For You, Munchan

You made a mother out of me. You loved holding my finger in your mouth and biting it lightly as the vet gave you your vaccine shot. You loved coming out of a corner randomly to scratch me playfully and you loved scratching my hands so much that people almost thought I had an abusive boyfriend. True, these scratches caused pain, but they made me smile. Sitting on the second last bench during a Sanskrit class, I’d break into giggles thinking of you jumping up and chasing me around.

Taking you to the vet was an event. And yes, the vet said that no matter who hurt you, you just had to punish one and only one person- me. I remember being dejected. I remember thinking ‘my cat hates me’. Until one day the vet said that every cat has this unique relationship with one person. It is a love-hate relationship but by hurting you like this, they depict how they love you and take you for granted.

After that, every scratch became so damn important to me. You remember the first time I ever tried to get your fur shaved? I do. There’s a faint milky white line that runs on my wrist to remind me of that time. You got violent (no need to explain all the violence was targeted at me) and we sedated you. When you woke up, you just wanted to cuddle in my arms, pushing your wet nose into the eye of my elbow, to hide from the doctor.

I lost you. It was probably my fault. Only God knows what you were trying to do that Tuesday afternoon when you took that nasty fall. I can’t believe that you, the most agile thing of all, fell down 3 floors. I rushed to you, and like a mother knows her child’s pain, I knew you had broken something. As you tried to move, the pain got unbearable and you bit into my hand, the fiercest that you ever bit anybody in your whole life. That bite made me realise the magnitude of pain that you were bearing. I am proud of you. You didn’t give up. You, a 15-year-old Persian cat who could have succumbed to the shock, held on tight and tried your very best to live. The last six days of your life were immensely painful, but your 15 years with us were fulfilling, I’d like to believe. I tell myself that I don’t have to mourn your death. You lived a full, happy life. I mean, you ate fish flown down all the way from Malvan, cooked in a special recipe. You made sure that anyone coming back from an overseas trip brought back at least 5 kilos of the gourmet cat food they make there. You had a strong hold over every single person’s heart in the house, family and even extended family.

Dad brought you in our life to teach Nani and me a thing or two about love, responsibility and care. And in turn, you taught us how to live in your own way. Even in your death you taught me why one shouldn’t give up on the ones they love. And you made sure that I knew. I woke up that morning and I knew that this was it. As I held you in my arms for your visit to the vet, you let out that long sigh and I knew. Even as the vet fought to revive you and support your heart, I knew. But I couldn’t let go. I still can’t. I look ever so often in a corner of the room and think you’d be there enjoying the cool air-conditioned air (I loved how you forced us to leave the a/c on with that purr). I sometimes stare at the basket and think you might be napping there. I won’t let mom rewire the cane chair that you rightfully claimed as your scratching board. I can’t get myself to wash your hair brush off the few tufts of gray fur that stick on it. Yes, I hold on to every dear memory of yours. I know you’re gone, but I hold on to these tiny things. My heart holds onto you.

This morning, the last of that bite mark you gave me on my right hand disappeared. With it, I probably let go of another bit of you. All I have now is the light scar on my wrist from the time you made a mother out of me.
I agree I wasn’t the most responsible mother. I did put off visits to the vet and I chickened out of grooming you for the fear of your angry scratches. I wish I had braved them. Maybe I’d have more scars to treasure. Maybe… But for now, this scar I shall treasure. Rest in peace dear Munchan aka Mulayam aka Munnu aka Munya. And thank you for bringing so much love into our lives…

Never had the heart to post this. Today, a year after we lost her, I post this to remember her. We have two pets now who have a hold on our hearts but Mulayam is still missed and the void she left in our lives remains…


Traffic Wisdom

Note: this is not a rant

If there’s one thing my Mum taught me to do while driving, it was to use the indicator lights before changing lanes or turning. And often, using the signals, proves to be detrimental to my cause. Every time I indicate that I’m turning, the cars behind or next to me speed up to make sure they get ahead before I make my grand turn into their way. I mean what’s the point? Aren’t they supposed to give me way?

At this point my alter ego steps in. Calmly floating on the empty passenger seat, it says, ‘Life isn’t fair darling. Stop ranting.’

With my frustration and agitation I retort, ‘I know but I’m playing fair. I am telling them I want to turn left, but then they make an extra effort to make sure my transition is difficult.’

‘You play fair, but there’s no guarantee the others will. You’ll always meet people who will be curious to find out what your next move will be and they will be equally unfair and make sure that your transition to that next move will be hellish. Look at you, sure you had to wait for two cars to pass before you could get into the lane that you wanted, but did it stop you? No. You’re still where you wanted to be,’

I fall silent. My alter ego seems to be smarter than my real self! Why didn’t I ever make this connection? Reading my mind, the alter ego decides to add insult to injury and says, ‘Look at that scooter guy who swerved into your lane without a signal? Yeah, and see how you had to stop and slow down to make way? Life will throw such scooters in your way and you will have to find a way to deal with these unpredictable scooters unless you want crash and hurt yourself.’

Who would have thought a damn traffic jam would make me smarter? And who on earth would have thought that an alter ego could reinstate sanity?

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?

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?

Ghar Mil Gaya!

Day 5
5 am! Again I’m up before the sun. And I woke with sore calf muscles. The walking! The walking was not going to happen today. No no no. The only thing worse than achy breaky legs, is a hungry hungry stomach.
But until Nani woke up, it was just me, alone in bed, my iphone and twitter keeping me company. It sucks to use the iphone like an ipod touch! But what to do. Roaming will take me to bankruptcy faster than ever.

‘Nanu, don’t make me walk today no please! My feet hurt!’
‘Chill we won’t, but let’s handle the bank please.’

A lazy morning followed. Emails, photos, blogposts, phonecalls. Full on alshi (Marathi for lazy).
‘Call Juliana,’ ‘Did Juliana call?’ and a hajjar renditions of ‘julie julie’ happened. Nani wanted Juliana’s apartment, but knowing how awesome it was, I was damn scared someone else would lap it up.
A chittery chattery lunch and a bank appointment later, we settled back in the hotel. ‘We’ll celebrate the apartment with starbucks ka coffee, ok?’ nani is a good ‘badi behan’ material. Despite my ‘Yaay! Starbucks’ at every odd street-corner, we hadn’t found the time to get a cuppa yet. So Nani’s promise perked me up and how!

We got a few calls asking us how the beach was and we were to scared to admit that we had been uncool. We had been walking around to look for a home but we hadn’t seen the beach yet. Since we had zeroed down on the room, chalo beach bhi dekh le! Just at that point, Juliana called. The apartment was ours! Yaaaaay! Two Jumping Janes got out on the beach in utter delight of having completed the huge task on their list! We were not going to be homeless!
Add to that the delight of walking onto the ‘Shut up and Bounce’ beach! (If you don’t know already, i think John Abraham in this song is yummy…. See for yourself!) My eyes scouted the beach for a dash of yellow. Sigh. No yellow. But the blue green sea, total WIN. And that fab walk followed by a warm cup of Starbucks Signature Hot Chocolate with hazelnut and cream, it was a dream come true!

This is what good days are made of. And I can’t wait for Nani to move into her room and cook for her. Yeah yeah, I’m your typical elder sister. The kind, that totally fawns over the younger sister. Nani you better not complain!

Walk On: we took Bono too seriously!

Day 3:
Mondays are blue, but a different kind of a blue when you wake up in a new country and a completely new city.
Agenda was set. We were seeing 3 apartments, then checking out nani’s school and figuring out the city. Big tension. I don’t know where what is!

Well, I’d forgotten how exciting it is to discover every little corner of the city… To unravel the folds of the character that makes up a city, to create memories at little places or monuments and to slowly fall in love with it’s charm.

In the scorching heat, we lost our way. And in losing ourselves we found little things about South beach, Miami quite amusing.

So anyway. My sense of apartment scouting had gathered rust too. Nanchan made all the calls and scheduled meetings. The first apartment was a little room available 10 blocks from nanis school. We rang the bell and a south American man dressed in a lungi answers the door. Pictures of Ganpati Bappa, Shiva and Buddha greet us along with a wafting scent of agarbatti. Hello, we walked just 10 blocks, how did we end up in India? Apparently, the house was a yoga center with meditation rooms and a huge Radha Krishna idol. ‘we serve vegetarian prasad’ the dude announced. Alright, I looked at nani and we walked out.
She didn’t travel halfway across the globe to live in a wannabe Indian surrounding. So that’s where we said om shanti and moved to the next house. The next one was pretty. It had a courtyard, a good neighbourhood and boy, what floored nanchan was the cute lil fat cat! Nani loved it. Hell, I loved it. Having a nice roommate makes a huge difference too. And that’s why I thought this was a good option.
It was almost 4 and we hadn’t managed to find the time to eat. Snacking kept us going. Thank u mommy 🙂
The third apartment was our last stop.
‘i promise u, after seeing that apartment, we will eat, ok?’ nanya assured me. What, after walking 30 odd blocks through the day my feet were blistered and the stomach was hungry.

So we dragged ourselves down another 8 blocks to see the next one. The neighbourhood was dodgy, one of the roommates I thought was a junkie. Dude! I was worried. Nah, my little sister cannot live here. But I didn’t want to influence her decisions but nani almost agreed. Thank god!
What followed was the most satisfying meal I have ever eaten.

After all the walking, my spicy Italian sub tasted like heaven! Yummm… We walked another 10 blocks and made it back into our hotel room. Funny how a hotel room starts feeling cosy after 3 2 days! Nani took back to craigslisting and I crashed.

Another day, another city. At least we knew our avenues and streets… Sigh, being the older one and pretending to know your stuff is a tough act to pull. Wish me luck?