Old is the new New

2016, going on 1993.

 

In early 1993, I boarded the flight back to Kuwait after the Gulf War with such excitement that I thought I would be sick. My cousins, uncles and aunts came to receive us at the airport with loud squeals of joy and big jackets (we were travelling from 35 degree Indian spring to 15 degree Kuwait winter). I took in all the squeals and hugs and familiar Kuwaiti air. I shrugged off the jacket. I wanted to feel everything.

Through chattering teeth and quickly-freezing toes, I asked all the important questions. Were KDD juice boxes still available? Was Funny Face chips still the best? How soon could I get my hands on a Snickers bar? Were Hardee’s burgers still as big as my face?

Yes, yes, right away, yes.

I swear, I did not blink during the ride home. The water towers, Kuwait Towers, my school, our first home. They were all there.

We were all home, together.

q8

Photo cred: As always, m @rnanoj

When the war chased us out of our homes and lives that fateful August day, we thought we’d be back before the summer ended. That was innocence.

A few months into our refugee life, we accepted that was going to be our future. That was adaptation.

Two years later, in the middle of all the excitement that glorious cold, winter evening back in Kuwait, I knew that wherever my past or my future took me, I would never let go of the heart-aching happiness in that moment right there. That feeling of being exactly where I should be.

That was conviction.

Since then, I’ve loved Kuwait and hated her, I’ve left her and scrambled back to her, I’ve missed her and avoided her. I’ve moved, married and made a baby. But I never let go of that memory.

I went looking for new, and came right back to old.

We landed in Kuwait on a cold, wintery morning few days ago (M got a job! Yay! We’re working members of society again). All of the cousins and uncles and aunts were at work, but the phone calls were loud with squeals of joy. I took the jacket this time. Adult.

I got home to my KDD mango juice. Funny Face only comes in a multipack now, the only way to eat it (them). Snickers are not a rarity anymore, but I scoff one down, all the same. Hardee’s burgers are now as small as my palm. Budgets.

We’re all home together, again.

We left Melbourne in search of a new adventure, and I cannot think of an adventure greater than a second chance. Here we are, where I was born and raised. I know the people, the roads and the life. Now, I get to put aside everything I know and do it better and do it with my own little clan.

And if there’s ever a sign of weakness, I’ll always have that moment in ’93 when I sat on my uncle’s couch, shivering with excitement and from the cold.

Just like back then, I’m unsure about the future, but can barely conceal the blind faith that it is going to be the best days of my life.

Advertisements

My rainy day

I reach out into the open, spreading my fingers wide to catch a few drops of the light drizzle. Some long-forgotten force pushes me out from under my protective cover into the drizzle. 

The soft rain drops fall on my cheeks and finger tips, and after a very long time I’m not worried about running for cover. To protect my hair, my bag or my precious shoes. This time, I’d like to give in to my free spirit and keep my superficiality locked away, instead. 

Not many things compare to the blind joy of running into rain. Rainwater falling over your hair and trickling onto your face before seeping in and leaving your hair in the happiest bunch of clumps. Cold, squishy toes. Little stubborn droplets that refuse to flow off your shoulders. 
 

Photo cred: m @rnanoj

 

During our summer holidays in India, on the first sign of rain we’d be outside. It was a privilege beyond permission or fear of pneumonia. We danced under the open sky and jumped in puddles and found corners of the house where the water collected and poured down in a rush. We made paper boats with wet fingers and watched them awkwardly catch the wind and dodge raindrops, in the shallow puddles. We fell over each other laughing, we shook water off the plants, we drank in every drop of the fun. 

Oh the freedom! 

I think I just had an “Aha!” moment. 

Correction: a “Doh!” moment.

I reminisce about the glories of my younger days as if someone took them away from me. Obviously, and embarrassingly, I’m the idiot who permitted limits and fears into my head. In my pitiful effort to hold on to aforementioned glories, I temporarily forgot how to have real fun.

We say it’s the little moments, yet we waste these precious moments waiting for that big one. 

We know it’s the thought that counts, but we make-do with a brand-spanking-new phone.

We want to laugh till our sides ache, but cynicism. 

We love talking to the people who make us happy, but we can’t find time to talk to them.

Geez.

I suddenly wish the drizzle would turn into rain. And maybe if I step into it, it could wash away some of the faux grown-up-ness and the carry-on bullshit excuses. 

Live a lot, ya’ll! 

Happy New Year!

Rama

No mother should ever have to bury her child.

Before she turned 60, Radha buried her first born, her precious boy. Before she turned 70, Radha buried her youngest son, her little baby. Her husband stood by her side the first time, and on the other side the second time. Long before that, she lost her youngest one at birth, and almost lost herself with it.

She stood outside her body and watched as her mind slipped in and out of sanity. She watched as daughters-in-law were widowed and grandchildren were left without their father. She watched her two heart-broken children left behind grapple with one hard blow after another. She ached for them, she ached for herself and she ached and she ached.

Then she got up, rearranged the cushions and went to check if dinner was set.

Life tried to break her, and life lost.

No one radiates as much hope and belief in life as Rama does. Her eyes shine with the kind of love that we all crave, all-consuming, fierce and loyal. Her smile has a curiosity and mischief that is unheard of in women her age and situation. Her hands, her bejewelled hands are comforting like that’s their only purpose and purposeful because that’s what comforts her. The food that appears at the end of her magical wand-like hands could solve world peace if only she had the time for it. A heady mixture of Fair & Lovely Fairness Cream and Ponds Talcum Powder announces Radha’s arrival into the room and lingers on long after she leaves. The mattress under her, the clothes on her and the air around her carry the scent like a halo. The halo only a real human can carry. Her superhuman strength is carefully wrapped in delicate silks and diamonds. Her mind is always racing, her feet not far behind.

I must confess, as I write these words, I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but I promise you, I have a story to share.

 

Rama

Her name is Radha, and she lets me call her Rama.

Rama is far from perfect but everything she does is. She makes friends, enemies, memories and mistakes in a minute. She feels love, hate, joy and pain with an unparalleled intensity. She dislikes dirty places, people and words. Her saris are starched and spotless and timeless. If it smells sweet, looks lovely and tastes good, she’ll accept it. She chases a fly out of her home with the same ferocity with which she welcomes a compliment. She is superficial and sincere in the same breath. She’s generous with her time and attention, but her special brand of blind love is reserved only for her siblings, children and grandchildren.

Nothing gives Rama more joy than seeing her family together. She never shushes or restricts kids from running wild. She’ll get us afterwards though, to scrub off the dirt before we step into her heaven (not haven), her home.

The home her husband and children built for her is her everything. The fact that her husband and eldest son never made it past the housewarming only makes her home a heaven more than ever.

She was treated like a princess till the day she wed, and like a queen every day after. Her home is her palace and she rules fairly.

The rooms are cushioned with music and sunlight, kitchen bursting with aromas, veranda decorated with flower pots and backyard with freshly washed clothes. Not a bowl out of place, not a cushion, not even a sound.

Remember how I said she rules fairly? Not if something is out of place. In the event of such monstrosity, there’s a very small chance that she will quietly go about putting it back in order. Rama has a – how do I put this mildly – she’s a control freak, a cleanliness freak and a broken record when it comes to running her home.

If you’re on an overseas call with her, she’ll put you on hold in order to fluff the cushions. She never entrusts anyone else to clean her bathroom, she does it herself every day, and believe me when I say you can eat off the floor in there. A Dettol cloud surrounds everything and the silverware doubles as mirrors. Her little army of housekeepers work with a steadfast loyalty that you can only get from an iron-fist wrapped in duck-down feather and glitter.

It was in this home that Rama taught me my first and only bedtime prayer. Together, we prayed that we would have sweet dreams and wake up early with fresh hopes and dreams for a better day. We prayed that we would be kind and respectful. We prayed for ill relatives and travelling neighbours and the homeless people we couldn’t help. We prayed for peace and happiness and love.

We didn’t pray to a God with a name. We prayed as a reminder to ourselves, to wake up as better versions of who we were that day.

Then I fell asleep, her prayers and arms keeping me safe.

That was when I was a child and she was my fairy grandmother.

A million lifetimes later, she falls asleep safe in my prayers and arms.

I move into an apartment in the city with Rama during college, and she takes about 32 seconds making the place hers. While I was away growing up and figuring out who I was, Rama perfected her unique brand of her-ness.

She brings along her little army of housekeepers and her her-way-or-the-highway-ness. She hates being away from her home, but she is unbreakable in her optimism. Deaths in the family and near-death health scares for herself and her loved ones can’t shake her faith. In rare moments of solitude when she lets herself reminisce, you can see it. You can see it in the way her fingertips touch her face, you can see it in her soft, faraway eyes. Raw, agonising pain.

On nights that I stay up late, I find her asleep with her arm reaching across the empty bed as if to clutch the husband, babies and siblings she lost and the family that’s scattered far and wide.

Born into a family of 9 children, alone was not a common feeling. Married to the eldest among 8, she instantly doubled her family. Then she built her own brood with 3 boys and a girl. Then there were in-laws and their families. She lost count after the 6 grand children; nothing else mattered.

These are the numbers that run through her head when she lies in bed at night. These are the numbers she aches for. These are the numbers that give her strength. She counts and recounts, wondering where so many of the numbers have vanished.

She wakes next morning, full of fresh dreams and hopes for a better day.

These are some of the many memories of Rama deeply cemented in my heart. There’s no obvious storyline here. No moral. Just that no matter how small or short life is, make your mark and leave your scent, so people speak of you as if you never left us 11 years ago.

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!