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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

Up, up and oh hey! What am I doing?

Here I am. I have the time, I have the space, I even have the pen and paper. But I don’t have the words. Geez, and it’s only my second post (Yes, I use pen on paper before fingers on keyboard). Staring at my flight number slowly creep up the leader board isn’t helping either. 2 hours to get on my 5-hour flight to my first home, and maybe, next one.

In 32 years, I haven’t lived in one place for more than 8 years at a time. First there was Kuwait. My birthplace and first home. Then during the Gulf war there was Nagercoil, a little town in Tamil Nadu, India. My refuge and emotional home. The place I go to in my dreams. Trivandrum, India came next. The place I liked least, but found the people I love most. After that Bangalore, India was my personal home. Only mine. No family, no loves, just me. Melbourne, Australia became home, where I built my life and home with my love.

And now I’m out again, looking for my next home. I’m heading to the golden sands and blinding splendour of the Middle East, hungry for a new adventure with a generous side serve of shish kebab and hoummus.

Look at that – the words are coming in after all! And my flight has moved up a notch. Celebrations all around!

Thirty thousand feet up in the sky and three hours into my flight, I struggle to fall asleep. It could be the person in front of me with his seat pushed back all the way, or it could be the voices in my head. I can’t speak for the stranger on my lap, but the voices in my head are old friends/foes (No, I will not say frenemies). The questions are the same – Were we insane to leave our jobs in Melbourne and head overseas with no job? What if nothing works out? Why would any adult in their right mind pluck a 1-year old from his secure environment and move into the unknown? Are we absolutely, farking mental?

Here’s the thing – I don’t know if I’ve blocked out the negativity, but those thoughts don’t frighten me. Yes, they make me nervous, but somehow, in my very little world, they make me feel like I’m following at least one of those pins I pin so fervently on Pinterest.

This is a very new, unfamiliar state-of-mind for me. I’m the kind of obsessive, neurotic being who needs to know what next plans are, and have it in writing to make sure no one changes my plans. Now suddenly I thrive under the doubtful glances. I love not knowing what I’ll be doing 5 days from now. Eating. I’ll still be eating five days from now. But in life, I don’t know! I guess I just gotta have faith fa-faith fa-faith.

We’ll be landing soon, so wish me luck and keep watching this space to see me go from fearless to clueless to quivering mess to success. Repeat cycle.