all his remarks. We laugh endlessly about our college days and we make it a point to remind each other of the many embarrassing situations, our “gang” as we liked to call ourselves back then, got into. Perhaps time has a way of magnifying things, perhaps the only fragments that remain are the ones mirrored in our hearts. I laugh till I am blue in the face when he recollects how I drove H’s no-brakes-no petrol-no stand and no horn bike home against all of H’s protests one rainy day when my own bike spluttered and died on the highway. I walk that road again, I see myself frantically trying to find the horn to avoid an oncoming buffalo, I see R turn up from nowhere, ride beside me and yell at people to get out of the way and I see H doubling with laughter as tears of mirth rolled down his face.

Somewhere deep inside, I chide myself for what was obviously a dangerous thing to do and I realize with a pang that after some time youth becomes decaffeinated………it is young but with none of the reckless abandon that powered it a few years ago, young with but with one eye on the road and the other on the destination.

And as R’s laughter joins mine, I am convinced that at the end of the day, a fond memory is the best gift you can give yourself……

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I am not good at goodbyes, never have been. I clam up and later spend ages trying to think of the things I could have said and the goodbyes I could have uttered but I am usually too eager to get past the unpleasant and uncomfortable phase and as a result, I detach myself from the surroundings. And so when the time comes to turn back and wave, when people, memories and slices of time become distant blurred outlines, fast disappearing from a momentum gathering window, I struggle with all my unsaid words. I crane my neck for a last look, I try to take in one last picture and when the picture fades and the journey begins, I lean back, sift through my memories and start reliving all that was.

And I learn yet again that you can’t really complete any journey………all that changes is the path and the direction you take………the times spent become your baggage and continue travelling with you.

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Epilogue : On the way back to Adelaide, I had a stop over in Singapore and though I couldn’t catch up with Sal and IW, I spoke to them on the phone.

Sal and I talked, giggled, talked some more and pretty much discussed all DSSers (Well most of them anyway), the dysfunctional family and made promises to catch up the next time she was in RooLand or I was in Singland.

IW (surprise, surprise) called me up, (and no, he didn’t introduce himself as IW, and he didn’t ask for ScaryT ) and talked, talked some more and decided that I was sufficiently confused due to the jetlag (I didn’t correct him).

And while I was beginning to get homesick a bit and while I am not good at transition, talking to Twinny and IW just helped me re-iterate what I had been feeling along………in the unlikeliest of places and when you least expect it, some people help you to gather memories and establish bonds. A feeling that can be quite amazing…and then quite, quite comforting.

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