I think its about time that I spoke about my trip to Mumbai and my experience therewith. Amidst all the restaurant visits that I have been to over the past couple of weekends, and my recent joining with the gym (one of my nightmares), I have reached the last couple of days before my parents will return home from their vacation and life will be steadily back again.
Even though I had the shortest time in Mumbai (just two weeks), I did have 2 kinds of experiences – one, was a reunion with a college mate after 10 years, and the other which I regularly have – the nostalgic experiences. In this blog, I will be talking about the latter which gives me a different high altogether – the kind of feeling when you sneak up to an old lover by surprise, and catch their reaction, the sudden rush of emotions that only the two will understand despite life moving on for both of you. Mumbai gives me this same feeling, like a whiff of sea breeze, or the aroma of fresh coffee. The route to my home from the airport has always been the same, apart from a couple of flyovers and glass-windowed buildings nothing has changed. My building (the place where I was born) has undergone yet another renovation with fresh paint, fresh marble steps leading to the first floor, a shiny hand railing and a Name-stone at the entrance. One of my neighbors who sits in the veranda all day, greeted us in the usual fashion “Are you going or coming dear?”, Mom smiled and told her we were just arriving. We visit only once every year, and the first day involves a mammoth task of collecting the huge mail mixed with dead insects at the doorstep, cleaning the inch-thick dust heaps on the furniture, getting the geysers started for hot water, making sure all lights and fans are in working condition, washing the balconies and window grills and changing the curtains and bed linen. Mom starts off like a robot and chides us when we appear fatigued after the flight. Luckily we have a servant – Sonali who faithfully helps us each year at this time to get started.
A lot happened in the year 2003 that shaped the rest of my life – there was a huge family feud, the repercussions of which continue until today; I visited several places out of my suburbs at Mulund, I got close to people at Raboddi (a district of Mumbai that housed a whole colony of muslims), I invited my friends over several times at home, I prepared my best friend for an air-stewardess interview, I attended Accountancy tutions, I learnt to cook seemingly well, I had food-poisoning atleast once every month to the very annoyance of my tutor, I bunked college and was almost blacklisted for the exams, visited temples, failed an exam, had a deep crush on someone and never told him and finally – parted from my friends. I think being in the final year of my college motivated me into all of the above, and ofcourse my friends wanted to make the best of our last year together.
I remember arriving with a very heavy and nervous heart in the year 2001 with my Mom who helped me set up the apartment for my studies at college. My results from school at UAE were released far later than those in Mumbai and hence I was refused admission at several colleges. It was finally suggested that I apply for Government Quota: where the academic ministry decides your college admission after you have run out on all places that you ever intended to study. My letter came in 2 months later – a day after my 18th birthday and I rushed with my Dad to the appointed college which was a train stop away into the next district. The Institute was a run-down building, with several leaking pipes and a huge iron gate with a single gatekeeper refusing to admit anyone without a college ID. The other side of the building with its separate entrance operated as a Gujarati medium school. I was dressed in a casual T-shirt and midis, therefore attracting a lot of attention from the other students, who only knew Salwar Kameez to be the acceptable attire for girls. For the first time my Dad suggested I dress ‘like them’ for college and promptly arranged for the dresses to be stitched by a local tailor.
College resumed for me a week after my folks left leaving me very nervous. I wasn’t nervous about college, in fact I enjoyed my few hours there, but it was home that gave me the anxiety, as I was to live with my grandparents, whose mannerisms I wasn’t used to. Likewise, they felt the same about me. I met Brenda on the first day – it was the first and last time that day that I arrived an hour early so that I could find my seat and class without much confusion. My class was on the 5th floor, and without any elevator the foot long stone steps were considerably exhausting, which is why I thereafter never made it to the first lecture, and would be subsequently blacklisted for that subject. Brenda was a friendly girl, sweet, simple, talkative yet matured, beautiful and humble. We bonded immediately like we had known each other for years, and remain in touch until today. One of the freakiest events that happened that day was when my Kameez strings ripped apart on my way out of the college. Struggling with my now loosened pants, I rushed to the nearby toilet and tried to fix it. Full of anxiety, and unprepared for such a catastrophe I begged at the other girls to give me anything – a pin, string perhaps, but no one came to my rescue. Finally folding the pant into pleats and holding it in place with a hair clip (my only available tool at the time), I proceeded to take a rickshaw home fighting off desperate tears. Today, even though I stopped wearing Salwar Kameez, I learnt to carry a couple of safety pins for all kinds of wardrobe malfunctions.
We were a band of 4…actually 5 initially, but the fifth turned out to be kleptomaniac and thankfully was exposed by Brenda right after I complained that a cake was missing from my fridge after they had recently visited my apartment. From the 4, we keep in touch with Samantha, and the rest we have no contact whatsoever. We belonged to an era where cell phones were still a luxury, facebook was unheard of, and internet was heavily charged per hour and restricted to immobile PCs. Samantha was in a relationship with a boy from Raboddi – a muslim district, also known as mini-Pakistan. Our group further expanded into more boys – atleast 8 of them, one of whom I had a deep crush on, but never mentioned it to him.
One of the beauties of Mumbai nostalgics is relationships. In a non-electronic world, love can be very passionate, full of suspense, drama, ecstasy and fantasy. Love can happen anywhere in the midst of the city’s noise and pollution – in the trains, at the station, in the college canteen, at the bus stop, on the street. Love need not be expressed, the eyes would tell it all, and if the response was a smile then consider it ‘happening’. Lol, I know this sounds so cheesy but it was the love era of that time – it did not have to always involve physical factors; much could be said without much ado. Maybe I’m being ignorant but for me the best of relationships were those when you felt for the person, but after examining the frugalities of the union, you simply savored that person’s presence in silence and moved on. This wasn’t cowardice, nor old-school, but a very simple, non-violent way of another’s admiration.
I have a shelf in my study room that is filled with gifts that I received during the final year of my college. We were known to celebrate all kinds of occasions – from religious festivals to ‘days’ : friendship day, rose day, valentine’s day, and so on. The poor boys were required to flush their lady loves with all sorts of ‘sweet nothings’, whereby the latter would go around the college flouting it. I had one such person – Victor, who tried his best one occasion after another to impress me but I kept saying it would never work that way. The entire college thought we were an ‘item’, and maybe now I can shamelessly admit that I enjoyed and took advantage of his attention, but to me he was not the one that I could reciprocate any feelings. He was sweet, cute, the perfect lady’s charmer but somehow I could never open my heart in that way. I flouted his timely gifts all the same. My sights were upon Zoheb – the rustic, fanatic mob-maker who also lived in Raboddi. He was hated by most women – Muslims and non-Muslims alike for his deep fanaticism, orthodox views and loud opinions about what the ‘weaker sex’ ought to do. I’m not sure why I liked him, was it his bad boy image? or was it his sea green eyes that shone in his anger? For two years I had what was called a silent admiration for the boy, he did not even know my name then. Afterall I was not the type of girl to draw any attention with my oversized Salwar Kameez, gent’s slippers, bunched hair and matchless clothing (I was never in the mood to dress up at 5 am every morning).
For my birthday during the final year, I decided to give my girls and Victor a shocker. I woke up really early, put on my best hair, make-up and a new outfit, perfectly matched with a handbag and ladies’ slippers. Yes, the attention was from the college entrance itself, all the way upto class, and my girls greeted me with a (slightly embarrassing) loud WOW. It was also the first time that Zoheb took notice by fixing his eyes from the time I made the class entrance until I found my seat. I noted this and remember it until this day. Later at class break, he came over to us with the rest of the Raboddi boys and began asking me questions for the first time – where did I live in UAE? Where were my parents? How do I manage to stay here in Mumbai? etc. He was soft-spoken like as though temporarily forgetting his place as a fanatic and resuming himself as a normal boy on the onset of a deep and dangerous infatuation. He even asked for my cellphone number which he explained was ‘for forwarding some good jokes and quotes’ as and when he came across some. In the entire conversation he was cautious how he spoke, conscious of what I may feel, spoke telepathically at length with his eyes, and never once wished me Happy Birthday. The rest of the day was met with constant glances at me from his desk which was diagonally across the length of the class, but trying not to pin any hopes, I dispelled these to be those for someone else (maybe behind me perhaps). Nothing was said, there were no smiles, no goodbye at the end of the day, but just a minor miss call at dinner time. The ring didn’t last more than two seconds which left me wondering if he wanted me to call back or ignore it as wrongly dialed? The next morning at college there were no hellos, no conversations, just constant glances. “Nice”, I thought, “you really succeed in making a girl confused”.
Maybe we were both too proud, or maybe we both knew we couldn’t take this further, so we both continued in our little naughty game of catch-my-glance-today, soon the glances developed into smiles, smiles into soft hellos, and soft hellos into handshakes. Zoheb would watch at length, how Victor would come up every class break and sit beside me, or walk me to the station, or when he would gift me something on a college occasion. He never budged about expressing his feelings, but I could feel it strongly through those stares, and through his stubborn silence. He shied himself from any gathering, except if I invited him, where he would make a brief appearance and leave before the rest. So well did he hide his feelings, that no one, not even Brenda noticed what was going on between him and me, and at times it tempted me to believe that what I saw was probably just my imagination. On the day I was leaving, I had a mini farewell get together at the train station, which was my last train ride to college. Everyone including myself was very low, life would change especially for the girls and probably we would never see this group together again. After a lot of hugs and keep-in-touch promises, I parted, seeing Brenda teary-eyed as the train moved away. Zoheb wasn’t there which gave me a sinking feeling that I would never get to see those staring eyes again. The next morning, I packed and set out with my Mom to the airport. I latched the door of the apartment for the last time, relieved that the lonely days without my folks have finally ended, and at the same time sorrowful that I would be leaving behind a treasure group of friends and experiences. As we neared the airport, and just seconds before I could dispose my cell sim, Zoheb made a final call – this time the ring was long enough for me to pick up. He apologised for not making it to the farewell the previous day, and said he called to wish me luck and a lot of happiness. I wished him the same, and then he asked to speak to my mother. He spoke to Mom, and surprised me by saying a lot of good things about me, qualities me and my Mom never knew existed about me. Finally when I got the phone back, amazed how he could talk for so long, he only said to keep in touch, and that he will never forget my birthday. He ended the call by saying “I will miss you”.
Ten years have passed since that day, and a lot has changed now. Brenda is married to her college sweetheart and has two gorgeous kids. Samantha was married via arrangement. All the boys in Raboddi have been married as well, some very recently. Many of them are no longer friends among each other and don’t talk about the other either. Zoheb would call me occasionally, mostly on my birthday and soon that stopped as well. I heard that he is married and blessed with a daughter, his fanatic mannerisms ofcourse never changed. Victor still remains single, and has become a successful manager at an international firm in Bangalore. I have not met any of them, except Brenda and Sam just recently.
When going through my wardrobe I came upon my finely embroidered Salwar, the colors of which were faded and many threads were seaming apart. Mom suggested I give it away since it certainly would not fit me anymore, nor was it glamorous as when I had first worn it for Eid in my college final year. Like my birthday, I decided to get dressed up, and to prepare for the occasion I applied Henna to my hands upto the elbows. Samantha was the talented artist behind those designs. So desperate I was to get Zoheb into saying something, that I went all the way to Samantha’s house for the Henna, stayed on till late night till the design had dried up. I even lost my way to her house. On the day of Eid, all three of us girls went to Raboddi and enjoyed endless Sheer Kormas (specialty dessert prepared for guests during Eid) from one house to the next. Finally Zoheb joined us for a very brief moment, supposedly to greet another compatriot, and I caught his stare for that one split moment. This time I flashed a naughty smile, but he responded by turning away quickly. Immediately faced by another friend while he turned, Zoheb caught him in both hands and exclaimed spontaneously “You look splendid today!” much to the guy’s confusion and the amazement of many in that room. I was laughing uncontrollably at my partial success, and only he knew why. I gave the dress to our servant, who re-sewed it into 2 small dresses for her daughters. Life is like that, you need to learn to give back what you received, the memories will always stay much after the thing or the person is gone…sometimes perhaps for the best reasons.
I am so Ms. Sulken the Supreme….had another day of silent treatment between me and Mom, and there goes my weekend – entirely at home 😦 My fault all the way…I am a bad ice breaker…I always was.
Anyways, I didn’t entirely stay at home..I had to rush to work for an important task, and completed a few personal chores along the way back home. My weight is the same as I checked yesterday…not an ounce lost. This made me re-analyse the diet again. It seems that I had miscalculated my food intake – instead of consuming 250 grams of cooked rice, I have been eating atleast 400g, so in reality I was consuming 838 calories and burning just 315 calories! No wonder my weight stills stays the same of 80.7 kg over the past one week. I still haven’t figured out what is the next course of action as no restaurant in the area serves diet food unless I am willing to blow my budget. This would mean that I would have to cook some wraps or soups for myself…hmm, while this seems like a likely solution, after a while it would get nasty having to re-heat my food in a cockroach infested office microwave. My next alternative would be to have a large soup at Tim Hortons, followed by a salad wrap around 5pm to kill any possible hunger pangs. Along with some fruit juices in between meals so as to feel full and stay hydrated. This would cost me a max AED 19 per day, which is not so bad. Hope this works…I have a week ahead to check.
I love blogging now…ever since I changed the theme it feels so new like my own personal diary, it doesn’t matter that not many even read my blog, but I do feel this journey important enough to record. A couple of weeks ago my sister complained that there was no guy like Jaan left in this world. She’s apparently going through a rough patch with her own relationships, but who doesn’t? It didn’t come easy for me either. I still remember the day I met Jaan for the first time, there were several people who advised me against getting close to him. Reason? His religion / faith was different from mine. His personality, goodness and honesty was simply bypassed. “It wouldn’t work out anyway” was the ultimate explanation. Unfortunately I come from an era and society where religion lies the foundation for your choice of partner or risk having a failed marriage due to obvious irreconciliable differences and remain the butt of everyone’s jokes. Our culture also demands deep respect to our families and especially parents, so going against them was a very ugly social suicide. I still thought a friendship shouldn’t be so harmless (no I really wasn’t thinking that way secretly), and waited for time to tell me where it all lead. I had to keep everything secret. But over the course of these last 4 years and 6 months, I realised I’d be a fool to have left him just due to religious prejudices. When you can’t leave the guy, then the prejudice has to be re-examined. When all religions define the world as united brothers and sisters, and when all human beings are to be respected, why do these sentences dissolve at the time of a cross-cultural marriage? What are these differences that ‘break up’ a marriage? Can they be worked upon or discussed? This relationship not only matured my jaan in several aspects, but opened by eyes into the real meaning of being a Catholic and even more into the Spiritual dimension of my faith.
Its good to listen to others, as one may never know when the advice can save you from catastrophic circumstances. But even more important is to listen to your heart and outweigh the reasons why you should or should not take a step / decision. I don’t believe in blind, infatuous love. But if the love you have for a person is purely and solely for what he is to you and how much he respects everything you do, then hold on to that love, and pray that the rest may be shown to you through faith.
Such a sleepy day…
I really must work on my beauty sleep as these workouts drain the energy out of the next day. Yesterday’s training went particularly successful. I say so, because I intended to give up and take a cab / bus after every 20 mins, but pushed on. Had to force vision myself in my target weight, which seemed at that moment the only motivation factor.
The day went particularly eventful when I showed Mom the picture of a catholic classmate who finally tied the knot with her Hindu boyfriend. I must admit that I was looking for excuses to discuss the issue with my mom and this seemed liked an only, though rushed kind of way. Her reaction was quite upsetting, to my surprise. I had expected her by now, to be more open minded toward such events, but rather she came up with stomach-churning questions that I did not have convincing answers to. My classmate looked gorgeous in her Indian bridal wear and since there was no picture with her in a gown, mom assumed she did not solemnize her wedding vows in church. I asked her why that was so important to her, expecting her to signify the importance of a church or priestly blessing. But her response was however more focused upon the vows that the couple was required to make with regards to children upbringing, catholic rites & obligations. To her, the only reason why a mixed marriage should take place in a church was to ensure the Christian continuity. Even more was she visibly upset that I contested these obligations and reminded her that these were by now largely relaxed. The Catholic party in a mixed couple marriage is required to “do everything in his / her power” to raise the children as Catholic. She did not digest it too well and asked how I felt about it without any intention to get my explanation.
Unfortunately, our conversation was interrupted by my aunt’s consistent calls which took an hour of my mom’s time, leaving me disappointed and highly anxious.
I admit I am a tad too conscious about how this will turn out. But when I take time and meditate over the last 4 and half years, and how there’s been such a huge transition from where it all started both for mom as well as myself, I know I will be ok.
Fanaticism can be a dangerous education, as it can ruin your ability to think beyond horizons, creating a sense of fear if your wisdom blew off limits. Following any theology calls for looking at the roots from where it all started, the reasons for certain events or sayings, rather than the rules and obligations that were later created to organise it.