Coming home

“Guess who is home?” jumped a message on whatsapp from a friend who lives in Boston, having moved there a year back from Mumbai after her wedding.
The question confused me. Although I could discern that it meant that she was back in Mumbai, I couldn’t resist replying “But you were already home!”

Home. That place where you look out from. Where you go away from, come back to. That point of reference for everything. And when you lose that reference where do you stand?

You see, in our family we don’t know whether we’re coming or going – it’s all my grandmother’s fault. But, of course, the fault wasn’t hers at all: it lay in language. Every language assumes a centrality, a fixed and settled point to go away from and come back to, and what my grandmother was looking for was a word for a journey which was not a coming or a going at all; a journey that was a search for precisely that fixed point which permits the proper use of verbs of movement.

-Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines

I have always been intrigued by the idea of home, about the ability to shift it away to another country. To call that home, while still visiting the place you grew up in. Noting how things have changed, (how much traffic!!) convincing yourself that it is no longer what you called home and returning to the comfort of home.

I could never understand how a lot of my NRI friends could do that, could go away, develop roots in a different place and never return. It feels like you are going away from home and never returning. But I haven’t been able to get past the idea that there is no one fixed home. That it is not a concept that can’t be established somewhere else. You look for greener pastures, find something, you up and go, and put down your roots there. Like trees that could walk, or more recently like transplanted trees.

ಇರುವುದೆಲ್ಲವ ಬಿಟ್ಟು ಇರದುದರೆಡೆಗೆ ತುಡಿವುದೇ ಜೀವನ?

– Gopalakrishna Adiga

How does one reconcile the longing for greener pastures with the one for home? Are they conflicting instincts? Or things that occur in patterns, one after the other?

For long I felt that I was searching. I went out, tried two different continents, sometimes getting carried along by what seemed like winds outside my control. I walked the leafy roads, with sparrows chirping, of Melbourne. Experienced the cold and grey of Seattle with its distinct seasons. I eventually upped and came home. For a few years, I got asked the question “Why did you move back to India?” mainly from NRIs who wanted to fall one side or the other for good. I could only answer it as “I didn’t see a reason to stay on.” I never reconciled to calling anything else home. I was away, and one day I came back home.

And once back in Bangalore, I searched desperately for a home, to find a place where I could put down roots, and just be. 7 years on, I know I am where I want to be. The roots I put down take the form of a garden where I can grow things, in the form of bookshelves I fill up, in the form of the cat that can’t be transplanted anywhere – I stay where you’ll stay. Years of repeating patterns – the Honge tree, and its falling and growing leaves. The warblers, the shovelers, the starlings, the wagtails that turn up during winter. The Kacheris of summer. The monsoon rains, and the spiders and snails that come with them. Every year they repeat their patterns, their arrivals. Yes, in smaller numbers each year. But they’re there and I am here waiting for them every year. I am home. For now.

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Festivals and Long weekends

I am no fan of festivals, they always stress me out. There are things that need to do be done, like everyone does, and you sense judgement in the eyes of others in how well you’re doing them.

You start with washing your vehicles, and then learn that there is a specific set of ways to do that. For starters, “I don’t let anyone touch my car!” – Your car is a part of you. A scratch from another vehicle will set your blood boiling. Someone honking at you for driving slowly while talking on the phone will be taken personally. You don’t just own a car. Your car also owns you.

There are thus specific ways to wash a car. You don’t use water directly – you shampoo, you wax, you vacuum it. It’s a labour of love, not undertaken in a hurry or without a detailed plan. You plan and block time for it.

It’s been a few years since I gave up worrying about scratches. It’s also been a few years since I tried washing the car on my own. It’s easier to pay someone to do it, or just let the rains wash it. Clean the insides and be happy about it. The trouble used to start with step 1: Take a clean cloth. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t find a clean cloth. That needs maintenance and planning. Like cleaning up last time’s clean cloth before next use.

You use the cloth you can get your hands on, and wash it with water. After a while, it dries up and looks like you wiped the whole thing with a…. dirty cloth. It even shows the directions in which you moved your cloth. You can take an old newspaper and wipe the windshields to avoid this effect. It seemed like a perfectly good idea, and worked too. Then I got frowned at by folks for suggesting that aloud. I miss the good old days of the US and automated car washes. And powerful vacuum cleaners to pull everything out.

This year things got more complicated. The road surface was pulled out and there’s only cement powder and small stones piled up awaiting tar. This has meant that no matter how much you clean, in a while you’ll have a fine layer of cement on pretty much everything! And on top of that, it rained. And the BWSSB pipe below sprung a leak, and they fixed it, and closed it with wet mud all over, and then the leak sprung again from it. It’s been a perfect storm.

I finally decided to use a hose pipe. But how do you make the tap end of a hose pipe stick and not leak? You use a screwing device. Except that that can make a cut in the rubber of the holding part. After making my father sit and hold the pipe to the tap tightly, the pipe sprung a leak because of the pressure! Bring in another pipe. After much watery misadventures the job was finally accomplished. Easier to hose it down than rub it down. A lot of people seem to solve this by getting their new cars delivered for the festival. After all, it rains “easy EMIs, unlimited offers and assured gifts” during this time.

And this turned out to be the least of my worries. Festivals are also the time folks call each other and wish. And with some relatives it becomes a case of “Look what we did!”. One aunt going as far as “We had a grand function! I danced, my daughter-in-law danced! There was so much joy!” And my poor mother who believes every bullshit said to her kept commenting that their family is so happy, why can’t we be that way. It all ends up with looks directed at me. “If only you had… ” Well, if only everybody came with their bull shit meters properly calibrated.

And then of course, these are festive days, you are supposed to make sweets at home, even if people at home are diabetic. Just go give it to some neighbour or relative, no? Never mind if they also are diabetic, and you know that perfectly well. “Oh we just made it for Neivedhyam, but I am diabetic and can’t eat it, you know that.” The idea is this: If you’re diabetic, you don’t eat it, but you try to get those who are not into your camp. The more the merrier! Eventually every home’s sweets and payasams end up with the domestic helps. Definitely not betting on them eating everything.

And then comes the part about “long weekends”. “What are you doing for the long weekend?” “Ermm… nothing?”. Look of judgement. And from someone who isn’t going anywhere either. Apparently, you need to be hep and happening and do stuff for long weekends. And doing stuff is about trying to make bookings in places that are already heavily booked at 150% the usual price. Then sit in silk board-like traffic as it crawls on Mysore Road, or sit 45 mins in each of the never ending toll booths hoping and praying no asshole cuts the queue in front of you. Then you reach the place you booked to see it full with stressed out parents and their restless bawling kids who can’t for the life of them understand why they’ve been cut off from their iPads and TVs. It’s also the fag end of Monsoons, so you might have enough rain to keep you indoors – cue restless kids and on-the-edge parents all around you. Drive back, sit through toll booths, fight with forest guards for not letting your entitled arse through a forest at odd times. Go back to work and gloat about your ‘vacation’. Thanks, but no thanks. I have vacation days that I can use for this while most of the world is working.

This is also one of the reasons tourism is considered a cancer – people traveling en masse during specific days and descending on places that can’t support so much capacity.

I have never understood the craze for people to have to travel and be somewhere on long weekends. Yes, that’s the only time you get school holidays and all that. But honestly, an 8yo kid can afford to miss a day or two of school during normal days, no? The only good that it has done is that it has made an otherwise gridlocked city a paradise to be in. This is the time you get around, visit friends, relatives or shop.

But yes, the only time I really feel like getting out is during the next festival – Deepavali. That’s a whole new level of madness by itself! Oh dear God, only weeks left for that. Sigh.

 

 

A ‘good’ year, so far

I remember last June, how cloudy and rainy it was. Junes in Bangalore are not meant to be like that. You have cooler days after the heat of April and May, but it doesn’t get too cloudy. A spell or two of rain maybe, but the predominant factor is wind – June is meant to be windy in Bangalore. Last year, 2016, it wasn’t. Neither was July. They were cold and wet. We wore sweaters through some of the worst days of our lives, as we all struggled to recuperate from a severe bout of viral infection, not having anyone else to lean on, as everyone in the house was down. The papers recorded record rains – twice the average. KRS got to a 100 ft by the end of July. It was all hunky dory.

And then came August, supposedly one of the wettest months in Bangalore. It barely rained an inch and we looked at dry day after dry day. The monsoons had completely given up. September, the wettest month came and went. And the Kaveri riots came with it. Lack of rains had reduced the Kaveri to a trickle. By the end of the year, after the NE monsoons also failed, we were left counting every drop of the Kaveri, and figured we just had enough to last us till June 2017, only as drinking water. Continue reading “A ‘good’ year, so far”

Birds of Kenya (Maasai Mara stories – 6)

Am on to the 6th story of this! I guess patience would be wearing thin already. Well, this is going to be the last of the series. Normal programming will soon resume. Which is, hopefully, normal posts from me. I haven’t been doing too much of those, and I am using these stories to buff up some post numbers. Kind of obvious, isn’t it? Anyway here goes.

Ostrich:

The first bird that comes to mind when you think of Africa is probably the Ostrich. These are the largest birds on the planet. And you can’t help noticing that. They are big. And this is from someone who has seen emus and cassowaries. And their legs! They are really stout. You don’t want to be at the receiving end of any kicks from them!
Ostrich
As with birds the males are more colourful, in this case black with white tufts in the back. The females are a duller grey.
Ostrich, female Continue reading “Birds of Kenya (Maasai Mara stories – 6)”

Giraffes, Rhinos and other ungulates (Maasai Mara stories – 5)

One of the things that astounded us in Maasai Mara, East Africa in general, was the sheer number of herbivore species. We are used to seeing spotted deer as the main deer, some Sambar deer, Gaur herds and the odd barking deer. Kaziranga had more – swamp deer, hog deer and buffalo herds, but there were two to three species in total.

Here, we started with Thomson’s Gazelle, Impala, wildebeest, Zebra, Buffalo, Topi, Eland, Giraffe, Hardebeest and Grant’s Gazelle! The sheer number of Zebra and wildebeest we saw in 4 days would be much higher than the total number of spotted deer we’d have seen in 5 years. There were that many! Even as we were making our way back to Nairobi from Nakuru, they were there quietly grazing on the sidelines, next to the highway!

No matter how many of them you see, the ones that really fill you with awe are giraffe. You don’t come across such tall creatures everyday, and they are really tall. Although we say “Giraffe” and think it is one species, there are 4-9 of them. The range is because scientists know that there are 9 types of Giraffes, spread over 4 species for sure. There’s still some dispute over whether some of the other 5 types are subspecies or form their own species.

The two species we knew we could see were the Masai Giraffe and the Rothschild Giraffe. The Masai Giraffe have more star-like blotches instead of regular lines separating the darker patches. They are the largest of the giraffes and the tallest land mammals on the planet.
How tall am I?!

Continue reading “Giraffes, Rhinos and other ungulates (Maasai Mara stories – 5)”

Elephant Stories (Maasai Mara Stories – 4)

We really wanted to see a lot of elephants in Maasai Mara. They were one of my main draws. Bigger, heavier than Asian elephants, Savanna elephants are the largest and heaviest land animals on the planet! We expected to see a fair lot of them grazing, but came across them only thrice! We hoped to see more in Nakuru, but our guide categorically dismissed all such hopes – “No elephants in Nakuru.”

We went through two hours on the first evening without any sign of elephants. The next morning as we were starting on our all-day drive towards the Mara river, we saw a bunch of vehicles stopped on the road and folks in them looking into the distance. Turned out that there was a herd in the bush. It was a largish herd, with a massive matriarch.
Elephant herd
Elephant herd, calf shows up
Continue reading “Elephant Stories (Maasai Mara Stories – 4)”

Wildebeest Crossing (Maasai Mara stories – 3)

The main thing about Maasai Mara in July-August, which also defines its “peak season” is the presence of wildebeest. Given the heavy species count there, I did wonder what the presence of wildebeest adds. Turned out, it makes a lot of difference. They are there everywhere. The large presence of a prey species also brings out a lot more predators, and there are thus a lot more kills.
Wildebeest traffic

Their presence is so heavy, that you actually see a lot of carcasses and skulls strewn all over the landscape. There are wildebeest of all ages visible for you. Right from the newly born to the dead carcasses.
Wildebeest
Wildebeest carcass Continue reading “Wildebeest Crossing (Maasai Mara stories – 3)”

Lions and Vultures (Maasai Mara stories – 2)

Sighting of predators like tigers and leopards isn’t common in India. You are considered lucky to really spot one, and people like to tell stories of how many years they went before they saw their first Tiger. This was a similar expectation we had with Maasai Mara, but looking at the topography we thought we might be luckier.

Unlike our forests, Maasai Mara is mostly open ground with the odd tree and valleys between the undulating terrain which usually house some water holes and bushes, which is where the predators live, away from plain sight of their prey.
Eland herd
Continue reading “Lions and Vultures (Maasai Mara stories – 2)”

Cheetahs and Vultures (Maasai Mara stories – 1)

The concept of an all day safari was mouth watering. We were supposed to leave at 7:30 AM and return by 4:30 PM. That’s 9 hours of wildlife. Technically, that’s 8 hours of wildlife, as the road from the lodge to the gate is pretty bad and takes a good half hour one way with no sighting except cattle and sheep! The lodge had packed our lunch boxes which were to be eaten in the forest, and we had an early breakfast.

The drive goes on till the Mara river where you can see the famous crossing by Wildebeest. And if you are lucky, you might chance upon a crocodile or two attempting a hunt on crossing herds. The river is so far away that it takes a few hours to drive up there, and then the same amount back. Along the way you take a few digressions to catch more wildlife. It’s a lot of fun.

We started off with an elephant herd, a lot of Wildebeest herds running, or hanging around.
Elephant herd, calf shows up
Wildebeest traffic Continue reading “Cheetahs and Vultures (Maasai Mara stories – 1)”

A vacation that actually happened

A vacation happened, to Kenya. And am sitting here writing about it. After a lot of scuppered vacation plans – thrice to the same destination, costing me Rs. 50000, once to a local one costing Rs. 6600, and one halfway aborted trip which didn’t cost anything in money – this came as a major relief.

When it comes to vacations I worry about a lot of things – all that documentation that needs to be carried to either get a visa or arrange a visa (if you’re going to a Schengen country it becomes even worse – you need to submit your documents just a week before the trip and expect the passport to arrive in time!), all the bookings that need to be done before the trip – flights, hotels,  about things being OK at home – no one falling sick at the last minute, about your not falling sick – which was a sore point this trip, international issues – Trump and North Korea threatening each other wasn’t helping.

In this case the visa was easier, we opted to go the eVisa way and save carrying some cash. We had to get Yellow Fever shots and Polio drops, and this was done 3 weeks before the trip. Never mind that absolutely no one was interested in seeing them when getting back to India. The accommodation and vehicle were arranged stress free, but with a lot of emailing. Some money needed to be wired and that took some time and stress, but it was done. More people should use PayPal!

I started the week before the trip with some mild stomach irritation. A visit to a nearby elderly doctor and it was supposedly an infection, and I was on antibiotics for a couple of days. Once I realised that they were not working, I dropped by my Mother’s more expensive doctor. He raised an eyebrow at the antibiotics, said it was a case of dyspepsia, or just bad indigestion, asked me to watch what I eat, and prescribed some meds. This came less than 2 days before I was to be off.

How does one manage indigestion in a foreign country, that too when one is a vegetarian? Surprisingly, things became ok pretty fast. The food turned out to be mild, and well done. The hotel for the night we arrived turned out to be owned by an Indian with an Indian restaurant at the top. Thankfully, no hunting for different food before you crash. In the lodges in the forests,  the African vegetarian versions included some Maize cakes, called Ugali, with some “Kenyan Greens” which turned out to be our own Dantu soppu steamed with some onions and salt. Tasty as hell, and mild on the stomach too. Along with some carrots or “potatoes with herbs”. The main course was usually some Indian curry with some roti/chapathi and rice. Given that the guests were predominantly European/American, the food was done mildly and again, easy on the stomach.

The surprising thing, in fact a logical thing, was how they were getting their vegetables. Being hours away from a major city poses logistical problems. All these camps/lodges got around that by setting out a plot of land to grow their own vegetables. With the Masai nearby, cattle is aplenty and takes care of their dairy and meat needs.

So it was that after 5 days of a lot of fun, and the most amazing wildlife experience ever, we got back, and once back, the placated stomach started acting up all over again. Be thankful for small mercies I guess.

Will post stories and pictures next post.