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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

I Hate Goodbyes


I don’t like goodbyes. No one does.

I think I handle them a little less well than others around me. If I know there’s a goodbye on the cards, I go into ‘shutdown’ mode. I don’t think my parents have worked that out yet, or at least not both of them. I become harsh, unresponsive, unsympathetic, impatient. I basically turn into someone that they probably would be glad to see the back of. All I’m doing though, is playing out an idea in my head that, I do not want to feel sad when the time comes. “I don’t like these people, anyway,” I tell myself. I suppose the harsher my reaction, the more deeply I care.

Dad looks at me as if I’m not his little girl anymore, and I think my mum sort of understands. She watches and says very little.

I don’t want them to go back. It’s as simple as that and instead of feeling sad about it, I want to feel angry. Angry is a better emotion for me, I think. I’m angry for all sorts of reasons but mainly that everything’s different now. When they go, I’m a grown up again. Just a mother and wife with a household to be responsible for.

Just having them there makes me feel protected, sheltered.

Not having them there makes me feel the need to pretend to be stronger, fiercer, harder, older.

But they’ll be back or maybe, if I’m lucky I’ll get to visit them in the UK.

But until then, I suppose, this is goodbye.

goodbye

Durga Puja, Calcutta Style


This year I saw Durga Puja happen in Calcutta. I was daunted at the prospect of the noise and the music and everyone having fun except me. You see, I’m not a party person, I was for a short time, whilst at university, but then I learnt to embrace my ‘early-to-bed-with-a-good-book’ persona. It is a comforting, safe image I have for myself, which requires little effort and provides maximum comfort. However, as of late, I’m being dragged out of myself and have been forced to enter into the revelry of the moments around me. I feel I must, because who knows when I’ll get this chance again.

So thanks to a few friends and their confidence boosting style tips, my husband and his patience with me getting ready and the ever-present dhak beat from outside my bedroom window, I readied myself to take on the Durga Puja Spirit.

And, what a performance! What a show Calcutta provided! Here are some beautiful images of what we saw taken by my budding photographer of a husband. (I’m sure I’ve mentioned before Calcutta brings out the artist in us all!)

carved beauty

carved beauty

ornate ceilings

ornate ceilings

light drumming

light drumming

worshipping the girl

worshipping the girl

egyptian theme

egyptian theme

durga the consort of shiva

durga the consort of shiva

demon defeated

demon defeated

blowing bubbles

blowing bubbles

sandal pandal

sandal pandal

vanquishing evil

vanquishing evil

heavenly beings

heavenly beings

spinning dreams

spinning dreams

worshipping innocent

worshipping innocent

quick nap before the fun starts

quick nap before the fun starts

girl meets boy

girl meets boy

The legendary dhaks and their natural masters

The legendary dhaks and their natural masters

pastel lions

pastel lions

lotus and sandal juxtaposed

lotus and sandal juxtaposed

pondering the commercialism

pondering the commercialism

ritual fire

ritual fire

epic warrior queen

epic warrior queen

 

 

The Quality of a Raindrop


It was depressingly grey all day today, in Hyderabad, with a persistent rain that fell on and off with varying degrees of intensity throughout the daylight hours.  At first I was joyful, almost jubilant, donning my long lost cardigan that I had left behind on my first stop to my new home. It reminded me of back in the UK, where it would be grey for days at a time. I was filled with a nostalgia that made me smile with longing of fresher climes. But then, something changed, probably when I had to actually go out and brave the weather.

We were on our way to look at some furniture for my father-in-law’s newly built house. That’s normally an activity that I would love; potentially spending large amounts of money on large, pretty but functional objects. But the wind and the rain just got to me. The traffic was tragic and we didn’t buy anything! Maybe that was the root cause of my melancholy; it was a wasted afternoon!

But it made me think of the UK and how I loved the idea of just escaping all that glum ‘greydom’ and exchanging my winter wear for the weather that suited my clothes in my ideal summer. We did leave in December so the weather was pretty dire and daylight seemed to be at a premium, only adding to the urgency of escape.

The rain in Calcutta

First Rains

But it also made me think of the rain in Calcutta.

That is to say, the rain in Calcutta is the stuff of Bollywood Dreams. It falls with purpose and riot. It’s heralded by the wind, who howls and yelps in warning and celebration. The clouds turn broody and dark and thunder roars and rumbles making the earth tremble in anticipation of the coming tumult. And when it comes, there is a release! The earth becomes fresher, women rush out of their homes and dance as the raindrops caress their form. They become heavenly beings, at one with the water, the earth and the air and for those few minutes, Calcutta is a paradise, where everything is turned to mercury and emeralds and rubies and gold.

But just as quickly as it comes, it is gone.

The earth, like Lord Kishna’s Radha, relives her time with her beloved and basks in the afterglow for as long as the memory can satisfy, but that too fades, replaced by longing once again. The land becomes parched, the air becomes oppressive and a dank stillness hangs in the air.

Has it happened then? Have I said that I prefer the rain in Calcutta to anywhere else? I suppose I must have.

They say Calcutta grows on you, it seeps into your bloodstream without you even realising it. I think it has and like the earth, longing for the rain, I’m longing to get back; back to my routine, back to my friends, back to my home and back to the rain that falls with purpose and with riot.

The Goddess in me?


Outside my window there is a kite. Not the kind of kite that is tied by a string, but the kind that is tied by its nature. It circles, it swoops, it glides and it rests and then it begins again. I have no idea if it hopes or if it dreams or if it feels compassion, for aren’t those in the hearts of humans?

I ponder this as I watch this creature, tied to its nature. How far removed are we humans from our base instincts of fight, flight, fear, lust, rape?

I don’t mean to sound like a man hater; I’m not. I’ll say it loud and proud; I love men! But those creatures who rape, who leer, who undress me with their eyes as I step out of the supermarket, are not men. Please understand me as I say this, I’m not seeking attention in my loose fitting t-shirt and my jeans, but I think they think I am, because these leerers, these lecherous weeds of humanity can see a hint of the shape of my breasts.  Their gaze does not fall as it follows my form and I am left with the fury of a long ago Kali, ready to slit their throats, and cut off their…

I am exhausted and resigned to the fact that here, in this land of the Goddess Durga, where she is worshipped with fervour, by these same asuras, I will have such encounters.

I arrived in India just as it was reeling in the aftermath of the gang rape of a young student on her way home in Delhi. She eventually died in hospital from her injuries. This sparked much outrage and condemnation all over the country and the world. At the time I remember being sickened and saddened at what had happened. I followed the case and tutted to myself. I told myself that this was an isolated incident. Rape happens everywhere and when it does, it rightly is brought to the attention of the public, but Delhi, India, is not to blame. I think I oversimplified it in my mind. I told myself these cases are in the minority. When I arrived in Calcutta, however, there was more awaiting me; reports of children being raped; a five year old, a six year old, a four year old. As a mother of a daughter, I wished I held that trident in my hand. I wish I had the courage and enough rage to tear to through the world destroying all in my path. This sick, sick world we inhabit needs to be destroyed, I thought, believed.

But then, I look at my husband, I look at my son. I see my father and my brother, I watch my father in law and my brother in law and I see good men. I see that the world perhaps does not need to end. But I do think that the world does need to stop for a moment and watch. It needs to contemplate and take a breath because in all honesty something’s going wrong if I can’t walk down the street without feeling unclean or I am suspicious of anyone who wants to start a conversation with my daughter.

It shouldn’t matter what I wear, it shouldn’t matter what I look like, I’m not asking to be appraised like a piece of meat on a butcher’s hook.

Education is the key? Cliché but true. “Teach your sons how to respect a woman.

Teachyour daughters how to respect themselves.”

We are human, not kites flying to the whim of its nature or the direction of the wind.

 

For more on this topic and for some really powerful poetry, check out http://nirbhayasindia.com/

Image

From google images