About pausetoponder

I'm always on the go and everyone's go-to-girl. I have little time but lots of patience. Accused of having a laissez-faire attitude to life. Often called Little Miss Sunshine.

The island of crows

It was March 2017; I was planning a holiday with the family. We would fly to Kerala and surprise my mother-in-law on her 60th birthday and book a villa for a celebratory weekend. During my research, I chanced upon Kayal (backwaters) Island retreat. I wrote to the owner, Maneesha and she promptly responded. We exchanged some lively emails but sadly I decided not to book the cottage then because I wasn’t sure I could cart a four month baby from a car, flight, car and finally a boat. I promised Maneesha I’d be back, so I did.

I’m not sure what I can say about Kayal that’s not already been said before, but I’ll try. Holidays during a pandemic are more vital than ever as you’re literally risking your life for a getaway. Careful planning, checking, and re-checking the travel restrictions and ensuring that all protocols are followed. Holidays are now more deliberate and less spontaneous. We were anxious and full of trepidation about flying, about Neev (now 4.5 years) getting an RT PCR test and heading to a state that is reporting the highest number of Covid cases every day. The key word here is reporting as compared to some other states, but I won’t explain any further.

My in-laws met us outside the Kochi airport, and we took a boat to the tiny island of Kakkathuruthu (island of crows) named after its avian inhabitants The island is only 4 km long and 1 km wide. To our right, perched on the banks of lake Vembanad was our charming resort. Four little cottages that were both austere and luxurious. A deeply intimate setting for a family get-together. My photos and videos have chronicled the exclusive experience but will do no justice to the beauty and serenity.

The sound of crickets, birdsong, the chorus of the bullfrogs, the Hindu devotional songs heard in the mornings and at dusk, the muezzin’s call to prayer, all in harmony and sync with nature.  One evening, we sat to listen to a ferryman’s daughter, Anaha. A shy girl who has excelled in her studies and sings with equal aplomb.

The surround sound experience of nature. The smell of fried fish in coconut oil. The remarkably effective and earthy fragrance of the incense sticks that were lit each evening to ward off the mosquitoes. The sound of rain. Woodsmoke. The cormorants drying their wings on tree stumps. The Brahmini kites circling over the lake. The beautiful Kingfishers skimming the surface. The fireflies greeting us as the skies changed from inky blue to black.

The food, my goodness, the food. Fresh ingredients combined with age-old recipes. There are no menus. You just show up at the table (like how it was while growing up) and be prepared to be wowed by the local fare.

There was no screen time for the child that week and he had a ball. Throwing pebbles in the lake, laughing at spiders that could be mistaken for wall hooks, the darting dragonflies, the turtle in the well that appeared to sun itself. Life was at its animated best. We got time to read, connect with each other and ourselves and make memories. It felt like a journey inward. Meaningful.

It was time to leave. The sun came out to greet me as the clouds parted. The flotillas of water hyacinths sidle up to my boat, their purple flowers glisten in the morning light. They gently merge to form temporary islands as if Maneesha, Saiju, Sheeba and Vijaylakshmi were joining hands and accompanying me to the ferry point. Like me, the drifting currents will eventually carry them away. I promised Maneesha I’d return soon. And I will.

A royal princess

What better day than today to tell you a story about my friend, a princess. Janhavi was in school with me and had that easy charm that she befriended everyone she met. Janhavi was much taller than me, towering over most of us and therefore earned a nickname which has stuck over the years, Jini! In school Jini, Rupali and I became inseparable, exchanging lunch boxes, stories and alibis.

They were from more affluent homes but for some reason found my humble abode a great place for a sleepover. My dad was a government employee and we lived in “staff quarters”. I shared my room with my sister. My father was a DIY man and believed in recycling. Wooden racks doubled up as bookshelves. Iron frames were repurposed to become a bed. Comfortable but frugal. None of this mattered to my friends. Who came to study or to hang out as we talked into the night about our misfortunes and misadventures. Jini broke all records and stayed at my place for 22 days! Her mom would call on the landline (no mobile phones then) and be baffled about her daughter’s plans and whether she intended to return home at any point.

When we got to high school, I signed up for accounting tuitions from 9-11am and since the class was a fair distance from home, I would head to either Jini or Rupali’s house for lunch and then head to college which was around 1.30pm. Those were probably the best days of my student life. The best food for sure. Crushing over Channel V’s VJ Trey at Rupali’s and trying on makeup at Jini’s city apartment. By makeup I mean lipstick and she favored one shade from Revlon which was called Toast of New York. The memory imprinted forever. Two years ago I used it as my US visa application password. A closely guarded memory until now.

Both their homes were a welcome change from my regimented life.

Jini had another home. I would go there whenever my dad allowed it. It was massive with many rooms and we would run from one room to another. It was so huge that her mom would ring the extension in the bedroom to summon us for lunch. I knew she came from a  royal family. I knew there a was a title attached to her name. Visconde de Pernem in Portuguese (Viscount of Pernem in English). Somehow these things didn’t register with me and I barely gave it any thought. Much like Jini who didn’t mind my middle class upbringing and chose to live like a commoner with us.

Jini went on to study hotel management in Manipal. We stayed in touch even when Jini married an army man and moved cities every couple of years. The power of our memories ensured we never lost contact and picked up where we left off. Things got tougher for both of us but each time Jini’s perspective on life left me with hope and humour. Her cést la vie attitude remains unchanged.

We had a lovely reunion in Goa last year. The Green Rosary School trinity. Some of us had gone abroad but returned to the homeland. All of us were mothers. We had moved, morphed and evolved. Jini invited me along with my husband and son, Neev, to her palatial home and seeing it from their eyes made me realise just how grand their family home is. I got my first proper tour of the residential palace of the royal family more than 20 years after I’d first set foot in it. I walked around with disbelief, awe and reverence that history generally evokes.

Seen here is the library with the palanquin, the former courtroom, the dining room in the house of hospitality reserved to entertain their European guests and the long driveway flanked by laws and a watch tower. 

Neev couldn’t believe they have a treehouse which was the highlight for him. It then struck me that life comes full circle. Children only focus on the small joys. Happy birthday, Jini. To many more endearing moments that will become sepia toned memories to cherish.

Superstar Store

I am at my local grocery store just as it opens for business. In spite of the convenience of online shopping, I like my Juhu market excursions. I thrive on human interaction in general and in a lockdown I miss it sorely.

The owner is a typical Gujarati businessman- efficient, enterprising and resourceful. He gifts me homemade pickles from his own kitchen, presents a bottle of juice for my son, Neev, on each visit- but his emotions never get in the way of his business acumen. He offers a discount (only if I ask) and always as if it’s grand gesture!

The start of a new day. There’s anticipation in the air. The fragrance of the incense sticks a reminder that faith is as important as trade. As I walk through the aisles, his phone rings. A Gujarati folk song that lends a carpe-diem vibe to the morning. The phone is answered on the second ring. He brusquely assures the caller that his boy has delivered the order in the lobby. After hanging up he bellows “Arrey Hrithik Roshan ka order gaya ki nahin?” “Unki gaadi Lonavala ke liye nikal rahi hai”.

I smile under my mask. THESE micro-encounters is what you won’t find on Amazon.

Queen

“I’m so tired Neev” I surprise myself by confiding in my child. “Come Mama, sleep on my chest my son offers. I resist but he pats his chest so I put my head gingerly on his lap instead. I don’t allow myself to sink lower as his bony knees are a reminder of his small, 4 year old frame. “Sleep properly Mama, you won’t hurt me” he says intuitively, so I settle in.

I close my eyes for a minute. A moment of surrender for someone who rarely rests during the day. He’s enjoying some television time but I can feel his gaze on me. I look up and find him smiling down at me. For the first time, I see my tenderness mirrored back at me which fills my heart with gratitude. A heartbreakingly, fleeting moment which I want to capture forever. “Mama, he says, you are my queen”.

Amidst all the chaos and the challenges of motherhood, there are these brief moments of unexpected happiness. Happy Mother’s Day to me!

Return to Innocence

As we roused from our sleep to catch an early morning flight to Dehradun earlier this year, it was pitch dark. Enroute to the airport we saw the first hint of the morning rays. Observing the light my son, Neev, said he could see the sun now. My husband, Aditya, adds that the time the sun rises is called dawn and when the sun sets is called dusk. “Are Dawn and Dusk friends?” asks Neev. “Yes” replied Aditya as we cruise along an empty road. Our sleep addled minds now piqued by the child’s line of questioning. “What do they play with?” quizzes Neev. Aditya ponders for a second and says “with the sun and the moon”. The four year old presses on “so if I hide the Sun and the Moon in my bag, will it be dark all day?” I join in and we say “yes” in an exaggerated sigh, while he chuckles.

A child’s mind is a wonderful place and I use our time together in this lockdown to escape into his world. A welcome distraction. From dawn to dusk.

Kindness

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

A truckload of optimism

Last night as my husband, Aditya and I ate our dinner, my 3 year old son, Neev joined us at the table. He carried his dumper truck and was piling his toys on it and trying to drive the truck. A carrot, a tomato, a tangerine and a fried egg all fought for space on his tiny truck.

He was engrossed with his game and we, in our conversation but our chat was punctuated with the sound of the spherical tomato falling off the truck and bouncing off the table. We observed that his attempt in trying to accommodate all his toys would result in the fruit falling to the ground and rolling to unreachable places. Sometimes it landed under a sofa and sometimes as far as our bedroom where it lodged itself under our bed. Not one to give up Neev asked for the flashlight and went to retrieve it with focused attention. He came padding back to the table and hauled himself up again on the chair to continue his experiment.

The entire exercise was repeated nearly four or five times and finally Aditya explained to Neev that it won’t fit. Neev heard him out but barely glanced up from his passion project as he tried various combinations in stacking them in the right order. Aditya and I were bemused and continued eating. Suddenly we noticed that he was driving the truck with all his “goods” stored firmly at the back. In a gentle, accepting voice Neev said “look it fits”! He was neither gloating nor boasting.

Aditya congratulated him and told him to keep trying till he succeeds. I patted him on the back and told Neev to always trust his instincts. But as Aditya and I exchanged a knowing look we realized that it was us who had been served an important lesson.

Somebody’s someone

Have you ever wondered how we ever only remember our life as a part of someone else’s?

I cannot recall my earliest memories without my middle sister featuring in them. Archana and me – my memory draws no distinction. She is six years older. When I was in class 4 she was in class 9. She bossed and bullied me as she pleased. She would catch me eating food from the canteen rather than eating the lunch my mom had packed and would threaten to tell my mother. She blackmailed me into submission. She would interrupt my class to ask for water from my bottle, much to my teachers’ chagrin. She would often grab me after my class and take me to hers where for her friends (older and cooler in my opinion) I, was the entertainment. Her friends fawned over me, I even recall one girl in particular who would stitch little dresses for my dolls. I basked in my sister’s reflected glory. Popular simply because I was Archie’s sister.

We set off every summer to visit our grandparents, a long train ride into the Indian heartland. The anticipation mounted with each passing train station. Archana and I would fight for the window seat and quarrel about the upper berth. My mother and my eldest sister Vandana, who is 11 years older and was always a grown-up, were the peace-keeping forces. Sharing our berth was our constant companion, a large red and white, Milton water-cooler with cold water and Glucose D to keep us hydrated. A red Walkman plugged in my ears. George Michael for company. Bored and happy in equal measure. The parched lands, the rolling hills, the sunsets, the inky blue night, the moonlight casting shadows on trees and the fireflies sparkling before our tired eyes. Little treats marked our progress. Belgaum’s Kunda, Orai’s Gulab Jamuns and Jhansi’s Pethas. From hippy, hedonistic Goa to conformist, conventional Kanpur. After nearly 24 hours of travel, we would arrive smelling of the Indian Railways. That unmistakable smell I can only describe as train-iron. As she stepped off the train, my mother would step out of my father’s shadow. We would see her in a new light in her old home. As girls raised in Goa, we were so obviously ‘western’ in Kanpur. We didn’t wear a salwar kameez or should I say salwar suit. We would refuse to wear a dupatta in Kanpur’s searing heat, but my cousin could never step out without one. My aunt would chide me about calling my sister by their names and not adding a Didi as a mark of respect. We were a constant source of amusement. One morning my mother chuckled when a neighbour remarked, “Neerja tumhari beti toh bilkul Russi hai” i.e “Your daughter is so Russian”. I’m quite certain it was less of a compliment and more of a judgement on my mother’s betrayal of Kanpur’s traditions. That jibe about my carefree nature stayed with me because I was after all Neerja’s daughter.

My father was always encouraging us to read and take-up new hobbies. However, he maintained that our studies always came first. Unfortunately for him, right through school, I didn’t. Perhaps my only talent was that I was chatty, confident and never shy to put on a show. Story-telling, dancing, elocution – I didn’t need a second invitation. I was a little less enthusiastic about equations, formulas and theorems. I recall one hot balmy afternoon in particular when my friend Nandini picked me up on her trusted two-wheeler Scooty. She lived quite far from us but friendships weren’t defined by convenience and kilometers. She wasn’t in ‘my side of town’ but she was in my corner when I decided to address a room full of scientists. The topic was water conservation. These were my father’s colleagues at the National Institute of Oceanography. When my father suggested I participate I gamely agreed, but on the condition that he couldn’t be in the audience. I came first. And what I remember most about this achievement was that the congratulations were for Mr. Bajpai’s daughter.

Daughter, sister, wife. Where’s the I in identity? By the time I was old enough to have that self-awareness to enjoy that individuality, there were already too many demands on my time. Work, family, friends, fitness and fun. And then I found out I was pregnant.

It was almost a year ago. I was in Sydney on a business trip and attributed the disorientation to the jet-lag. I shopped for winter-wear for my soon-to-be postponed holiday to Ladakh, met friends over wine and good food. Inspired by fitness-obsessed Australia, I even gifted myself a Fitbit.

A little strip in a little bathroom confirmed in three little seconds that I would have a little one soon. All of a sudden I began to consider known facts in a new way. Could I have tea? Are mushrooms okay for lunch? I was tempted to break the news to my husband in person to truly enjoy the moment together. But I had another few days in Sydney followed by a business stopover in Hong Kong. And surely this couldn’t wait? I was wary of calling him at work and listening to his usual officious tone. Maybe I could wait till he’s back home to break the news? The time difference hardly mattered because I could barely sleep with excitement. But I just HAD to hear his voice and yet, give myself the option of not sharing this news over the phone. So I found a novel solution. I decided to Face-time him in a face mask! He quizzed me about why I chose a video call when clearly a hydrating mask was more important. The pretense didn’t last and I told him. His response was that I must have had one too many glasses of wine and that I should take the test again in the morning.

I braved the next few days in Hong Kong. It was very difficult to lie to my friends and attend my business meetings. Passing on the glass of wine is a tell-tale sign in today’s times so I would priggishly order a mocktail that could pass off as a Cosmopolitan. I landed in Mumbai on June 1st 2016 and headed straight to my gynecologist who confirmed that  I was six weeks pregnant. On June 2nd, I gifted the scan report to my parents as their 49th wedding anniversary present.

Over the next few  months I enthusiastically committed myself to project Pregnancy. Our baby boy was born on January 5th, 2017. Perfect in every way. Never before have I loved anyone so intensely, deeply and completely. It gives me an extraordinary sense of purpose each morning. Motherhood means there are so many unaccounted hours in the day but it’s in those hours that I find everything. The purest joy. The finest moments of my life as he coos and babbles. The little one lords over the daily chores and I’m at his service.

That said, I try to reclaim myself from time to time. Snatching some time to think, read, exercise, shop and write. All in an attempt to remind myself of who I once was. Not the individualistic, self-gratifying nature of singledom which is now a distant memory. But a more realistic endeavor in which I remind myself that I perhaps can’t go back to my old self but to become a newer version of myself.

Last week as I sat slumped in my chair exhausted with the effort of love that is feeding, I got a phone call from the paediatrician’s clinic to confirm our appointment. “Is this Neev’s mom?” asked the receptionist. I was caught off-guard. And just like that I had a new identity. But this time someone belonged to me.

“Yes”, I said, sitting up a little straighter.

Coming Back to You

My last post was in January 2015 which is embarrassing. I’ve had painful reminders about my inertia. Statistics from WordPress, coaxing from friends and my inner voice chiding me regularly. It’s like not calling a friend for longer than one should have – you intend to, you think of her often but just don’t get around to picking up the phone. The longer it takes the weaker the resolve. Inertia very quickly turned to insecurity. Was everything I felt irrelevant? Everything I wanted to say inconsequential? I was emptied out. Did my last post take everything from me?

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Perhaps, I’ve been too comfortable. My hypothesis (possibly flawed) and past experience is that a certain level of complexity is a prerequisite to passionate writing. The last year was spent in simple domestic bliss and a challenging yet successful year at work. I was too happy or too engaged with life to pause and ponder. Happiness has always made a guest appearance in my life. Short, sporadic bursts and then it was gone. Leaving only a gentle reminder of its presence and a desire to pursue it some more. So, for the first time I reveled in it. The generosity with which it came – I splashed around it in.

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I light a lamp each night. I’m not religious but I have faith and the simple act of closing your eyes, and bowing your head in gratitude, the feeling of surrendering to something is in itself calming. Every night I thank the Lord and implore him not to snatch this away from me. I feared that this absolute happiness, this unadulterated contentment, the feeling that everything around is just right, was almost impossible. As I bit adieu to 2015 I was almost wary of what the next year would bring. Turns out I was right.

2016 got off on the wrong foot. In January, my sister was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease. All of a sudden that happiness started dissipating. Our phone conversations were now cloaked with anxiety. Since I’m not yet a parent, I experienced first-hand that worrying is a full-time job and I was learning to cope with that feeling.

When I was younger I used to joke that my sister is my oxygen. She’s six years older than me and has raised me. Her priorities changed as she became a mother but I still hung on stubbornly to that notion. So this blow was hard on all of us and I was expected to bring comic relief to a weary household. To be a jester without a trick or a joke. I remember being in the kitchen with my mom and she asked me if I thought my sister would get better. Her naked worry stung me. We expect our parents to be teflon-tough not realizing that they too, have doubts, fears and worries which they hide from us.

When life deals you a bad hand occasionally, you reflect and ask existential questions about life, love and loss You also observe things that you’d otherwise have missed. There are two unrelated incidents that occurred and served as reminders that life must go on.

My husband and I had boarded a flight, on a sunny afternoon, hands linked to each other and as he sat on the aisle seat and I in the middle. An elderly gentleman showed up and claimed the window seat crushing my hope for an afternoon nap. As my husband pulled out his book and I reached for my Kindle, my neighbor bent his heavy frame and fished out the newspaper from the seat-pocket and as he started to read the tripe that passes for news, he settled on a page. Folding the paper indicating his full attention and interest. His eyes scanned the paper as mine studied him. He was reading the Obituary page. I wondered how it would feel, in my twilight years, much like him ,to be searching for friends and acquaintances in the pages of a newspaper?

Some months later, I had the flu and after several failed attempts at self-medication I went to a doctor. I took his prescription to a busy chemist and as I handed the piece of paper hoping he would have better luck understanding the illegible handwriting, I noticed a middle-aged woman walk up to the counter. She was from a humble background, her clothes and shoes had seen better days and she carried some medical reports in a worn-out yellow plastic bag. She gingerly took out the report and gave it to the assistant. He announced rather loudly that the injections would cost Rs.4500 each (approximately 66USD). She repeated the amount slowly, she didn’t look crestfallen as she calculated silently. I guess when an experience gets familiar, it fails to shock you. I was very tempted to jump to her aid and almost opened my mouth to offer her the money but the sales assistant returned with my order and asked me if he should give 12 pellets instead of 10. Yes, I replied hastily, and turned to look at her but all I saw was a receding figure, crossing the road.

Being helpless saddens and often angers me. But I realize I must not give up hope. Despite Trump. The soundless wheels of time are turning each day. Delivering pleasure, pain and prose. 10 months later, my sister’s health is stable and improving and I’m going to be a mother soon. 2016 draws to an end in burgeoning optimism.

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Hong Kong

I’m back after a hiatus. There were seismic changes and all in quick succession. Physically fatigued and mentally worn out, I had no time to think; much less to write. Such fervent planning, selling, buying, packing and unpacking that I felt bereft of any emotion, focusing only on the tasks ahead. It all began when I requested for a transfer from Hong Kong to India.

After the macro planning of moving countries came the piecemeal planning. Taking photographs of my furniture, uploading it on various websites, drawing up a price list and the slow, systematic, dismantling of my life. As I had inherited my landlord’s furniture I didn’t own much but what I did was precious and cherished. But if you separate the owner from her belongings, you’re just left with objects. Life can be brutally transactional.

My hot pink IKEA sofa, my romance chest, my movie style lamp, my Indonesian wooden bar cabinet. Yes that’s right, I owned a bar cabinet with lots of very expensive glasses, imagining I would be hosting many soirees. I’m not a drinker but I am a dreamer.

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It also involved some paperwork. As you know it’s not my forte. (https://pausetoponder.com/2013/09/05/staying-true-to-form/). Between the termination notices and other formalities, it didn’t allow me to feel melancholic about the inevitable farewells.

I attempted writing this piece but words escaped me. I felt strongly, but strangely, I felt empty. One Friday evening, I opened my refrigerator and thought I’d seek aid from alcohol. A glass of wine perhaps, like shown in the movies. There’s a saying in Italian “ In wine there is the truth”. Alas, instead of coherent thoughts I welcomed sleep.

Why? I wondered. Life changing events and I felt nothing? I probed. Perhaps my instinct for self-preservation had kicked in.

hong-kong

Leaving Hong Kong was rather difficult. It’s a transient city but I grew up in that city. It took a lot from me but it gave me so much more. Wonderful friends, heaps of fun, lasting memories and lessons. It was a defining period in my life where I wandered off and then reclaimed myself.

I’d spent nearly seven years in Hong Kong. A few more months and I would be a permanent resident. Hong Kong. Have you realized how different a word sounds depending on how your world changes? How easily some names that meant so much at one point, that would roll of your lips so naturally, now sound unfamiliar?

In response to immigration officers, I’d say I live in Hong Kong. I’d rush to airport gates announcing a flight to Hong Kong. My last two passports were issued in Hong Kong. My photo identity was my Hong Kong Identity Card. In response to where I was from, Hong Kong was the most appropriate response. After all my business and personal travels, I’d land in that city and wait for the airport express train to swoop in and carry me swiftly and safely to what was then, home.

I had packed my bags for Hong Kong with trepidation. Everyone assured me that I would love it and I did. How could I not, the vibrant city envelopes you in its heady mix of money, shopping, friends and travel. It’s off-the-charts sexy and it also has a soul.
It must have been my unending enthusiasm because when I landed in the month of February it was unexpectedly cold, bleak and uninviting. I was cooped up in a service apartment for a month with no friends but plenty of time. I was lonely initially but not sad. I began to revel in the anonymity. Getting lost in the labyrinth of gleaming and imposing buildings.

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The early years are not something I want to forget entirely. But they’re also something I don’t remember easily. The memories have been folded neatly and pushed in the far corners of my heart. Once in a while I’m reminded of them, accidentally. Chancing upon old scanned documents in folders long forgotten. Unearthing USB’s with photographs. On rare occasions I cave in. I remember them, deliberately. Like today.

It would be dishonest if I write this chapter on Hong Kong without mentioning my former husband. My former, laugh-out-loud hilarious partner. He’s not a person, he’s an experience. He kicks the door open to announce his arrival. One of the most creative people I know with talents that never cease to end. He can cook, sing, rap, dance, act, play musical instruments and play sports. A photographer par excellence. He ran marathons, reviewed movies, programmed music channels, created cartoons and last I checked he was into rowing and also sang in a choir! He is a living example that it’s never too late to attempt anything.

We shopped, made new friends, partied, traveled, binged on our favourite TV series and experimented with international cuisines. We enjoyed all the firsts that come with living overseas. In a foreign land we leaned on each other for companionship, resulting in a closeness that wasn’t sustainable. Eventually we had to pull apart. We got confused. We got temperamental. We got lost. We lost each other. It was as if I had subscribed to an entertainment channel. Scratch that, a bouquet of channels. Perhaps our combined energies were self-destructive; waiting to explode.

I was desperately sad in the months that followed. It was the void that hit me first. I tried every trick in the book to fill this void but I was just sinking into irrelevance. I hit the malls with a vengeance,tried Zumba and became post-break-up thin but I slowly realised that only I could fill this void. I had to be autonomous in my unhappiness. Not by staying busy but by staying strong.

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To fill this void, along came a new companion. Anxiety. It hung around me in a heavy air. I tried to outsmart it but I couldn’t. It linked arms with me. It accompanied me to meetings, picnics, parties and in bed. I accommodated it, because anxiety kept me on my toes. It kept me in check. It made me more efficient. The longer it stayed , the better I got at handling it.

Finally, I was in a good place. There’s a line in one of my favourite books The Kite Runner:
“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

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Perhaps I had forgiven myself for what I considered a failure. Soon I began to love my life and my independence. My ex and I often found our paths crossing but never our lives. He met the girl he would marry and months later, I met my future husband.

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Our friendship grew organically. We didn’t say I love You’s. We didn’t need to. We just knew. If my ex had given me wings, my husband provided wings and roots. I call him my anchor. However, marriage meant leaving Hong Kong and my solitude. How ironic that the very thing that scared me at first was now invaluable. Solitude teaches you more about yourself and I highly recommend it in large doses.

In May, my ex-husband and I met for lunch possibly for the last time. For a man of flamboyant entries, his exit was quiet and full of grace. We caught up, cried softly (blamed it on spicy Sichuan Chinese food), reminisced about traversing the peaks and valleys of Hong Kong, literally and figuratively. He left on the 14th of June for the States and two weeks later I bid adieu to Hong Kong. Thus ending this glorious chapter.

Six months later, I’m back in India. Furniture sold, MPF and bank accounts closed, taxes cleared and correspondence addresses changed. There’s no trace of my life back in Hong Kong except for what survives in memory.

‘Do you miss Hong Kong?’ asks everyone. ‘No,’ I reply feeling faintly disloyal. Although I miss everything about it. Friends, colleagues, weather, food, gym, infrastructure, governance and yet I’m happy. Pure, unbridled joy. Sorry Hong Kong, just because I didn’t think I was lonely didn’t mean I didn’t feel lonely.

I’d left as a young, carefree girl and I’ve returned as a wise old soul. ‘Life takes you places, love brings you home’.