The Day I Got Life Itself

That was yesterday. I was born 37 years ago to a woman who had accompanied her husband to the Middle-Eastern kingdom of Oman. In another culture which was alien to her, where the people sat for meals around gigantic metal trays and pulled chicken off bones — all in that one plate — to show that they care. Omanis inculcate intimacy through their meals. My mother told me that she found it a bit odd and often shrank from the prospect of eating from one plate with people she hardly knew. But I find the idea a bit nice. That the Omanis can and want to eat off one plate. Maybe it is the fact that something tugs at my heart when I think of my birthplace.

It was also a place where the men kiss and hug newborns without inhibitions — which put my mother off and she attributes the fact that I contracted some infection within a few days of being born to that propensity of my visitors. She had given up on me. ‘I asked my youngest brother (who used to work in Oman too) to take care of you while I slept for days with tiredness and depression.’ I carry the marks of it on my inner ankles. A star-shaped mark on each. Reminders of beating mortality early on when the doctors had to make two slits in them to insert saline drips. I think of them as birth marks because I do not think I have any other.

As I turned 37, I did not mind that this was a birthday where I went with my usual routine but the difference was the shower of love I was the recipient of. From friends and family through calls and messages all day long. Our niece who had celebrated her 9th birthday a day before cut a strawberry cake for the both of us in Seattle and sent me a cutesy video along with her brother.

Cheila’s Saramago postcard arrived just in time a night before like a wonderful precursor. Adi had already gifted me a cache of dresses. Then came two huge boxes of boots he had asked me to choose – a tan slouched boot with stilettos, which make my senses sigh with pure pleasure, and a dark taupe over-the-knee pair that also do the job pretty well.

I am not that fussed about gifts but these added a sparkle to the day as did the skeins of wool and crochet needles I gave myself along with a pile of old and new books. You should always gift yourself something or the other from time to time and on your birthday, why not, right? From me to me. I have so many books that say that, it is embarrassing. Someday when I leave this life and those books are possibly in some charity shop and picked up by a stranger, he/she would possibly think I was a nut job. And oh yes, I want to start learning to crochet. My mother would bawl here with laughter because how she tried to teach me knitting when I was a teen — but really, I had more important things to do than knit then. This is when I know I am 37.

Adi was working from home. From time to time he got up and hugged me with ‘Budday Gurl’ chirpings. He was feeling guilty but he has been burdened with work for some time now. Americans like to work hard. It is an admirable trait in this country even though it can cause you to burn out early.

In the evening, I went for a long, long run because it was crisp and cold, the park cleaners were out blowing leaves in big piles of gold and russet, and the squirrels had turned even more tubby than you would think it possible. I promise you this that they can hardly scamper with their earlier agility of summer. I have detected one of them whose tail has got left somewhere so that it is a sad little stub. I wonder what’s the story behind it. It is not everyday that you see tail-less squirrels after all.

During the course of the run, I stopped for a breath and a chat with a gruff old fisherman by the Hudson. He had just caught a sizeable striped bass from the Hudson. One of those beret wearing men, chewing on tobacco, and possibly thinking to himself, ‘Oh no, Chatty Cathy!’ But I am nothing if not persistent in the face of gruffness so he did give in and gifted me with a sentence. In the evening while Adi and I squabbled over Monopoly after a lovingly-rustled up dinner of cauliflower & leek soup and baked chicken steaks, the boy next door turned up with a birthday card and hugs. I was thrilled to bits. I had made coffee-flavoured dark chocolate with pumpkin seeds and pecans for his partner and him because the birthday cake I had made earlier on with blackberries and blueberries turned out scrumptious but when I slipped into the refrigerator to chill, the tall tower of mini cakes had toppled right over. Talk about whimpers.

Oh and I met a 3-month-old Boxer pup in my building called Luka twice over on my birthday and he refused to leave me each time till his master had to pick him up and leave. That was also a delightful gift.

That’s the long and short of it, my birthday as it was this year.

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Riding With the Storm Clouds

There is such beauty in transition. For example an exceedingly dreary day of rain and colourless skies can make way for a pretty sunset as it did today. The sun set in a flaming ball of fire way faster than I could pound across the pavement to get to it. This is the second time it has happened that it has given me the slip, within a week. I guess I have to time these runs better. But within the matter of a half hour, the skies had changed tune again. This time they graduated to a dirty grey pink that made way for a smoky blue.

The waters that had lapped gently against the mossy breakwaters in a rippling of sheet silver as if adapted to the change of tenor to a blackish-blue tinge. Usually I would have made my way home because it had turned stormy, oh but the hypnotic pull of the waters, the many twinkling lights of the port glittering like jewels against the inky backdrop and the thin strip of vibrant orange as if separating the river from the sky… The leaves of autumn that had arrived late in my part of the world started wafting towards me in fistfuls, glinting golden under the halogen of the street lights, twirling and pirouetting like fluid ballerinas. I was sold. I could not stop running under the stormy skies and the park was all mine apart from the tubby squirrels and a couple of dogs and their masters – the bearded terrier checking out the tiny pooch with perked-up ears and the stance of a tiny brave warrior.

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Notes from a Crisp & Cold Saturday

Last year we were standing under the star-ridden skies in Northampton. My in-laws were visiting and we had concluded a day in Blenheim by trundling to the Racecourse on a crisp and clear but chilly night. It was July 4. Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes. Guido Fawkes, the prop-up man who had failed to blow up the British Parliament on Nov 5th in the year 1605. The failure of that plot meant that the country celebrates it – the Gunpowder Plot – annually with bonfire and fireworks, mulled wine and hot chocolate, under starry skies.

The passage of time. Today we are sitting and watching Stranger Things, an American sci-fi show in America. I have developed frozen shoulders as a result of the show because I am thrilled and creeped out. We are hooked, okay? We watch it late into the night and I cannot wait to catch up with it the next day. A strange fever.

On a complete aside, I was out for a run on a windy cold evening and watched the waters of the Hudson transform into a sheet of molten silver from a distance. As I neared it, and Adi joined me later on, we were mesmerised by the silhouette of a solitary duck emerge with a big fish in its beak and scoff it within a second, just like we would a plate of scones. We watched it slowly drift away across the waters into the lavender-grey sky.

There are many squirrels out there in the park still. A lot of babes with their tiny bodies and sprightly personalities. The chill in the air seems to have made their tails bushier like they own their personalised coats of sable. One particular boy was busy in his alcove on a trunk. He watched us but he was not that bothered. There was the business of chomping which he did with great precision. About 40 chomps in a minute. Then he stretched his tubby body across the bark, hung off it with those tiny hind legs, and continued devouring his nut like a little yogi.

On another aside, this weekend’s instalment of my pre-birthday gift is a throw soft as butter, silver with undertones of beige showing through. Needless to say, I am thrilled. It is the build-up that makes it count. Here’s to November!

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It Was One of Those Days

It really was. The kinds you hold to the bosom and say, ‘Oh please do stay, for another day.’ I was indulging in a spot of self-pity which has the tendency to spread itself out like a dab of ink on blotting paper, you know, so I decided to kick it and head out for a run. The legs were a bit wobbly — was it the DayQuil I wondered. It is this medicine that is less potent than its night version, NyQuil, which knocks you out within one hour of popping it in. I trudged even on plain ground and when I ran up and down the gentle slopes I wanted to flop down on the grass with the sprightly squirrels. Naturally I took breaks in between because you have got to listen to the body after all. Yet it was a long run and it feels good now that I am back home, sipping on red wine to welcome Friday the right way, with fairy lights and Diane Lane on the telly.

There were dogs resting with their masters on benches along the river, a boxer who had done a good deal of walking up and down the hills because I ran past him twice, and then a labrador who demanded a cuddle. I had to hold myself back. It’s difficult business being a dog stalker. One little fella tried dragging his owner to a little enclosure where dogs are allowed to go crazy. But the man resisted because he was enjoying his smoke and he knelt and said something to him. I wanted to bop the man on his bald head. He held the poor thing back with all his might. Also, I wondered why they do need to have an enclosure for dogs in a huge park. Should they not be allowed the run of the entire park just like us all?

At one point as I was photographing the sight of the dreamy blue water gleaming across the park, I noticed a chubby squirrel chomping away. But he was watching me and he straightened up on his legs just like a meerkat does when he notices you. I decided to stay away and zoom in as always. Foodies are not to be disturbed in their serious quest for happiness, right?

The perfect end to the run was a cup of cappuccino which was just right. Not too hot, not too strong, for you know there is science to serving the perfect cappuccino. I could write reams upon it but I shall curb such alarming notions and just tell you that it was chased up by a flaming sunset and leaves collected in the fading light of it.

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Just Another Day

Cooking is such a labour of love. I prepped up the marinade for murgh malai kebabs, basically creamy (malai) melt-in-your-mouth chicken (murgh) kebabs, in the morning because Adi gets back home from Worcester tonight. After a long drive there is nothing that will make him happier than a hot home-cooked meal. He has been toiling away with Indo-Chinese and Thai restaurant meals which by the way he is thoroughly loving, but we have evolved from this couple who lived to eat out to the duo who like to rustle up most meals in the kitchen. You know what’s going into your body and all that. With illnesses in the family, the importance of eating well strikes home harder.

A dull day has progressed into a duller evening so I am watching the trees in the park nod gently while sniffling away. Yes, my immunity to flu is at an all-time low. From priding myself on not contracting a cold easily, this is the second time in two weeks that I have to deal with nostrils that have been chafed thoroughly. Going for a run has been tossed out of the window for the day. Instead it is time for more Diana Gabaldon and her Dragonfly in Amber novel with enough tea to drown my cold in. The woman is a genius. How on earth she conceived of Outlander without stepping anywhere near the Highlands is something that makes me wonder. Also it makes me want to kiss her fingertips. You simply cannot put her books down. Other than writing, I have been pottering around the apartment straightening things up, munching on salad and taking photos to calm the nerves. Fiddling with ornaments at home, it seems, is not a bad thing to keep you from going stir-crazy through creating some autumnal hygge.

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These Fleeting Days of Summer

Midday. I was standing on Broadway, the stretch on Bayonne where a row of ramshackle storefronts stands shoulder to shoulder. Old-timers from the look of it. Dry cleaners, pizza joints, a dental center or two, a bank… humdrum life passed by me. Then an old geezer flashed by on a Harley. One of those muscular, red breeds. Not the man, the bike, broad, low-slung and stylish. Its rider’s blond white moustache defied gravity in the face of momentum. It was all over his face not unlike bleached cotton candy (if it could glide in the air). Now I have seen all kinds of moustaches – the narrow, pointy and long Dali one, the broader Chevron, the spaghetti variety…but this was the stuff that legends are made of. I suppose if doormen of old hotels, with their plush Victorian whiskers, were asked to take over the roads on superbikes, they would look just so. Of course they would have to swap their livery for leather. You’ve got to respect tradition.

The humidity levels are abating and my hair feels better already. On early evenings, I find myself savouring sprints in the park. They are no longer a painful chore. Is autumn knocking on our doors already? It certainly feels like it as I jog down to the waterfront, the heart and feet pounding at tandem along the length of the wooden path that trails through marshy green acres by the mighty Hudson, long reeds swishing in the cool breeze of the evening. A solitary gull steps nimbly through tiny pools of water, peering intently into the shallow bed. It is a great stretch for birdwatchers, for warblers, herons, yellowlegs and egrets like to swoop in once in a while for their inspection of the scabby marshes. The turnpike bridge over the bay brings in a spot of the city in the backdrop but otherwise you might as well be in the boondocks. Nearby in wooden sheds, people have scribbled odd somethings.

I wonder if it is true – what they say about the park. At one point it had been a boat-building factory where PT boats (Patrol Torpedo boats which were torpedo-armed fast attack crafts used by the US Navy during WWII) were manufactured. There was supposed to have been an accident at the factory. A boat fell off its railings crushing two men. The daughter, of one of those unfortunate men, is said to roam the area calling out for daddy. It is a good thing that I wrap up my run before dusk falls.

It would be even better if I could manage to take Adi running there and he could encounter the young girl. He is such a braveheart. But no, that is not to be because my husband shall not be budged from his seat on the couch. Nowadays he is working from home, and in between work, sneaking in sessions of solving puzzles. We have been incredibly indolent this summer. Apart from the occasional jaunts into the city, we have been sitting at home, doing it up slowly, binging on TV shows, reading, tucking into popcorn and pizza, attending rooftop barbecues and meeting neighbours, guzzling bottles of wine and hunching over jigsaw puzzles apart from demolishing home-made cakes quite readily. A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. Who cares? Not Adi. He will have you know, if not through words, that he Shall Not Run because my man is a man of action, if I may say so.

I have been ripe for a disjointed summer ramble for some time now and this is my bit towards the end of summer musings along with some photos from Bayonne.

Toodle-oo.

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Finding Home: Because It isn’t a Place, It’s a Feeling

When I was younger, I would not have dreamt that I would get to live in different continents. Life is an extraordinary adventure if you come to think of it. Did you ever imagine that you would live the life you are living right now? If it has come through for you, just as you conceived it to be, then you have clearly thought it through and life is falling in line with your vision of it. For some like me, it is about change.

When I moved from India to the Blighty, the transition was seamless. I experienced zilch homesickness. I bounce back quickly, you see, from most situations in life. I had left behind my job as a journalist and a hoard of friends who were my lifeline and there were moments of disquiet, for who does not have them.  Yet I was hopping with excitement because Adi and I had been married for all of six months and we were all agog to set up our brand new home together in a new country. It took no time to find our groove.

“Grooves … hide in the local shops and faces that become familiar,” says Lyz. I could not have put it better.

Thus it is that I find this tremendous ache whenever I think of our life in Northampton. The crux of it lies in the people who cropped up in our daily lives. Adi is missing his colleagues, especially his friend S, who remarked upon our change with his own typical brand of humour: “Here you are changing entire countries. I need time getting used to a new shampoo.” This is the same gentleman who had travelled incessantly from London to Brighton, to and fro, after a Friday Night in town.

My points of weakness revolve around the people of Northampton. The grocers I chatted with every day at the fresh market, the bespectacled old grocer who hawked his wares and boomed out, “Good to see you, my laydy,” if we had missed seeing each other for a prolonged period of time. Then there was the woman who dished out spicy noodles from her kiosk at the market square, the concierges who sat at the entrance to our apartment block, the girl who ran with the weights on her back in the park and never forgot to mouth a hello or beam as we passed each other, the man at the golf store who always raised a hand when I ran past him daily to the park.

It is a dull ache now. But it is there. With time, I know it shall fade but I do not want to forget these people who made my life in Northampton that much better with just a smile and a word.

It is with the move to New Jersey that I discover the deal with change. That it can club you with a baton. But there is the recognition too that it is simultaneously opening up the senses to new possibilities. New places. New people. New sensibilities. New home. It is after all a new continent as Osyth points out in all her wisdom.

While nursing a heavy heart, as I think continuously of Northampton and now making the leap to this new world (which I know is the beginning of big and beautiful), I have been blessed by your many kind words and gestures. In her perfect party girl series, where she is featuring bloggers, one at a time, the lovely Cheila put up a post with words that moved me, as did Angela with her quirky take on a ‘Have you met Ted?’ series (ref: How I met Your Mother), through which she introduces her readers to bloggers.

So you all who leave me such wonderful words to sit and guzzle in moments of weakness (and in which I find as much as comfort as I find in a bowl of Chinese noodles), You are an intrinsic part of this feeling called Home.

Below are photographs from an old-world town in New Jersey called Bayonne. We have found our little nook here this town of erstwhile Native Americans, peopled subsequently by masses of Irish workers. The latter erected a beautiful church, a 19th century affair, that rears its head impressively and makes you think of those glorious European churches that you have left behind. On weekends they have a string of stalls set up alongside the church and it is grandly referred to as the flea market. Old men walking their dogs, a few blocks away, ask with some fervour, “Is the flea market any good?” You smile and reply, “Why indeed it is.”

Bayonne is modest. It is so small a town that a handful of eateries can be found on one street. A few salons and a quaint gentlemen’s barber shops can be spotted in the quest for coffee. The last led us to Robert’s Cafe where the smell of coffee doused our senses with its richness. It happened to be a roastery, and yes, I thank thee o god of coffee for this wonderful little discovery. No Starbucks (or Starsucks as a friend calls it) here.

Last Saturday afternoon, we sat in between its faded walls of peach, watched a few old and young people trickle in, as we sipped on gourmet cups of coffee. Our reward for choosing Bayonne as home was this and a slice of apple crumble cheesecake with dollops of whipped cream on the side.

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Clouds billowing above the quiet township of Bayonne

 

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A Catholic church that was built to accommodate the Irish folk who needed their bit of haven after moving countries.
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The view of Bayonne and immediately beyond the skyline of New York (on the left) from our building.
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The rooftop where I foresee many afternoons and evenings of reading.
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The park in front of our building makes my feet itch to get going already
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It is the kind of park where you can spot a determined little girl chasing a squirrel…
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…and then waiting patiently, at the foot of the tree, for the squirrel to plop into her tiny hands. Great expectations.
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Meet Apple Crumble Cheesecake. And I hum alongside, ‘The Winner Takes it All…’ because it makes you feel like one, somehow.