Owning my Happy Birthday


Since that Misty Morning, not much has happened really. The world of pets in Kolkata is a quiet one. Dogs must be kept on a leash and we must walk them away from civilization. At least for the most part.

With regards to the rest of my life, well I seem to be edging ever closer to mortality. A dull, colourless mortality where I have done nothing much and probably never will.

I hit the ripe old age of 35 last Saturday and it has left me with very mixed emotions, teetering between complete apathy and utter shock. I know, I know, 35 isn’t that old and age is just a number but that number tends to mean something when you realise that you may have hit ‘mid-life’ and gravity and fine lines are winning the war you never even chose to wage.

When I turned 17, it was a form of reinvention, a redefinition of myself. I no longer was the bullied one. I was no longer the lonely one, the awkward one, the sad one, the strange one. I was the independent one, the brazen one, the one who had friends, a part time job, a newly found love for life and music and poetry and all such stuff. I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to celebrate me, because I was finally someone I liked, someone who was happy in their own skin. I bought myself a silver ring, I got my nose pierced and some new clothes from Miss Selfridge’s. My friends and I went out and watched “One Fine Day” (the only movie showing at the cinemas in town on my birthday). And although it was not the best movie I had ever seen, it was good enough, because my friends were there and they partook in my joy, and that’s what we did, before the notion of someone else being responsible for your happiness took form in our brains.

On the day of my 35th birthday, I smiled dutifully, I ate the birthday lunch, I accepted the greetings but inside I felt like screaming. I suppose my very superficial gripe (in every sense of the word) was that I wasn’t actually getting the birthday I believed I deserved. There was no special gift, no cake, no romantic meal, no fuss from the one person I believed would always make a fuss of me. But deep down, it was that reflection in the mirror. Those dark circles, those soft rolls of fat, those marks and wrinkles that will never, ever go away. Why, in my mind, I asked should anyone even want to look in my direction. And…AND to top it all off, I had my hair cut a few weeks ago…a daring, yet disastrous move, in attempt to shake things up a little.

All of this left me feeling spent. I found myself in tears at various points in the day that resulted in guilt at not being able to graciously appreciate what was being done for me.

What was being done for me? Well, from the moment we landed in Hyderabad (my husband thought it might be nice to mix a business trip with familial duty, I guess). My children and their cousins set about planning a surprise birthday party for me. It wasn’t really a secret and consequently, it follows that there would be no real surprise but the preparations were in full swing.

I really was touched by the idea, although cynically believing that two 8 year olds, one 5 year old and 1 four year old would not be able to pull much off without significant adult intervention. The fun lay in the planning and I suppose the gift lay in the thought.

My husband sensing my brooding, building dissatisfaction (I can’t fake happiness very well), took me out for a coffee. I admit, it was a good move. It took me away from the situation, it took me away from the apparent lack of anything…(I realised that the children had stopped planning and started playing or bickering or just doing what cousins do when they are forced to share the same space for more than 24 hours). I was well and truly forgotten.

I took a deep breath and apologised. It seems my husband’s apparent lack of effort is due to the belief that no thought or gift he could choose for me would be good enough. Hard to believe, considering that before we were married, every thought, every gift, from him was perfect. It’s true, I may have shirked at the baby sling on our 2nd anniversary and the accidentally frozen flowers for our 5th anniversary (I think) and the dress which would have looked very fetching on an 80 year old for one of my post 30th birthdays. But I appreciated them all (bar the baby sling). I was really happy and it showed on my face! But I apologised, with all my heart for not appreciating what he envisaged for my birthday this year. Was I really such a demanding bitch?

I needed to salvage the day. Make it more than the black hole of negativity that I had allowed it to become. And so I made my husband call home and speak to one of the children.

“We’ll be home in 10 minutes. Make sure the surprise is ready!” he whispered.

I could hear a gasp of urgency, of action and affirmation coming from the child. It would be done.

I smiled my first real smile that day. My heart felt so much lighter. The kids were so happy.

Just as we entered the front gate, I made my husband call again to tell them that we would be there, in about 5 minutes.

We peered in through the dark window pane, straining to catch a glimpse of what was happening through the gap in the curtains and we were not disappointed. Earnest, happy, busy children skipped to and fro carrying stuffed toys, arranging them along the sofas, filling bowls with chocolate treats, arranging handmade cards on the table. It was lovely to watch. All this for me?

We rang the bell, shrieks of excitement, everyone rushing to their places including all the adults in the house. They opened the door, my husband rushed to the iPod to play the happy birthday music and all yelled “Surprise!”

Beaming smiles and proud faces.

Such achievement.

I will never forget the joy on the children’s faces.

So, I’ve made up my mind. Forget about me receiving from everyone else. Yes, husband, I release you from the torture of wracking your brain for a way to make me happy. From now on, I throw my own birthday surprise, with the kids, if they are so inclined. I buy my own gifts and clothes and jewellery and arrange my own dinner date, spa afternoon and birthday cake.

From this birthday forth, I go back to being that girl who believes she needs only herself to own her happiness. I go back to being comfortable in my own sagging, scarred skin because when the light is just right, when that one song is playing and when the children are doing that thing they do when they’re excited or at peace, that’s when the world I possess and everything in it, becomes truly beautiful.

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The Components of Motherhood


As published in the New Indian Express http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/340459/The-New-Indian-Express-Bangalore/18-SEPTEMBER-2014#page/17/1

Motherhood: being a mother; so much has been written about it already.

And today I’ve decided to write about it, again. After all, it is one of the biggest things that define me, no matter how I try to pretend it doesn’t.

I’ve tried to write something for a while, now. I’ve touched upon the subject several times. However, I have failed to talk about it in real terms; what it actually is, and I have a feeling I will fail again.

Motherhood is subjective. No two experiences are exactly the same, although some common threads may run through every scenario.

Motherhood is also an inescapable, all encompassing cloud of guilt and love. Both exist in their purest forms, for a mother and to a certain extent, for a mother to be.

As I look at my children, it is impossible for me to separate my existence from theirs. Although the umbilical cord has been cut physically, a more metaphorical, metaphysical one exists. This cord will never be severed, cannot be removed, not even by death.

I know this, because I see it in the eyes of mothers who have lost a child, and in the eyes of a child who has lost their mother. I see the one who has been lost, there still, like a watchful shadow, and there they shall remain, the silence in between words, in the space in between two worlds, summoned occasionally in a memory, a smell or a sound.

As I look at my children, one girl and one boy, one moon and one sun, as my daughter likes to say, I feel a weight upon my chest. All at once, it is a comfort and a burden. I only feel the burden during the nights when they do not sleep because of a fever or a cough, but that burden I will willingly carry just so my children can sleep in peace.

It’s funny how priorities shift. If we go out, I want my daughter to look like the most beautiful girl in the room. I will accessorise her like a little doll until all I can spare for myself is a quick shower and 15 minutes to dress and adorn myself in any haphazard way I can.

My tiger stripes and panda eyes don’t bother me so much these days, not when I look at my son hold his cricket bat or emulate his older sister when she does her homework. As he scribbles indecipherable symbols on to a page with crayon, I can see, the way only a mother can, all his potential brilliance, something beyond the ordinary and I am so very proud! Both of my children, I am sure, are destined for greatness.

I can take a million photographs of them and look at them again and again and again. I can watch candid videos of a giggle or a tumble countless times and still yearn to go back and watch, a few times more.

My children, as for any mother, are miracles to be witnessed with eyes wide and heart open.

I wonder why. Evolutionists will say a mother’s love serves to protect her future line. Is that why I growl like a panther at the very thought of anyone harming my offspring? Is it really so primal?

Oh, the guilt! Let’s not forget the guilt. That awful feeling chases you around your own mind until you succumb. In that space between logic and reason, a mother will find a place for blame, three quarters of it resting with herself, because surely there was someway to prevent this.

“If only, if only, if only,” a voice whispers in the dark.

Yes, love, pride and guilt. That is what motherhood is, light and dark, the sun and the space between the stars.

It lifts you up so you can see the face of the divine, exhilarated at the sheer heights you have achieved, but the fear of the fall and the very brightness of that which you were never meant to see, leaves you blinded. All can become black in an instant.

No, this is motherhood: love, pride, guilt and fear.

Being Back Here


I’m back in Coventry. I hesitate to say I’m back at home, because I’m not sure it is anymore. There’s no angst about it though…just a shift in perspectives. I’m in my parents’ house. We arrived here on the 1st of May and surprised them on their doorstep. They were over the moon! We were exhausted because we had just come via 5 days in Paris. (Another post for another day)

I’m enjoying being back in the town of my childhood. I love the English springtime, although we experienced only rain for the first couple of weeks. I love the fact that you can step out of your front door and take a walk without the fear of pollution and waste and traffic and a basic lack of footpaths. I love being able to drive a car! Needless to say, I’m too scared in Calcutta to even attempt it. (Maybe, one day). I love the fact that I can pop to the library and pick out children’s books with my children and have them beg me to stay for longer. And then, walk to the charity shops and look for, yet more books, as we stop to feed the ducks in the park, by our house!

I loved meeting my old colleagues to the point I almost wanted to go back to work and I loved meeting old friends and seeing their little ones who have grown up so much it’s silly, but completely understandable! (Child time works differently compared to adult time).

I haven’t even mentioned food yet. During my first week here I found a full block of mature English Cheddar in the fridge. Then I saw the fresh strawberries! I have been feasting on cheese and strawberries ever since, in between real meals, of course!

I love the flowers too.  Apricot roses nodded in greeting and rhubard and custard tulips stood to attention, as we arrived through the big white gates to my parents’ house. Everything was comfortingly familiar.

Being back here though, has had a negative effect on me and my attitude. I was calmer in Calcutta, I had learned to go with the flow, to be less angry. I find actually, that it was Calcutta which had that effect on me, not so much a shift in my personality…because being back here is turning me slowly into that angry, frustrated, grumpy person I was before I left. Or perhaps it’s just being in close proximity to my parents and my little brother, all of whom I love more than words can express but who also succeed in driving me crazy in equal measure. I also seemed to have lost a lot of time during the day, even though the sun does not deem fit to set until around 8.30-ish in the evening. I’m washing dishes, I’m cooking (a little), I’m actually looking after the children and by the time I go to bed, I’m shattered. I was spoiled in Calcutta! I had time to read and write. I’m not really doing that here! (Which explains why I haven’t posted anything for such a long time!) And that’s making me feel a little out of sorts too.

I don’t know…I’m overthinking things. I need to chill out, as they say and calm down and breathe. I need to sit with my grandmother and listen to her stories because they are wonderfully entertaining. And I need to watch my children play games with each other and their grandparents who conspire to help them steal sweets from their great-grandmother’s room when she nips to the bathroom and I need to breathe in the spring sunshine whenever it appears, as I hang out the washing on the line, in the back garden that grows runner-beans and peas and tomatoes and tats.

(Photos next time, I promise!)

Crashed Out and Crazed in Calcutta


To whomever it may concern,

I am sitting here, typing away at something of an anticlimax. I am in Kolkata, the city of dreams and rubble. I have absorbed the sights, the sounds, the drama and poetry of the place and in return the city has given me a novel. It’s caked with dirt and dried blood and tears and it’s screaming and demanding my attention

I’m waiting now, in the dark, where writers go clutching tightly to their hope as if it were a ring with sinister powers of immortality. Our eyes are wide and our features drawn from hours of sitting at a computer, staring at nothing but a screen. We haven’t eaten or slept properly since an idea took root in the depths of our minds and we have become obsessed. All we want is perfection. So we polish and rub and polish until we are left with nothing but an impression of what we began with. 

I barely know what I’m writing at the moment. I’m so sleepy. My novel is complete, not perfect but resting. I’ve begun the process of approaching publishers in India and tomorrow I’ll start approaching agents in the UK. Things work differently from one place to the next.

Oh well…it’s just a waiting game now. In the meantime I suppose I could be looking at editing and stuff.

Many Thanks,

Crashed Out and Crazed in Calcutta!

PS: The insects and the weddings and NOISE are getting to me now! It’s everywhere! HELP! I need the cold sterile sameness of the UK. I’m missing the silence, the quiet, the DO NOT DISTURB that people respect and adhere to over there! I’m missing it so much, you have no idea. ‘Can I go home now?’ I ask. But ‘where’s that?’ they laugh in reply. 

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Eyes wide, features drawn…

 

The Philosophy of Teaching


ImageTeachers’ Day, my interpretation.

We are all teachers. We are all students.

On this day where teachers are revered, I bow down to the ones who have given me thought. I don’t mean my brain or the random stream of consciousness we are all born with. I mean my capacity to think, my capacity to feel and give names to those emotions.

I think therefore I am, said Descartes. I am because I think. I think because I was taught to think. I was taught, as we all are, to organize the mess in our minds, the pictures that are scattered without purpose on the bedroom floor of our inner ego.

My mother who held me, pointing at objects, giving them names; my father who carried me on his shoulders, showing me the world, my brother who looked up at me from his crib, giving me the feeling of worth. When I try and break down all the roles of all the people in my life, actually, I’m at a loss. Everyone I have ever met, in my short stay on this planet have taught me, is teaching me.

I don’t know who I would be if the people in my life did not exist. It is much harder to glean knowledge from the world without a teacher, as an island. The mistakes would be greater in number and magnitude. I do not think the debt can be repaid or a price put on the gift we receive as we are learning. Ekalavya paid with his right thumb for the knowledge he had stolen. But he gave it gladly because he knew the value of the lessons he had learnt surreptitiously. Your teachers must be acknowledged. But how?

My school teachers; I can thank them all by name. But what of my best friend’s mother who gave me my first paid job? What of the first child I tutored, who taught me the value of teaching? What of my grandmother, who taught me how to remove a sticky sandesh from its mould? What of my friends who taught me how to share? What of the bullies who taught me how to fight? What of the boy who taught me how to love? What of the boy who taught me how to cry?

What of Google, which taught me that there is an answer for everything? I’m being glib and generalistic, perhaps taking away the value of ‘real’ teachers. I don’t mean to. What I mean to say is: on this “Teachers’ Day” remember your teachers, but remember also the ones who have taught you something. One day, there may be a debt to pay and then you will give it gladly because you will know the value of the learning you have received.

Barely Here Nor There


This started off as a short story but ended up being more of a reflection of me. This is how I was feeling. Neha is a little of me. I don’t take photographs but if I had my own camera, big and bulky enough to have it’s own name, I would. 

As for the ‘he’ in the memory, ‘he’ exists and I hope ‘he’ figures out who ‘he’ is. I was waiting for him in the empty flat. The memory itself is fictional, but the field exists in Kent, just on the outskirts of Canterbury, where I spent the first couple of years of my marriage. 

This memory does not contain my children, because in the story, Neha is not yet a mother. The thought does not occur to her. Her life, at this point is a little emptier than mine. 

I just like this piece, but not sure what to do with it…it’s not a complete story, but a little snapshot of my life, so I thought it more appropriate for this blog rather than the frangipani one. Enjoy!

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Field of Flowers, Google Images

“I’ll love you always, you know!”

“I know.”

“When I die, I’ll come back as a ghost and watch over you!”

“That’s a little creepy.”

They fell about laughing, then. Lying in each other’s arms, in a field of poppies, by the side of the road. The memory was like a painting. A couple in the long grass, surrounded by wild flowers, insects buzzing, innocuously, a song playing from her ipod, like a soundtrack to the whole event, the clouds making ivory horses and downy hearts in a cerulean sky.

Where was he now?

She turned the memory off and refocused on the bathroom tiles; uneven, cracked, off centre. How many months had they been here now? Neha counted, about four months. In that time she had pretty much found everything she could possibly need for a comfortable stay. So this was it? Her life transplanted to a hot sticky mess of poverty and imperfection.

Perhaps she had OCD or something. But everything niggled at her. The paint on the window panes, the way the plug sockets weren’t straight, the way the electrician turned up with a light bulb, hanging off a wire with the ends exposed, the way that people just hadn’t heard of a dry bathroom and wanted to fix every creak with coconut oil, that she was supposed to supply! She wasn’t enjoying her new role of homemaker. She wasn’t particularly good at it and the maids she had hired were a godsend, but they didn’t seem too good at it at either.

On the day she left her Great Britain, Neha, did not cry. She looked back, stoically and smiled as she waved. This was a new adventure. She was used to moving on. She was accustomed to new places and starting afresh. But today, as the night drew in, in an empty flat in the middle of Calcutta, she felt trapped and lost.

There was really nothing that she was doing with her life. She had worked from the age of sixteen, just so she could be financially independent. She bought a car as soon as she could so she was mobile. She tutored and then taught, so she could feel fulfilled. She was a somebody back there, here she was a ‘nothing of much significance.’

Occasionally, when Neha had access to the car, if her husband did not need it for work, Neha would travel to the old city with her camera; a black, bulky, thing that deserved its own name. She took pictures of the rickshaw-wallas, who still pulled their wooden carts by hand. She took pictures of the women in their long nighties hanging out their washing on the balconies; balconies with grills like the bars on a birdcage. She took photographs of the men with their hairless torsos as they balanced bricks on their heads, their bodies, a polished mahogany, sculpted by the strain of their loads. And when she returned she would look at the images, keep a few, delete the rest. She would post them up online and wait for the comments to pour in. It was her way of validating herself. Her husband teased her. Get a job! He would say. She should, she supposed, but nothing appealed to her. She did not want to teach again. She did not want the nine to five, yes Madam, no Sir lifestyle. She enjoyed not having to answer to anyone.

She would carry on taking photographs for now. And she would carry on waiting and remembering.

The doorbell rang. Neha opened it a crack, half hoping her husband had come home early. It was the maid, here to sweep the floors with her bundle of sticks.

Wordlessly, she let her in and went back into the privacy of her own room.