The beaches in Bali have black sands

The beaches in Bali can have black sands;
Hot volcanic ash glitters and gleams as galaxies float underfoot.

Rattan basket offerings litter the views where small gods eat and run.
They might stay a little longer and linger
In the temples where tourists can only defile.

Masticating macaques, mildly curious.
They seem unconcerned.
As we walk around and through.

Gede, Made, Budi, never spent,
They look skywards, seawards, and to the paddy,
Never failing to bow, eyes front,
Ever smiling.

To deliver them from the day,
Dancing for the tourists, fishing to forget,
Walking through fire night after night, as if to prove a point.

Dressed in white, going about their business
In the countless perfect sunsets over restless horizons.

But is it because they know no better?
But it is because they know better.
I know, because he told me,

“In Jakarta there is work but it is a dangerous place.
From Jakarta, they come here and fight and sometimes kill.
Singaradja, my home town, is a paradise,
Rolling rivers and streams and dolphins, quite close.

Do you want to see?
A hundred dollars but I’ll give you discount.

We all need to make a living here.
With our baskets, our smiles and our galaxies
Trampled underfoot.”




Settling back into it

The night we arrived, we were too tired to think about what we had done. We were too relieved to worry about the cold. We collapsed into our beds in my mother’s house and slept as if we had truly been laid to rest.

Then, at 4am, the sun started to rise and our eyes opened in confusion. It was surely around nine, wasn’t it? When I checked the time on my phone against the summer sunrise, I knew my brain had duped me. I was jetlagged and try as I might, I could not go back to sleep.

About an hour later, my daughter and son woke up too, eventually we were all awake and my mother, bleary eyed, but excited to have her grandchildren close by woke too. Breakfast, coffees, showers, it was all arranged and all that was left to do was to let it sink in and then get moving.

Saturday morning meant a number of things; getting the keys to the house we had arranged to rent, looking for a car, for the family, renewing my driving licence at the post office and then, if there was time and all was well, actually moving in to the house.

It turns out, there wasn’t enough time and all was not well. My son became ill. Nothing serious, diarrhoea and fever, possibly caused by dehydration and fatigue and a change of climate. We had travelled thousands of miles, sitting upright on an aeroplane to a land where we shivered constantly, from a land where sun held us hostage indoors. Of course it would take a toll.

Sunday morning, armed with Diaralyte, (oral rehydration solution) and an urgency to move on with our lives, we attempted to move in.

We bought duvets and food and cleaning products and everything else we thought we might have needed and by the evening we had moved in. We had our meals in my mother’s house and we slept that night in our rental.

The following morning, I was due to meet with a head teacher at a Coventry school, where there was a job opening.

I got ready, with butterflies and other things, fluttering about inside, and I took a taxi. I arrived ten minutes early, almost choking at the fare. I resolved to start taking the bus as soon as I could.

As I walked around the school and spoke to the head teacher, relieved, again that I was somewhere familiar. I knew schools. I knew what this headteacher was talking about, I knew these classrooms and I knew I could fit in here. Walking through wardrobes into Narnia like lands, was something I had grown quite accustomed to, and this is what they did at this school on a daily basis.

I’m happy to say, I applied for the job, had a lesson observation and an interview and was selected. I start in September.

In the meantime, I do supply work. I wake each morning and catch the bus. On my days off and in the holiday, we visit the park. The weather is changeable, but bearable. We run and play and my children are beginning to climb trees. We feed the ducks and we enjoy the stretching out of days, long peaceful summer days which melt into nights.

Once we went to Foleshill Road, for Indian groceries; things like chapatti flour and curry leaves and all at once, we were Indian again. We gasped at the prices. We were shocked beyond words. This was daylight robbery. Occasionally we shivered, dismayed at the grey thick clouds. At times like these I miss India. But alternatives can be found. We discovered Coventry Market again, for cheaper vegetables and we are grateful to the library. The luxury of buying books, when we don’t have any bookshelves in this house is not an option. Instead, my husband takes the children to a place where they can borrow books every week, if they would like and then their appetite is sated.

I love the green of this place in the summer. I love how everyone is prepared to chat. I like how the social class is not so obvious. We all have the basics and I think that is fair. But sometimes I don’t like the suspicion.

On our first weekend back, I heard that the EDL were going to march in Coventry. This is my hometown. This is where I grew up. I will not accept hatred and racism here. I felt sick to the pit of stomach. Did we make a mistake in coming back? Well, we are back and we have made a decision to give it our best shot. We would fight for fairness and equality, because this was really, really important!

We headed into the city centre and found the UAF counter march, under the statue of Lady Godiva. Tears welled up in my eyes as leaders shouted slogans in defence of ‘our kind’. I was annoyed that more of ‘our kind’ were not visible. Hiding indoors in fear or apathy, I was not sure, but they should have been here, with us and the ‘white people’ who cared, who really cared for the state of society. But we stood, holding banners and waving placards and shouting slogans and dancing to tune of the live band who were playing at the time. For a few brief hours, this was our town again.

And then it was time to move on. We had lunch and headed home and somewhere between then and now, we made it back, still settling back into things but more secure in the knowledge that we can.





Last Days and First Days

Our last day in Calcutta coincided with the Vivekananda Road Flyover disaster. The bridge collapsed and crushed over 20 people, injuring many more. Two days after the event, people are still trapped under rubble. Friends are marking each other and themselves as safe on Facebook and politicians in power are blaming one another.

On a more personal note, we were packed up and ready to go. Earlier that day, we said goodbye to Misty. And then we said goodbye to Kajol and Sudha, our staff.

Kajol came to us three years ago, to look after my son and quickly made herself indispensable in every way. She cooked for us and managed packed lunches, laundry and everything in between. Sudha, we had only known for a very short time, an elderly lady with gappy gums and a warm smile, who cleaned.

Kajol cried and cried. I hugged her and told her to look after herself. Sudha asked whether she could take the vegetable rack. I said no, it belonged to the landlord.

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Eventually we took our 17 pieces of luggage 3 years worth of essentials? (not including the tennis racquets) and headed towards the airport and completed all airport security formalities. Tired and impatient, we finally arrived in Hyderabad and fell into a fitful dreamless sleep.

The next morning, foggy headed and unsure of what we had actually done, I went through the motions. I let my sister-in-law and mother-in-law take over with the children. Ambiguous to the emotions of gladness or relief or something else. I found clothes and toothbrushes and surrendered to the situation.

Limbo is what you make of it, though. And after a cup of coffee, I was determined to make it count. I started researching and planning and forging an imaginary future and then, somehow, just after breakfast, I collapsed. I shutdown mentally and found it difficult to swallow anything much. By the evening, I was lost.

With the setting sun, and the KVR Park closed, we headed to the Jagannath Temple in Banjara Hills. The dark marble floors were hot and gingerly we made our way to various shrines. A mini pilgrimage.

The temple priests were conducting their evening ritual of banging their brass gongs in the hope of frightening away any unwanted energies and creating holy vibrations only for the most ardent and faithful. For the rest of us, the temple steps were close enough to feel the benefits of piety and prayer.

There is something comforting in the space created for the gods. Calm and clean, unrushed in prayer, people emit only light. Priests were unbothered, going about their daily duties and the gods waited patiently to be noticed. The rest of the world continued to spin while inside the temple we sat and moved only as if in slow motion. It was as if we were cocooned and cushioned from what we perceived to be our realities.

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I can see why faith is so powerful. Right now, I wish I could borrow some. I wish I could sit with folded palms and ask the gods to provide us with the best fit solutions for our forthcoming journey. But I can’t. Not quite. I can only look up to the skies beyond the temple roof and hope that in our insignificant microcosm, the answers will reveal themselves in time; that we possess enough strength and stamina and ‘chutzpah’ to carry ourselves through the coming weeks. A different type of faith.

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Certainly not here anymore…

calcutta pigeon

That’s it. It’s done. We’re wrapping things up and moving on. Our time in Calcutta is coming to a close very, very soon, by the end of the month in fact.

This, then, is my final blog post from Calcutta. Next stop Hyderabad and then…who knows.

I think, like all surprises, it’s unexpected but not completely, if that makes any sense at all. We knew that Calcutta was not the right place for us and so, I suppose, the universe decided to give us a kick up the backside and make up our minds for us.

Calcutta has been an interesting experience, let’s say. It’s been infuriating at times but it’s been gentle too, calm enough to allow me just enough space to try out this writing lark for some time. I was able to hang out with literary heroes, write a first draft of a novel, get a couple of poems published in an actual book, have my views count for something, where people read my writing and listened to what I had to say. I can’t complain.

I think in all honesty this phase of our lives has been the part where we’ve done the most growing. We’ve met people who have inspired us and guided us and we’ve seen the best and the worst of the human condition. We’ve lost a heck of a lot of our naiveté but that could also have come with age.

Personally, I’ve become more laid back and patient. I don’t have a panic attack every time I see that I won’t be arriving ten minutes early. Health and Safety have taken a back seat too, considering we’ve gotten used to travelling without seat belts and car seats. Is that so bad? The average Calcuttan probably risks their lives every time they turn on a light switch, if truth be told, not to mention breathing in all that polluted air is probably reducing life expectancy by half with every breath…

My children have become fluent in two more languages, Bengali and Hindi. My daughter’s also learning French and is loving it. I just hope I can keep on building on those foundations because a language is always an asset, I’ve found. Thank goodness for my own floundering Bengali in Calcutta, otherwise I fear the city may not have been so kind.

I’ve come to love Calcutta. I’m an ‘almost local’ and I’ve learned to take it for granted, all of it, from the waving green banana fronds outside my window to the warm toothless smile of my cleaning lady. The total acceptance that life is a certain way and will continue to be so until something forces one to change direction, is very Calcutta. A niggling dissatisfaction is never quite enough to spur on action in most people here, it has to be something big. So this must be something big!

But until we actually move, Arsalan’s have just opened up another biriyani joint on the EM Bypass, it’s almost mango season, the last of the Nolen Gurer Shondesh is being rushed off the shelves, India are playing a warm up with the ‘Windies’ at Eden Gardens and there’s always Tagore.