Tuesday, October 18, 2016

To the weekend, with love

A week ago, we decided to take Kavin to the beach since it was a long weekend and all. We parked our car and went to the beach, carrying a bag that contained, among many things, change of clothes for all of us. En route, we were accosted by hawkers of all hue, tempting K with their wares that ranged from Captain America key chains to spider man masks. Some brand position and market strategy, I say. Anyway, after sometime at the stalls, we resumed our trek to the beach, lighter by a few hundreds. Only when we started walking did I sense something amiss. My bag was way lighter, not literally, though. My bag didn’t contain my wallet anymore. I was more than one hundred percent sure I had lost it, because the car seat was completely empty when I got off it just a few minutes ago. I didn’t mention it immediately to either of the boys; at least one of them will panic and decide to retrace our steps only to invite the wrath of the other. So, to avert any such altercations, I decided to play it quiet and went to the beach. The perils of male company, I thought to myself, making a face.

I was going over what was to be done with contents of the wallet. Actually, until I came to the point of recollecting every single item in the wallet, I wasn’t too rattled by the loss. What with the blocking options of the cards and other such comforts of the times, I had actually no reason worry about any major financial loss. However, the wallet contained something, which I will never be able to recover, not as long as am on this side of the grave. It contained two of my father’s hand-written letters to me. He had written them to me sometime in 2004 when I was in Delhi and when cell phones and emails hadn’t become so ubiquitous.

The letters did not contain important information, but they did contain my dear father’s own handwriting. He always wrote on one of his factory-issued scribbling pads. In one of the letters he had told me in bullet points the enclosures of the letter; my tax returns, some employment news cuttings, and my train ticket. His handwriting had an unmistakable, confident right slant that will ensure his words followed a straight path on an unlined sheet of paper. And that’s something I struggle with even today. In the other letter, he had listed all the housework he was doing, such as watering the plants, ironing clothes, and many other things, all this amidst a hectic work schedule. He had also strictly, that’s in all caps, told me not to get any clothes for them for Christmas from Delhi. On the very next line, in his unmistakable affectionate, daddyish tone he had asked me if I wanted a saree or salwar kameez for Christmas.

A huge wave washed over Kavin and me. K held on to me and squealed with joy. But my heart was ready to burst with the sadness that was settling in the pit of my stomach over the loss of my father’s letters. Swallowing the anger I felt for my erratic and careless ways, I decided to simply let go. “It should be in the car, woman,” R offered some matter-of-fact sense. I nodded with no hope. The waves kept washing over the shore and Kavin kept asking for more. And, my thoughts would keep swinging back to a post-script on one of the letters; he had said, sorry for grammatical errors, and in fact, it was one of the letters that didn’t have any. I remembered how I was in splits after reading the letter the first time in 2004. The letter had arrived when I was in office, and when I read out the postscript to my colleagues, some of them looked at me with pure hatred (for doing that to my poor father), and the rest decided that they weren’t the the sole victims of my grammar Nazism. I wasn’t exactly crying, but what began with the promise of being a happy, pleasant evening was swinging anywhere between misery and gloom. But, since becoming a parent, I have learned (ok, not mastered it yet) the art of postponing one’s own grief.

With waves gaining speed, Kavin was unstoppable. He jumped, tried swimming, rolled in the mud, and so much more that in an hour’s time when we took him to the nearby shower, he was unrecognizable as our child. Covered with mud and many other things from head to toe, he looked like a child brought up by Tom Hanks in Cast Away, and not by IT professionals living in a metropolis. It took us some effort to extricate the real Kavin from all the grim and sea sand that he was covered in. On R’s insistence, I washed my face. He seemed to believe in the mood alleviation property of washing one’s face. I merely humored him. However, I was instantly refreshed after splashing of cold, fresh water on my face. Male company ain’t all the bad, eh?

Refreshed, but crestfallen, I walked back to our car. My eyes scanned every nook and cranny for the letters, hoping for the thief to have dumped all the unnecessary contents of the wallet. As we drew closer to the car, tears had already begun to cloud my vision. I opened it to see the seats stare back empty, exactly as I remembered them.
I quietly settled in and secured the seat belts for K and got ready for a long, pensive drive through the ECR. It would be almost midnight by the time we’ll reach home. What’s usually a pleasant, chatty drive for HSK seemed to be a quiet and a sad drive. As one last attempt, I thrust my hand into the back pocket of the passenger seat. And, no prizes for guessing; sitting snug in the pocket was the wallet, holding in its safe confines my father’s words, telling me to be careful with my words, with my actions, and perhaps my stuff too.  I let out a huge sigh of relief and smiled, no laughed, and got ready for a long, happy, chatty drive home.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Chennai-Denmark 3: An Affair with Aarhus

The wide, wide roads started to narrow down as we entered Aarhus. The sun was bidding us adieu after hanging out with us for over 20 hours straight! We hadn’t seen darkness for a long time. G drove through roads paved with cobblestone, buildings built with exposed bricks (didn’t they know any cement or concrete?), and long, beautiful alleys flanked by greenery on either side.

We finally came to a halt at nice little rectangular enclosure of three-storeyed houses. The doorsteps of each house had pumpkins that had been hollowed out. Now, this was a scene straight out of Hollywood for me! We had landed right in the middle of Halloween. Smiling ear to ear, I joined the guys in rolling the 3 humongous suitcases into the large elevator that would take us to the pretty home of GSG.
The rectangular enclosure that housed GSG's home.

We knocked on a glass door that hardly belied what it held behind. “Welcome, welcome,” squealed Sumi only to be hushed up by the men who were balancing a sleeping Kavin and 3 large suitcases between them. I quietly let myself into the warm interior and gave S a bear hug and found a warm spot for K so that he could sleep on, uninterrupted. The pleasant smell of sambar wafted from the kitchen stirring in us an until-then dormant ravenous hunger for the good old kozhambu saadam (rice and curry). In no time we freshened up and had one of the most sumptuous and tastiest dinners ever. Am still not sure what happened after dinner; staying awake for over 24 hours straight comes at the price of some memories, I realized much later.

The morning sight that greeted me.
 It should have been 4 am in the morning, when K started shifting next to me on a warm bed. My dreamless slumber was slowly wearing off. “Have we reached Denmark, Ma?” Kavin asked. I smiled to myself at that realization myself and turned over to him.“Where are we ma,” Kavin persisted. “We are in Denmark, darling,” I replied, already giggly with excitement.“Then, where’s Gugu, I must play with him,” said Kavin and off he ran without any socks or any winter enforcements that we lugged all the way from Chennai. He rebounded in exactly the same velocity with which he ran out and screamed,“Amma it’s so cold, give me my sweaters.”In no time, the entire household woke up, the boys met each other, and  we began making plans for the day.

Tiny pots with so many flowers.
 After a quick breakfast, all of us set off to check out the world best library, Dokk1 in Aarhus. Sumi packed some sandwichs and carrots for lunch, and off we went on cobblestone roads, clean, tar roads lined on either side with green plants, apple trees in full bloom swaying in the wind, and vast grasslands almost beckoning you to curl up with a book in hand or even to gaze forever at the clear, blue skies and ruminate on the question of existence, consciousness, gravity, love, or any random thing on earth! The beauty of the land assaulted one in every possible manner. Tiny pots had bouquets of flowers blooming, and back home, my plants demand an arm and a leg for as much as one bud per week!

Sumi and K inside the 8:02 bus.
S and G were walking us to the bus stop through various inner roads of the area they stayed in. And, suddenly they declared we were at the bus stop. Except for the passenger shelter there was not one thing to indicate a bus stop; no vehicles (except an occasional cyclist or a car), no garbage, and most importantly no crowd to jostle you into a wrong bus. The bus was supposed to arrive at 8:02 am; yes, the Danes seemed to be sure about their lives to the very minute. Whoa! Really. These people must be something. As predicted, the bus arrived and all of us tumbled in with our babies in strollers. 

I kept looking around as much as possible to take in every single sight of Aarhus. S kept pointing out places for us; there was the queen’s bungalow, the seashore, and a huge mall that had recently come up. For all the technological development on which the country sat on, its appearance belied nothing; everything was wrapped in medieval European architecture, speaking of which, I do some
Me figuring out Romansque and Norman architecture
research and discover words like Romanesque and Norman architecture. How much more prettiness can this world throw at you on a day? It was akin to travelling back in time to a beautiful, unpolluted, pristine world, but with the civilizational progress and development of the new world! We had not just gained 4 extra hours in our life; we had gained 4 centuries of life experience. Ok, exaggeration apology!

We got off at a bus stop and we had to walk a kilometer or so to reach Dokk1. But, no one was complaining, or rather didn’t have the luxury of complaining. You get a stroller until you are about 5 or 6, after which you completely rely on your two legs for such things. Everyone kept walking. Public transport was available only thus far and no further. Young and old walked. Young people sprinted, older people walked fast, and the very old people walked slow and steady. But, walk everybody did.

All of us at Dokk1
We finally reached our destination. An exhibition of making useful stuff out cardboard boxes was on. Sumi had displayed her work there, and the library had even featured her (as perhaps an artist to look out for; just in case, you are interested in her work, go here) on the big television installed outside Dokk1. That was just the first floor. Huge, room-sized elevators transported us to the next floor, which was just one sprawling hall covered on 3 sides with just glass, giving you the most amazing view of the harbor. We sat there gazing at the sea and chomping on the carrots and cheese sandwiches as the boys played on, much like the rest of the kids, without disturbing their parents. Was it the same K, who needed, no demanded, my attention every single minute? Was it the place or the people that taught one to appreciate individual space, even to toddlers? R and I behaved like a couple on honeymoon, clicked some silly selfies, and laughed like kids, unlike the kids in Denmark. 

K outside the stall displaying Sumi's work.

Dokk1 is in itself one of the best hangouts in Aarhus. With entire floors dedicated to children, Dokk1 seems be a major draw for the locals to unwind in peace by the riverside with books and books and books. However, we didn’t quite explore the books for want of time. I made a mental note about the place: sometime in the future, when I would have the luxury of spending entire months in writing in a city of my choice, I would spend at least a few days in Dokk1, gazing at the North Atlantic sea and sipping hot, black coffee.

By the Catholic Church of Our Lady

And there was evening, and there was morning, a day was about to pass. Had so much time really passed? I hadn’t even touched my lipstick once; we were still as fresh as we had started in the morning. I’d attribute that to the excitement hormones coursing through our veins that applied the brakes on the body’s natural resting cycle. We came to the city square lined with fountains and other pretty sights. The boys began to have a ball right on the road, only that this time we, the moms, simply looked on indulgently than screaming at them to stop playing immediately or to face ear-splitting music. Whoa! A few more days in similar circumstances, I might as well become a monk mama, than the mama on edge K deals with every day. Amidst all this, someone pointed at a nearby church, which needless to say was handsomeness carved in stone. Completed sometime in 1880, the Catholic Church of Our Lady, Wikipedia informs, is 53 meters tall and designed with 3 naves and a Gothic vaulted church room 40 meters long and 7 meters wide. And apparently the church is quite well decorated with stylized greenery, flowers, angels, devils, dragons and birds and has glass mosaics focused on the birth of Jesus Christ. We’ll perhaps have to wait for our next trip to check out all these ourselves.

Fountains in the city square.

The next morning dawned bright and clear. I tried to venture out of the house barefooted, only to realize what bacteria perhaps go through during pasteurization, a process by which warm milk and food products are instantly cooled to kill pathogens or bacteria! Some man was Louis Pasteur to invent such a particularly devious, blood-free way to kill a life!

After a languorous coffee, lazy conversations, and yum breakfast, HSK decided to take a stroll to the nearby super market, Fotex. The super market per se wasn’t very different from the ones here in Chennai, but it was definitely far less crowded and had just about everything from innerwear to Halloween pumpkins! I would be doing a huge disservice to the country that played a brilliant host to us for so many days if I didn’t mention its casual attitude to liquor. Budweiser, Corona, Carlsberg, and many others sat on huge shelves looking as innocuous as perhaps your Thuvaram paruppu (arahar dal) or an Aachi sambar podi! Just to see all these together in India in such a casual setting might cost a woman of my age a lot more than a flight trip, actually. So, since we, R &I, are law-abiding citizens of any country, we decided to be Danes in Denmark and casually picked a beer can each. Ok, it wasn’t that casual; I went back and forth before finally giving in; much like our popular Tamil proverb used by meat eaters to justify the killing: Kondral pavam, thindral pochu (Slay the sin; eat the kill).

Need I say, what this is?
We walked out of fotex holding hands; something we hadn’t done in ages. Little did we realize that we were hovering over the most memorable moment of the entire trip! Right out of the supermarket, looming out of nowhere was a beautiful church built much like the one we saw earlier on the city square, but quieter and amidst more greenery. A park bench sat there completely oblivious to the way it was completing the picture perfectness of that sight. We sat there for a good half hour savoring the little drinks in hand and wordlessly spoke a million words to each other.In sometime, we made our way back home. We had to unpack and repack our bags, for in less than 20 hours, we would be boarding our flight to the land of the pope, pasta, and pizza!

Ps: R made a pretty, vintage-looking video of this little stint of the holiday; you can watch it here. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Chennai—Denmark 2: In the middle of our dream

It was the wee hours of Oct 9, 2015 when my eyes flew open. Dawn was quietly filtering through our curtains, declaring open the much-awaited D-Day. Yes, the next dawn in Chennai was going be at least 2 long weeks away. Two long weeks of paradise away. 

Quietly I nudged the boys, growled into their ears the sweetness of the moment, and ordered them out of bed; 4 am the following morning wasn’t too far away. R, woke up, smiled at my impishness, and ruffled my hair. That was far too tepid a reaction for me and my excitement. The son was far better. He sprung out of bed squealing, “Ma, it’s time, let’s go to Denmark!”

The plants were all duly drip irrigated, my help was told to come knock only after 2 long weeks, the refrigerator was emptied and cleaned, and we were ready for Denmark. The day went like a breeze; it was soon 4:30 pm. “Leaving early” mails were sent, Kavin was picked from his day care, and we were at the amrket for our last-minute shopping. We had to buy banana leaves. I had plans to make a Karimeen Pollichatu for GSG (my SIL’s family in Denmark). Even if we wouldn’t get Karimeen (Pearl Spot), we would at least get Tilapia, and that would serve just fine. I insisted on the banana leaves that were absolutely fresh, which would last a 10-hour fight journey. The vendor boy just laughed and said, “It would last for several days, akka, fear not.” I smiled back and left, making plans to pack the leaves first with aluminum foil and then some newspaper. I also made a mental note to find a way to insert them into the check-in luggage and also declare it, what with the EU’s norms on stuff that can be carried into their land.

It was 6:40 pm as we entered home. I had already laid out the clothes we were to wear on our maiden flight into the European Union. Comfort came first and last in clothes and footwear for the HSK family. We gobbled our dinner at home, cleaned the dishes, and put them away. The clock began to tick. It was 9:00 pm; 4:00 am was still several hours away. At 11:00 pm, the fast track driver arrived in a Mahindra SUV (Xylo) and loaded all our stuff. For one last time, we checked each faucet, switch, plug, and almirah. I hugged and kissed my plants good bye, telling them to be safe. By 11:25 pm the taxi began moving towards the airport when a light drizzle began to fall making a lovely tup-tup noise as it fell on the wind shields of the SUV. Moms called and wished us a safe journey. By 11:45 pm we had already reached Chromepet when R suggested a pitstop for tea. The sheer beauty of the rain in the dead of the night during our most-awaited journey came together in the steam from the tea that snaked its way up and condensed on my eyelashes. It's still one of the most beautiful moments of the entire trip. It was at that moment I experienced pure joy; arguably the most joyous in my entire life until then. 

We are finally at the waiting lounge!
 In no time, we alighted at the Chennai International Airport. Like a pro, K insisted on wheeling the trolley loaded with the check-in luggage. We humored him for a while, walked up to the check-in counters, produced our tickets, and got our boarding passes. It was then time for immigration. Lighter by our check-in luggage, we sauntered into the immigration cubicle and breezed through it. Then of course was the security check, which was followed by the 3-hour long wait. It was 1:15 am. We got our 30-minute free wi-fi; no Indians were awake at the time. The Danes were up, and we whatsapped, sent pics, and got ready for the final hours to melt away as the rain began to pour outside. It should have been 3:00 am when I heard the boarding call for EK 543 bound to Dubai. I also heard a rather helpful announcement about people travelling as families not having to stand in the long queue. R simply brushed it away as my excitement-induced hallucination. But thankfully, it was no hallucination and we went on to board the flight to Dubai.

Monitor with headphones all for me!
Each of us had a monitor all to ourselves! Whoa! It was the first of the many pleasant surprises the journey was to throw at us. At 4:00 am sharp the plane began to taxi the runway, gained speed (was it mach 3?), sped into the air, and banked sharply bringing into view our dear Chennai just before its dawn. But we were flying backwards in time. By the end of our journey, we would accrue about 4 extra hours; 4 extra hours of life! And what beautiful life it is in the lap of pristine white clouds. Slowly, the Sun showed itself through the clouds; beginning as a bright Orange sphere, it took its sweet time to stream its rays right through the plane windows. We had been on air for almost 3 hours and awake for more than 24 hours. But sleep was nowhere near any of us. We either watched the movies, gobbled the food they gave, looked at the clouds, or whatsapped through the Emirates on-air wi-fi!

Customary click at Dubai.
It was 8:30 India time when we landed in Dubai, the dreamland of many Indians. We hardly had anytime there; our connecting flight was due in another hour or so. My SIL had given us enough heads-up about what to expect in Dubai; in the particular, the mad scramble for strollers for the kids! Thankfully we got one for K, who was only too trilled for he hadn’t been in one since a very long time; since 3 years precisely. So thrilled was he that he refused to part with it even at the waiting area for the next flight. It was 10:00 am India time and the flight bound for Copenhagen began its ascent as the first signs of sleep began to show on the boys. R signaled me to get some sleep; I shook my head and began to look out the window. Such large swathes of desert land, sand dunes, and 6-lane roads, who would miss these for a couple of winks?
Our first sight of Denmark

By around 4 pm India time, as the plane began to descend, the clouds parted and offered me the first glimpse of the European landscape. Nothing prepared me for what my eyes saw at that instant. Undulating green meadows, churches looking exactly like the illustration of the Westminster Abbey in my Class 7 English textbook, windmills, and the blue ocean stretching and enveloping the little island we were to land in! The plane touched down, bringing us safe and in one piece to Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark.
Lo and behold, Denmark

As I took my first steps on the land of the Danes, I could hear one thing, and that was silence. Absolute, silence; deafening silence, definitely. Even the kids made no noise, people formed queues without being prodded, men and women allowed others to go past them, nobody hurried, everyone seemed to move to the beats of a silent tune that only their hearts could hear. What is a chatterbox like yours truly going to do here? Composing myself, I closed in on the immigration counter with R and K in tow. Perhaps my serious veneer was too thin; the woman at the immigration counter smiled happily and welcomed us into Copenhagen. Hurrah! I let out an audible sigh of relief, smiled back and walked into the luggage collection center.

In the land of the Danes, with G.
When we finally made our way out, G, our BIL, was waiting for us. K flew into his arms and began regaling stories of the flight, the food he ate, the jacket he was wearing, his school, his friends, yada, yada, yada! Then began our 3-hour drive to Aarhus, which was where GSG had made their home. The roads are so good that a 186-km drive took only 3 hours or even less! The windmills, which I had spotted fleetingly on the flight, came into view in all their splendor! What a heck of a sight was that! Huge pieces of steel, welded and screwed together and drilled right into the ocean to harness all the wind power the sea had to give! Such ingenuity and skilled engineering. Even as I tried in vain to pick my jaw that had dropped to the floor, K kept talking, talking, and talking. After a little while he began giggling uncontrollably. R and I began exchanging concerned glances. “It’s just the jet lag; that’s how these little fellas handle it. He’ll be asleep soon,” assured G. In just another couple of minutes, as if one cue, K was out like a light bulb.

Our road to Aarhus
After an hour or so, we made a pitstop for some coffee. R and G left to get the coffee. With K asleep in the car, I quietly got out to check out the place. The cool air stung. Yes, it stung. I quickly scrambled back to the car, slipped on the gloves and my headscarf, and checked if K was warm enough. Whoa! We were right in the middle of the European winter. None of the English novels I had read or the English movies I had watched prepared me for this. Giggling at my little adventure, I snuggled back into the car when R and G returned with piping hot black coffee. Oh! Coffee is black; I corrected myself. Only we in India doused it with so much creamy milk and sugar and consumed it like a dessert! The black, hot liquid glided down my throat and warmed my very soul. We were finally in the middle of our beautiful dream, every new minute was better than the one before.