A few years ago, when my Dad passed away, and my mom was clearing out some old stuff, she chanced upon a bundle of letters that I had written to my parents, when I was in my twenties and working in London.
She had preserved them carefully, organized by date; each letter safely tucked in its original envelope. The envelopes had frayed edges, where my parents would have opened or torn them to get to my letters.
A few days later, when I visited my mom, she asked me if I wanted to keep the letters, because they were filled with my everyday observations of London (one of my favourite cities), to my dreams and aspirations, and lots of photos and humourous observations. Of course, every letter was an outpouring of love to my parents, my aunt, my sisters and to my adorable niece, who was 2 months old then.
I took the letters with me, and sat down to read them. I must have had lots of time, especially in winter, for no letter was shorter than 14 pages!
Through those letters, I relived my life in its twenties. I could see that young woman, with so many dreams and aspirations, looking at her future and its immense possibilities.
I loved reliving London, with its tube stations, and the weather, and the long walks I often took. I remembered the scones and jacket potatoes. I remember how many books I read on my trips in the tube. I learnt so many, many things. I travelled, I walked and I read.
I fast forward to the now. How have I changed? Lots of things are still the same, but I have mellowed. I am a wife now, a mom now. My priorities are quite different.
Many of those dreams are still inside, waiting to be realized, maybe after the kids go to university.
Life was independence, fun, young and filled with lots of possibilities ‘then’.
Life is dependence, love, ageing and filled with dreams and possibilities for the family ‘now’.
Different phases, both beautiful. Wouldn’t trade either.
Today’s featured dolls are from The Masai Maara Tribe in Kenya, Africa, from our trip there.
We visited the Masai Village on our trip to Kenya, a couple of years back. These dolls are from there.
We spent a fascinating afternoon learning about the Masai Tribe, that has lived in Africa for centuries. Their culture runs wide and deep, and is steeped in a lot of beliefs.
The Masai live in settlements called ‘Manyatas’ or villages. The village is surrounded by a bramble bush and stick fence to protect the tribe from wild animals.
The Masai men performed a welcome dance for us and crowned each of us in turns, with a top-hat made of lion skin.
The Masai have stopped hunting wild animals, as hunting is banned in Kenya. However, they do kill the odd wild animal, if their cattle or tribesmen are threatened.
The Masai guide ‘Philip’ wore a chain that had a lion tooth pendant. He claimed to have killed a lion; the pendant was a souvenier.
The guide spoke good English, the result of a drive by the government to make education mandatory.
The Masai are mainly cowherds, and each village has sheep, goats and cows. The village we visited had 67 tribe members and over 300 cattle. The central village enclosure is where the cattle stay at night. The place is filled with cattle manure, used extensively by the Masai.
Men mainly graze cattle, build fences and protect the village, while women fetch water, cook food, build and repair the house, care for the children, and make jewelry.
Polygamy is an accepted practice, with a man having about 6 wives. The man pays a dowry to win his woman – 10 cows per woman.
The main diet of the Masai include milk, blood and meat. Their main tools are the sword, the spear and poisoned arrows.
The Masai houses we visited were made up of tree branches and cow dung. The houses are tiny and have areas earmarked for various activities.
The houses have a small opening to sky to let light in. At night, they use a kerosene bottle lamp.
The Masai make fire using the branches of the olive and acacia trees. It was amazing to watch.
After this, we were taken to the village handicraft exhibition, where we bought these dolls and some lovely bracelets and chains.
A piece of another culture added to my Golu through these dolls. So many memories here!
My friend and I recently took a domestic flight in India, to attend the silver wedding anniversary celebrations of one of our very dear friends.
Each of us had checked-in a small suitcase. The flight was a short one, and before we knew it, we were at the luggage carousel, waiting for our bags to arrive.
Mine was one of the first few to arrive. Fifteen minutes later, my friend was still waiting for her bag. By then, most people had taken their bags and left the airport.
We barely noticed all this, as we chatted on. My friend had her eye on the carousel, but there was no sign of her suitcase. It took us a while to realize that we were the only ones left and that there was only one black suitcase going around on the carousel. My friend was really worried and we started talking about how we would register a complaint. The more worrying part was that the clothes for the party were gone now.
As we walked towards the customer service counter, it suddenly hit my friend that the black suitcase was actually hers. She had started packing in a red suitcase , but had shifted to the black one later. But the image of the red suitcase had stayed with her!
So, looking sheepish, she ran and picked up her suitcase. We had a good laugh!
So, after a month-long holiday we are back home – with huge suitcases and many, many bags of crazy shopping, great memories and thousands of photographs.
We lug all the bags up the lift. When we finally turn the key in the lock, that wonderful smell of ‘home’ makes us close our eyes in bliss. Yay, we are home!
We are a little weary from all the travelling, eating, shopping and over eating. We are jet-lagged, and like electric bulbs going off, the children drop-off into nodland.
I open the windows and let fresh air breeze through the house. I take a few more deep breaths of ‘home’.
I smell my favourite cypress freshner, a little bit of the prayer incense and the fragrance of our home, that is so unique to it – made up of all the things that are in it and that make it what it is.
There’a a bit of ‘weary’ in me as I mull over all the things I will have to do, starting from cleaning the house and stocking-up on supplies, and changing the sheets and getting ready for school and holiday homework and the hundreds of small things that will need doing.
This is the flip-side of the ‘being away the whole month’ coin.
And the unpacking! How could I forget that!
But, believe me, it feels great to be back, and to sit on the couch and dream about the holiday.
My eyes droop but I cannot indulge myself – here, at home, the buck stops with me. I need a super-size caffeine shot to get me going. I make myself some extra-strong filter coffee. I amble back to the couch.
I relish every drop as long as I can, for I know that the moment the coffee mug gets empty, I’m on duty………till the next holiday.
We are in Siem Reap, Cambodia, drinking in the beauty of a thousand years. As we ride on the tuk-tuk from one ancient temple to another, a feeling of timelessness grips me.
The volcanic rocks that the temples are built from, stand proud and tall, one above the other, rising into the skies, majestic and filled with exquisite detailing and engraving. The Sun beats down on us mercilessly. The same Sun that beat down on the stone carvers a thousand years ago.
Some of these temples are being renovated. Some others are partly disintegrated, with huge slabs fallen in sudden piles, now here, now there, as we stroll across, taking in the legends and stories that are showcased on the walls; and imagining our own stories about the craftsmen and their craft.
We take a breather after the long walk around Angkor Wat. We sit close to a long wall. The grandeur of the temple has to be seen to be believed. I cannot put down in words the various emotions that surge through me. As we stretch our legs and fan ourselves with our caps, tour-guides come in with groups of tourists from around the world.
The wall behind us has elaborate carvings from one of India’s greatest epics – The Mahabharatha. Earlier in the day, when our guide showed us these panels, we were awestruck! Awestruck by the fact that the stories we grew up reading, had been so beautifully frozen on stone, a thousand years ago, in a country far away from India.
Japanese and Korean guides explain the Mahabharatha in rapid bursts, to their tour groups, who nod their head in understanding. I catch a familiar word here and there. It feels good. That feeling of timelessness envelopes me over and over again.
“We are all connected, in some way, at some place, at some point in time maybe in the past or maybe in the future.”
The afternoon is spent at the Ta Prohm Temple. As we walk around, we see the long tentacle-like roots of the silk-cotton, and strangler-fig trees. The roots have taken over the temple. In some places, the roots look like they are embracing the temple, while in some others they look like they are taking back the temple into their womb, to hand them over to Mother Earth.
Our guide points out to a small ‘apsara’ (celestial damsel of great beauty), who is almost hidden by the roots of a tree. She peeps through the roots, smiling at humanity, as she will very soon be engulfed by this tree. One last smile, till time takes over another bit of history.
Our group of eight is flying from Nairobi to Oman, with a changeover at Abu Dhabi.
We have a two-hour gap for the changeover. Our flight from Nairobi takes off after a one-hour-fifteen-minute delay. We are not overly worried, we can still make it, we reassure ourselves. Pilots do make up for lost time, at least some part of it, we discuss.
The post-holiday weariness is evident in all our eyes. The energy we traveled with, the endless photographs we took, the curios we picked up, the local flavours that we experienced and wondered at, all these seem so far away now, though we’ve just wrapped up a wonderful holiday.
We board, and sleep on the long flight, a dreamless sleep of fatigue, punctuated by in-flight meals that our tired bodies require.
We land, and anxiety hits us as we have only about 40 minutes left to disembark, and board the next flight . But, we are going to take on this challenge, yes, we are.
There are a few passengers sharing our plight as we make a beeline for the exit. We charge out and run, our sleepy legs jolted awake with cruelty. Our razor sharp eyes blindly follow the transit boards.
Eight people racing, up escalators, down others, running on travellators, with duty free shops and boarding gates whizzing past. We are close, ten more minutes left. There is a long corridor stretching ahead and we run, run, run.
We are sure that when the ground staff see us, they will hold the flight.
Just as we turn a bend, a member of the ground staff from the airline waits for us, waving.
Relief pours out in rivulets of sweat as we run with a sense of purpose now.
When we reach him, he says, “Are you taking Flight so and so to Oman?”
Eight heads nod vigorously.
“Relax! The boarding gate is closed, and the flight is taxiing on the runway readying for take off. We are putting you on the earliest available flight, which is at 2.45 a.m tomorrow. Just another five hours”, he says.
We just broke some Olympic records in sprinting there! Eight indignant faces stare back at him, gasping for air.
We resign ourselves and settle down for the long wait. The laughter comes much later, as we recollect our sprint through the airport.
A couple of years ago, I went back to my hometown, after nearly 15 years. I hadn’t really gone back all those years, as our big joint family had moved out to different cities; to universities, jobs, marriages and kids, and there was really nobody to go back to.
But I wanted to share the magic of my childhood with my children – better late than never, I thought. I was very excited as my husband and children were going to see my beautiful town that nestles in the hills, with me.
As we drove up the snaky roads with their hair-pin bends (that’s what they are called), the stale air of the city was replaced by the crisp,fresh and cold air of the hills. The smells of eucalyptus and cypress trees invigorated us.
It was a grey, bitterly cold day, when we finally reached. I first took them to the hospital where I was born, to my favourite bakery where we ate ice-cream cakes, and to my favourite tea-shop, where we hung out after high-school.
It was nostalgia in bold, italics, font size 100.
We stopped to buy tea leaves and chocolate fudge. Everything had changed – the roads and buildings looked so small, probably because I was a kid then. We went to my school and as I saw my Alma mater, tears pricked my eyes. I could see all of us in our smart school uniforms, walking down the wooden staircase, greeting the teachers and having so much fun.
We then drove down to our home, where I had lived for most of my childhood. Our home was in a block of four houses. There were many similar blocks lining the road. The end of the road led to a thick forest of eucalyptus & pine trees.
As I stood before our home, my eyes were drawn to the window of one of the bedrooms. I was shocked to see that the window still had a sticker that my sisters & I had stuck, when we were in middle school, 1985, I think. It was a sticker on oil conservation. My happiness knew no bounds. I felt that our home still retained us in its heart.
I could picture us, as little girls, plastering our noses to the window, watching the monsoon lashing against the window, watching button rose petals breaking away because of the rain, and decorating the steps leading to our home. I could smell the tea that my mom made for my grandma and aunt in the afternoons.
The house looked occupied, as I could see curtains in the windows; the garden was a little unkempt though. I remembered our little rose garden, our pocket lawn and our strawberry patch, which we protected from naughty sparrows and crows.
I remembered how we filled empty coconut shells with water and left them outside during winter, to find that the water had changed to ice, overnight.
Simple, simple and wonderful pleasures.
I turned to look at the neighbour’s yard to see if the peach tree, on which we built swings, was still standing. I was very happy to see that it was!
I walked down the road, absorbing the new and remembering the old.
I could see myself, a little girl in pigtails, and all my friends, running down the road playing games like hopscotch, kings, satholia, seven stones, land.
I saw the huge cypress bush, inside which we had our kids club. I could see the silvery lake in the distance. I looked up the hill to see if I could still see the temple. The trees however, blocked the view now.
I could see my entire family – grandma, uncles, aunts and cousins, noisily having a Sunday picnic. I saw myself sitting on the steps outside my home, reading a novel.
The sticker had probably seen many, many residents after us. I felt tears stinging my eyes for all those lovely days, for those innocent moments when we stuck the little sticker on that window, reveling in the joy of a freebie from the gas station.
Little did I know, that this very sticker would wait so many decades for us, to help me reconnect to my childhood and relive those memories, with my own family.
My annual trip to India is coming to a close, and we are heading home tonight. I am seated on the floor cross-legged, with many suitcases for company. I have shopped without remorse, like there’s no tomorrow. This gluttony repeats itself every year, as I justify to anyone who cares to listen that I visit only once a year, and hence need to shop this much!!
The shopping has piled up like a bonfire mound. I am trying to sort it out and pack intelligently. My husband walks in and I can sense an argument brewing.
He asks me to remove the tags from all the clothes, as they may unnecessarily add to the weight. I nod, and go snip snip. Each dress has many tags, one with the price, one with extra buttons, one with the brand, one which assures you of quality. Soon, another pile builds up.
My daughter walks in and looks at the tags, and announces that she will start a tag collection.
I start packing, my husband watches, hawk-like. He keeps reminding me that we are only allowed 20 kg per person as check-in baggage. What’s in the shopping pile looks like 100 kg at least!
We are four, so 80 kg should go through. I have my books, I cannot leave those, I cannot leave anything that I have bought.
I pack and unpack, clothes and footwear, pickles and powders, books and more books, clothes for the children, books for the children….I am slowly losing it.
Somehow I fit it all in. Now the real fun starts. My husband brings the weighing scale and starts weighing. I play assistant and note down the weights:
Big blue bag – 23 kg
Big Brown suitcase – 25 kg
Small brown suitcase – 21 kg
Black bag – 26 kg
My husband starts removing stuff that he thinks I will not require. I am frantic, I am unable to choose, I absolutely need those things. I hop about as he asks me if I plan to open a clothes franchise, when I get home.
All the surplus luggage gets into the hand baggage. He mercilessly removes my precious books. When he is not looking, I stuff 3 books into my tote. My daughter walks in with her neatly arranged tag collection. She asks if we can pack this precious collection.
My husband wants some leeway with the weight of each bag, just in case our weighing machine and the airport weighing machine do not show the same weight. One more round of pruning happens. I cannot add any more.
Not a gram more, not a gram less!
The bags are packed and locked and rolled away. I look at the things I have had to leave behind. I whine. Nobody hears me.