Okay ladies, I’m back. Man, you guys can work up a lather when you want, can’t you? (PS: Pictures added to the Turkey trip in the previous post. And don’t start freaking out, the OA didn’t bother to check – yes, it’s always his fault – and the camera would run out of charge after 2-3 hours of use. So not too many pics anyway. Plus this trip was all about meeting people and not too much sightseeing, so all I have are pics of friends’ mugs and mine, grinning toothily into the camera . Not putting those up for obvious reasons.)
So we landed at the Dulles airport. Walked out, and were hit in the face by 40 degrees. WTF Virginia!? I know we come from Gurgaon, but hey, we’re here for a break, not a taste of home weather. Top that up with no ceiling fans in most homes and it’s deadly.
Anyhow, I’m rushing ahead. The first thing I laid eyes on as we exited, was the most darling, dimply face. My nephew Baby Button. I have to confess that I was terrified he’d be one of those babies who need space, and time etc. All those things I politely accept when offered in public but would hate in my own kids. Okay, don’t lynch me. Do you want honesty on this blog or not? So I approached him with trepidation, then promptly forgot all my resolutions, abandoned my luggage trolley and threw myself at him with all the eagerness of a puppy. Fortunately he’s a true desi baby who is as used to random strangers as the next and he put his little round arms around my neck and submitted to being slobbered all over, without a squeak.
We went home with me itching to pull him out of his car seat, all the while reminding myself that I was in a country where it was against the rules. The first couple of days were spent just sacking out at home and rolling on the carpet playing the stupidest games ever. But games that kept a 16 month old amused. I might be biased here, a wee bit… but I think he’s the brightest, beautifulest, most amazing baby on earth. There. Let’s just get that out of the way so that I can tell you all else without that playing on my mind.
The first weekend was spent at a cottage at a lake, with the Mad Sibling aka Tambi and his gang. Two cabins occupied, indoor pool, loads of babies all over the place and more food than I’ve seen in a long time. I loved how everyone just picked up and fed a baby, never mind who it belonged to. Anyone would change a diaper, any of the dads would take the kids for a swim. I guess that comes from having a small, close knit community. They see each other through the week and on the weekends obviously. I doubt we could ever do that back home. I don’t see myself scolding somebody else’s kid and living to tell the tale. Comes from having much bigger social circles I suppose. We can party every weeknight and still not meet the same friends more than once in 6 months.
I have to say with some regret, that I was a little underwhelmed by the country. I was all ready to be smacked in the face by the American Dream. All set to stand mouth agape. But that only happened in Turkey. The US countryside was pretty, but so was UK. Which left just the shopping. And with Gurgaon bursting at the seams with massive malls and foreign brands, there was nothing we had not seen before. Which didn’t stop us from shopping of course. What really bit me on the arse was the fact that every bit of cotton clothing I picked up, came from Bangladesh or India. What?! I didn’t spend my lifetime’s savings to go abroad and buy Indian maal. Why didn’t we just keep our best cotton here, to begin with? And I know the answer, so don’t start giving me 101 Economics. The OA already tried and wisely shut up when he saw the look on my face.
FYI, I’d got an MRI before going off and it shows that I have two torn ligaments and my right knee cartilage is shredded. I was told not to walk at all. But we left for our holiday and I was walking up to 10 hours a day, carrying bags etc. I’ve come home unable to move and have begun my physiotherapy. Am in a lot more pain now than I was, but I guess I have only my trip to blame for that. I shouldn’t have walked so much.
But I did. I did a lot of sighseeing and since we were short of time, we split up. So the OA went to Wall Street to pay his respects and I went to the NY Public Library. He went to an Iron Maiden concert (actually I’d have loved that too) and I went to spend the night with friends. We did a whole girlie night driving around DC, seeing the monuments by night, eating ice cream, watching movies and chatting till daybreak. None of us had our kids with us and that just took us back 15 years. We felt like we were in college. Giggling, screaming, arguing, having intense debates and then making life changing confessions. Many of these friends have been made much later in life – err.. yes, these were my bloggy pals.
Which made me wonder – are you still best friends with your school best friend? Is there such a concept as a best friend? I don’t think I’ve ever had one. Have your friends grown with you? Or have you outgrown and moved on and made new friends? I know, that thanks to the blogosphere and the internet, I’ve made many interesting friends later in life and I find I’m much closer to them than I am to people I knew years ago. Perhaps because I’ve changed so much as a person and have made these friends according to the person I am now. Not the joint rolling (yeah fine, so laugh at me, so what if I didn’t smoke ‘em?) roadie that I was. One friend has a theory. She says we lose a lot of our old friends because they don’t want to make the effort to understand us. It’s easier to just go along with the image of the person they knew us to be. What do you think? There’s an interesting piece by the NY Times here. Says it’s harder to make friends post 30. And yes, some of my closest friends, people I can call at 2 am, are friends I have made post 30. Now what?
Getting back on schedule, I fell in love with the homes. The big windows, the lovely gardens, the airy kitchens that even I wouldn’t mind cooking in. I was a bit aghast at the amount of paper towels used in kitchens and the amount of food people just ‘trashed’ - why do people verb every word? Look, like I just did! Cartons of juice, milk, bags of bread, all trashed after big parties because no one has the space to store them. I thought back to our piddly efforts to conserve in India and realised that for every bit of effort 10 families in India make to not waste food, one family in the US can reverse it, without trying too hard.
I loved the way people dressed in NY – So smart, so unselfconscious and so much fun. In contrast I found DC stodgier. My brother was most offended that I found NY more fun than the suburbs – “hah! What’s to like? Queues for the cabs and the toilets”. But I am a small town girl who moved to the big city. I have no desire to drive to places. I want public transport, cultural events and zing. I know for sure now that I could never live in a suburb in the West. It’s either a big city or nothing. In NY I forgot I was brown. In the suburbs my eyes searched for another non-white face. And since I don’t drive and have no sense of direction, moving to the US would be slightly suicidal.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find I am almost an XS in most brands. Until the OA gently reminded me that I am not getting any smaller. The average American was huge. I don’t want the offence coming in now, so please accept this as a villager’s observations, and not as judgment.
I loved how people smiled and said hello at stores. In India, you walk into a store and if it’s a small town kirana shop, it’s usually some grouchy, paunchy guy who serves you like he’s doing you a favour. So I loved being welcomed with “And how are you today?” I of course would smile and take the question seriously, while whoever had brought me out would roll their eyes. My excessive desi politeness left people confused. If I knocked over a display and went to say, “I’m terrible sorry but I …” , they’d look at me in surprise. Or if I asked – “Could you please help me find a blue in this teeshirt?” they’d hasten to serve me with alacrity. Until I learnt that all I had to say was “I’m looking for a blue in this.” Amazing how you can speak the same language and still have to take a crash course in simple shopping! The few firangs we ended up chatting with in buses and tubes were all surprised at how well we spoke English, which surprised me, considering the number of Indians living abroad.
We had a few unpleasant reminders of how it pours when it rains. Literally. There was a thunderstorm while we were there. We were at a Hawaiian theme party that night and the moment the heavens burst forth, we ran out and danced in the rain like crazed kids. Not so funny the next morning when we heard that trees had fallen and all sorts of disaster had struck, including electric lines going down. Some friends couldn’t lock their homes, others had to manually unlock garages, food was going bad in massive freezers, dishes couldn’t be done, I could go on. As the OA grinned, no one needs a generator or inverter there and there’s no jugaad option.
The next thing that went wrong was on our bus trip back from NY to DC. The AC stopped working after an hour and we still had three more to go. It was the middle of the afternoon and obviously, the bus windows were sealed. The firangs began stripping down to bare essentials, pulling tees up and tucking into bras, rolling pants, sweat pouring down faces, hair matted in the heat. And there I was, aunty from a village with no options in my tights and full sleeved shirt. I sat there and wondered if I was going to die. The sun streamed in, baking me, and I lay limp, wondering how to phrase my epitaph. I have never, ever, faced such discomfort in my life. The bus stopped at Baltimore and we tumbled out on to a hot tar road, bare feet burning, hunting for water.
The last was my brother’s clothes dryer got spoilt. Of course we couldn’t hang clothes out in the balcony because it’s not done. So all that hot sun wasted away while we dried stuff all over the furniture. And the replacement piece had to be fitted back by my brother because no electrician was on speed dial. The OA and I looked at each other in horror as he opened up the machine nervously, no idea what was wrong or how to fix it. And then looked at him in awe as he figured it out and did it. Of course we’d have to do it if we lived there too, but we don’t have to and don’t want to, so yayy!
There were points when we missed the kids but mostly I was just glad we’d left them behind. They’re too old for strollers and too young to walk 10-12 hours a day. At the Museum of Natural History I saw the dinosaurs and felt my heart sink. It was just wrong to see anything dinosaur related without the Brat. And the OA and I, like love sick couples, became love sick parents. We made little videos and spoke to the kids right through them, doing our best to share them. I didn’t show it to them when we got back because I didn’t know if sharing what they missed out on was good or bad.
Which is not to say they didn’t have a blast without us. They went to Benaras, Orchcha and Madras with my parents. They loved the haveli they stayed in at Orchcha and Madras of course is a second home to them. Since my brother is the only other one among us 9 cousins who has procreated and is too far away, my kids reap the benefits of being the sole set of grandkids to many people. They were spoilt rotten and returned with no recollection of vegetarian fare. Egg dosas, prawn curry, roast chicken – the insane amount of protein brought them back taller, stronger, heavier, healthier and fussier. I have had to reintroduce them to plain vegetarian meals and they imagine we have nothing better to do than drop everything else and entertain them, which is pretty much what went on in Madras!
I think my happiest moments were the bookstores. I didn’t realise how different countries stock differently – the airport bookstore in Istanbul had me drooling. My SIL groaned because I even seemed to find books in grocery stores carted back a load. Yes, book post will come soon.
But what left me really heartbroken, was the Holocaust Museum in DC and the Museum of Tolerance in NY. I went to both – overkill, says the OA. And I cried through both. There are times I believe we should all be wiped out and the reset button pressed. How are we ever going to make up for the Holocaust? Darfur? Rwanda? Cambodia?
I feel like I’ve skipped over so much and left so much out. But I’m just overwhelmed by the trip. I met too many people I care too much about to blog about. I felt emotions I haven’t felt in a long while. Maybe the biggest thing was walking into my brother’s home. He left India a few days before my first anniversary and said he’d be back in 2 weeks. It’s been 8 years now. Big changes rarely come in that form. They come as small steps. A short two week trip changed his life as well as mine. Because most nights my prayers begin by asking God to move him closer to me. Perhaps what bothered me most, was not that I didn’t see him often enough. The poor child did visit almost twice a year. No. What bothered me, was that for the first time I didn’t know what his life was like. This was the first time I hadn’t lived his life with him and it jarred. I’ve come home feeling a load of my shoulders. I can die happy, knowing that I’ve been in his home, had him pour out dosas, rolled on the floor with his baby, gone on long drives with them, partied with their friends.
But nothing prepared me for the ache of handing my little Baby Button back to his mother’s arms when I said goodbye. I sobbed like a baby while he looked at me quizzically. We’d got to be best back seat friends. He had this funny way of pulling my arm across his belly and holding it there as he sat strapped in. Sometimes he’d pull my head into his little lap and pat me. He hated being strapped in and the OA and I once danced in the back seat for over 1.5 hours to keep him from crying on a long drive. My jaws ached with the funny faces I’d made but it was more than worth it to see his dimples resurface. I accidentally referred to myself as mama when I was playing with him. Because that is what it felt like. Like a third child in our old age, I laughingly told the OA. Of course kids being cruel in the way only they can, the little Button favoured the OA over his besotted aunt. The OA would ignore him deliberately, and he’d go over and pat him, try to get his attention. I wish I could play hard to get, but I’m temperamentally unsuited to that strategy. Even as the flight took off, I plugged my aching ears (I flew out with high fever and a bad cough and cold), and felt my eyes streaming and my body literally racked with sobs. It’s going to be years before we make the trip again. I don’t know if his aunt and uncle from India will be of as much interest to him then, as we were this time. I forgave the US for taking my brother. I have yet to forgive it for taking my little brat too.