Walk the walk

I can’t call myself a traveller just yet, but I have moved around enough to pretend I’m one. Truth be told, I have wished I was travelling instead of moving at more than one instance. When I was struggling to bridge the cultural gap or make up for it, when my previously successful sense of humour fell flat in a different time and different language. My confidence wavered, speech stuttered and personality went through absurd changes. I always came back to who I was when I found my people, but I was most at peace with myself when I was out there by myself, exploring this new place and falling in love with it.

Sticks and stones

Walking through a well-manicured park in Melbourne, I see a stick between the blades of grass. It’s a long-enough, thick-enough, less-than-a-branch, more-than-a-twig stick. The kind that stands up, crosses its arms and dares me to pick it up.

The 8-year-old Indian schoolgirl in my head wants to pick it up. She wants to drag it along the sand, all the way from here until the end of the song on her lips.

That’s another thing I miss about India. Random lines dragged along the path from nowhere to somewhere. Marking our thoughts as we walked back home from school.

Or stones. You’d always find stones gathered outside homes. Stones from 2 blocks down. From where that day’s dream began. We would kick it as we walked home. As we imagined, dreamed, sang.

It’s always the simplest things that stay with you, and it could not get simpler than this. Just a stick and a stone, mapping the short walk from the bus stop to my doorstep.

Not that we needed a distraction, because there was never a dull moment in India. Not even when everyone, including the birds and stray dogs, were having their afternoon siesta. We did it as a dance to accompany our wild fantasies. We did it to make the walk home shorter. Or longer. We did it because there was a stick, a stone and an open path.

Get lost

It must’ve been a day like the one I was having when Lawrence Durrell wrote in Justine: In the midst of winter you can feel the invention of spring.

I was still new to Melbourne and on my way to a job interview. The tinniest hint of pollen in the air had given me the confidence to venture out on my own. Naturally, I took the right tram going in the wrong direction. So lost was I in the winter-spring-ness, that I didn’t realise my mistake until I was at the opposite end from where I needed to be. So I wound up enjoying the ride twice, as I took the tram back to my destination.

After my interview, I jumped on the same tram for the third time that day. I stepped off at a random stop and got lost. Lost within the laneways, brick walls, café-behind-a-café, shop-within-a-shop.

One too many left turns later, I turned right and stumbled into the smallest op-shop (thrift store). The smell of dust and crumbling paper and fading clothes and fresh memories made it feel anything but small. The surge of happiness I felt made me laugh; I had just found a piece of my soul I didn’t know was missing. I was afraid the spring in my step might push me over the stack of mismatched cups and saucers.

With a bagful of treasures in one arm and a vintage milk crate under the other, I found myself drawn towards the aroma of freshly toasted bread wafting out of a narrow slit in the wall. Behind the slit was the beginning of my breakfast obsession; a quaint little café that completed my perfect warm winter day with a breakfast stack of a heavenly poached egg sprinkled with dukkah perched on a bed of wilted spinach and garlic mushrooms carefully balanced over a crispy golden hash brown laid out over a spread of avocado and feta on a slice of impeccably toasted sourdough. I know, the adjectives are practically drooling out of my mouth.

I found out a lot about myself when I got lost. I found out that I like old books with notes scribbled in them and curios that don’t fit into any style bracket. I like talking to strangers. I was still petrified at the thought of talking to strangers. I like eating alone by the window. I was bad at catching trams, and it was one of my best qualities. I found out that I was falling in love with Melbourne, one wrong turn at a time.

I didn’t get the job that day, but I got Melbourne.

Goosey Goosey Wander

Writing this post has opened the floodgates, and memories are gushing right in. The short walk from school to home in Kuwait, with the allure of home pulling me forward while the endless conversations slowed down my every step. Hot sand under my feet and hot gossip on my mind. Or early morning temple visits with my mum in India; the lane leading to the temple would be saturated with smells of breakfast being laid out and incense sticks and freshly scrubbed school kids.

Sigh. There’s so much more living to do.

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Calling Dr. Seuss!

Among other things that I’m constantly hungry for, inspiration is the one thing I perpetually crave; which kind of explains why I was such a teachers’ pet in school. I may not remember the chapters they taught me, but I will never forget the life lessons.

From the moment I read my first Dr. Seuss book, I knew I had found my life coach.

If I could’ve added a hint of his magic to my childhood, I would’ve. Oh I so would’ve. I stumbled upon the books in my late 20s, and they came everywhere with me – work, cafés and trains. Upstairs, downstairs and stairways. Inside and outside, right side and left side, good side and bedside. Under a tree, over a hill, through a problem and across a table.

In case you didn’t get it, that was me trying to channel a bit of Dr. Seuss and failing miserably.

At the risk of sounding like an obsessed fangirl, I have to confess: I’m an obsessed fangirl.

The first time I read ‘Oh, the places you’ll go’, I wept. I wept happy tears for dreams and hopes and life. If every young adult in school were to read his books, we’d have more secure and confident youngsters. If every adult would peruse through just a few pages, there would be no better restoration of faith. If every world leader would glance over a story or two, they would get a hint as to how to make this world a better place.

Yep. Fangirl.

I rely on the Doctor’s counsel like people in the 90s took Oprah’s. Blindly and gratefully.

How? Glad you asked.

(Imagine me having a giant whine-face and imagine Dr. S’s voice having an echo with crazy folk music playing in the background.)

Me: What do I do with my life?!

Dr. S:

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

Me: Wish I was smarter, a better writer, a kinder person, a half-decent daughter/ wife/ mum/ human.

Dr. S:

Today you are you, that is truer than true.

There is no one alive who is youer than you.

Me: There’s so much sadness in the world, so much turmoil. Someone needs to do something.

Dr. S:

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,

nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.

Me: Why didn’t anyone ever teach me how to do this?

Dr. S:

You can get help from teachers,

but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself

sitting alone in a room.

Me: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh *violently pushing the panic button*

Dr. S:

But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready, you see.

Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me.

Me: (Blank)

Dr. S:

Oh the thinks you can think!

Me: Should I say something to the person staring at their phone while talking to me?

Dr. S:

You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.

ME: Put. The. Goddamn. Phone. Away.

Even as I type these words, I feel stronger inside. Maybe because these are the words I needed to hear many times in my life. Maybe because these will be the words I share with my son to help make him a better person. Or just maybe because, in today’s world of increasing impatience and fluctuating intolerance, we need to simplify the way we think – the way a children’s book author does.

Imagine if we understood this back then…imagine if we understand this now.

Fame! You’ll be as famous as famous can be,

with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don’t.

Because, sometimes they won’t.

I’m afraid that sometimes

you’ll play lonely games too.

Games you can’t win

‘cause you’ll play against you.

All Alone!

Whether you like it or not,

alone will be something

you’ll be quite a lot.

And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance

you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.

There are some, down the road between hither and yon,

that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

But on you will go

though the weather be foul.

On you will go though your enemies prowl.

On you will go

though the Hakken-Kraks howl.

Onward up many a frightening creek,

though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak.

On and on you will hike,

and I know you’ll hike far

and face up to your problems

whatever they are.

Do yourself a favour and read a Dr. Seuss book today, be it Fox in Socks or Greens Eggs and Ham or The Lorax or Oh, The Places You’ll Go. Because you wouldn’t want to get stuck in the Waiting Place!

The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go

or a bus to come, or a plane to go

or the mail to come, or the rain to go

or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow

or the waiting around for a Yes or No

or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite

or waiting for the wind to fly a kite

or waiting around for Friday night

or waiting, perhaps, for their uncle Jake

or a pot to boil, or a Better Break

or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants

or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.

NO!

That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape

all that waiting and staying.

You’ll find the bright places

where Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping,

once more you’ll ride high!

Ready for anything under the sky.

Ready because you’re that kind of guy!

Re-encounter of the girly kind

At my first job, I was treated like a child. They couldn’t fathom that I had only just passed out of school 4 years prior. Now I’m the one who reels in horror when people say Barney Stinson put Neil Patrick Harris on the map.

Today I met few of my fellow old-timers, and we were young ‘uns once again. They say boys will be boys, but I reckon that’s limited to video games and childish behaviour (not being offensive, but that’s when you hear it being said by the above-mentioned boys). But girls will be girls in many more ways. It should totally be a thing. Some of us at today’s micro-reunion were married, some mums and some working. Conversation oscillated between updates, adventures, you-won’t-believe-it and remember-that-time. From this torrent of information, one thing was clear – among us were stay-at-home mums, doctors, bankers, writers, engineers and travellers – among us were 30 year olds, going on 16.

Life has changed us in different ways: broken hearts and overflowing hearts, well-travelled and well-settled, weight of the world and weight on the hips. But a few minutes of opening up and you see the young girl who shared her packet of chips and a joke with you during class.

Whether it was 5, 10 or 15 years since we all met, it took us roughly 2.6 seconds to burst into loud, unbridled laughter and no-holds-barred conversation. We were freely sharing stories that a new friend would have to pry out of our private hearts. We were reminiscing, repenting and losing our minds at how cool/absurd/silly we used to be, and very quickly realised that we were still cool/absurd/silly.

We went to an all-girls school and loved the bonding and freedom that came from it. It was like having a sister you didn’t have to share your space with. Like a sister who wouldn’t tell on you. Like a sister you didn’t have to see all day long. My real sisters and I share a very powerful bond today, but back then I would’ve gladly traded them in for my friends. There were around 120 of us in our year, and we either knew one another or knew of one another. Maybe we didn’t get the memo that girls were catty and bitchy and back-stabby (Yyyep. Just making words up as I go). Not that it was all giggles and luv-u-4ever’s, but even the darkest of animosities was generally short-lived.

But we did miss having boys around and so crushes were cherished and shared. Some of them came up in conversation today. We died of embarrassment and then we died of laughter.

Spending 4 hours catching up with the girls today reminded me of the 8 years spent getting to know them. Most of my best friends weren’t there today, but that’s the magic of reunions – you see a face that sparks a memory, and just like that, everyone’s there. These lovely ladies helped shape me into the girl I was 15 years ago and the (girl-acting-like-a-) woman I am today. I’ve been loved and I’ve been hated; I’ve loved and I’ve hated; And I’d do it all over again.

Class Photo

Gotta get me some gym

drumbells

Two ice cream sandwiches, one banana ice cream bar (lovingly and locally called Banana Lolly) and a slice of super-indulgent double chocolate praline cake. Make that two slices.

It’s 3.20pm in the afternoon and that’s my dessert count so far. It may just be 38-degrees outside, but under the 20-degree air-conditioner chill, even my excuses seem to have their mouths frozen shut.

I feel the need…the need for high intensity cardio and weight training.

The funny (pathetic, if you want to be specific) part is that I’m not even a dessert person. I’m a memory eater. I eat because it reminds me of a time, a place or a person. And being back home with my family has brought back a lot of memories. Very, very tasty memories.

Sandwich ice cream from the ice cream cart outside school for a few coins. 2 soft chocolate biscuits tenderly holding together a cake of creamy vanilla ice cream. It would crumble and drip down my fingers and uniform before I got home, doing just what it was meant to do.

Banana ice cream on weekends after a big lunch. Mum, Dad, sister and me, huddled close together on the couch in front of the TV, slurping on the magical taste of togetherness.

(I have no personal bond with the cake I destroyed other than a carnal need to consume that rich, gooey chocolate. So I’m getting another slice. Don’t even.)

Then there’s mum’s dals, chicken curries, creamy chicken pies, pizzas, Kheema (mince meat curry) and many other dishes intrinsically linked to my happiness. Food that mama and I ate together after I got back from school while I filled her up on all the news, snacks that I scoffed down before rushing out the door in the evenings or weekend staples that always tasted the same and never disappointed.

Like mama’s grilled chicken. Every Friday morning (Weekends in the Mideast are on Friday/ Saturday), we had to clean our room plus an additional chore. Then we were free to go out and play. Growing up in an apartment meant no backyards or corner parks. There were buildings all around us with scorching hot concrete under our feet and blazing hot sun above our heads. Glorious. We played ball, we played house, we pretended to be detectives and thieves. We sweated and laughed and cried.

When I’d run past kitchen windows, my senses would be cushioned with the plethora of scents from different homes. Indian, Asian, Arabic, Continental. Love, affection, happiness and care.

It was time to surrender to the fragrance that was taking over our home.

That’s the thing about food. I savour that memory for time spent with my parents, cousins and friends, but I know that it was Mama’s Friday grilled chicken that holds it all together in my heart.

This was originally meant to be a post about hitting the gym. I think it’s pretty clear how well I’m doing with that.

Home.

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I envy the people who can close their eyes and picture home. Of a place they can go back to and feel like they belong, even if for a little while. Don’t get me wrong, my problem isn’t that I’m unhappy where I am; my problem is that I’ve been happy in many different places. It’s a good kind of problem to have.

I was born into a home that was bursting at the seams with noise: laughter and over-lapping, nonsensical conversations. We lived in a sort-of joint family setup with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins – living in a fluid state between two floors in the same apartment block. I’m still not sure who lived in which house. Some nights I slept in my room, some mornings I woke up wedged in between my grandparents and most days my parents had to pry me away from my cousins to go to bed anywhere – as long as it was apart – just to put an end to the incessant giggling.

After we fled Kuwait during the gulf war, I never saw the inside of that house again; my happiest place in the world.

I read somewhere that you see your grandparents’ home in your dreams because it’s the place where you got away with mischief, where love was abundant and judgement lenient. I entered my grandmother’s house in India as a refugee and even today, in my most stressful times, I dream of being in her home. It was a large modern house for a small old-fashioned lady. We jumped from the terrace to parapet to veranda. We played and prayed. We climbed trees and claimed deserted cocoons. We ate, ate and ate.

When the war ended, we returned home. Now my grandmother’s home keeps someone else safe. Strangers live there and love there.

I spent the next few years being the most confident version of myself there ever was. I was back home in Kuwait, my home turf, my Queendom. If school was where I held court, home was my royal chambers. Teenage invincibility and high-school popularity made our tiny, loved-up 2-bedroom apartment my new happiest place on earth.

There were 2 cities in India where I spent most of my time after I completed school. One where I couldn’t get out of fast enough and another where I got out of too fast. Both gave me immense happiness and loneliness. Neither felt like home.

Then Melbourne happened to me. At first I found it too sterile, too proper and too quiet. Then I found the dirt, the quirks and the noise. I was in love. Wildly in love. The kind of raw love you feel for the earth and air and sun. We (my husband and I) built our first home and fell in love with it every day. We built our family (the kind we choose and the kind we have) and fell in love with it every day. Everything was perfect.

It was too early for perfect.

I went for the people, I stayed for the place, I left in search of more. But I’ll be back, because while I still don’t see a single home when I close my eyes, I may just have found my true north in Melbourne.

So far, that is.

Big name for a not-so-little girl: Higgs – Part III

When I finally landed upon Pigs, Figs and Higgs for my blog name, I knew I’d be explaining the meaning behind it forever. The name went against all the rules according to Google. It isn’t easy to remember, doesn’t really give away anything about the content and I’d have to spell it out to doubtful ears.

To me, however, it makes perfect sense. Pigs covers my (questionable) creative side, Figs is about my food/ life journey and Higgs is about today, and that’s what Part III is about.

The story of Higgs is very personal, before it was a global sensation, that is. The Higgs Particle has always intrigued me, being a Physics nerd and all. So imagine my delight when they confirmed its existence in early 2013. It meant the start of a new era in Physics and a fresh perspective on our universe.

Also confirmed in early 2013, was that we had a baby growing in my belly!

Disclaimer: I can be an over-sharer at the worst of times, but when it comes to my personal life, I’m painfully private. I post almost no photos online and other than for professing my mad, undying love for certain people, I share no details of what’s happening in my life. Yes, that makes blogging a very strange choice, but, come on, you know, just, whatever okay.

Our foetus was called Higgs because it meant the start of a new era in our lives and a fresh perspective on our universe. And it made for a very cool story while I swatted people away for rubbing my belly. Pregnancy and I went together like hand in a glove filled with a million fire ants. It was a sight to behold. I tried so hard to not be the stereotypical preggo monster swinging from mood to mood, that I ended up becoming the stereotypical teary preggo waddling from bed to couch. But that’s a story for another time. (I’m totally nailing this blogging thing!)

We began to love the idea of Higgs so much that we chose a parallel path for his name. While Higgs Boson marks the start of the universe (indirectly) according to science, the name we chose for him means the start of the universe in a spiritual sense. I’ll leave it to him to announce his name to the cyber world when he wants to, until then I’ll refer to him as Higgs. Or O, the kid or the little guy.

And today is the day that my littlest particle, Higgs, turns 2.

Now that the story behind the blog name is sorted out, I guess I’ll have to start writing for real. Hmm. Or maybe I’ll just create variations of what I’ve got? Like the Piggies talking about figs or performing-figs doing an interpretive dance on the Higgs particle theory or a Higgs in figs in pigs? Who knows? I don’t. Stay tuned. Yayy!

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Big name for a not-so-little girl: Figs – Part II

I confess, Figs got in there because it rhymes with the other two, but it doesn’t make the story any less personal. This third of my blog name is to profess my love for food.

Everyone is a foodie these days or a connoisseur or a food snob. I’ve called myself one or all of them at different times. After you live in Melbourne, the food capital of Australia, you begin to believe it. I’ve stumbled into many a quaint café and restaurant in the most intriguing laneways and had some of the best dishes in my life. There are some places you can’t stumble into, like MoVida. Oh my God, MoVida. After a 2-week advance booking, we got there 30 minutes early, as if we were there for an interview. If it were an interview, I would not have got the job because the only words that came out of my mouth were: Ohs, Mmms and Oh-My-Good-kind-and-ridiculous-Gods. But the dish that moved me to tears was the dessert.

Fig leaf ice cream served with fresh figs and broken grains and chocolate and all that is good in this world. That changed everything for me. That changed me. It was exciting like meeting someone new and reassuring like meeting an old friend. It was all work and all play. It was Ariel and Ursula, Fraulein Maria and the Von Trapp children, Ross and Rachel. It is said that the fig tree featured heavily in the Garden of Eden; that afternoon, the fig tree featured heavily at the beginning of my food journey.

From there on out, there was tuna tartare with crushed mint & peas and creamy goats cheese, grilled Saganaki with honey walnut dressing, fried chicken with a chilli mayo foam, hand-rolled gnocchi in a creamy pumpkin & parmesan sauce, all those secret-sauce gourmet burgers…you get where I’m going with this.

I was part of a very active food club, my husband and I dined out every chance we got and I pigged out with friends a lot, but some of my most experimental dining was by myself. Back in Melbourne, I used to catch a tram into the city or out of it, and get lost. I’d stumble upon a magical food heaven, grab a seat in the middle of the crowd, pull out my book or notebook and order whatever caught my fancy. By the end of the meal, I’d be far too high to ever remember how I got there. Then there were times I was so disappointed that I’d sulk and Google the best dessert places around me to go restore my faith in good food. I’m dedicated, if nothing else.

Wherever my new journey takes me, I know it’ll be a path laden with scrumptious dishes and dreams of my next meal. All thanks to the fig leaf ice cream with fresh figs and broken grains and chocolate and all that is good in this world.

Movida