Starry Starry Night.

Last night I dreamt of the stars.

Velvet black skies, and the outline of hills
The sparkle of city lights, far away.
A gentle nip in the air that gave the occasional shiver
The stars shining incredulously, the mighty Milky Way.

Last night I dreamt of the stars.

Of conversations by the coffee shop with a cup of hot coffee
Of discussions of life, love, religion and all things around us
Of long walks and longer talks
Under those stars, it all seemed effortless.

Last night I dreamt of the stars.

Shooting stars across the skies
That reminded me of deep-hearted friendships now long gone
Twinkling stars not close enough to touch
Oft felt like lost, loved ones who watched down.

Last night I dreamt of the stars.

I dreamt of a home I once lived in
Nestled deep in the hills, a sanctuary of hope, love and discovery
A home that always had room for laughter, friendship and conversations
One that shaped, taught, enveloped me tight and gave me a lifetime of camaraderie

Last night I dreamt of the stars.
Last night, I was home in the hills, again.

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Dil-li.

3 years, 2 homes. Each more special than the previous one. If the first was ‘our first home’, the second was the one with the best vibes, the garden, and ample personal space that never made it feel like we were stepping on each other toes.

A lot, LOT has been written about the homes we made in the city of Bombay. A city that frustrates, drives you up the wall, challenges, but also empowers you when you make it happen.

A little has been said about the cities we came from, and the people that we are.

College was my first tryst with living with people from different cultures. My first roommates were Punjabis. My second year had me living with a Maharastrian and Malayali. There couldn’t have been 5 people more different, yet no life experience quite like those two years. We exchanged food, family stories, found common threads, and new branches to explore.

Our choice to live together in Bombay started purely due to our offices being on the same side of town. It was a quick decision, neither of us wanted to live far away from work.

From day 1 in this city, I was quite rapidly pulled into the Bombay Choudhary Unit. Big brothers who would pull my leg and ask me when my next Chennai trip was- the older one who always asked about my work and well-being, the younger one who was always ready to rib me about some food I had made and clicked pictures of. Two Bhabhis who are mine. The older one always ready with a home full of heart, babies, and incredible food. The younger one who I share the most special bond with- kind, sensitive, thoughtful and always ready to have a deep conversation with. Babies. 5 beautiful babies to call nieces and nephews, and who call me ‘Bua’.

Last weekend was different though. I took off to the city she calls home. The city everyone says is ‘unsafe’, ‘scary’, yada yada.

Maybe so, but it’s alright when you’re in the hands of a family and friends who pamper, protect and ensure it’s a weekend of a lifetime. Be it hot, incredible home-food, or aunty telling me to sleep in and wake up whenever I wanted to, or uncle sitting me down to ask what my future plans look like and if I have started my personal investments and telling me what I should be doing, or the brother who came to pick me up from the airport, or even the best friend who carted us around to 4 different places in one night- she who made Bombay home, gave me a home in Delhi.

The weekend was gastronomic. I was introduced to incredible food I haven’t eaten before. Crisp and tangy aloo tikkis. Creamy kulfi. Oodles of cold coffee. Buttery dal makhani.

It was also a strange kind of home-coming. In the last few weeks of living by my own in Bombay, I was craving the warmth of friends. What was supposed to be just a weekend with the roomie, ended up with a 4 hour evening spent with friends from Pune. People who have never hung out in the same room together, the most different lot of people. People who reached out saying “You’re in Delhi! Meet us!” and who turned up when a plan was made. The super-special college roommate who asked about everyone in the family and demanded I plan my Punjab trip ASAP. The one who is practically a brother- always concerned, kind, ready with a hug and who comes with a lovely wife who exudes the same vibes. Ones who came by for an evening filled with incredible food, peals of laughter, shared jokes and the warmest and tightest of hugs. 5 years have gone by, and with them so have the boundaries of ‘I only talk to xyz people’.

And thus ended a weekend that reminded me of what 2 years of college has woven out for me. An intricate tapestry filled with different people from different parts of the country. Different food. Different cultures. Differences that always opened out new things to explore.

That opened up minds and hearts and broke stereotypes.

And more than anything a weekend at Home.

There’s a lot you can find fault with when you live with someone. There will always be differences that creep in. That frustrate. That often make you want to move out. People who will come in the way.

But always pick your battles.

Kindness, a good heart. Someone to depend on when you are unwell or need a shoulder to lean on. Someone who will understand tears when your sister has a baby. Someone who will know exactly which clothes to pick out for you. And who will always have your back. And who knows when to meet halfway when times are tough.

Delhi, you will always be special for you are the home of my best girl.

And you have the best aloo tikkis.

 

Five.

There are some days it feels like 5 years. And there are most days.. it does not. On the days it does, I’m most reminded of all the things that have happened since. The voice in my head that whispers “I wish you were here to see this, Thatha”.

On the days it does not, I’m reminded of the man who’s injected in me the permanent love for travel, photography and an occasionally half-decent sense of humour.

A lot has happened since. To say that is in itself is an understatement.

You have two incredible grandchildren-in-law. They’re intelligent, quiet voiced and most definitely spent a good while wondering what they married in to (amidst the normal cacaphony)!

You’re a great-grandfather to two ridiculously adorable babies. We’re quite sure they’re here since you decided it was about time us cousins had something new to find marvel, wonderment and awe in. And so you could show us Appa’s soft side that we never knew existed, or Chitappa’s earnest and eager enthusiasm that we all almost forgot, or Athai’s unbridled glee at being a Grandmother. B Akka’s wonder-mamma Avatar, and Bushkii’s downright positivity and strength in being a new mamma.

The love of your life quite enjoys her new status of ‘Chief Great Grandmother’. There’s a new gait to her walk, a new sparkle to her smile and a lot more hope in her every day. Needless to say she misses her handsome husband, but we’ve always got the eternal love stories to discuss that drive those blues away.

I’ve had this consistent dream on and off these past few years. Where you and me are chatting on the Thinnai outside home. It’s 4pm, I hear you shout ‘Saranyaaa. Sumanaaa.. Come downstairs’. We’re sitting and chatting. Doing the crossword and jumble. You’re listening to me talk about work. About how living alone has changed my life. How Bombay and Pune have been great. About how much I love work. About the men I’ve met and who haven’t managed to land that “this is who I want to marry” impact. If I listen close I can hear you say “you are my gorgeous granddaughter.. whoever he is he needs to be worth you”. I smile. This is what you told Akka and me every single time we got dressed up to go out (minus the part about men) and ran to ‘say bye’ to you, showed off our clothes by twirling and gave you a kiss on that cheek that always smelled of Eau De Cologne.

You saw smile lines where we saw wrinkles. You saw wide-eyed grins where we saw dark circles. And you always said “why do my granddaughters need to go to the beauty parlour. You are beautiful already!”

I didn’t know it then, but today, those were warm words of comfort to a 19 year old who worried a tad too much if she didn’t go to the parlour and thread.

The best part about this dream is waking up each morning with a smile, knowing we’ve had another one of our chats.

Our chats.

The most precious 3 years at MOP where I discussed every single JAM with you. Every single pick-up line I’d used on boys in the event. Every single trophy presented to you first, every single time. If there is anyone in the family who understands that side of me, what jamming gave to me, it is you. What jamming gave us*. 

My grandfather, also my best friend. Our best friends, all of ours.

I could write on and on, but a certain lump in my throat reminds me that there are stories that are meant to be told another day.

I end this by telling you, I’m glad you’re watching down on us. I’m beyond relieved you not once told me that marriage had to be the end-all I did in life. Instead you told me more often than not to travel, be independent and live life.

More than anything, you, though it was just past when you left us, instilled in me the love for the written word.

So it’s our 5 year milestone of you inspiring me, motivating me, and giving me new things to find joy in, and to just..write.

And what a journey it has been.

Thank you. Love you. And miss you every single day, Thaths.

*Whoosh*. 

The curtain will always be open, and the stage will always be ours for the stories we weave.

Grand-Fathered.

May 2017. It’s 7am.

I wake up to a video of a baby lying down on a mat. There’s a man and a woman singing to him. The man sings “Old McDonald had a farm.. ee aa ee aa oh. And on that farm there was some cats.. ee aa ee aa oh. With a mow mow here and a mow mow there..” It’s the same familiar song. Amma used to sing this to us.

Only, the person singing with her, is my Appa.

When we were babies, Appa never carried us until our necks were steady. He was too scared. He’d instead play with us while we were lying down, call us ‘badam/pista’ and essentially take care of us. Never quite the song and dance.

Yes, he can dance (now)

My earliest memories of Appa will be walking on his tummy, walking on his legs, balancing precariously, holding on to him. He used to give me a bath every morning till I was 5, and even after, he would check everyday if I’d scrubbed behind the ears. As a father, growing up, he’s always been the parent who’d sign report cards, make sure the fees were paid in time, and pick up and drop us at school. A stray PTA meeting apart, he had no idea what we were studying, and always let Amma be the ‘schooling parent’.

Today, more than anything he’s a friend. We’ve all grown up to love each other despite the flaws we see. Maybe he’s a bit short tempered, tends to nurse a hurt and ego a bit too much and gets too anxious if I’m even 15 minutes past said time, when I come home.

But he’s also the father who would agree to a Goa trip, crack open a Bira with me, and stand in the waves for 30 minutes straight just to give me company. He’s the father who refuses to teach me to do my own taxes, who always insists on picking me up at the airport and who will treat each Madras trip like he’s not seen me for 1 year. And when at home, he’s learnt to make a killer tea and coffee.

With akka, he’s been a strong sense of support. Be it when she wanted to marry the love of her life, or at the end of any angst she’s feeling against anyone, a shoulder to lean on when in labour, a indignant father who doesn’t understand daycare, and the same father, thoughtfully doing laundry and the dishes for her and giving her company to run errands every day.

I’ve seen him grow from a not to so involved parent to someone we’d today, curl up against and discuss life issues with. From a TV watching, not paying attention person to someone who understands “Appa keep your phone away, we’re having a meal together”.

From Father to Grandfather. 

Of the many wonderful things my nephew has given us, it has been this transition that has been the most special. To watch him sing, dance, carry him around and change diapers and tell me the same story of what Partha did, 3 days in a row, with the same levels of awe and wonderment in his voice, is a life-changing experience.

For here’s a side of him we’d never imagined existed.

Happy Happy Father’s Day, our dearest Appa. Your Jillu and Chellam love you so very much.

Also, your little grandson will disagree with the world that says ‘cats meow’. They don’t ‘meow’. They ‘mow’.

Blessed twice over.

If there’s something that the last 6 months have taught me, it’s the ability to love more, to find more room for love and to look for the light when things seemed pretty dull and mundane.

If December 1st was my first turning point when my niece was born, last week was the second.

Back in August 2016, I was out with my bestest friend who was visiting and few more close school friends. We were at the Naturals ice-cream parlour in Juhu when my akka called. She never calls when she knows I’m out, primarily because it irritates her if I’m distracted while talking. So when I cut her call and messaged saying “out call you later”, and she messaged again saying “step out and call me”, I knew something was up.

Excitement met trepidation. My cautious “Hi what happened” was met with a pause and “We took a test.. We’re pregnant”. What followed was squeals, more squeals and me jumping on the best friend for hugs because this is easily the best news any sister can hear, and I was so glad to not be alone when it came to me.

9 months went by. Numerous video calls, a gazillion “Hmm what if the baby..” statements. While I knew she was pregnant, it never seemed real until I was going to see the little one.

Christened ‘Patootie’ before being born itself, the monkey and sister went into labour on the 3rd of May. 32 hours later, and tired of people asking “is the baby here yet, what’s happening”, Amma messaged that they’re finally prepping for her delivery. It’d been a nerve-wracking 32 hours. Every minute I felt I should have been with her, instead I was on the other side of a whatsapp/Facetime call just watching her power through.

I say ‘power through’ because I couldn’t think of anyone else who calls their baby sister when they’ve been in labour for 26 hours JUST because she knows I’m flipping out, scared and so anxious. So instead of being normal and saying “Hi, I’m in pain”, she calls and says “Hi Chiclet, don’t worry, I’m doing ok and the baby will be here soon”.

Big sisters don’t ever stop being big sisters, do they?

Cometh 8pm on the 4th of May, and I just run home from work waiting for Appa’s message. I call him, and 30 seconds later he texts ‘It’s a boy’. 

Cue, happy bawling.

I’m not so religious but I’ve never prayed that hard for something to go well. As with baby Pattani in December, this little munchkin has arrived with a bundle of love and joy to give to us.

Be it my first call with him where he was busy feeding and Akka said “Kutti meet the best chithi in the world” or my everyday 3-4 times a day video calls just to see him yawn/sleep/blink or even cry, life hasn’t felt this purposeful.

There’s new motivation to be fantastic at work, there’s new strength in being independent and new zeal to be happier and cheerier. With this little Patootie (and my Pattani) has come a fiercely protective, incredulously excited side to me. And to the family, especially my parents, there’s a gorgeous side of grand-parenting wonder and awe that I see in them today. Be it when Amma’s rocking him to sleep, or Appa messages “Your nephew is awake again so I am watching him while everyone is sleeping”, or Akka’s only too natural mothering (I am her test market for this) or the BIL’s “I know nobody taught me how to pick him up.. but it’s just come to me”, the little one has become the centre of everyone’s universe.

In his smiles and antics I see my sister, in his kind eyes and floppy ears, my BIL. His smiles make me wonder what he’s thinking of. His sleep positions make me wonder how he does that. His crying makes me wish for super-powers to make it stop AT ONCE.

And while I count down days to when I see my baby in person, for now I make do with seeing the little face on a screen, sending voice messages and just calling to see him..sleep.

Like my cousin rightly said.. “It’s like your sister got pregnant and you had a baby”.

And I have two 🙂

Welcome to the world, Partha!

Gratitude.

Today I am grateful.

Today has been a tiring day. From the daunting shadow of my roommate leaving in 2 days, to horrible traffic, to unexpected work that added to an already long day, to those chums that know exactly when to come (not) and a meeting that stretched till 8pm, to constantly thinking about moving houses this weekend and more than constantly thinking of my sister’s little one that is due any day now.. today has been tiring.

Today, however, I am grateful.

Grateful for friends at work who understand my excitement behind a new bed and new curtains. Ones who smile reassuringly when I want to just punch someone, and laugh saying “It’s okay dude, you can do this”.

Grateful for a roommate who walks in to the room, sees my eyes welled up after my long day, asks if I want a tablet and switches on the fan for me. No questions asked.

Grateful for my bestestest friend who texts ‘it’s a tough week but you can do this baby!’

Grateful for calls and messages from friends and family who offer to help me move.

Grateful for a father who gives me an update of his day. An Amma who gives me pep-messages all day long, and facetimes and smiles at me. A fully pregnant sister who waddles into the camera and says ‘KAY DOT CHICLET’. Who also sends me random messages ranging from wanting to rename me to ‘cutlet’ to ‘I miss you baby’.

Grateful for the skinny friend with an ‘Awwww’ that equals his bear(giraffe) hug.

Grateful for a friend-not so sure at times if friend who reminds me of Amma’s admonishment when I was 7, makes me laugh, laugh so much when I needed some cheer.

Grateful for Patti’s dabba of karuvepilai podi and mor molaga for dinner. 

Grateful for love that creeps in from corners and cracks I didn’t know existed. For the motivation to power through. For hope, encouragement and pep talks.

How’s a crack considered defective if it lets in so much light, love and laughter?

 

For the love of love.

I think this was around 5 years back. She quite nonchalantly mentioned him in a conversation and subsequently dragged me into her room when she was skyping and pointed at the screen and said ‘Say hi to Max. Max, this is my little cousin sister’.

When I grew up, she was this mysterious cousin in far away Bombay who occasionally came to Madras, ate nothing but boiled vegetables and was a singer. When I moved to Pune 5 years (almost!) ago, I made my way to Bombay for my first long weekend, she welcomed me home with the giant-est hug, and I haven’t left since.

She’s moved from Bombay since but she’s managed to make me feel like home everywhere she is. Be it in Bombay where I always sleep in her room, or the time in NYC where she took us out for dinner and then insisted I HAD to see her place. We walked in, she pointed out the guest room saying “that’s your room for when you come next time”, and she gave me two pairs of earrings when I left.

And that was that.

To a 22 year old trying to find her way around the north of the Vindhyas and trying to figure if advertising was her career, she counselled, guided and reminded me so many times that I didn’t need to change who I was to fit into an industry or a job. That I needed to do things so long as they worked for me, made sense to me, appealed to my principles and that if I ever felt faith slipping away, all I had to do was reach out to her.

And that I did. Multiple times.

There’s something about positive people. They have this incredible energy around them, they give you faith and hope in humanity, they reinstate it when it feels lost.

She’s inspired me in so many different ways. To love myself, to respect my brain, follow my heart and take care of my body by exercising and eating healthy. To be a kind person, to be calm and sensitive. To outrage for the things that mattered. To not be afraid to voice my opinions. To embrace storms that Bombay threw at me and get past them like a boss. To be confident, to be powerful, to see the beauty and art in all the little things around me.

Around 10 days ago, this beautiful person married her love, her best friend.

I’ve been to my share of weddings, and this easily tops as one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve attended. Yes, because of the gorgeous location, yes because of all the fun we had, yes, because of many things.

More than anything it was a wedding that celebrated Marriage. Friendship. Trust. Faith. Love. Family. Togetherness. Art.

It brought together people from across the globe. It brought together two paths of faith- not to pick one, but to blend both. Be it the kanyadaanam or the Hebrew prayers under a canopy that had pictures of their ancestors, the best of both brought together two of the best people I’ve known. Be it the honest vows that brought tears to everyone watching, the absolutely sparkling smiles, the loud guffaws through the ceremonies or quite simply a bride and groom who danced their way through their wedding, this was a celebration of all things beautiful.

And it was inclusive. It didn’t just bring the two of them together, it brought families, countries, faiths, hearts together.

And all of a sudden, the world became a gloriously small place.

As I watched my big sister and brother-in-law get married, I saw the many, many things she’s brought to my life in the last few years. The way she’s opened my mind up to so many incredible perspectives, merely by the stories she’s told me and the people I’ve met through her. The warmth and love they share, that brought together 150 people from across the world for one celebration here, in Bombay. The fighter spirit in her to stick to what she believes in, and to make it happen for everybody, happily. The ability to look beyond the ‘said and set’ mandates.

And quite simply, the happiness in just being.

Dachu and Max, thank you for reminding us of wonder and magic, love and hope.