My awesome image caption
  • 17
    Jun

    It has now been seven weeks since I slept in my own bed. Five of them absolutely wonderful, two of them rather stressful — seven very full weeks.

    As I think back, I realize that the single thing that set my recent five-week vacation apart from every other vacation I’ve taken is simply that this one wasn’t planned around places; it was planned around people. I didn’t make a to-do list; I made a to-meet list. Over the month of May and running into early June, I visited about 40 friends and acquaintances in 10 cities, and in the process was able to spend real, quality time with at least 20 close friends. In each city, I asked the person/ people I was visiting to take me to the places they love there, or I simply hung out at their homes and in the neighborhoods, catching up over walks, meals, and slumber parties. I experienced in this month so much love and warmth that it has made the last couple of weeks of caring for a very ill family member much easier than such an experience should be. People talk of safety nets; I feel like I am carrying one of those acrobat trampoline things in my stomach — the moment my heart starts to sink, it bounces against that trampoline and springs right back into action.

    They say that we make the beds we lie in. I am grateful, humbled, and proud this month to realize that the beds I’ve been making are warm and welcoming in the most important of ways. So let me tell you about these seven weeks by telling you about some of the beds I’ve been lying in.

    There was the clickety-clack futon in my aunt’s living room in New York City, where I spent so many nights during various family emergencies and celebrations during my grad school years — where a beautiful white cat sat on me every morning as a wake up call. There was the mattress on the floor of the American friend in Brooklyn, who hasn’t bought a bed yet because she moves to graduate school soon, and who has lived in India long enough not to hesitate to ask me to share her mattress for the night. There was the bed of the school friend in DC, who has lived in the USA long enough to need to ask if I mind sharing her bed, but who remains sibling enough for us to fight over the blankets in our sleep.

    There was the couch in the office where I used to work and where I will always be home enough to be able to go nap during a spare hour of a too-hectic day downtown. There was almost a bed in the house of one of my closest friends from poetry school in Brooklyn, but I’ll never know what that would have been like because my aunt threw a party that night, and said friend and I ended up reunioning over baking brownies in a toaster oven instead of having a slumber party.

    There was the futon in San Antonio where I spent Spring Break two years ago, catching my breath in the comfort of an old friendship, between the many episodes of illness and the deaths that punctuated my years in graduate school. There was the solid ground and open night sky of the Texan desert, sleeping bag on picnic blanket, with the moon and stars so bright they woke me up periodically.

    There was the wrought iron bed in the house of another high school friend in Los Angeles, where we slept less than we talked during my brief first visit of only 10 hours. There were the cushions and the sleeping bag on the floor of the spare room in the home of my favorite family — a former professor and his wife and daughter — where ocean sounds mix with distant highway traffic, and two beautiful dogs vie to shed hair all over you and your bedding. There was the Japanese fold out mattress in the graduate apartment of a close friend from college who says she’d cook and clean for anyone the way she does for me, but who nevertheless succeeds thereby in making me feel like a special guest. There was another night in the wrought iron bed, except the bed had by now moved to a new apartment, and we spent an hour after midnight literally making the bed we’d lie in.

    There was the 6-hour long bus journey to see another of my closest graduate school friends, during which I did most of the sleeping I didn’t do the previous night as we talked rather than slept in that newly remade wrought iron bed. There was this graduate school friend’s bed in an apartment full of loud, night-owl musicians, while he slept in someone else’s apartment. There was a bed covered in drapery in San Francisco where I napped after an eleven hour journey that could have taken just three hours. There was a couch by a window, with a view of the ocean and the most gorgeous light, in the home of an acquaintance who became a close friend while I stayed there. There was a spare bedroom in another house, this time in the UAE, where I recovered from jet lag and was offered four pillows and fell asleep to the crying of an old friend’s new baby.

    There was my mother’s bed with my own pillow, and my dog on the floor beside me, for one brief night as I transitioned from holiday-travel to family-emergency-travel. There was a mattress on the floor of an almost empty apartment belonging to a friend of my father’s, where my family and I processed his sudden illness. There was another mattress in the home of another friend who is an expert at making one feel safe when one stays with her during an emergency. There was the half-broken fake leather armchair in the waiting room of the ICU, where I spent many long hours, reading or napping or talking to my father’s family, whom I otherwise don’t see very often. There was the attendant’s bed in the hospital, where I napped while my father rested after his four bypasses, and where I will spend tonight.

    Soon, in another couple of days, there will be my own bed, at home. For many weeks, perhaps even months, to come. I have never looked forward to it so much. But I will also always look back with a smile at this summer spent in so many beds, homes, hearts. And I will always look forward to the opportunity to offer a bed in my own home to all of these people I am privileged to call my own.

     

  • 23
    Apr

    You enter the church, arm in arm with your father, scan the pews as you walk down the aisle. Our eyes meet briefly. You smile and mouth a silent thank you. I take a photo.

    Dressed in nine yards of silk and flowers in your hair, you are more woman than I have ever seen you.

    When you put on borrowed sunglasses at your wedding brunch, even though your friends say they make you look like a 60s movie gangster, you are again the girl I’ve known since we were fifteen.

    Image

    The girl who not only scarfed down the sociology teacher’s tiffin everyday well before lunch break, but who also convinced said teacher to bring your favorite foods to school. The girl whose notes, big round letters, headings meticulously underlined in ruler and black ink, saw me through exams during a year when I could not write. The girl who regularly arrived two hours late for brunch and made me forgive you.

    When I tell you at your sangeet that I just secured a publisher for my first book, you high five me, still-damp mehendi on both our hands. You announce my good news to a room full of strangers, and I promise to always remember these huge moments of both our lives in a happy continuum.

    A decade ago, we had all laughed when you won the school special award for abundant optimism. You had laughed the loudest. But today, your cheeks glow with a love of life so deep I am forced to revisit that memory, tweak it slightly.

    The first think you say to me on your wedding day: “I am the world’s most chilled out bride.”

    Later, you slip the ring onto your new husband’s wrong hand, and even the priest bursts out laughing. It is the first of the many small mess-ups that make your wedding so memorable.

    You ask me to hold your bouquet before you throw it to the other single women. Someone wonders if I will get lucky because I touched it before anyone had the chance to catch it.

    At the reception, your new husband introduces me to an old friend: “You’re in-laws of sorts now.”

    You message me from the airport as you leave for your honeymoon, telling me how you just burned your hand with hot coffee.

    I tell you simply that clumsiness becomes you.

  • 30
    Dec

    I spent this evening at the protest in Jantar Mantar, and it was a mix of so many emotions. As KS and I got there, our first impression was simply deep sadness at the way this protest has been completely hijacked by men with their own agendas… when we got there, there were maybe 20 men to each woman present, possibly more. Many were there to represent political parties, with their waving tricolors and their cries of “rahul gandhi hai hai” (umm, yeah, i don’t know).

    After spending a few moments at each of the noisy groups, we decided to go join one of the silent protests instead. Then we walked to each silent group and found all of the messaging too disturbing — it was mostly about hanging and castration for the culprits, with a generous sprinkling of the “tomorrow, it could be your sister… wake up and save women” variety. Not wanting to lend our presence to any of those groups and messages, we finally called up some folks who were going to join us later and asked them to bring us pens and paper so we could create our own messages.

    Then we came across one young woman who had been standing alone for a long time, holding a message about taking every act of violence against women seriously. We started talking to her and found that this college student had been standing there, protesting alone, for days now because she wanted to be there but did not want to associate with any of these groups. At last, a voice of sanity. We stuck around with her, lighting candles. When our pens and papers arrived, KS created a “I am not your mother, daughter, or sister… but you should still care” placard, and I created one that read “I am not here for vengeance; I am here for solidarity.” For a while, we (along with NB who had joined us by now) stood in one line, holding our placards and our candles.

    After a while, we decided to sit down in a semicircle, and then somehow, we started singing. Tu zinda hai, tu zindagi ki jeet par yakeen kar; agar kahin hai swarg toh utaar la zameen par (really rough translation: You are alive, believe in the victory of life; if there is a heaven somewhere, bring it down to earth) to begin with. Then several renditions in Hindi and English of We shall overcome, specifically the stanzas about “We are not afraid” and “we are not alone.” Then Itnee shakti hume de na data/ man ka vishwaas kamzor ho na (roughly: “Give us so much strength that the confidence in our hearts doesn’t weaken”). A few other songs too. The singing drew people’s attention to our little sit-in, and several people stopped by to light more candles or leave diyas in front of us.

    At some point, one man sat down in our group and started his “Down with Manmohan Singh” sloganeering. After some internal debate, I found the courage to politely inform him that his agenda was not ours, that our message was different from his, that I would rather he join one of the groups that shared his message and leave us to talk about solidarity and coming together. He looked surprised, but he agreed to leave us our space. We ended up being one of the only groups comprised mainly (actually only, except for some kids) of women.

    Other women and young children joined our singing. Every time one of the all-men political party kind of sloganeering groups would pass us with their chants, we would sing louder, work at drowning them out in our women’s and children’s chorus of we are not afraid, we are not alone, and we shall overcome, in Hindi and in English. I have never been part of such a powerful, joyful, obstinate sing-along.

    By the time we left, I felt so much better. I felt proud that we had, in some small way, taken back our space, our protest. Proud that, even as we mourn, we had been able to talk about hope, about moving forward, about fearlessness. Above all, I felt proud that we had been able to sing instead of being silenced.

  • 02
    Dec

    I have been at Sangam House for a week now, and since I am avoiding Facebook updates for this time, I thought a blog post was due. It feels like so much longer than a week, though — not in the “this is all so slow and boring” sense, but rather in the “you mean I haven’t known these people all my life?” sense.

    Everything about being here — the place, the people, the food, the dogs — has been magic. I came here feeling completely daunted by the task of pulling together any sort of manuscript… one week in, I have already completed two solid drafts of my manuscript, figured out a lot of the hardest stuff around sectioning and organizing, and come to a clear sense of what my next steps are — for this manuscript, and for at least 2 other writing projects. Just as importantly, it has been a week of so much laughter, so many stories, so much incredible conversation, and so many new friendships that it is hard to believe it has only been a week. Turns out the Sangam House isn’t only what my writing needed; it’s what my life needed just now.

    I will admit, though, that today is an odd day to be here. I awoke this morning to the realization that today is December 2nd — less than a week away from the wedding (in Delhi) of one of my closest friends from high school. It would be odd enough to be here rather than there for that wedding. But it’s so much odder because, as the universe would have it, he is getting married on the death anniversary of one of my closest friends from college. December 8 on my calendar is a day of quiet, of remembering. I don’t know how to process it also as a day of the celebration and the noise that is an Indian wedding. I simply can’t seem to reconcile the two. And how much odder still to be here, on this gorgeous little island away from all of the rest of my life, surrounded by people I thoroughly enjoy but who are unfamiliar with both of those parts of my life, during this week. I can sense I’m going to learn something important over the next few days, but I’m not yet sure what that will be.

    In happier news, I was able to bake brownies for everyone in a pressure cooker yesterday! Move over, ovens, a whole new world just opened up to me! 🙂

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