Idli and Ants

The cabin lights dimmed, silencing the chatter, and leaving only the hum of the engines. Sporadic infant cries occasionally rang out as the plane shook from mild turbulence. For once, Melody was not among them. She had already fallen asleep in the bassinet attached to the wall, and I thanked God for the rest that was overdue. We were at the halfway mark on our second and longest flight, an amazing feat, for our journey around the world. I clinked plastic cups with my husband over a job well done. “Cheers, to our success so far!” I said deliriously as I ushered for a flight attendant to refill my cranberry juice, and barked “to keep them coming!” (clear fabrication, I can’t manage to bark at anyone). Somewhere over the Arctic Circle, Melody’s clock was up and it was time for the next 100 laps around economy. Little did my daughter know, that the sun had only begun to set in our destination, India.

*Side note: I wish they awarded a badge for every parent that crosses 10,000 miles non-stop with an infant. Purple hearts, marathon winners, and myself now share a similar circle of accomplishment. (dramatization implied).

We waded through droves of people to finally find the familiar faces of Jai’s family. They had waited hours outside Arrivals while we navigated customs and found delayed baggage. My 11 month old could hardly blink as she took in the scenes around us. The air was thick, the people looked different, the sounds, the smells, Good Lord the smells! We were back in India!

But for Melody, it was the first step into a world that hadn’t existed till she landed right into it. Her head whirled around as she was passed from person to person. She marveled at the cows crossing the road, the people stoking trash fires on the sidewalk, and the unison call to worship from passing mosques. These once commonplace novelties have taken on a new life as I watch the effect they have on my daughter. She loves the animals that roam our city streets, as if the pictures in her storybooks have leapt off the page. She has a new fascination with nose rings, grabbing glimmers of gold that hang from any nostril in reach. She also discovered the best of hiding places, often venturing into the bottom folds of women’s sarees. “Peekaboo!”

But for every humorous situation, there is a frightening story to match. Instances that create wrinkles, heart palpitations, and turn your hair white, all at once.

Nothing, not time, perspective, or Xanax, can calm you down after seeing your baby speed away on a motorcycle. She’s straddling the seat in front of her dad, trying to reach the handlebars, and I’m unconscious from my horror. Reading this you may think, “Whoa! That crosses my line, not a good parenting move, Sarah.”

You may want to stop reading.

India crosses all your lines.

Which heart stopping story next? Oh yes, the stairs. Each step conveniently sharpened into a nice blade. Thank you Indian stair makers. It’s a delight happening upon my daughter three or four steps up, clinging to the edge like a circus performer.

I am happy to say that Melody loves the indian breakfast, Idli…and that’s about it. Idli is on the menu all day and all night! That may be an exaggeration… she has become a fan of catching and eating the ants on the ground. I support it, and believe it elevates her pallet. Not the red ones, what kind of mother would I be? but the large black ones that appeared in the terrible Indiana Jones remake. (sarcasm intended).

To travel the world with your precious children, you must be brave. To travel to India with your children, you must be brave with a side of absolute crazy. That’s right, I said it. It’s a special calling for a foreigner to do family life here. Clinging to the ways of the west as they slip out of your sweaty exhausted fingers. We may not always be comfortable, put together, or honestly, safe. It’s the hope that my child will be stronger and better for it that gets me through each day. That she will balance life’s obstacles the way she balances on a motorcycle and sharp stairs. That she’ll hide herself behind sarees and not her fears. That she’ll crave adventure like she craves Idli and ants. So for now and for always, our family will stay brave… and crazy.

My Big Fat Indian Party

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The door bell rang announcing the arrival of our first guest, giving me just enough time to remove photos of me with bare shoulders from the living room. Jai and I had only a few hours notice of the venue change for our dad’s birthday “cake cutting,” and I wasted no time to clean and child proof the apartment for the exuberant chaos ahead. Jai’s sister, Emily, along with her husband and two children, were the first to de-shoe and step inside. I was flattered by their audible “Wow’s” and proverbial compliments to the neatness of the apartment and my obsessive tidiness. My nephew who smiled at me with blue stained teeth, reminded me that the tan fabric on our couch would soon be tattooed by goo from more than one lollipop holding child in the course of the evening. Just as quickly as the couch was covered with a sheet was it used by little hands for a climbing wall.

Pair by pair, shoes and sandals started to pile up at the threshold of our door. Within the hour, nearly the whole family assembled in the living room, talking cheerfully and filling the home with laughter, and the street with echoes of chatter. Everyone was eagerly anticipating the arrival of Jai’s parents, as each minute of wait increased the caged energy of the ten grandchildren who knocked about the apartment like pinballs. The unfulfilled promise of cake had induced them to start opening our closet doors, as well as the drawers in our desk, in search of a worthy employment of destruction. By the time our youngest nephew found the fish food and popped it open like a can of confetti, a loud backfire outside signaled Amma and Appa approaching by auto-rickshaw. My sister-in-law followed them while carrying oversized bags that weighed down both her arms. I took one from her and saw that it was full of large vessels containing rice and various curries, another bag contained a projector and tangled strands of wire. We proceeded to the kitchen where a feast of an epic proportion was laid out on every spare inch of counter. The “cake cutting” party had transformed into a grand banquet to celebrate the life for our most esteemed patriarch. Songs began to fill the home as each family member joined in a chorus of Tamil hymns. I sang along to one which was most familiar, fumbling over the tough words, and singing only a few lines with confidence. During the last song, I retreated to the kitchen and recovered the chocolate cake I had made the night before. The ceiling fan that laboured to cool the packed room was turned off, ushering a momentary heat wave, to ensure the candles would not extinguish prematurely. After singing Appa the birthday song, “May God Bless You Dear,” I began to cut small slices and place them in the hands of our family (who traditionally never expect a plate or fork). The room marveled that we would be eating a cake that was homemade, and despite it looking like a tear drop instead of the heart shape I intended, most exclaimed it was one of the best cakes they’ve ever had.

Just as soon as the last of the chocolate crumbs fell to the floor, were the women gathered in the kitchen clanging pots with spoons and filling plates from the collection of dishes. As if Noah’s ark fell into a pot of curry, there was beef curry, mutton curry, chicken curry and vegetable sides all portioned equally on a mound of rice. I danced around the splashes of Sambar that speckled the floor to serve the children, who were seated in a circle in our spare bedroom. After all had eaten their fill, the women were dispatched from the sweltering kitchen and sat for their dinner where the kids had gathered. They would soon join the rest of the family who were now watching “A Bug’s Life” dubbed in Tamil, and displayed on the wall. Somewhere in-between the deep, yet throaty, Tamil voice of Flick heartily chuckling and the cry of my only niece wanting to be held by Appa, I made a silent assessment of our apartment. To my surprise, it held up bearable well, but I learned that the frantic need to clean before our family’s arrival was misplaced, and that the energy spent should be saved to recover from the aftermath. After the hearty conclusion of ant verses grasshopper and the adieu of our big and wonderful Indian family, Jai and I managed to pick some pieces of cake from the carpet and tie off a few bags of trash. The lids of my eyes grew too heavy to do more and just as they were about to close in desperation of sleep, I could see little wolverine claw marks smeared on the opposite wall of our bedroom. Before I could make out if they were made by pencil, pen, or mascara, sleep overtook me.

Golden Peacock

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Our moving process was proving to be just as exposing as it was exhausting. In my haste to empty our wardrobe for the man waiting to disassemble it, I had forgotten the underwear drawer, which caused both him and my husband to blush and avert their eyes. “What?” I said defensively. “Women don’t wear underwear in India?” I murmured while scooping up my personal items. After the underwear incident, I abdicated my duties inside and went to the stairwell where the movers bustled up and down with our boxes. With a loud crash, my toiletries flipped and tumbled out of their box with the impact of each step. Lice kits, feminine products, and cosmetics  broke free and scattered from the smashed container in all directions of the stair well. The two men who had made the fumble, reassured in broken english, “No damage,” as they picked up nail polish bottles one by one. Multiple colours had been broken and painted the wall in splashes of pinks and reds. I went quickly to help clean up the mess, at the same time hoping Jai would not look for the reason behind the commotion.

To my surprise, the work continued for most of the day, which made me wonder how we could possibly own enough stuff to merit this kind of labor. But sure enough, they loaded our water cooler, couch, Jai’s books, my potted plants, and everything else we had accumulated from clothespins to closets. The “Kutty Yannai” truck, meaning “little elephant,” was parked below and was sinking lower from the increasing weight. Turns out we should have booked a “full grown adult elephant” or a “little mammoth,” (if they existed) to transport everything in one trip.

It’s hard to believe that two years ago, I sold all that I had and moved to India with just the luggage in my hand and the clothes on my back. So, I guess I was caught by surprise that our home no longer reflected the lives of a traveling minimalist. I had fooled myself by keeping our knick knacks hidden in drawers and tucked under beds. Now, each trinket we owned was free and spilling out of every seam in the house. By this experience, I realized we’ve collected some less than useful household items. I speak of the golden peacock fruit bowl, Sri Lankan seashells, countless sarees and everything else with nominal purpose (come to think of it, the golden peacock is essential to holding our fruit). Of course, there is no inherent evil in these materials, and I have no condemnation for abundance. But, I believe we should all be careful, and keep a loose grip on what we have. From cars to candles, whatever we collect and clutch too tight will encourage our own greed and self indulgence. We lose the joy in what it feels like to give and the peace of living simple. Whether you’re moving or not, maybe you should take a tour of your home and find all the golden peacocks hiding in the nooks and crannies. Consider freeing yourself up and decide which of those things you can give, so that one day they’re not crashing down a stairwell exposed for the world to see.

Wedding Loop

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The mouth of a small, gap-toothed girl had fallen open as she stared at me with widening eyes. Her mother continued to pull her through the market, unaware of the spectacle that was drawing her daughter’s attention. In an exhausted effort of elegance, I indelicately positioned myself side saddle on Jai’s bike, and draped the pleated end of my sari over my head. A moment before, I was upstairs in a panic trying to dress myself, realizing too late that my sari was too short. It is a cruel mystery how nine feet of fabric can be too short for anyone, but after a different selection, and two youtube tutorials later, Jai and I shot out our front door for the wedding. This would be the first Indian wedding, besides my own, that we were attending and I did not intend to miss it. We sped through the market, swerving around peddlers and shoppers who all adopted the same confused look at the sight of our passing. Jai accelerated when we reached the highway, causing me to release my sari to grasp hold the side handle on the bike. Red fabric blew behind me like a flowing cape, illuminating the gold sequins each time they flashed in the headlights.

We reached the church just after the ceremony had started, and awkwardly took our seats in the back. Golden tulle hung from branches that were crafted into an archway above the couple’s heads. Eloquent piano medleys, blended with auto programmed base settings, sounded from the keyboard, while videographers circled and buzzed around the bride and groom. She was dressed in a western white gown with chiffon cap sleeves and a beaded bodice, while her groom wore a fitted tux with red pipelining to match the flowers in her hair. For a moment I felt like I was at a wedding in America. It was just a moment, because the next second the pastor uttered something in Tamil, and both sides of the family stood up to surround the couple, blocking them from view. The service continued, and before the exchange of vows, I wasn’t entirely clear on what was happening. I could hear the groom nervously speak, and managed to see the eyes of the bride who looked upon him with a tender-like bliss. The words had been lost in translation, but the very real love between them could be understood by anyone with a heartbeat. Lastly, the two exchanged bibles. Then there was a build up of music, and they began to exit. “What no kiss!” I demanded. Jai knowingly looked at me in my disappointment and gave me a kiss on the cheek.

After lingering awhile, we traveled to the reception hall ambitiously named, “The Taj Palace.” Multi-colored string lights cascaded down the sides of the three story building, and a red sign board displayed the couple’s names with yellow foam letters at the entrance. The greeter instructed us to climb the staircase to the second floor where we would soon meet triple the number of guests than the ones who attended the ceremony. I learned from my own Indian wedding that the ceremony is a small business affair, but the reception is like an explosive extravaganza of people you’ve never known or know very little of. Everyone was sitting in plastic chairs facing the stage, and yet all the faces shifted towards us as we moved to take a seat in the back row. As if the gap-toothed girl came from the market and brought all her school friends, I was again the spectacle of the evening. Thankfully, the distraction of my presence was soon nullified by the entrance of the bride and groom. They had changed into traditional indian garments, and took their place onstage in front of a technicolored backdrop. As soon as the opening prayer and cake cutting had finished, Jai and I beelined to greet the couple and give them our gift. We precariously rocked over the edge of the stage as guests entered and left at both sides, until it was our turn to stand for the photo. Somehow, amma appeared at my side and only after the picture was taken did I see that both her and Appa stood on both ends, along with a school friend of Jai’s as well as one of our nephews. Yes, the perfect picture to remember for the young couple’s album. Each element of the evening bared many resemblances to our own happy day. Except this time, I was able to sit down, eat dinner (a mighty fine scoop of biriyani on a banana leaf), and leave early. It’s a satisfied feeling to cross over to the other side of something so momentous, but still be reminded of its meaning. Today, it’s the nostalgia over a wedding, tomorrow it’ll be moving into our first home, having our child’s first birthday party, and every other notable occasion that consequentially makes full loops. Like Mufasa says, “it’s the circle of life.” Lion King reference aside, these significant events have helped stir my memories of what’s already been accomplished, and restores a confidence of conquering what is to come.

Land of the Living

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Rippling pools of rain water on the San Diego tarmac were replaced by flurries of sand in Saudi Arabia. The land was dry, and insufferably barren. Clouds of sand rose and tumbled over the dunes like mist from snow capped mountains. Small buildings were outcropped along the horizon, and not much else. Staring though a wall of windows in the departure terminal, I thought to myself, how could this environment host human life, let alone a nation of people? Even the airport was still. Men dressed in full length white thawbs, with checkered keffiyehs, talked with each other in a tone of serious confidentiality. Women shrouded in black burqas, passed by uttering no more than an audible whisper. Eight hours later, we boarded our flight to India, and crossed over from a barren land to one teeming with life.

My eyes found Amma in the masses, pressed against the gate with two roses. Her face was illuminated by her smile, and her joy sparked a sensation of belonging that welled up in my chest. After wading through the crowd to reach her, we proceeded to the car, and squeezed inside the family’s old Omni with our luggage. During the hour long journey home, Amma and Appa related the damages that the recent flooding had done to the city and neighborhood. Shantytowns that were once camped along the river banks had vanished, while standing pools of water remained in areas with no drainage. Roads which were already in disarray, had been reduced to rubble, making the travel rough and hard to manage. Amma and Appa asked us to prepare ourselves for the state of our apartment.

Mercy was shone on our house, and the effects of the flood were minimal, yet still pervasive. The blue plastic sheeting that covered the door frame to our stairwell had been shredded, giving a glimpse of the bright pink walls, now streaked with black mold. Unfortunately, the crows took notice of our absence and made the steps and balcony look and sound like a scene from a Hitchcock movie. I had not built up optimistic expectations while in the US that all would be well during the storms, but in that moment, I was afraid for what waited beyond our front door. I turned the key and it instantly hit us, the thick moist smell of fungus saturated the air within. Dust from the furniture and floors was roused at the opening of the doors, and the wake of our hands sent teems of spiders scurrying for cover. Distress marks worn into the paint by the windows indicated the site of an indoor waterfall, while the line at the base of the wall showed that standing water had nearly reached a foot high. It seemed that there was no space unaffected. Electrical outlets sparked and sputtered, pictures in their frames were rippled and discolored, and every piece of clothing inside the closet displayed fuzzy spots of pale green.

So Jai and I set to work immediately to make things liveable again. We used a full can of clorox wipes, numerous rags, a bottle of dish soap, a full box of laundry detergent, and our jet lagged bodies to eradicate the unwelcome host of growth from our house. We replaced wires, laid clothes in the sun, washed dishes with boiling water, scrubbed the walls, and a load of other things that would only excite an OCD housekeeper. Apparently, the cost of coming to the land of the living means that a multitude of things you’d rather live without will also be there. That the difference in living a barren life of hushed whispers and endless deserts, and that of a life with bumpy roads and unknown doors, is that the latter will never be perfect, but it will also never be dry.

An Honest Confession

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The streets of San Francisco were awake and bustling by midmorning. My friend and I stood on the corner of 8th and Irving after meeting for coffee by Golden Gate Park. She held her newborn baby tightly with one arm as she rummaged through her purse with her free hand in search of her car keys. I absentmindedly watched a bus pass by with students and downtown commuters, when before I knew it, her baby was placed in my arms for me to hold. His little body was remarkably small in my hands, his fair skin was delicate like fine paper, and I was completely terrified to be holding him. I robotically shifted to whatever position I thought I saw on pampers and gerber baby commercials, but he began to fuss from my inadequate maternal skills. Remember the episode of Friends when Ross hands Rachel his son for the first time? She nervously gripped him under the arms and held him up like Simba the future Lion King. It was like that. Thankfully, my sweet and unassuming friend took no notice that I held her baby like I would hold a potted plant, and she relieved me of my impromptu duty when her keys were found. That monumental day happened to be my 21st birthday, and until that serendipitous moment, I had never held a baby. I confess to you now that I have had a fear of motherhood my whole life. A fear that now, more than ever, stares me in the face.

I grew up in a small family as one of the youngest, where opportunities to socialize with infants were decidedly few. The distance between me and the nearest baby of our relations were states apart, and no one seemed to notice that I carried my little brother around like a sack of potatoes. I grew up without refining the nurturer that is spoken to be natural in all women. This is fine when you’re young, but it’s awkward when you grow up and nothing changes. Whenever a new mom and her baby crosses my path, I fane indigestion and hide in the bathroom. Is it silly? Yes. Am I a monster for it? I hope not. I simply didn’t want my fear to be exposed. It doesn’t help that I have heard too many frightening delivery room narratives, and each story seems to stick with me. It didn’t help when Karina Sweeney brought a picture of her mom in labor with her to our second grade show and tell. Thanks a lot Karina, the image is still burned into my mind. It’s a natural act I know, natural like getting hit by a rhino around your midsection. And I know that the pain is not limited to just the laborer; there is an infamous story in my family, of my mom biting my dad on the shoulder when she was struggling to birth the 9lb 10oz robust chunk that I was…Sorry mom.

My husband Jai, however, has been naturalized into being an equipped and fearless father. There have been more nephews held in his arms than babies held in mine during my entire lifetime. In fact, babies and toddlers flourish and multiply in my husband’s family. The encouragement from our family for us to add our own mini-me’s to the group has a blunt and repetitive flavour… I defer to the words of Gus Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding; “Get married, make babies, you’re looking so…old!” Jai and I are married, check, but what follows is a gaping absence that appears to be painted on a giant billboard in Vyasarpadi. We haven’t had children yet, and I’m about to lie down in my crypt. Let me relate that in the Indian culture, you say yes to children the day you say yes to your spouse’s proposal. To go one year without conceiving and receiving your first child, scratches some heads, and puts serious doubts on the capability of your womb. And yes, I have so enjoyed people voluntarily laying hands on my stomach and praying.

Please don’t mistake me, of course I want children, and in God’s perfect timing. My fear of motherhood has been deeply rooted for a long time. It has stood like a formidable wall between my heart and my uterus (woah, I apologize for the creepy analogy). Until now, I had expected there would be a day when the wall topples down like Jericho. A day when the horns of heaven sound, and beams of light flash down, while God lowers a blanket with pacifiers and pampers and says in a booming voice, “Sarah, you are now ready.” Ya, I don’t think it happens like that anymore. I think for someone like me, you’re never really ready, and especially not on some decided day of reinvention. It takes time. You’re ready when you let the Holy Spirit equip you, like a fountain, being continuously filled up before pouring out. Admitting that it’s not the strength within myself that will make me a good mom, but the will of something beyond my capability that whispers, “It’ll be alright.” I pray that The Lord continues to speak to me and equip me, because then I know I’ll have everything I need.

Facing The Giants

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Black clouds extinguished the sun as they rolled over the mountain tops and painted the plantations in a faint blue light. Behind a network of branches, the half moon became visible through the forest, casting pale shadows on our foot path. Jai and I walked through a shaded corridor between two sloped tea fields that were carved into the ridge. I took his hand in mine and casually swung our arms back and forth, relishing the peace we had found in the Nilgiri Mountains. A long sigh escaped my lips as I took in the serenity of the scene. It was a welcomed relief from the adventurous chaos of my life in Chennai. As we continued walking, two voices suddenly echoed nearby in the dark. Their panicked tone and heavy breathing drew closer to us from an unknown direction. At last, two women emerged from the edge of the field behind us. Their grey sarees were twisted around their bodies while their hair hung loosely around their faces. They were both balancing oversized bundles of leaves on top of their heads, and took little notice of us as they quickly passed by. Three large dogs followed behind them, cautiously scanning the area for impending threats. Jai and I worked to match their pace so we could inquire the reason for their fright. One woman turned towards us, without stopping, to relate their escape from imminent death. I could see now that she was at least seventy years old. The wrinkles mapping her face held beads of sweat that dripped from her chin as she spoke. Jai translated their experience encountering four wild bison in the lower tea fields. The large bodied creatures had beat their hooves against the ground and began to charge them with lowered horns. The women had managed an escape while their dogs threatened the bison’s advances. We encouraged them to take a moments rest, and helped them lower the bags from their heads. Jai looked at me and said, “They still need to go back down to collect the last of the bags.” “But, why?” I said bewildered, “They nearly died, can’t it wait till tomorrow?” “They won’t be paid unless they turn in the full amount,” he said reluctantly. “Can we at least help them?” I entreated. Before Jai could reply, the women had already disappeared into the darkness down the path that lead to their dangerous confrontation. For the average worker in “Tea Country,” wages are earned or lost based on the ability to produce several kilograms of freshly picked tea leaves. The following day, Jai and I visited the tea factory located at the base of the mountain where the local villagers worked. When we arrived, two boys, no older than twelve, were unloading a truck filled with bags of tea leaves. Their slender arms flexed developing muscles as they hoisted each bundle to the nearest conveyer belt inside.

two young boys unloading tea bundles for processing
two young boys unloading tea bundles for processing
When we entered the factory, the stifling aroma that saturated the air immediately hit my nose and filled my lungs. Two young women stood at the ends of opposite conveyer belts where they received and sorted the leaves, until finally dropping them through a hatch. In the depths of the factory, men and women were stationed by monstrous equipment that filtered, crushed, and steamed the leaves from above. Each moment we spent below made me weary, and I grew tired of inhaling the endless cloud of herbal steam expelled from the machines. I had built an opinion that Jai and I were the real survivors living in the city, and that country living was an escape from more treacherous peril. Every day we dare to dart through crime inflicted areas, battle pollution, and contend with poverty in the concrete jungle. Now I see that we’re all survivors of unknown threats and intimidating powers. From fields of bison, tigers, and leopards to the iron beasts within factories, workers in the Niligiri’s face countless fearsome giants that I had never accounted for. Our daily enemies are most likely not beasts from the jungle or oppression of industry, but we all have our own opponents to face and struggle against. Even in our day-to-day environment, attacks may come by surprise, they may outnumber and stack the odds against us. But be encouraged, you are not alone when you fight for life and for light. Especially if you knowingly face the fear that had driven you into retreat in the past. I believe with all my heart that I will never be alone when the walls close in, because I know a master defender. With the proper defence, we can face any giant that stands against us.

“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

The Newlywed Realm

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Jai and I have now officially celebrated the one year mark of our Masala Marriage. It was a hot and humid Monday like any other, and yet I felt that this significant experience should be ushered in by an eclipsed moon, or a display of stars prophetically aligned to the peaks of a far off Indian mountain range (I’m not choosy). Alas, our extraordinary day did not alter the tides but was, well, ordinary. Maybe the eastern cosmos remained placid because our wedding took place 15,000 miles to the west, and barely a soul from our side of the world could remember. In spite of the disregard, Jai and I prepared for a romantic dinner in an upscale hotel that neither of us would have dared to enter for any less special day. Late as we were, we dashed down the stairs and pulled the handle of the first floor door, but the door insisted on remaining shut. Unfortunately, there was an empty space on the window seal where the small silver key should have been. We looked on the floor, we looked in our pockets, and we opened the window and looked below, but the key was not to be found. Jai shouted to a familiar patti (Tamil for grandmother or old woman) on the street to come and look. She shambled her way up the steps, but her efforts failed like ours to produce the key. So, we shouted, “Watch out Patti!” and Jai climbed through the window and landed on the steps below (Mind you, we were now in a hurry). Seeing my husband disappear through the front window of our first floor building, I did what any trusting wife would do and followed suit. Jai was below to catch me and we raced away. That situation in itself made the day eventful, and besides the hummus I consumed like water that evening, was my favourite memory commemorating our first anniversary. This then brought me to the thought of how life might alter after the lauded first year of marriage. Would I still be loving the life that awaits ahead or will I miss the feeling of being a newlywed? For humour’s sake I decided to make a list of the 15 things that describe what I like to call, The Newlywed Realm.

1. When you’re a newlywed; people assume you and your spouse have merged atoms and are in fact one person with one schedule.

2. When you’re a newlywed; your social media profile pictures are still from your wedding day.

3. When you’re a newlywed; if you attend a wedding, you immediately compare the differences and similarities of the ceremony and reception to your own perfect day.

4. When you’re a newlywed; the rooms in your house are set up like shrines to your romance, mainly showcasing engagement and wedding pictures…with a wallet size photo of grandpa.

5. When you’re a newlywed; it’s easier to not show up at events. (“Uh, we have a thing to go to…”)

6. When you do show up to something, everyone wonders why you are there and not spending more alone time, cuddling, or staring into each others faces.

7. When you’re a newlywed; you can match each other and everyone thinks it’s adorable.

8. When you’re a newlywed; you call each other not just one pet name but ANY and ALL endearments, ranging from fruit to baby animals. (“No, I love you, honey dew.” “Not as much as I love you, kitten.”)

9. When you’re a newlywed, whatever your spouse cooks, you eat, and then critique that it’s good… whether it’s truthful or not. (“I love the vegetables you used, what is that, bamboo?”)

10. When you’re a newlywed, it’s easier to eat unhealthy meals. Especially when we don’t know what we want to eat and nobody wants to cook. (“Oh honey, no you shouldn’t slave away in that hot kitchen, put down the bamboo and let’s eat out…”) (Jai and I usually buy a seasoned whole chicken roasted on a spit from a road side shop and eat that…with a side of mayo…don’t judge us).

11. When you’re a newlywed; you try not to be too obvious about your unhealthy gorging and sneak into the other room to eat your candy stash, or hide by the fridge door feasting in the late hours of the night. (“Good morning honey, why do you have chocolate on your face?”)

12. When you’re a newlywed; you’re still learning not to be disgusted by how much of your spouse’s hair you find on the floor, in the drain, in your food….

13. When you’re a newlywed; you try and hide hygienic tasks like tweezing your eyebrows or clipping your toenails.

14. When you’re a newlywed; a motorcycle seems like a perfectly practical family vehicle. (Well, they do fit up to five here in India…)

15. When you’re a newlywed; you talk about wild and unique future names for your kids like Syntax or Maximus, only to settle on George when the event becomes real.

Now that we’ve passed the one year mark, maybe it’s good that we can clip our toenails in front of each other (ew, right?), or change our profile picture, or maybe even be honest that we (ok, me) gorge on chocolate at 2 a.m. It’s a beautiful thing to collect experiences with the one you love most, like jumping out of buildings or eating barbecue chicken on the roadside in the slum. So whether it’s the first anniversary or the tenth, as long as I’m making memories with the man who makes my heart skip a beat, it doesn’t matter if the stars light up the sky or the people shout congratulations to us. If we stay true to ourselves and continue to learn, laugh and grow; Marriage looks pretty bright on the opposite side of The Newlywed Realm.

The Queen’s Speech

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Momentary peace clung to the morning during the last lingering minutes of dawn. A heavyset man appeared at the end of the street, delivering milk from a silver canister that was strapped to the back of his rusted bike. I took turns observing him refill bottles and checking my wrist watch for the time. They were late. At first, I contemplated possible polite excuses for their tardiness. But when minutes turned into hours, my mercy and patience flatlined. Now my mind drifted to every place I would rather be than where I was. Like standing in line at disneyland, on Saturday, during school vacation. Valuable sleeping hours were exchanged for arranging my dress, styling my hair, and finishing my ever important speech. I had actually ironed my outfit that morning (a rarity), and pulled on matching cotton leggings that were as tight as sausage casings. Weeks before, I had accepted an invitation to attend a local school’s sports day as their chief guest. Taking the occasion very seriously, I promptly stood outside of my brother-in-law’s house to wait for our escort car, that had apparently driven into the void. Why did we not wait in front of our own house you ask? I felt at the time we should avoid appearing like the slumdogs we are, but now I see that mistake put two kilometres between me and my comfortable bed. I laced my fingers through the iron bars of the gate and stretched. Like a tethered ship, I carelessly rocked from side to side. As I swayed, the long flowing fabric of my Kurta fluttered behind me in the breeze. For two hours, I stood in the street in all my glory, like the sinking Titanic. Just then, a silver four seater swerved around the corner and sped towards me. Echoing a scene from Taken, we were swept up for a wild ride and traveled the one hour distance to the school. Our hasty and overly sweaty driver, frequently answered his phone, trying to convince the other end that we were very near. Every dire turn caused my empty stomach to ache, and each bump in the road loosened my hair from its pins. We finally arrived to a large dirt field and came half way into the program. I heard my name declared at the end of a sentence in Tamil, and in the midst of nearly one hundred staring parents, I delicately waved my hand like the queen of England herself. We took our seats and were swarmed by teachers giving coffee and cookies while the principal apoligized for the lateness of the driver. I lifted my cup to take a sip, but when I searched the field for its restrooms and saw none, I lowered the coffee back to the table. We watched one performance after another; girls in dance clothes doing zumba, small boys executing a militant aerobics routine, and teens flipping hand over foot in their gymnastics number. The time had come to give my speech that I meticulously prepared the days before. For it, I learned an introduction in tamil, found quotes from former Indian presidents, and referenced many successful Indian athletes. The disappointing reality was, no one was listening. All the students ran free range at various edges of the lot, and the parents (the majority speaking only Tamil) carried on their conversations with one another. What was worse is that I wasn’t facing them, I wasn’t facing anyone at all. The podium was fixed so that my back was to the crowd, and if I wished to attempt eye contact, would need to pivot awkwardly around the microphone. When I had finished my inspiring and unparalleled speech, Jai gave a robust applause (either to encourage me or signal the people that I had finished). After accepting flowers and taking hundreds of photos with children and teachers, we rushed back into the car, possibly faster than we got in. Jai, the wise husband that he is, insisted that the driver stop along the way for coffee. I sat in a chair and stared at jai, clearly in a daze induced by the scene we had just come from. Without a word between us, I burst into tear filled, side splitting laughter. I laughed and laughed at everything, and didn’t stop laughing until I was exhausted. Can I admit that I took myself a little too seriously that day? Don’t we all at times? It’s easy to pride ourselves (inwardly or announced) on our prim and perfect appearance. I do. Thank heavens, the world produces unexpected comical situations that will remind us we live in imperfection, and not to view ourselves so critically. I’m talking about those paradoxical obscurities that make you want to throw up your hands and tilt your head back and laugh. And I hope you do, laugh that is. Sometimes it’s the best remedy for our own self importance.

A Cloud Of Essal

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The market lights were dimmed by an indiscernible mass that swarmed around each hanging fixture. Women carrying woven baskets of vegetables hurried with their children for shelter within shops. Jai lowered his head and cautioned me to close my helmet visor as the multitude of fluttering wings pulsed against us as we drove. The insects began to land and stick themselves to my shirt and pants, simultaneously adventuring a path down the bare nape of my neck. I leaned forward asking, “Which plague is this? It’s absolute madness!” Jai cryptically shouted from the front of the bike, “It’s the Essal!” We drove through the creeping cloud of bugs and arrived back to our home shortly after sundown. I immediately retreated upstairs while Jai ventured back to the market alone to buy the groceries we had originally set out for. When I entered the first floor of our building, I happened upon a room full of singing and swaying women in sarees. Jai’s dad had already begun the Sunday night service, and as per usual custom if I chose not to attend, I too would silently sway forward and out of sight into the stairwell that leads to our apartment. All the while miniature cyclones of flying insects circulated overhead. After climbing the steps to the next level, I could see now that ‘the Essal” were large winged moths that slovenly smothered any light source it could find. It would so happen on the eve of this epidemic that I lacked the courage to approach, let alone cross the threshold of our front door. I had in fact, cleverly resolved earlier to leave our fluorescent porch light on, which had now become the mecca for all the moths in India. Knowing I shouldn’t re-enter the service below in my agitated state, I sat defeated on our outside steps, flicking each invading insurgent from my trousers, and waited for Jai to save me. After a minute or two, a lizard climbed over the wall by my shoulder and started snatching my nemesis by the tongue into its waiting mouth. Soon a second joined, and then a third, and then a fourth. As if I were in the shoes of a National Geographic journalist, camouflaged into the scenery to observe their specimen; I watched as the lizards excitedly fought a battle I was unwilling to enter. Jai was not surprised when he discovered me in the stairwell (as he knows my deep fear of all things possessing an excess of four legs), and like the good husband he is, he swat his way through to turn off the porch light for me to tolerate entering our home. I sat on the couch and squashed the remaining moths that were snared in my scarf. “What is happening and how long does this last?” I asked imploringly. “This is a good thing,” he replied. “It’s a sign that monsoon season is about to start.” Discerning my questioning look he continued, “It’s only for one night. They will all die by the morning.” “That better be a promise,” I teased. I watched out the window and wondered at his words; could an annual moth uprising really mean the end of the hot indian summer we’ve endured since March? Could something so grotesque actually lead to the relief I have been pining for? True to his word, that morning the tiny corpses of my winged foe lie in heaps while lizards feasted on their rare bounty. And what’s more important, that next evening it rained. Mind you, not just the occasional rain that evaporates a moment after it falls, but the distinct pour from the heavens that sticks to the ground and absorbs into its depths. Our first monsoon of the season turned the evening dark as ebony. Sudden flashes of lightening brilliantly cracked the sky into fractals, and highlighted each drop of water like crystals as they fell to the earth. The rain washed away the filth collected on the streets and with it the decay that seemed to settle in any weary heart that yearns for change. The entrance of monsoon season has invited all things new, and for all things old to be renewed. How quickly I was blinded by the Essal in my weakness. I had convinced myself that the foreboding cloud of the present would last longer than I could bare. We don’t often see the door of something great lying directly behind the causeway of what we fear. I believe, if we become still in the battle, we’ll be able to clearly see that we’re never fighting alone. Hope always renews when the cloud disperses, when the rain comes, and when our clarity returns.