Woh 7 Weeks: End of a holiday

Past 7 weeks have been pure bliss; ups and downs included. Quality sister time, unique relationship insight (how I love my older friends!), a dash of disappointment, blistered feet, emptied bank balances, crazy credit card bills, tons of food, serving portions I can only dream of finishing, jeans feeling a bit too snug, not fretting about the weight, the beach, pride, inspiration and more than anything LOVE.

7 weeks have passed since I left Mumbai, all starry eyed. And now I shuttle out to Miami airport sobbing. Yeah, you heard me right. I am grateful for all the madness of the past 7 weeks. I sobbed because my sister (she never really was a baby sister) is independent and brave, far braver than I could ever be. Here I was leaving for India, why did it feel like I had forgotten something, someone? The truth is I was leaving behind a big chunk of my heart in Miami.
I hate that I am early at the airport (paranoid as I am, I am always early!) Check-in and security checks, all taken care of, I still have another two and a half hours to kill. I could either brood over how much I was going to miss my sister or see pictures and giggle with glee about the lovely times we had exploring her city with her, going to Disney world or while battling bed bugs (bed bugs was not fun but hey, I m trying to see the glass half full here!)
I could sit and smile about the fun times I had in New York with Roger, Baa and Tarlet. I could think about what an adventure it was discovering what I didn’t want from a relationship… There, I started again. So much happened on the past 7 weeks that I *almost* feel like a whole new person. Okay, I’m exaggerating but, I do feel like Shakti Salgaokar version 8.0.

I’ve fallen in love with solitude and lost my heart to a city. I love Paris, London and Barcelona. But New York, I think we are headed for a serious relationship and imagine the mess that’s going to be when Mumbai finds out!
And yet, I am back to the city I call home. Despite its pollution, dufus governance (the Frenchman working on Mumbai waste management project on my flight brought this to my notice) I love it. There’s so much this city can be if she got the right things to work with, and yet, she sits there, making the best of whatever she’s got. New York is like the sexy woman you want to be. She’s that woman who has the perfect life. A perfect career, she looks hot, so perfect that even her problems seem perfect. Someday, I’ll come back…

And yeah, on this trip I also achieved acute spiritual maturity (yeah, right!).  And I finally figured the prophecy of one my gurus, Mr. John Lennon: Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

I’m alright to go where life takes me. No more planning. No more superficial goals. Just one principle- have fun.
Btw, Air France: thank you for being a kill joy airline. The cranky me, agrees to go through the ordeal of 19 hours on a flight for two things. Nonstop movies and eating airline food like Charlie Chaplin (dad, u r genius in discovering that simile. Yes I don’t mind airline food. It helps passtime!). Yeh modern day air travel isn’t so bad because food apparently has gotten better and inflight entertainment is supposed to be awesome. Thanks air France for not having a personal screen on my first flight from Miami to Paris and a little note: Hindu non veg meal means a non-veg meal sans beef or pork. It doesn’t mean you serve me rice, veggies and chicken with garam masala tossed on it!

Anyway, the 8 hour ordeal ended at Charles de Gaulle. And look at me, merrily Bon jour and au revoiring people like I knew French, deliberately struggling to read things in French before giving up and settling for English. Whoa! I miss Nani. The last time I was at this airport, Nani and yours truly had flown in from Barcelona on a delayed flight and missed our connecting flight to London. The lady who reissued our boarding cards, issued a wrong one for Nanchan and I put up a classic performance, being the drama queen I am, and got Nani bumped up to business class.
Such funny incidents happen when me and Nani set off to explore the world. ‘Be nice to your siblings,’ is an underrated line from the Sunscreen Song. Love your siblings, pour your soul into them, because trust me, other than your parents they are the only people who know you, your past, your whims, your fancies, your strengths and weaknesses and yet love you like no one else will. My sibling is a part of me, a part of who I am and what I am. I realise this after years of sibling rivalry, friendship, arguments, fights and much more.

So yeah, Nano, this one’s for you. Love life so much that you can be a 70 year old who can tell tales of her life and amuse people by the sheer presence of life in them!
And in case u want assistance, who u gonna call?

Living a Dream

A day in the life of Shakti Salgaokar: The day that felt too good to be true. The day that was filmy.

A van pulls up in the building. Two girls walk out to the van and hug tight. One of them is dressed a little too much for Miami. Jeans, tshirt and woollen jacket get her some extra attention from people walking around. She hugs the girls in shorts again and nearly chokes up. ‘Have a happy Diwali, okay? And eat well, and don’t be out too late and…’
‘Enjoy NYC. Live it up and have fun okay?’

The girls part. She settles into the van and wipes a teardrop on her cheek. She wanted to see New York her whole life. And she had had daydreams about landing in New York. In those dreams, she always landed with her sister. But then she realised there was no point in fretting. She had to be grateful that she was about to see New York City.

She was early for her flight, so she settled into the lounge with a grande Café Mocha and a chocolate chip muffin. She tried to read her book, but couldn’t focus. A lot had happened around her and a lot is about to happen. Her trip to NYC is a lot more than just a vacation. It has an agenda to it. She has a gut feeling that her dreams are about to come true. She flips through the book: Spouse by Shobha De. A book about marriage and all that one needs to be prepared for. She laughs of many tips that the celebrity authoress dispenses in the book. ‘Why am I reading this?’ she asks herself.

She settles into her seat as soon as the aircraft boards. A window seat on the right, as instructed by her father, she rarely dismisses the father’s suggestions. She has heard about New York from friends, she’s had impressions about the city from movies, tv series and she has painted a mental picture of the city through the songs she’s grown up hearing. But her biggest influence in loving NYC before she’s even seen the face comes from the stories her dad has to tell. She loves seeing the way his eyes light up when he talks about the city. If nothing, she wants to see the city that is such a joy to the person she looks up to all the time.

She keeps staring out the window like a 5 year old who can’t wait for the car ride to end. She keeps staring at the ground below, scanning it to see if NYC is visible yet. And then the pilot announces that they’re ready to land. She sticks her nose to the window and peers. As they close in on the ground, her eyes start to light up. She sees them in a faint reflection on the window she’s stuck to. She smiles, she nearly jumps out of the seat when she realises she is finally going to see New York. And then, some flickering lights make her shriek with delight. Why, it’s Times Square.
She lands, she calls up the one person she wishes was sitting next to her on the plane.

‘Nani, I just landed!’ she says with a wide eyed grin. She knows, she knows its love at first sight, but yet she bounces about into a cab. And takes in the sight of every little thing… Thousands come to New York, why is she so thrilled? Because it was her dream!

I am so dreamy eyed about New York. I love walking the streets with a big smile. I love spending time with Raj and Pratibha and I love bonding with little Tara. I do miss Nani, but hey, we have our whole lives to see New York and many other cities.

Bonds and Memories

Day 13&14, Tuesday 1st&2nd October, 2009

I am sorry. I just can’t fit these two days in a blog post. It’s just so close to my heart, this trip. The story of these two days will be something me and Nani will pakao our grandkids with. Be it the Jurassic Park ride, or missing Ross Geller while reading dinosaur labels. Be it taking mad pictures next to the Cat in the Hat or be it getting drenched on the Popeye ride. Be it being kissed by Chip and Dale or be it riding on a Disney train to Mickey Mouse’s house. Be it taking a flight into Neverland or be it discovering a small small world or be it riding the Carousel of Progress. All these things are meant to be treasured in my heart, I wish I could write about it all but I can’t.

Another reason why I can’t write is that we never got to relish the after taste of the trip. Nani had really bad breakouts all over her body and soon, we discovered a bedbug infestation in Nani’s room. Hell followed. Her roommate wanted to leave the house, the lease was on her name, we found out the landlord was being chased by the FBI and then I wanted to leave the house. We had to wash and clean everything, our luggage, books, clothes, sheets. We had to bake all the books. (I know I love baking, but I never thought I would bake books, damn you, bed bugs!)We had to hunt for a house. And it was hell. My little sister was bitten up, her school had started, she didn’t have a home. And the big sister in me obviously was very very upset. Of course, Moody, NewYorker and Roger were constantly trying to tell me it will be okay and I knew it would be okay. Maybe I was overreacting, maybe I was being obsessive, but the truth is, I haven’t been this disturbed for eons.

We finally did find Nani another place. Everything is ok now as I gear up for my New York trip. But I do wake up at night and see Nani sleeping peacefully despite the red spots on her face, and I get teary eyed (yeah yeah very Nirupa Roy-esque I know!) Why should she suffer?

Disneyland was lovely and strengthened our sisters’ bond, true, but the bed bug issue and the entire upheaval made me realise that joy might bring you closer, but a crisis will test that closeness and strengthen the bond. It’s like the heat-test iron goes through to strengthen it.

Childhood Dreams: Priceless!

Day 12, Wednesday 30th September, 2009

The beach can only entertain you so much. There has to be something more done. Now, Disneyland is something we’ve been wanting to do, bachpan se and the cheapest deal also was going to cost us a bundle. It’s at times like these that I wish I’d chosen a profession that was far more lucrative than writing. Don’t get me wrong. I love being a writer. I love it, but it isn’t the place to be if you want to shower expensive holidays and gifts on yourself or others. However, i have done some chindigiri in my last job and I do have a little bit saved up for a rainy day.

That rainy day, I decided, was here. If the money you save doesn’t come handy in giving you some joy, what’s the use? I thought about the joy it would be to see Disney World with Nani, I thought about that chance to be two little girls we used to be again and I thought about all those dream plans of visiting Disneyland that we’d made as 15 and 11 yr olds. Well, quite like a dudette in a Master Card ad, I realised that I would have many opportunities to make money and fatten my bank balance (yeah, I’m being ambitious) but this chance to bring alive a childhood dream, it wasn’t coming back. So, I made a call and booked my tickets. Two days to Orlando, one day in Disney’s Magic Kingdom and another in Universal Studios’ Island of Adventure.

Meanwhile, we discovered that all the inhabitants of the house had been bitten by something. Me and Nani’s roommate not so much, but Nani and the roommate’s friend were really bitten up. We figured the fat cat had got in some ticks and hence the house was fumigated with a flea spray.

We tucked ourselves in at midnight to the excitement of an early morning trip to Orlando. I don’t know about Nani, but I felt the same excitement I’d feel the night before a school picnic to Esselworld. H how I missed feeling this excited! I knew  that the next two days were going to be $ well spent…

You, Me, Hum, Tum, Majja

Day 11, Tuesday 29th September, 2009

The fat cat stared me in my face. I woke expecting the purring to be the dainty Mulayam, but here was Tipper, in all his magnificence, staring me in the face to let him out. Damn, I should have been up two hours ago to make it on time for the walk. Dang. It was too sunny to go out now. So I busied myself with the writing. I was lagging behind in doing my daily posts to the blog and I was fast forgetting little things and what they made me think. Sometimes, I long for a Dictaphone. It’d be nice to record all my crazy ideas (yes, I love all my ideas)

The plan was to get a sushi take-out. But we decided to cook instead. On the menu: Chicken tandoori with boiled veggies and whole wheat bread. I had to make sure my sister was getting good nutrition while I was around.

And then something made me go yaay! Nani replied to me on twitter. She had finally started writing her blog. I have been after her forever to start writing a blog. I think she’s a fantastic writer, has an amazing sense of humor and a keen insight into human behaviour. And yeah, her theories can really get you thinking. I felt she had to write a blog. So, finally a brief twitter campaign later, Nani started her own blog (you can read it here).
I thought to myself, ‘Now I can read all about Nani’s life when I go back to Mumbai,’ and that’s it. The mood swung right back to the dumps.

Don’t get me wrong, I long to go home to my family, my home and my life, but the thought of that life with Nani so far away is a little overwhelming. Yes, I am missing my mom and dad and grandparents. I am missing PiWi, Snehu and I am missing the brother, the better friend and their idiosyncrasies. But then I start each day with Nani and end it with Nani. Yeah, call me an obsessive sister if you must, but I love falling asleep to random jabber with Nanchan and I love waking up a little annoyed with the mad songs she sets on her cellphone alarm. I guess, Mom and Dad will kick me on my backside, but yeah, Nani is like the missing jigsaw puzzle to my life.

I have said this before, but before she came into my life, I remember it being dull. At four, I threw a tantrum and acted up on the sibling rivalry, but Nani is the best thing that ever happened to me. And Mom and Dad, thank you ever so much. I feel grateful for the family we are and frankly, I love all the madness, highs and lows of being us.

I love it and if I had to, I’d do it all over again. Maybe, I’ll cut the sibling rivalry and useless rebellion out. Nah, throw it in. I think it strengthened our bond!

Rain On The Beach Isnt Such A Bitch

Day 10, Monday 28th September, 2009

My plans to wake up early and go walk on the beach were massive failures! I didn’t get out of bed until about 8.30 am. It was nice to wake up late, but Nani’s word from the day before rang in my head. “It’s recently gained weight, it’ll go off,”

What the hell? Why can’t I be one of those people who can eat what they want and still have a body to die for? I have asked myself that question a lot of times and it frustrates me. But gratitude is a better thing to feel. I feel glad to have lost all the weight that I have lost. With that thought I got out of bed and wondered what I wanted to eat for breakfast. Wow, some mood swings I have. Well that’s me!

Eggs sunny side up, toast and chai. Time for some chinwag. “I saw a whack dream! But it was so damn positive.” Nani announced. We haven’t spoken about this, but it is our unconscious ritual to share dreams. Back at home, Nani would seat herself at the corner seat on the dining table (I call it her throne) and I would be scurrying around in the kitchen for food (what’s new? Yeah I’m a hog, are you going to kill me?) And she will tell me what a weird dream she had or I will tell her about the filmy dream I saw. We’ll probably analyse why we’d have seen the dream in the first place and get on with one something in the paper or random stuff about our plans for the rest of the day.

So, in her Miami home (I like how it sounds like ‘Jennifer Aniston’s Miami mansion’) when she shared her dream with me, I felt like she had finally settled in. I loved her dream, just as much as it was about her it was about me. There were old dreams revisited and then we got on with the day.

Loading the dishwasher, getting the laundry done, cooking and in the middle of it all, I was chatting with my friends back home. We finished our writing, in addition to the chores and got out for a walk on the beach. It had just rained and the sun was out. But guess what, right in the middle of the beach, we saw approaching rain. I kid you not. We ran from it. It was like the rain was chasing after us. An empty shack, the two of us, and the rain.

“I should’ve brought an umbrella yaa!” Nani chuckled. We stayed in for almost half hour as the rain played hide n seek. Eventually, the sea, the weather and the girl dancing in the sea while swimming in the rain, stopped amusing us. We made a run for Starbucks in the slight drizzle. How we forget the magic that a cup of hot chocolate spins on a rainy day. As the warmth of the chocolate engulfs you in a tight hug, you don’t mind that it rained on your parade, now do you?
America is making me see the glass half full and that’s not such a bad thing, now is it? Speaking of glasses, my cup was empty, but I held it up and emptied the last drop in my mouth. I love doing that. And the sun was out. We went back on the sea and walked to our spot yet again. This time we perched ourselves up above the rocks and chit-chatted while the waves lapped up the sand on the clean shore.

I loved sitting right there and talking to my little sister. And how I loved gushing, ‘Yeh jo time hai na, yeh bahut acha time hai!’ a la Geet from Jab We Met. But it truly is. Someday, me and nani will be 60 and 64 respectively and we’ll sit on our armchairs and smile when we think of all the times we spent together. But I am sure there will be many more opportunities for us to create more memories. But until then, I’m giving this trip my 100 percent. It is special for Nani and it is special for me.

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Day 9, Sunday 27th September, 2009

Sundays are meant to be lazy. But today was going to be anything but lazy. We woke up and wished each other happy Dussra. “Arey yesterday papa said na, it was Navami? Today is Dussra. Let’s be veg!” Yes, my brilliant idea.
So no eggs, just some sev and a slice of bread. My mom and my uncle (mom’s brother) love this combo. And me and Nani, like we always do, have inherited a taste for it too. A soft slice of fresh bread with the crunchy sev can create magic. And suddenly we realised, yesterday, when Papa told us it was Navami, it was already tomorrow in India. Complex? Yeah that’s why we got confused. It was still Navami and we were just starting on it. No point celebrating Dussra a day in advance now, is there? I was mortified though. My family prides on telling the world what tithi falls when and I actually ended up celebrating Dussra a day in advance? Bad Shakti, very bad Shakti!

Anyway, too proud to go non-veg we stuck to our (vegetarian) guns. Veg biryani and dal fry. Fail again. I might be a good baker, but when it comes to Indian food, I pretty much suck. The dal was ‘fikki’ and the biryani was, well just about edible. “3 hours! We took 3 hours to make this!” Nani yelled at me. “Your gas stove took one hour to heat up, meri galti nai hai ok!”

Yeah, friction and all. Obviously, right after lunch, we thought was a good time to get some Starbucks into us. A delightful treat we allow ourselves everyday (yeah I’m obsessed!)
While walked on the beach, for the first time, truly carefree, Nani made a random comment. “You think I also look a little broader than usual?”
“No. Wait, what do u mean also?”
“You’re looking a little, umm, chubby. Maybe, it’s just water retention.” It was too late!
I was counting all the bagels, cream cheese and muffins and trying to figure out if they had indeed made themselves at home on my thighs or hips. This observation was done by careful inspecting my own reflection in every passing store window.
“No don’t worry, it’s all recent weight, it will come off quickly.”

I was full psyched out (Pannu, I saw you roll your eyes!) I made Nani walk an extra 20 minutes. In that extra walking we discovered a spot. A little rock thingy by the beach made for an ideal seat to rest our tired arses. Random conversation followed. This is what I love about my time with Nani, we never run out of things to talk about. Lifestyle, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Kotler, parents, music, Mumbai, Mulayam, we can go on forever.

While Nani jabbered with her classmate who called, I wondered, do we have so much to talk about because we spent these last 21 years together? Do we have these common grounds because we live in the same house, see (almost) the same films, television etc.

And then the super fertile mind went in the alert zone. If the above hypotheses were true, would that change now that she was living in the US? I know she loves the US, and I know that she might be away for two-three years easily. Will we drift apart? *Gulp*

Yes, true, I lived away from home for a year and a half and we sisters only grew closer, but this time it was different. She was a student back then. Both of us had enough time on our hands to chat, email and talk. When I go back, I’ll be back to working full on (I can’t help it, ok?) and she will be slogging her arse (I love the way the Brits say it :P) off to make a kickass portfolio during her time at the school. Will we find the time to keep the bond as strong?

When we walked back, I walked a little faster to kick some fat off (God bless Nani’s metabolism) and I got busy wondering. But every 3 minutes, I would stop and look behind, to check if Nani was there. I don’t know why, but I found some lame symbolism in this stopping and looking. I told myself rather, I promised myself that I would make the effort. I would make sure I made that extra effort to look behind every once in a while to make sure my kid sister was ok. And one day, I would find her back again in the same city if not the same house, sharing quality time yet again. Until then, I can always visit Miami, you don’t mind na, Nani?

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