(crickets chirping)

I’ve been silent for a while now. A month to be exact.

This time my excuse isn’t that I’m drawing a blank. In fact, the drawing is a bit out of control. And I won’t use the busy variety of excuse. That’s a given now; everyone is busy all the time.

And it isn’t even my inability to write. I’ve been writing. But as I read through each piece for the 100th time, I realise they’re all silent. Each one of them. No voice. No sound. Just a bunch of words thrown together.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve gone mute.

See, I’ve always been liked and hated for my chirpiness. It’s just what I do. Be chirpy, crack a few jokes, pass some faux wisdom and drop the mike. Some of my oldest (and nicest) friends have been in touch, wondering when the next blog post is due? When can they expect their dose of happy?

I’m sorry. I’ve got none to give right now.

independent

Life’s not easy, yawl. It’s like a long walk we’re all taking. Some of us are in a hurry, rest of us stop for a chilled beer every now and again. Some of us stop to smell the roses, rest of us avoid all clichéd proverbs. Some of us do all of it in one day. I’ve come to realise that the lonely parts are when those who were walking with you suddenly move ahead and you’re left behind smelling the goddamn roses.

And soon you lose your voice from having fallen into disuse.

If you’re lucky, a new bunch of people show up and you find your voice again. Or a better voice, as I have in the past. But you still secretly wish that the people who’ve raced ahead turn around and wave, as if to say they’re waiting for you. As if they still care.

Until one of that happens, I guess I need to embrace the quiet. And stop fighting it through a lethal combination of logic and counting-my-blessing-isms.

Today, I salute the quiet ones, the pessimist and the introverts. The clingy ones, the attention-seekers and the sooks.

I salute your courage to own your state of mind without crumbling under pressure from the positrons. Stay strong, my friends.

For a fiercely independent woman, I can turn into an affection-seeking hot mess in under 10 seconds. But I’m not shushing up and putting on a brave face. I’m going to accept my lows and embrace this voice until I start enjoying this walk by myself, if that’s what it takes. I’ll talk to the strangers and ones zooming past me; I may even holler out to those who’ve raced ahead.

Say hello to the dark side of Pigs, Figs & Higgs.

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Melbourne: chockers full of life.

Try to read something on Melbourne, and you’ll see the recurring topics – laneways, trams, heritage buildings, culture, food, secret bars. You’ll also see that every article begins with the disclaimer that it will ooze the same gooey self-love and unabashed pride.

I don’t know the complete history behind the city, and who our founding mothers and fathers were. But I’m sure they were funny. And kind. And self-depreciating. And just plain awesome.

Because heritage and culture aside, I reckon it’s the people who make Melbourne the most liveable city in the world.

The Melbournians.

Faces.png

Source: Melbourne street art

Like the tram driver who entertained us with his commentary on everything we rode past. He spoke about people, buildings, restaurants, and even suggested skipping work for a day at the beach. Most of us put aside our books and phones, to listen to the man who was trying so hard to make us smile. This mundane morning hero turned every passenger into a happy bug that he set loose into the city.

Or the train driver I’ve had the honour of travelling with a few times. He talked to us about his day, and rhetorically asked us about ours. He then painted a glorious picture of going back home, to warmth, dinner, family and love. If there was a delay, he stood with us in impatience and cynical humour.

More than once, I’ve walked into the ladies’ room to see the janitor getting a hug and thank-you for the splendid job she was doing.

There was the time I shared my tram seat with an elderly woman and her granddaughter. It was her first tram-ride in thirty-odd years. From the moment she took her seat, until I had to tear myself away from her, I regaled in her stories of tram-rides in old Melbourne. Of friendships, loves and teenage escapades in another era.

Another time, my friend and I jumped up to offer our seats to a pair of vivacious older women. “Oh my God, we’re seniors!” one said to the other, between mock disbelief and can’t-fight-the-giggles. Goals.

Boys.png

Source: Melbourne Street Art

They’re everywhere, these good people.

People at work who genuinely want to get to know you.

People who compliment your shoes, shirt and hair without any hesitation.

Retail assistants and checkout persons, who ask you how your day is and actually listen to your answer.

Every place I’ve been, people want to be somewhere else. Look at me. I’ve always gone somewhere else. But mostly, people want to leave where they are. Melbournians always want to come back. Not in a “it’s home” way, but in a “Fuckme. How lucky am I to be here” way.

Baby Guerilla

Artist: Baby Guerilla, Source: Melbourne Street Art

Everyone has a good word for you, about the weather, weekend or book you’re reading.

A smile and a nod are the norm.

A sense of humour is appreciated.

A “how’s it going?” is all you need to break the ice.

Fintan Magee

Artist: Fintan Magee, Source: Melbourne Street Art

Ah Melbournians, love yer work.

School’s in!

Like any regular school day, I woke up groggy, mechanically brushed my teeth and washed my face. I put on my freshly ironed clothes, tied my dusty shoelaces and threw my bag over my shoulder.

Unlike most other school days, I walked into school with my son in tow as my husband waved from the car.

I was visiting my alma mater almost 15 years after I graduated from there.

Would the teachers remember me? Would the buildings hold any signs of me skidding down halls and leaning against pillars making secret pacts? Would echoes of my excited squeals still resonate along the corridors?

Walking towards the gate, I can feel the noise and energy in my bones. And if any of the students ask me if I’m a parent, they’ll feel the power in my bones, too.

After all, I’m in school and parents are just not cool.

I’m told to get permission from the Principal to go into the main building, so I walk right past his office and into the building.

After all, I’m in school and if you don’t rebel, you fit in.

At first glance, everything is different. A new paint job, new uniforms, new attitudes. And everything is the same. Same rush, same invincibility, same energy.

It’s recess when I walk in and the teenagers, who’ve replaced my friends and me, gather in cliques like we did before them. Some of them spare me a side-glance, too entrenched in their discourse to pay too much heed to the blue-haired mama with a small boy and big smile.

The few teachers who remain, recognise me right away. I can see their minds racing, as if to sort through thousands of files to match my face to a memory. After good-naturedly chastising me for my absurd hair colour, we begin to chat. As we reconnect, I can see it in their eyes – they’re remembering me, one mischief at a time, one laugh at a time, one grade at a time. That’s my sign to keep moving!

With every step forward, I go back in time.

corridor.png

One corridor, a million memories.

Running into school to share a secret (of the “don’t tell anyone” variety) with my best friends. Or the moment of hopeless terror when I remember I left my assignment on my bedside table. Or the silent prayer for a dreaded teacher to be absent. Or the exhilaration at the thought of spending the next six hours with some of my most favourite people.

That feeling when I enter my classroom every morning – either “here we go again” or “here we go again”.

The unconscious ritual of scanning the classroom to see if anyone was panicking over homework that I had forgotten about, too. Then weighing time versus interest to see if it was worth attempting to complete it or using the time to come up with a creative excuse.

Slipping into my seat and instantly filling my desk drawer with the essentials – pen, pencil, books and my lunch in case of an emergency snack attack.

Over the next six hours, teachers would walk in and out of the classroom. We were inspired, bored, entertained, and very often, we were the entertainment. But we learnt life lessons. Like how to stifle a laugh without bursting a vein, how to think of the saddest thoughts to douse the laughter and how to drop a pen and spend the next three minutes looking for it so as to laugh freely under the desk. Essentially, we learnt that we are powerless against an infectious giggle fit.

 

bench

If only these benches could speak. They’d tell tales of notes and chips and cassettes. Of laughter and nerves and tears.

The time we spent laughing for absolutely no reason makes the time we spend looking for a reason to smile these days, seem sadly disproportionate.

School or university years are always remembered as the best days. We hold on to every detail; how the classroom looked on that rainy, sleepy day when you sat at the back of the class daydreaming, the way you felt rushing out of school on the first day and rushing in on the last, the cold water at the water cooler after PT, the smell of chemicals on your hands after lab, the exhilaration of writing on the chalk board (unless you’ve been asked to solve a problem in front of the class, then it’s fear, pure excruciating fear), the crucial chat with your friends about that boy and the day of raucous laughter about that boy.

What if someday we look back upon today as one of the best days of our life? Even if we’re all happy beyond reason in the future (and I hope we will be!), I hope we lovingly remember the room, office, train or classroom we’re sitting in right now, and relive the conversations we’re having and the people we’re having them with.

Almost 15 years after I left school, I can still hear the weightless laughter and feel the blind hope bouncing off the walls. I want to tell 15-years-back me to remember this moment and know that you’re living it – and you’re responsible for the happiness you’re feeling, don’t ever put it in anyone else’s hands. Never lose the sense of wonder for the world out there. The fun, quirky or shy girls around you will become the strong, beautiful women who make your day by just remembering you, so cherish them. Continue believing that you can make a difference and never stop being different. The song lyrics you say is your motto in life right now, you’ll probably laugh at that in a few years, but somehow, you’ll reconnect with it again, so hold on to that (even the really, really cheesy ones. Especially, the really, really cheesy ones).

And I want 15-years-back-me to tell me the same thing. Run into work and home to smile and talk to the people around me. Create rituals that make every space mine. Never stop laughing at silly things. Not to wait for something big and shiny every time. Let everyday things inspire me, even if just for a second. Never stop making friends. Make conversation with the quiet guy at work. Finish your homework quickly so you can go out and play. You’ll keep finding best friends and soul mates, but your school friends will be your parachute and jetpack and magic door. It’s ok to be sad, mad and bad. Your school memories may have been the best, but better days are in front of you, if you keep moving forward.

I think school-me would’ve been happy seeing today-me, this morning. She would’ve looked at me and passed the verdict to her friends: “Yeah, she’s not too bad for an adult.”

Ya heard that? Not too bad! Ha!

(Haha she thinks I’m an adult. Cute!)

 

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.