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.

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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’.

To right the wrong

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“We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us. But if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong.
Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. And it isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems—the ones that make you truly who you are—that we’re ready to find a lifelong mate. Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for.
You’re looking for the wrong person.
But not just any wrong person: the right wrong person—someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have”.
I will find that special person who is wrong for me in just the right way. Let our scars fall in love.”

― Galway Kinnell

An ode to my odd sister

Happy Birthday, good ol’ Guds! It’s super cheesy to write a birthday blog and post it on social media but you leave me with no choice. I’m going to call you at midnight and you’ll be fast asleep with little or no enthusiasm for your big day. So I will to try again in the morning and as always you will be half-listening while the other half is scolding your daughter or instructing your maids. An email would be lying unread in your inbox long after your birthday has passed. With this, I hope you will take the time to read and remember. A little note for posterity.

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I have a confession to make. A few days before your big 40 I was talking to a friend about your upcoming birthday and I started crying. As I wiped my tear streaked face, I attempted to answer my baffled friend about why I was crying and I said “because she’s turning 40” and wailed some more while he looked wholly bewildered. He patiently said “ Don’t be silly. 40 is the new 30” and I said “ No it’s just that I don’t want her to grow old”.
So please, for my sanity, stay young forever.

It’s strange that a mature, composed, person like me is reduced to someone who cries quite stupidly when it comes to you. I remember when you had phoned me to tell me the joyous news that you’re pregnant and my first reaction was..to cry. Because I thought you were going to be sick, and would have to be hospitalized and worse I would have to share you with someone. And till date, Kavya and I fight for your attention.I have to concede defeat. Your early experience with a capricious younger sister meant you would ace at motherhood.

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All of us have had loved in our lives. The fortunate few have experienced the all-consuming love. Like mine for you. The kind of love that makes you cry and you’re not entirely sure why.
But we often make the mistake of not telling the people we love just how much we love them.
Definitely not in our family where it’s always known, understood, implied, but never said out loud. We’re the family of awkward side hugs, shy greetings and the stiff arm posing. But I’ll try to change that on the eve of your birthday even if you get extremely embarrassed tomorrow.

My weird but wonderful sister, you know you’re unique. You’re one of a kind and thank God for that. The world would be very chaotic if we had more like you. I thought I was the black sheep of the family but when we look at your haphazardness and the curious incapability of planning, listening or organizing, we wonder how you couldn’t be a type A like the rest of us. Before you jump to your defence might I remind you of :

– How you started riding the black scooter that Papa bought us and took me for a ride and declared confidently that you were an excellent rider only to be hit by a car a few seconds later.
– How you were thrown off the train to Goa because your ticket was actually booked for the previous day.
– How you were supposed to take a bus to Poona but ended up in a bus that goes to Latur. Poor Papa waited all night for you at the bus stop worrying.
– How you drive your car, talking one minute and cussing the next and just when I’m about to say something important you say BATTERY BATT.. and the line goes dead. I worry that your last words will be battery battery.
– When you promised to visit me in Hong Kong, booked your tickets and only a few days before the departure date realized that your passport had expired.
– More recently, you made me show you all kinds of exercises like planking, side planking, mountain climbing, Burpees etc with the desperate hope that you would take a video and get started on your fitness regime. All that sweat and tears were for nothing because as I am led to believe that you have just about started going for evening strolls around your building with a cell phone with low battery and an equally low will power. No sweat, there’s always tomorrow.

The list is endless . You’re a case study. But you’re the son that Papa never had. The glue that only a middle sister can be and Mummy’s FD i.e. Favourite Daughter.

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I miss you although I’m not sure what I miss exactly. I don’t remember the last time we had a long conversation without the constant questioning that only kids can come up with, the happy- to- be escaping- the- household- chores husband, the onslaught of domestic help and the perennial phone calls.
You try to see me every week via Face Time but between you and your daughter, the phone is passed so many times that I usually have a headache after hanging up.

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Truth be told, I don’t remember us ever having long conversations. You just always knew.

As I write this, I’m flooded with thoughts of you. Sometimes you can’t hold on to a thought or memory for too long because you might sink in it. You might fall into that vortex of memories and it takes a while to surface to reality again. But I’ll allow that today because I want to thank you.

– For supporting me through school. Even when you interrupted my classes to ask for water and other things that should have been packed by you. I got reprimanded by MY teacher for YOUR behavior.
– For not telling Mummy that I used to buy veg puffs in the canteen. Even though the price for that silence was the veg puff itself.
– For showing me off to your friends in school like a prized possession. I would be superbly off-key singing ‘Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket and save it for a rainy day”. Why would you ask me to sing? Was it some cruel joke?
– For trying to teach me Mathematics. Maths= Muddled brains. You would hit me but it didn’t hurt.
– For teaching me to ride a bike and a car and not yelling at my failure as I accelerated your car into a tree.
– For telling me about boys. Even when they sent hate mail to you for being the protective older sister.
– For waking up early for me. I would leave for the bus stop to catch the school bus while you were still sleeping in our room. When the bus would do a full circle and cross our house again, you would be waiting at the window so you could wave at me. It was our ritual for which I would fight for a seat on the right side of the bus.
– For staying up late for me.
– I owe you big time for the little lies you told our parents..
– For forgiving your thieving little sister. Sorry I stole money from you. I should have taken a few notes instead of the entire wad from under your mattress.
– For not telling me off when I acted like a whimpering younger sister who reluctantly left the room so your friends and you could discuss boys, Mills & Boon, Basic Instinct etc whatever.(see I was always eavesdropping)
– For taking the time off so you could accompany me for my MBA interview. Not to forget the super short pixie hair cut I got right before the interview. Really what were we thinking?
– For keeping my nicknames as your password.
– For humoring me during my awkward advertising days. At the start of my summer internship with an ad agency I would feel most lonely at lunch time. I wouldn’t have anything to eat or anyone to eat it with so I would call you at work and show up at your office which was mercifully next to mine. You’d ask me to sit in your chair while you ran around with a sense of purpose but not before ordering something from the canteen and a Tropicana juice. It meant I ate alone but knew you were close.
Thank you for being around.

So my endearingly irritating sister, Happy Birthday! Here’s to more madness, magic and memoirs.

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