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!

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?

Friday, I’m in love!

Day 7, Friday 25th September, 2009
Location: Miami
A girl lying in a comfortable bed in a hotel room wakes up. She reaches for the mobile phone and gets sulky. Its 5 am and she doesn’t want to be up so early. She tries to sleep, but she is tempted to check her email. She reaches for the phone and opens gmail. Her inbox is full of social networking news. Facebook, twitter etc. and then her eyes stop at a name. She grits her teeth and opens the email. You can tell from her face that she’s expecting good news.
Subject: Book Proposal
The slow wifi loads the email and the smile disappears from her face. Shock. She magnifies the email, rubs her eyes and reads it again and drops the phone. *cut to the phone screen* “We’re sorry to inform you that though we enjoyed reading your book, it does not fit into our current plans,” and the cell-phone screen blacks out. She winces… She wants to cry but she holds her ground. She can’t call her best friend. She can’t talk to anyone, because her little sister is asleep in the bed next to her.
She tweets, to keep herself sane. But she can’t stop feeling terrible. She realises she can’t handle rejections. So she opens her suitcases and repacks everything. She showers elaborately, spending extra time cleaning between toes and fingers. She dresses herself. Shorts and a t-shirt, perfect attire to comfortably handle big suitcases that she has to move into her sister’s newly found apartment. She wakes her younger sister up and helps the sister pack.
“I don’t want to spoil your morning. But I need to tell you something,”
The sister looks up at her, taking her attention away from the suitcase she’s stuffing some clothes into.
“My book. The editors from the publishing house emailed. They rejected it.”
“Damn!”
And then the sister gives a calculated response. “Its ok, yaa, happens to everyone.”
The sister didn’t make a big deal about it and went back to packing, retelling random family anecdotes.
*cut to the breakfast table*
The two sisters are spreading cream cheese on their toasted bagels as they sip raspberry juice.  The phone rings. The girls answer. They talk to their family. She doesn’t tell them about the email, but almost chokes up when the grandfather says to her, ‘write something every day, without fail!’
“They have some instinct of identifying what’s going on and fixing it, don’t they?” the sister asks as she bites into her bagel. The older sister nods and let a tear slip out.
“I don’t know why you are so cranky about it. Feel bad about it and do something to fix it. Crying or being cranky won’t help, you know,”
She looks at her younger sister and wonders… When did she become so big, when did she become so matured? And the realisation strikes, she’s always been like this. Myabe she should have been the younger sister… Her younger sister was full on older sister material.

Yeah, these posts are supposed to be about Nani, but I couldn’t help but wallow in some self-pity. As usual, Nani gave me the much needed kick on the backside and got me up and about. We cheated a cabbie into believing we were going to the airport by loading our 6 suitcases and imagine his horror when we told him to drive us four blocks. His world crashed, but we got our job done.

Unpacking and stacking things in the bare room, Nani gave it her touch. By evening, the room looked spiffy, still strewn with suitcases but you know what I mean. We celebrated with a doner kebab sandwich and headed straight to the Apple Store.

Nani gets a MacBook Pro! Whoa! Of course, as usual, the big sister tried to take charge and talk to Amil, the specialist at the Apple store, but Nani got the hang of things, picked her MacBook Pro, picked the software she needed and viola, she owned her very first Lappy! Congrats, little sister. You’re never going back to a PC again.

So today could have been the day I got rejected by a publisher. But I decided to make it the day Nani got her own apartment and her very first MacBook Pro. Tomorrow? Tomorrow will be a brand new day! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

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.’
Okay.

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!