SIMPLY BEING

Tag: home (page 1 of 3)

Going Away

Woke up early this morning and decided I’d go sit on the balcony swing. It’s the last day I’d be able to watch daybreak across the Dubai skies. It is my last full day in the city.

The sky is gently lighting up, pale lavender and peach-gold-pink near the horizon. The moon is suspended high above, first shrouded by hazy clouds, then gradually revealing itself. It is a quiet Saturday morning, and the perpetual sound of construction is conspicuously absent. I imagine it’ll kick up a little later in the day; Friday is the only day most workers are off in Dubai. There is always ambient noise, though. A gentle buzz is ever present, and it isn’t even 6:30am yet. It’s likely the sounds of lightly humming air conditioners, lazy traffic in the near distance, gusts of dust-laden wind.

The view from the balcony of my sister’s 18th floor apartment is nothing short of spectacular. Dubai Frame is visible to the left, a spare structure dotted with lights and glass windows glinting in the soft light of dawn. Burj Khalifa rises up through the distant mist, surrounded by tall buildings in shades of cream, slate gray, cold blue. Dubai Creek flows to the right, a slender thread of deep blue, hemmed in by dock buildings. The view is somewhat obscured by a new apartment building, currently under construction. Buildings come up quick in Dubai, its landscape constantly filling up with glass and steel towers — straight, curved, stylishly bent, helical and spiral, wrung out, and so on.

I require this time to process the fact of my impending departure. It’s almost time for me to leave, yet again.

After marriage, it feels like I have been on the move constantly. But that isn’t true, really.

I moved to the United States post-marriage, and now I periodically go visit my family in India. My sister moved to Dubai recently, and this is my first visit here. Mom and Dad are visiting too, and this is our first family reunion outside India. Regardless of the place we meet (India, Dubai, wherever), it feels like my time with Mom, Dad and Geetu is always severely limited. A week feels insufficient, two weeks fly by real quick… and it’s hard not to feel like I am on a deadline. There is always an imaginary ticker ticking away, a giant calendar where the days go zipping by.

Every trip home to meet my family is much anticipated. Dates are set well in advance, and plans are made. We have to go here, eat this, do that, buy this, cook that… and so on. I land, get home, unpack… and the ticker starts. I am gradually easing out of jet lag, acclimating to the heat and humidity (it isn’t so bad), getting used to the spice (I am a sensitive eater)… and expanding myself into India in all possible ways. There is family to meet up with, saree blouses to get stitched or altered, jewelry to get repaired, and so on. And thus we get started. Days go by, one after another. There are trips to be made, local and elsewhere. And we keep soldiering along, at least I do.

As the trip nears its end, that giant calendar becomes a constant presence in my head. Misery slowly settles like a giant, dark cloud that follows me everywhere.

(It’s a lot easier now, I must admit. I moved to the United States fifteen years ago, and the India trips during the early days were harder, more emotional. I struggled a fair bit.)

I often dream of a trip where the calendar wouldn’t exist. But that is impossible.

Time with others is always limited.

Now, I could adjust to this much better. I could be philosophical about all these comings and goings. I could take it as a fact of life, that we are all travelers in this so-called journey of life, that every person we meet is a fellow traveler we spend some time with, and so on.

I am fortunate that I have a loving, supportive partner, my husband. And he is a sweet person to go home to. And I also know that I couldn’t live with my parents forever, because I do have a separate life. I forged it (or it was forged by and through me) in a loving, organic way, independent of my parents and sister (not entirely free of their influence, though). It is my own space, and I feel like I owe it its unique and separate place. This is the place where I am most myself, free to dream and explore my individual philosophy, far from anyone’s judgment or expectation.

It also does not help that home/Atlanta is a cold, dark place at the moment whereas Dubai is basking in warm, cool sunshine. As I head back, I am also leaving behind the familiar scents and sounds of Kerala that Dubai abounds in.

Each one of us is a stranger (or a native, if you want to view it in an enlightened/larger context) in a foreign land whether it is the country we were born in, or the one we migrated to.

The sun has risen, a burning glow of orange and gold. The day has lost its initial cool charm, turning bright and white and warm-hot. Dubai is a city of grey and brown, steel and glass, tall spires and shining lights along the creek, souks, beaches with teeming masses, and all the Gujarati thalis and filter coffees and vegetable biryanis and fresh coconut that I could never get my fill of, not this day, not this trip.

But Dubai is going nowhere, although my sister might move out sometime. My parents will go back to India in a couple of weeks. I return to Atlanta tomorrow.

We are doomed (or blessed?) to be travelers forever, or maybe it’s just me. If it isn’t traveling through large physical stretches of land and water, it is through the endless spaces of our imagination. It is through the years that have taken their toll on my parents’ faces and bodies, the babies my friends birthed who are now grown adults, the countless strands of grey I pick off the bathroom floor every day.

Perhaps home is a place or point where we take birth, and it is where we return in order to take that last breath, exhale one final time. And then the journeys begin again.

Winter Yearning

I am looking to find a name for this yearning,
that emerges on a late winter night,
or early dawn.

When it gets cold and chilly, and the desire for comfort commingles with the one for warmth and closeness,
Hands go forth searching, the fingers clasping, curled up into each other,
Bodies curve inward, fitting like two crescents, soft and curved, curled and shaped.

The comforter and quilt and warm woolen blankets all get merged and layered,
coming together, never pulling apart.

It is the state between sleep and wakefulness, it is a half-dream, a silent conversation,
It is home and warm breaths and half-murmured imaginings, am I dreaming or is this real?
Perhaps I am recounting a dream.

But now I am gone again,
and we drift off into this half-lit, humidified quiet, warmed and whirring heater space.

Home Alone

I always thought that to be home meant to be alone. For, when you are truly home, you are utterly by yourself. No friend or lover, parent or a child, soulmate, pet, not even God… well, at least how we like to define God. No, S/H/e/It isn’t there either.

To be home means to be entirely and utterly by oneself.

I, for one, never had an issue with that.

Even as a child, I liked spending the long hours by myself. Books were the next best option. My sister and my mother were great companions too. Perhaps because they liked their space and quiet as well. So there we were, left to our individual wiles and devices (not the electronic type), utterly happy (or not), pottering around in our own little worlds.

There have been quiet evenings when I have wondered if company would be the antidote to that dull, brooding feeling. But no, not really, I don’t think so. I am not sure if that gnawing restlessness would have been fixed by people and conversation. Yes, there have been times when I have desired for people and conversation, deep and light. I have wanted for bright, warm lights, good home-cooked food, a warm corner to curl in, a cozy ride home with P.

But most evenings, home is alone and alone is home, and it feels perfect and abundant.

Big Feelings

O Kerala, I have Big Feelings for you.

But it is a complex situation. A lot of love, an equal measure of nervousness, a hefty dose of the imposter syndrome, a heart full of pride (misplaced?)… it is all in there.

Let me explain.

I am a born-n-bred Mumbaikar (or Bombayite, as we were called before the city’s name changed). I grew up in this heavily populated behemoth of a city, crazy and gorgeous and polluted and filthy and magnificent and majestic… It is easy to run out of adjectives when you talk about Bombay. The city is maddening and aggravating in all these ways but it only takes a quiet Sunday morning for me to fall in love again. And it leaves me breathless. And like many other Mumbaikars, I also feel that this city is still young, wild and raring to go. And I am the old one here. I, who always thought of myself as the young girl who grew up in Bombay, am now the middle-aged woman. And Bombay is only getting started with her youth and wild days and colorful nights.

Us Mumbai folks speak many languages. Most of us speak Hindi, or some version of it. Either the grammatically correct one (if your family hails from North India) or the Hinglish version (if you liberally mix English in), or a third kind (which has Marathi words thrown in). I am sure there exists a fourth type, and a fifth one too. To put it simply, we (or I) speak a smattering of languages. My apartment building had many families originally from Gujarat, so Gujarati is another language I have a fair understanding of. Then there is the matter of Marathi, spoken by so many of my friends… so yes, I can follow a good bit of Marathi too. Oh, I forgot about Tamil, another language I was exposed to in my childhood.

That leaves Malayalam, my native language, my mother tongue… It is the language spoken in Kerala, the southernmost state in India, known as “God’s own country,” where my family hails from.

As a child, I spoke Malayalam at home. I even learned to read and write it at school (for four years). We watched Malayalam films, visited Kerala every summer vacation, met up with extended family, cousins and friends regularly… All in all, I had a decent grasp of the language, and I was comfortable speaking it (albeit with some English thrown in).

But then it began to change. For one, I married a guy whose family came to Mumbai by way of Gujarat, and they spoke Gujarati. Of course, that proved to be an advantage for me because I follow Gujarati pretty well. But then, my connection to spoken Malayalam suffered. Next, I moved to the United States, and that did not help either.

Like every expatriate, I spent a few semi-frantic years trying to keep the connection alive. I hunted up favorite Malayalam films on Youtube. I got hold of Malayalam books so I could maintain my knowledge of the spoken word (that one remains intact till date). Despite massive apprehension and fear of looking/sounding foolish, I took (and continue to take) every opportunity to speak Malayalam with fellow speakers, even as I am nervous about using the correct tenses and phrases, etc.

All in all, I am unsure and lacking in confidence but I desperately yearn for improvement. I want to be the girl who switches between languages flawlessly. I want to be that effortless individual who can navigate languages and cultures with consummate ease.

The truth is that I am not that individual. I hope to attain that image someday but it isn’t my current reality. I will (forever?) be the girl who speaks/writes/expresses primarily in English.

And all of this may have been perfectly acceptable, if not for the fact that my heart beats loud and proud for Kerala. I take immense pride in the fact that I have roots there. I couldn’t count the many ways I adore God’s own country. Kerala’s sights and sounds, tastes and fragrances bring me home every time. My love for Kerala is probably irrational in many ways (and I think it may be the case with my father too, another hopeless romantic). It is based in nostalgia, family, sensory recollections, language. It is a bit of a strange affliction, not shared by my sister who had a similar upbringing. Is this notion all romantic, and more so, because I live abroad? Perhaps. But I am a romantic, just like Daddy, and that’s probably why both of us are crazily in love with Kerala.

I once wrote an old post where I quoted, “You can take the girl out of Kerala but you cannot take Kerala outta the girl.”

Leaving India has only made the Kerala-shaped corner of my heart beat louder.

As for Malayalam, I will continue my adventures. I may look/sound foolish but I am not lacking in sincerity.