I look at my dog sleeping
Sideways on the couch.
His golden belly gently rising.
His paws stretched, sticking out over the side.
His tail tucked under his legs,
His little ears folded back.
He whimpers, his paws tremble.
Puppy dreams, I think fondly,
Though he turned three many months ago.
I sit and watch him.
My laptop slack, forgotten.
And suddenly, I can smell bread baking.
A rich, warm, glorious smell
That wafts through the house.
Who’s baking on a Monday afternoon, I wonder.
I open the door and check outside,
but the other flats lie silent.
The corridor is cold and silent
And smells of cheap phenyl.
It is in my house, the smell of bread.
It cannot be otherwise.
Heady, rich, impossible to ignore.
My heart is filled with it.
I move from room to room, my dog at my heels.
I sniff the air, my head raised.
He cocks his head. He is puzzled.
What is the human looking for?
My windows are latched shut.
The balcony closed.
It is a cold, gloomy day with a nip in the air.
Defeated, I return to my seat.
My dog totters after and curls up at my feet.
A few minutes later, the clouds shift.
A stray sunbeam comes in.
His brown fur blazes golden.
And I sit, transfixed.
He yawns, his tongue lolls pink.
He scratches an ear. He licks a paw.
And turns melting brown eyes to me.
“Yes, human?” they seem to ask,
“Do you smell the mysterious smell again?”
I bend forward and bury my face in his back.
And it is there again.
That thick, golden, wholesome scent
Choking my heart.
Stinging my eyes.
Almost too rich to bear.
I spotted this dog while having lunch at a restaurant today. He was sleeping on a red doormat right outside the main entrance of the restaurant.
Every time someone wanted to come in, they had to step over or around him. There were people who were scared of him and who would hesitate, shuffling around for a bit before hunger and common sense took over, and they scurried past him. Each time, the heavy glass door would be pulled open and it would squeak shut behind them.
All in all, it wasn’t a great spot to catch a nap.
Ten minutes later, I looked up and noticed that he had moved to the side, behind a standee. Now he was sleeping on the cold cement floor. Obviously less comfortable than the red doormat. But he was finally fast asleep. Completely at peace, oblivious to the world around him.
And it suddenly struck me how similar the two of us were.
Until four months ago, I had a full-time job with a regular paycheck and an impressive designation. I had a schedule and a holiday list and the comfort of knowing what tomorrow would bring. The doormat I was lying on was indeed soft. But there were disturbances all around: I was chasing other people’s goals. I was jogging on a treadmill that someone else controlled. My time simply wasn’t my own.
So, like this wise little chap, I decided to step aside.
I gave up the spot upfront on the red doormat and found myself a quiet corner behind a standee. The floor is indeed cold, but I am sleeping a lot better.
ടി പി കിഷോർ എന്ന വ്യക്തി യഥാർത്ഥത്തിൽ ആരാണെന്നു എനിക്കറിയില്ല. എനിക്ക് അദ്ദേഹം അച്ഛൻ മാത്രമാണ്. ഒരു മൂടൽമഞ്ഞിലൂടെ ഞാൻ കാണുന്ന, വർഷങ്ങളായി തേടുന്ന, രൂപം.
ഓരോ വർഷവും ഈ ദിവസത്തിൽ അച്ഛനെ ഓർത്തു പല കൂട്ടുകാരും എഴുതും. എനിക്കറിയാത്ത അച്ഛന്റെ മുഖങ്ങൾ ഏറെയാണ് എന്ന് ഈ കുറിപ്പുകൾ എന്നെ ഓർമ്മിപ്പിക്കുന്നു.
അച്ഛൻ ഒരു പ്രതിഭയായിരുന്നോ? അതോ ഒന്നും നേടാനാവാതെ പിൻവാങ്ങിയ ഒരു പാവം മനുഷ്യനോ? ഒന്നും നേടിയില്ലെങ്കിലും ഇരുപതു വർഷങ്ങൾ കഴിഞ്ഞും പലരും അദ്ദേഹത്തെ ഓർക്കുന്നു, വാത്സല്യത്തോടെ, വിങ്ങലോടെ. അപ്പോൾ അദ്ദേഹം എന്തോക്കെയോ നേടിയിരുന്നില്ലേ?
വേണമെങ്കിൽ ഭൂതകാലത്തിലേക്ക് ഒരു യാത്ര തുടങ്ങാം. അച്ഛന്റെ കഥകൾ എടുത്തു വായിക്കാം. അച്ഛനെ അറിഞ്ഞിരുന്ന പലരോടും സംസാരിക്കാം.
ഇപ്പോൾ മനസ്സിലുള്ള അച്ഛന് ഞാൻ കൊടുത്ത മുഖമാണ്. അത് തച്ചുടക്കാൻ ധൈര്യമില്ല. ടി പി കിഷോർ എന്ന മനുഷ്യൻ ഇന്ന് എനിക്കൊരു അപരിചിതനാണ്. അയാളെ എനിക്കിപ്പോൾ പരിചയപ്പെടേണ്ട.
പണ്ട് വളപ്പൊട്ടുകളും കണ്ണാടിച്ചില്ലുകളും കൊണ്ട് kaleidoscope ഉണ്ടാക്കിയത് പോലെ എനിക്കിഷ്ടമുള്ള ഓർമ്മശകലങ്ങൾ കൊണ്ട് അച്ഛനെ കുറിച്ച് നെയ്ത കഥകളുടെ ലോകത്തു ജീവിക്കാനാണ് എനിക്കിഷ്ടം.
Two weeks ago, I quit my job. As I went around saying goodbye to the people I had worked with for over 3 years, most of them asked. “Where are you joining next?” It seemed natural in this age of job-hopping and I took pleasure in saying that I wasn’t joining anywhere.
“So what will you do next?” they asked. I said I didn’t know. Somehow, nobody seemed to find this easy to believe.
Are you planning to start a family, wink-wink?
Tell me really, where are you joining? Why is it a secret?
I’m sure I will see you updating your LinkedIn status in a few weeks!
Are you being let go? Was there anything wrong at work?
Are you going to do something amazing? Like travel the world or save the whales or write a book?
All good ideas, but unfortunately, not one is mine. I quit my job with stars in my eyes and a million questions teeming in my head. What do I want to do with my life? Do I have a calling? What will it take for me to find happiness and fulfillment?
When I walked out of the office fifteen days ago, I felt liberated. Because I had done something simultaneously brave and stupid. While on an upward career trajectory, I had given it all up. My time was suddenly my own and the days seemed to be stretching out ahead of me, brimming with possibilities.
But I also felt something follow me out—the shadow of all those questions. It loomed over me in everything I did in the next few days.
I hummed to myself, chopping away red bell peppers and broccoli and tossing garlic and chilli flakes in olive oil. But just as I lifted a forkful of spaghetti to my mouth, I froze: should I have taken a picture first for Instagram?
I sat at my dining table, my fingers poised over the keyboard, about to write, and suddenly, I remembered all the people who would be reading it and thinking: G’s first piece of writing after she went on her break; would this be her best work yet?
Friends texted, asking what I was up to. Nothing, I started to type, then changed my mind. I wrote in brightly coloured words about long, lazy days with my dogs and the short holiday I had taken. Satisfied, they told me how they envied my freedom, how they wanted to get out of it all themselves and were just summoning up the courage to do it.
My mother called every night, asking me if I was feeling better, whether I had any regrets, and what I had been doing the whole day. Nothing, I told her in my head. And steered the conversation gently to my upcoming trip home and my brother’s wedding preps.
Why did I feel this sense of shame, this fear, in admitting that I was doing nothing? That I was, somehow, wasting precious hours in mindless pursuits and sometimes, none at all? Great things were expected of me. I had to prove through my pictures and my words that I was making the most of this time. That my decision was justified because I was getting equal or more value in return through my experiences.
Once upon a time, I had thought that I would use my break to sign up for belly dancing and driving. Learn to swim and speak Kannada (not necessarily at the same time). Walk around Bangalore, discovering new localities and eateries and unexplored spots. Travel solo across the country.
Instead, what have I done?
Slept and woken up when my body felt ready. Cooked when I felt like and ordered in when I didn’t. Watched entire seasons of The Middle without guilt, until I purged it out of my system. Put on face masks in the middle of the day and forgotten to take them off while caught up in a book. Watched obscure biopics on YouTube. Eaten tubs of ice cream at midnight…
As I write this, I realize for the first time, that I have not been doing nothing. I have been doing everything.
Everything I really wanted.
There may be no glory in lounging around in one’s pajamas—but there is definitely pleasure. Nothing great about reading and re-reading, except the indescribable joy of finding new worlds. Nothing to post on social media but a stitch in my side from laughing.
Perhaps there will come a day when I feel the urge to take up water colour painting or take the metro to VV Puram’s famous food street, and I will do it. Until then, I’m just going to enjoy the biggest freedom of them all—doing just what I want to do, without having to prove anything to the world.
We met Jo six months ago on a trip to the UK. She was our host in Teign Valley, Devon. Today, when I got on Airbnb again to plan another trip, I suddenly remembered Jo and Lorenzo and their lovely cat Frodo. And felt a surge of shame at how I had never bothered to stay in touch.
I typed out a long, long email with abject apologies and a recipe for pulao that I had promised to share after spying some spices and long grained rice in her kitchen. After the message was sent, I made a startling discovery: that listing no longer exists.
I furiously googled ‘The Old Barn, Dry Lane, Teign Valley’ and came up with this Stags listing. The house had been put up for sale some time ago and for all I know, is already sold by now. That means Jo’s quaint, lovely barn-home is not just not on Airbnb, but is also no longer hers.
I remember the day we drove up Dry Lane, counting the houses after the Post Office and turning at the Church. It was late evening and the shadows were deepening. As we parked in the shared driveway, Jo came out of the house to welcome us in. She seemed a little apologetic about how small the house was and somewhat anxious about how we would react to it.
But to us, everything seemed delightful–the low roof held up by wooden beams, the narrow stairs we thumped up to our room on the first floor, the teeny, yet utterly cosy bedroom, the shelves and shelves of books Jo had lined up against the walls, and the lovely cats: Frodo the Golden and the shy tabby whose name I forget.
We seemed to hit it off really well and sat in her kitchen talking late into the night, swapping stories about everything from food fads in India and England to contract teaching in England, her years in South America, the problems faced by working mothers, and the twisted logic of picking up (biodegradable!) dog poop in plastic bags in the name of eco-sensitivity. Together, we pored over a map of Dartmoor National Park and Jo marked out for us the best route to take and the key zones to explore, given our limited time in the area.
There was a teary moment that night for me when Jo’s eight-year-old son Lorenzo brought out his piggybank of savings and offered it to us “for the elephants in India”.
“Come to India,” I told him, “The elephants would love to have you feed them the bananas!” And his face lit up at the prospect. I could see the pride in Jo’s face as she hugged him and later, she told us Lorenzo’s father was half-Pakistani and he was thus one-quarter Asian.
That night, I borrowed The Wind In The Willows from Jo’s shelf and read it through the night. I acquainted myself with Rat and Mole and Mr. Toad, their adventures on the River all the more real and delightful because I’d just walked by the Thames in Oxford a few days ago, along the very paths and under the same trees where they had lived out their fabled lives.
The following day, our foray into Dartmoor, culminating with a hike up to Bellever Tor, was sheer delight, mainly because of the tips Jo had shared. We came home exhausted, yet exhilarated, only to find that things were in a bit of a tizzy. Lorenzo had had another nosebleed and Jo had gotten her mother to pick him up from school and she had an interview the following day for a teaching role that could be more permanent. “I hope I get it,” she said and we saw a flash of anxiety flit across her face.
To cheer her up, we made instant noodles out of the packets we’d brought with us from India and got her to taste some of it, while Lorenzo rested on the couch with tissues to mop up his nosebleeds. That was our last evening together. By the time we came downstairs the next day, she had left for her interview leaving behind a cheery little note. We made breakfast as Frodo looked on with interest, cleaned things up, and left her our card with our contact details on the dining table.
As we lugged our bags down the stairs, the driveway, and into the car, the cats followed us, as though to say goodbye, and I felt a little pang. “We’ll come back again,” SR said cheerfully, “We should explore Dartmoor so much more!”
Afterwards, she left us a review on our Airbnb profile:
It was an absolute pleasure to host Sreeram and Gowri. They were a delight to have around and two of the most considerate guests we’ve had to date. We enjoyed great conversation and a taster session of Indian (fast) food! I can’t recommend them highly enough, and only wish they could have stayed longer 🙂
Today, as I sit here writing this, I am not even sure if Jo will see my Airbnb message. She is still registered as a host, so I hope she gets my message. But if she is no longer active, she may not see it at all. And with that, I would lose someone who could have been a friend.
We read so much about how travel expands our horizons and lets us meet new people and experience new things. But Jo was one of the few people I’ve met during our travels who wasn’t a caricature. She was real–vulnerable, yet strong, an amazingly interesting person, and a very, very kind host.
I mentioned this in my message to her, the one I don’t know if she will ever see, and I will say it again: she and Lorenzo and Frodo will forever remain in our hearts and our prayers. I hope wherever she goes, she finds happiness.