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…


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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.