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.

Oh, Hurry Up, Whatever You Are!


I’m in one of my ‘ambivalent’ phases at the moment.

I’m waiting for one thing or another. I’m trying to keep myself busy with the kids and reading and research and a bit of writing but it’s not ever a permanent fix to the waiting. Yesterday I met up with friends, had a glass of wine and almost signed the kids up for horse riding lessons. (almost, because I’m not sure of my level of commitment to this one.) I came back full up with Vitamin D and the merriment that only the right amount of rose can gan give you and I felt good. 

After, we watched a movie and we went to bed. That’s when the loneliness set in; when the kids are asleep and I’m alone. I read my book.

The fact that my husband is away and back in the UK for some time, is why I’m lonely. With internet connections that are unreliable and his meetings that are scheduled at my personal inconvenience (Indian waking hours) we are not able to keep in touch as much as I would like.

It was a very pleasant surprise, therefore, when he managed to Skype us from the train. Travelling first class on Virgin Trains has its advantages, it would seem. But I miss him. 

I’m just looking forward for the waiting to end. :/

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Prayer


Scrolling through my “reader” because I cannot sleep, I notice a lot on spirituality and faith and prayer.

I’m not an atheist, I don’t believe in any organised religion, as such but I do believe in the power of prayer and a being greater than ourselves, with whom, we could communicate with, if we so choose.

Here is my prayer, because I feel the need for it:

Dear God,

Grant me the patience to see things through, to wait it out, to count to ten.

Grant me the courage to say no, to say yes and follow through ’til the end.

Grant me love so that I may care and so that I may see and that I may do.

Grant me sleep, deep and joyful, and honest, with dreams that may come true.

Gosh, that was a little corny! Especially, the way it almost rhymed. But rhyming is good for the soul too, I think…it is like a child’s prayer, and deep down, inside, I feel like a child. I do tonight, at any rate.

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I wonder if my brother will know why I picked this particular image…

The Abandoned Goddess


Calcutta is full of symbols. Or at least that’s what I feel, when I look out of the window. I can’t tell whether it’s because I’m essentially still a foreigner trying to understand this place or whether I’m just trying to read too much into what the general population take for granted.

This morning, on the way to school with my daughter, we came across an abandoned idol of Kali, the goddess of destruction and righteousness! Our driver tells me that idols are only dumped in Calcutta and everywhere else they are immersed into the sea or nearest river, with ceremony and reverence. Does that mean that Calcutta is less reverent towards the holy? Have the Hindus, this side of the Ganges decided that nothing is to be revered, not even the idea of a dignified farewell?

Perhaps I’m missing the point though, when I see her standing amidst the mud and waste of ongoing construction work, disheveled and alone. I’ve personified her, when in actual fact she really is just a symbol for the destruction of evil…What I mean to say is that idols, images are only representations of what we choose to believe. Once their purpose is served, we can discard them. What remains holy is the idea, not the image.

Abandoned

But I could not help feeling a little sorry for the abandoned Goddess in her rags. For all her rage and strength, she was still alone. I don’t know, perhaps she prefers it that way.

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. 

Fed Up!


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google images

I’m blogging, today, more for the sake of blogging, than to write anything useful or inspirational or even insightful. It’s been an unsatisfactory kind of day. I don’t seem to have achieved much, the furniture I was waiting for has not been delivered and I have a headache that I cannot shake.

Although the last few days have been extremely positive, today I feel lost. It’s like I’m treading water.

In my quest to be (a)useful and (b)a writer the Universe has somehow seen fit to throw lots of opportunities in my direction, but because it’s early days, and I’m so confused as to which direction I need to focus on, (I’ve sort of narrowed it down to two directions, maybe three) I’m floundering. Well,  today at least, I’m going in no direction whatsoever and I’m tired and grumpy and I just want to watch TV with the programmes that make me smile, which usually consist of American teenagers belting out show tunes with the aid of jazz hands or some gritty, sexy hospital drama with good looking doctors or some old fashioned Australian soap about the trials and tribulations of suburbia.

But, alas, I’m in Calcutta and I’m being positive and a little spiritual and I really don’t have time or space to watch anything that I want to.

So, just so I feel like I’ve achieved something, I’m publishing a post…I’m moaning but actually, I think I need to, just because I’m human and today, I’m tired.