For the first time ever, I’ve grown to like a place. I like it so much, it’s almost ‘home’, a term that I’ve never wanted to use for any place before, ever. Ironically, I’ve only spent one year here – the least amount of time in any place I’ve lived.
Maybe it’s because it’s such a perfect mix of the best things of every other place. The weather is like Coimbatore, but better (almost Ooty-like). I like in a super quirky part of town that feels just like Berkeley. There are so many lakes, they are a great beach-substitute, so I don’t miss Madras. There’s always something or the other happening, especially in the summer, and that reminds me of Bombay. There is also nothing that reminds me of Gurgaon, which is more a positive than anything else.
Maybe it’s all of the above, or maybe it’s some of it. I don’t know why, but I really like Seattle. I didn’t even realize it, and I fell for it. It’s super ironic that I realize this today, when I’ve just finished selling most of my stuff and I’m getting ready to relocate in 9 days.
I’ve lived in many places before, but nothing ever got under my skin like this. Seattle, I will miss you.
Today, Seattle decided it was time to live up to its reputation of being rainy. It’s been drizzling through the evening. The first thing that made me feel like Gurgaon again was that buses were delayed, and the roads were packed. My regular bus home refused to take on more passengers because it was filled with people. The next bus that came by was relatively empty, so I hopped on. As always, I was busy reading when I suddenly heard people exclaim in surprise. Turns out the bus driver was super confused and he’d turned instead of going straight. This turn, was uphill. And the bus in question was one of those two buses for the price of one contraptions, with the rubber joint in the middle. At the risk of sounding click-baity, you will not believe what happened next.
The bus driver convinced traffic on the corner behind to stop. Then he attempted to reverse back into the road he came from, all accompanied by running commentary from the people sitting at the back. He nearly missed banging a car parked to the side of the road because his angle of turn was slightly off. And then he managed to go back onto the road he was supposed to be on. If you told me I’d see the day a jumbo bus reversed from a wrong uphill turn, I would’ve bet my life it would be a Gurgaon thing. Except, it just happened on Capitol Hill, in Seattle.
It almost makes me miss Gurgaon. Almost.
Nostalgia is probably one of the biggest signs that you’re getting old. I feel old today, as I think about Landmark shutting down. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to feel this way, because I’m not from Chennai and Landmark wasn’t THE bookstore of my childhood. And yet, in the same way that Chennai has never been my hometown but was still my home, Landmark isn’t the bookstore I went to the most often but it was still the place that nurtured two of my hobbies, reading and trivia.
It was one of the main stops during every trip I made to Chennai. Even though there were other stores closer to home, I still had to stop by Landmark, just because. It was one of those places that my grandfather took me to, as surely as we would go to Vandalur Zoo when I was a kid, or Eden for lunch when I was older. It was also the home for the Independence Day quiz, when trivia buffs all over India would show up at Chennai to try and win that coveted prize. I haven’t been in Chennai in August very much, but whenever I was, I’ve been at the Landmark quiz. I wasn’t a serious quizzer, so I never got as far as the finals but just watching the quiz was an experience in itself. I don’t know if I will ever be in Chennai in August again, but I do know that if I am, it will be weird knowing that there’s no Landmark quiz to go to. Just like I know that I can buy every book I think of online, on Flipkart or Amazon, but I still cling to paper books.
I now wish I’d stopped by Landmark the last time I was in Chennai, in December. I ended up going to Odyssey only because it was closer, and I didn’t have much time. I now feel like I missed witnessing the end of an era. Like I said, nostalgia is a sign of age – and yes, I feel old. Landmark is going to shut down, and I my kids will probably never understand why I feel the way I do about paper books.
[Many of my friends have been sharing this post, http://thepoetryof.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/a-certain-south-indian-childhood/, over the past few days. It’s a lovely post, really poetic and yet it doesn’t strike the same chord in me that it does with people who experienced that childhood. However, it inspired me to write about another kind of childhood, the one that I grew up with. I am not attempting to replicate the poetry of the original, because I suck at poetry.]
A certain Middle Eastern childhood is fondly remembered as the time spent sliding down sand dunes, and going on school trips to Khor Garden and Alladin’s Kingdom. It was characterized by early morning assemblies where you recited an Arabic prayer and the English translation. For a long time, you believed the background music to ‘Saare Jahaan Se Achcha’ was the weird electro-beat setting that emanated from a Casio keyboard. Your sense of patriotism was linked to songs from 90s Hindi movies that nobody in India ever watched. Twice a year, you woke up at 4AM to sing the National Anthem at the Indian Embassy on Republic Day and Independence Day. Every school occasion happened in twos – one each for the Boys and Girls wing. If you were in the school choir, you were most likely a go-between for note-passing between the Girls and Boys’ wings. You remember the drip-dripping of the leaky AC’s in hot Portacabins. The smell of a dust storm while you walked to the schoolbus. Practicing PT Drills with painted eggboxes, feather dusters and other odds-and-ends, at 12PM on a blazing hot day. Sports Day. Teachers who were your friends’ mothers, and your mother’s friends. Loyalty to the Indian school you attended. Inter-school competitions. The yearly Bazm-e-Alig debate and art competition. Being featured in the local newspaper every time you won something, even if it was first place in a poetry recitation contest in your own school. Eid Fair, that glorious glittery spectacle where you could ride a Giant Wheel and eat ras-gola’s. Watching kids whose parents sold their raffle tickets win useless prizes at the Eid Fair. You know the smell of falafels as intimately as you know the smell of filter coffee. You know that no amount of Ruffles Lays, or even Pringles can replace the spicy taste of Oman chips or the cheesiness of Pofaki. You learnt the art of creating a cost-effective salad mountain at Pizza Hut while you were still in kindergarten. A birthday meant a party at Dairy Queen, with a clown and an ice-cream cake. You only saw cows on special school trips to milk factories, and birds on trips to the zoo. You owned a bicycle but it could only be ridden within your house, or at the Corniche. You played “outside” in building corridors where footballs kept tumbling down stairs. Hide and Seek meant you had to run from home to home, trying to figure out who was hiding in whose house. Dark Room, where you stumbled on things and gave yourself bruises. Showing off how you could climb up the door frame and clap your hands. You were raised by all your parents’ friends, together as one collective unit. Going for any and every class that was the current fad. Swimming. Taekwondo. Art. Carnatic Music. Keyboard. The smallest of excuses was all you needed for a party at someone’s house. Parties meant group performances. Plays with background music, and voice-overs. Elaborate backdrops painted by Art teachers. Choirs where kids and adults belted out the latest hits. Potluck dinners, that had pasta alongside thayir saadam. Dancing to the latest hits. TT tournaments. You have an extensive knowledge of Indian mythology that can only come from parents who wanted you to know everything about your culture. So you know the names of Bharatha and Shatrughna’s wives. Balvikas class. Thursday bhajans. Group classical music performances on Thyagaraja Day. You had a bookshelf filled with ‘educational’ books. World Book Encyclopedia. Tell Me Why. More Tell Me Why. Still More Tell Me Why. You never read any of it. You owned a computer because it was meant to be educational. The Encarta CD with its encyclopedic quiz. Learning HTML to create a Geocities page. Hacking your friends’ computers. Chatting on MSN messenger while your mom screamed at you that phones were free and Internet was not. Prince of Persia. You spent hours discussing HW with your friends on the phone, because, phone calls were free. You spoke to your grandparents every week, and they always yelled down the line as though they were projecting their voices across the ocean instead of through a telephone. The innate apprehension of that far away day when you would have to move back to India, because it was your “home”. The feeling that India was a vacation destination, the place you went for your summer holidays. The place where you spent an entire month being told how your accent was wrong. People looked at you strangely because you came from a place whose name they couldn’t quite pronounce. You tried explaining the geographical boundaries, and describing your life back home. A home that wasn’t really your home. A home, a childhood and a life that has been video recorded on countless Betamax and VHS tapes that haven’t been replayed in years.
So, I was super bored on Saturday, and decided to procrastinate all day. I was looking for a nice photo from A&A’s wedding, to use to wish them on FB and stumbled upon the soft copy of my yearbook.
Reading the yearbook was a lot of fun. Especially reading entries from people who were dating at the time, but aren’t together anymore. Or those from people who weren’t dating at the time, but who are now married.
Reading about myself reminded me of a me who was so sure of what she wanted, where she wanted to be. A younger me who assumed everything was linear.
When I went to SP, I was convinced I was done making close friends. After all, who meets the ‘I will call you at 3AM to cry my eyes out’ kind of friends at a b-school anyway. Apparently, you do meet them there. And you go through your quarter life crisis with them. You grow up with them in a way you hadn’t imagined would be possible. And before you even know it, you are watching Grey’s Anatomy and missing your version of the ‘Twisted Sister’ crises partner. Sometimes when I sit here, at Berkeley, and working furiously on an assignment, a part of me almost believes that I am back in B12. That if I look up, I will see A typing away furiously on her laptop while shaking her head to whatever is playing in her headphones. And before I can say a word, C will come charging into the room to give us some news, and mess around with the purple teddybear. But then the moment passes. And I chat with them on Gtalk instead.
My younger self did not know anything. Things aren’t linear, and no matter how sure you are of things, they may not be the best for you. You need to keep searching to find what matters the most to you. And this includes the 3AM friends.
It started out with me playing the song on loop. And then it slowly spread like a virus. It was almost like background music to those times. A ritual, similar to the random singing of ‘4 baj gaya lekin party abhi party hai’ at 4AM everyday. Whenever I listen to this song, I am going to be transported to the times of lounging under a beanbag, trying to write specs and test code. Realizing over and over again that I was spanning chats with friends across timezones. Trying hard to come to terms with the fact that my life was revolving around a place I didn’t want to be in.
Now I’m almost nostalgic about it all…