Twelve years ago I was on assignment to cover an interview with a businessman when my editor called me, furious, I hadn’t carried a pen and paper, and was making mental notes! That sound hearing from a woman I greatly admired, one who was otherwise always composed- filled me with a life-long lesson in diligence, there may not always be pen-and-paper but there were certainly no shortcuts.
I began to think of that pen-and-paper incident when I turned up at college today to check the girls final examination papers without a red pen; it was handed over to me rather kindly, “It’s just a red pen.” I spent the rest of the day in a staff room correcting papers, over a generous supply of coffee and sandwiches and even a Bombay vada pav.
When I walked out into the Bangalore sun, I realized I had somehow done it- six long months of my semester 6 teaching stint with the Communications Studies students at Mt. Carmel College, were now behind me.
I was afraid at first, how do you be and stay relevant to a classroom full of young girls infinitely smarter, and a digital generation ahead of you? How do make the hours worth their time, how do you hold their attention, their interest, and even make them laugh? There were good days, and not-so-good days- but there were moments that were worth it:
When a girl stayed to ask you a question after class. When someone told you she now had a job, because of her lesson in Linkedin. When someone brought an example to class you hadn’t heard of before. When someone sent in an assignment so painstakingly poignant, you easily believed the world was still a beautiful place. When you and the class chuckled together over a dating blog; across the years; love always unites. And, when you struck the last red signature, knowing they had turned out alright. And perhaps you had too…
There’s a lot of little and big turns over the last nine years- and what are the odds, everything had turned out more than alright.
I watched Neerja in a crowded Bangalore theatre; I perhaps had a sense that the movie would upset me, but not that it would bring me to uncontrollable tears, long after the movie was over.
I ruminated Neerja’s short, but beautiful life. What makes a marriage work. And perhaps, what doesn’t. The Bombay of the 80s. The women of Bombays 80s, the air hostess of Bombays 80s, I ruminated not being afraid to die. And, Neerja’s beautiful family, her pioneering father, beautiful mother. My family. My Bombay. My dreams. And what it would be to die.
In the two hours, that documented PAN AM Air Hostess Neerja Bhanot’s life, I remembered what it is to live. In her death, I was reminded of life’s often difficult choices. And after the movie, I voraciously read up whatever was available about her- mostly her father’s letter in the newspaper two months after her death. “Neerja, please keep coming,” it read.
It made me think of my father, how he always backed me up. My mother who was around everytime I fell and needed a hand. My sister who always stayed. And their love that just keeps coming.
The world needs many Neerjas. And, the world needs many Neerjas mothers and fathers, and their fine balance.
I grew up believing in love. Love I found in old and borrowed paperbacks I was perhaps much too young to read, love in the movies, love in the lyrics of songs my father, and mother, and boyfriends played to me. Love in Notting Hill, love in Eric Segal’s Love Story, Love in the Eagles’ Peaceful, Easy Feeling and even B B King’s The Thrill is Gone. Long before I learned to love, I learned to ache from it; school diaries were filled with lonesome love stories from the Chicken Soup, my then blog, with self-made poetry on love and loss.
I grew up looking for love. I looked for love in everyone who understood me beneath the cheery smile and boyish demeanour- anyone who saw me as I really am, a misfit, misfit. I looked for love in the oddest places; sometimes, I found love too. And when I did, I always fell in love much too quickly, much to easily, much too generously. Sometimes I loved, once I fell out of it, once it became all too diffcult to love, and once I grew weary from it. But love came, and love went- and I only wondered- when love would stay?
I was twenty-three when I fell in love again. I always remember it as a real kind of love, a love that really knew it was love- young and innocent to be love, old and wise, to be tamed to stay. It was beautiful, come to think of it- the many nuances of being with someone, the little joys it fills you with. Except I hadn’t quite learned, how to make love stay.
In time, the loss was bearable, but the love was gone. I continued to half-heartedly look for love; one-eye open in case it had slipped in through the door one morning? And sometimes it had. Sometimes, an old love stopped by to tell me how much he still cared, a new friend to tell me how special I was, and a fleeting friend to tell me how he was falling in love (only to shortly disappear.) I slowly learned- in all the ways love can come to you, the half-chances are the hardest. Only ahead of unwanted love, the love you nearly succumbed to lest it was the half chance you’d never have again…
Even so- as friends marched on, and love burned along, I never stopped believing in love 🙂 Perhaps- I had stopped looking for it; it mattered less than when I grew up. There were many kinds of love now, work and places, and friends, and books, and movies; there was no desperate need for a special kind of love. Yet everyone around me began to seek it out; as if there was a time for love!
There were datings apps, and online ads, and newspaper ads, and personal bio-datas and telephone enquiries, and twitter romances- and funnily, some of them worked too. Friends straddled down the aisle shortly after they found ‘the one’ in response to a newspaper ad, somebody even found their match on their first date off Hinge! They had found love, and I was being coaxed to orchestrate it too. Everything I grew up with, ambition, and a job, and a lust for life had stayed too long now. When really love should have overrun.
But I wouldn’t and I couldn’t orchestrate love. It would find a way, and all the Neruda, and the Joe Cocker, and the John Carney had taught me…there was no ‘if it didn’t.’
I grew up a swimmer. Long before I could walk, my mother would dunk me into the swimming pool, while she caught up with her daily exercise. I grew up playing tennis. Every day, after school, my father’s man-friday would turn up with at the YMCA with our tennis racquets, so we could make it to the 4:30 PM class. A little later, I grew up playing squash. My (not so) old man grew up playing squash, and I was emulating him.
All along though, I never really ran. Not a muscle in me could run beyond the one-odd kilometre. At twenty-six, I took to running. It was the silliest, hardest thing I had ever done. I ran foolishly, defiantly in parks and in gyms, on treadmills and on the beach. I achingly moved past 200 metres, 1km, 10 km and somewhere along the way the darned 21Km mark. When I was sad, and when I was angry, when I was hurt and I was tired, I ran. The thing was, no matter how I felt, I turned up… I ran.
It was easy to give up on running though. Despite the little and big joys in running, the pain in my shoulders, the ache in my legs made it easy to let go the will it took to run. Running was easier for some, running wasn’t for me.
I started this year determined to run. I ran my first 10km at the end of January, and I continue to run at Bangalore’s beautiful parks.
It is the easiest thing to forget to do, but I want to bring back my run, I want to keep at my run. Running reminds of everything that is hard to do- yet can be overcome. Running brings me to new faces, new places. Running pushes me. And finally, running reminds me of me. Who I am without the run.
A young, alone starter fighting to win. Always.
I spent much of last week at an old friend’s wedding; an old friend who used to be my best friend growing up, until we drifted apart. The celebrations were surreal. Old friends gathered in song, and dance, and laughter and recounting horror stories from growing up, that should have been forgotten. Anuj for one didn’t know that boxers weren’t shorts, and we all giggled over the story of how he turned up to college in his synthetic black boxers. Poonam’s old boyfriend stories came tumbling out of the closet. Everybody muses over the misadventures of her past, and how she’s the first among us to be happily married now. Pictures from shirt-signing day come up, our faces are scratched with sketch pens of all colours. We had not a care in the world.
Toasts are raised. Toasts are raised to old memories, and new ones, and a love that has traversed a decade, until they finally decided to get married. The parents we grew up with are less worried, more teary-eyed. The friends are still the same.
I cannot understand it. Life has turned for all of us, and yet life brings all of us as the last ones in the bridal room, the ones to stand by every minute of the ceremonies, as if nothing had changed. As if we are still in that slumber party we begged so much to be in when were thirteen, still on that late night phone call we sneaked when our parents had left the house, still the last ones to leave each others birthday parties, so not a moment was missed.
It was beautiful, it was unimagined. Life can be so painfully fast, people can so easily come and go, and yet life and people can stand so still.
I’m on a one-way to ticket to Bombay tomorrow, albeit only to resolve visa issues, but it’s something to think about. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a one-way ticket to anywhere, let alone home. It makes me mull over how terrifyingly hard it is sometimes to be away from home. It reminds me of my last one-way ticket home, the numbingly difficult drive to the airport with several friends sandwiched into a hatchback; we were all humming to leaving on a jet plane. As it turns out, I didn’t end up going back again, at least not for awhile, and certainly not how I hoped to.
My time back in Bombay was laced with a hint of resentment, the city welcomed me like she had let me go, with open arms, with several friends, and several pursuits. But, love had let me go. When I was twenty-three, I wanted desperately to step out into the world, and I found my feet in Gurgaon. Two years later, my seemingly perfect world came crashing down, and I booked a one-way ticket to the only place I knew I could, Bombay, home. She was relentless, but I couldn’t let go. I went onto fuel many a dream in Bombay, but my heart was not at home.
It has taken me another upheaval, and a year and a half in Bangalore to realize what I left behind. But mostly what Bombay had done for me, how the city forever healed me. In turning back to Bombay, I learned what home really is. In her streets, I learned to run. By her sea, I learned to be alone. And in trying to escape her, I learned to make my adult-self fall in love with traveling too.
There I was blaming her for everything that could not be fixed when really, Bombay had taught me everything I ever needed to always feel home.
Oh before the day is over, I want everyone to know I feel alive
And as all weighs I can know it cause I’ve been there once, I’ve been alone
And I needed to grow old
To figure out this world~ Grow Apart, Afrakite
If you have me on Facebook, you’ll see my profile picture is me, sunglasses tucked in, sitting on the street, smiling. Someone asked me the other day, “What are you doing sitting on the road, Gayatri?” It took me back in time, to Firenze.
Our hole in the wall hotel room, by the leather market; the Chinese restaurant round the corner. We snuck in for egg noodles, as soon as we checked in- we had spent days traversing Italy’s countryside and were starved for some semblance of home-food.
Our walk down to Piazza della Signoria remembered for where the Renaissance was born, where Michelangelo’s David’s statue is, and where artists now paint the streets, sell art in charcoal, play the violin; where art and music lingers, still. Runners run, and bicyclists cycle and children squeal over gelato, and love sits in street-side cafes, sipping wine.
It took me back in time to Firenze, Ponte Vecchio and the teenage boys playing ball as tourists looked on, to our first glance up at Basilica di Santa Croce, to Mercato Centrale, Firenze’s glorious food and local produce market. We never ran out of mushrooms. And pesto, and herbs, and rocket leaves, and fish just out of simmering oil, scones sunk in fresh cream.
Finally, it took me back to Palazzo Pitti, that moment in the picture, where we had stumbled into an impromptu Chinese church-choir playing in the streets; a crowd had gathered. Hundreds had found a spot to sit, some held hands, some took photographs, some sung along, some stood reluctantly in the corner of the street. Everyone gaped, at the beauty of the moment, the beauty of the music.
The beauty of stumbling into unplanned, simple happiness.
Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life– Anna Akhmatova
Firenze, the best of it.