Sunday, January 22, 2012

Once Upon a Time a Dollop of Honey

Her name was Honey. She didn't physically answer to the images that "honey" brings to one's mind, but she was wonderful. I'm sure she still is. For, someone who has been thus for over forty five years, will not radically change within a period of six. Except that I haven't met her in as many years. During my high school torment of having science thrust upon me, I would go every week-end to Mr. Johnson to learn my Biology. He taught in Don Bosco and has been one of the very few brilliant and inspiring teachers of my life. He was reticent, gentle, kind and patient, especially with a student like me who failed to understand the ridiculous carbon cycles that take place during photosynthesis. Why does carbon have to take such a complicated path to produce sugar and all the other things it produces, is something which still baffles me. Nevertheless, Mr. Johnson had made me see some point then (which, being stupid and ungrateful, I've never cared to remember and write down among the annals of the remarkable moments of my life), and Miss Honey was his wife.

My parents had known them ever since my father had settled down in Siliguri and the Johnsons had lived near our para. Baba even knew Miss Honey's mother. I was in the phase when I took my little world as eponymous -- everything was there since inception, and although I would move on, nothing could possibly change about the place and the people. I often passed by their house while going to the church, which was also our favourite playground, and I had never given their house much thought, until tormented by carbon cycles I'd taken refuge in that patient man's only free afternoons. That phase has also been special for me because it was then, at 17, that I was slowly becoming alive to the beauty of what was around me, and giving some serious (though often wrong and romantic) thought to life. It was in those afternoons that I would discover the lovely avenue that linked our house to the Johnsons. Baba would drive me sometimes and I would cram my nascent notions and thoughts into those two minutes I had alone with him. On very few occasions I would walk there alone and those walks would eventually be the prelude to the long winding walks I so love to take now. I can now see before me that road, those empty fields, before it bent along Mr. Moongraty's nursery (where everyone was welcome to just visit and would inevitably end up in his sprawling but neglected mansion, sipping tea and listening to him talk about his fascination with the Vedas) and the bustling trees offering a never-ending tranquil shade as the road went straight ahead like a neat ribbon carefully placed. None of the beauty remains now, as my parents tell me, but that is another matter. The Johnsons lived just beyond the nursery. During the time I used to frequent that place, their sons were studying in Bangalore and their large house was empty.

Honey Miss talked, oh she did that so well! She would instantly make one feel at home, and only someone as shy as me could be tongue-tied in front of her warm and homely presence. Now when I think about it, I liked the Saturdays best. Sir would often come home late, having had to take some practical classes at school (or maybe not; the facts get muddled up in my mind now) and I would spend priceless moments chatting with Miss Honey. It was one of those days that she showed me her library and confessed that she was a voracious reader. She would narrate stories of how Sir would procure books for her whenever he went out of station. I loved her yarns, and though I often found myself too inarticulate to reciprocate in equal measure, I'm sure I held a jubilant smile throughout. She'd tell me tales of her childhood, how things (such as our para) came to be as I saw it, the oldest bookstore in town and its loving proprietor who'd bring a rare title from other cities if a dedicated reader wanted it, of the church in "our parish" (as she called it and I found it funny 'cause I could not equate a full-blown parish with our humble neighbourhood); in other words, of people and places as they once were and which I'd never seen or would see, but would love to dream about. One of those days, as we were lounging in the sofa, she said, "What do you think about these crochet and cross-stitches?" I said that they were intricate and beautiful and looked resplendent in the white linen. She smiled and replied, "I made all of them." She confided in me, saying that as she was always alone during the day-time, she would read and stitch to her heart's content.

I remember making a phone call late one evening, and Miss Honey answering the phone and saying Sir wasn't at home. She said, "I'm baking a cake and reading a book" and it is that image of her that has lived on in my mind, of her sitting alone in their beautiful dining room, absorbed in a book till the ting of the oven reminds her of the baking to do. During my last days that winter before my ISC, I remember the afternoons when I would walk back home with Maa, and Miss Honey would be standing in her terrace and waving at us till the road bent and we couldn't see her anymore. My memories from that winter are the warmest, and I remember coming home, curling inside my blanket for a siesta and imagining that once I "grow up", I'd be exactly like Miss Honey. I would read books and bake tarts, and through French windows that open to my garden, I would sit outside and pour out my contentment in white crochet. The journey hasn't been quite as I expected it, and for a prolonged period of time I had forgotten about the tranquility I dreamt about at the end. I cannot yet see the end of the road, and though the Anne Shirley inside me refuses to get excited by the bend anymore, I still haven't given up hope, especially in this "dolce far niente" phase of my life. Ten years from now I might be a Honey and spread sweetness, or just be an incorrigible Raka with my inherent traits coupled with a dollop of sunshine. Nonetheless, whosoever I turn out to be, I'm determined to be happy.

I haven't met the Johnsons since I left Siliguri. I have seldom been back, and though each time a part of me would crave to open that garden gate and knock on that familiar door, something kept me away. Now I fear that perhaps after all these years they might not be able to recognise me, and if that happens, that would hurt me a bit too much. Someday I hope to have the courage to walk down that old road, familiar but changed, walk out of this mundane life and into a past of younger people and beautiful conversations. That day I will know that time has passed, but it's not altogether a bad thing.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Dolce Far Niente

The beauty of doing nothing.

For the past six months, ever since my university-phase got over, I wake up in the morning and check the time on my mobile phone to see how guilty I am. The mornings pass in a haze of day-dreaming, with me moving on from the newspapers to the book I'm currently reading, and onwards to the dream I was weaving the earlier night, inevitably making it too exuberant for reality and - of course - control. At eleven I listen to the radio - vintage songs which affirm my belief that I was born in the wrong decade. Before the evening advents - sometimes unlike a patient etherised upon a table - I will have finished watching a couple of movies, always debating with myself the merits of one unwatched movie over another, and finally resorting to lottery to decide which one to watch first. Then I hit the bed with the book, mentally walking the walk down my favourite and most picturesque lane of our neighbourhood, before finally immersing myself in the pages.

Sometimes I listen to music at night, impulsively moving from one genre to another, and before I realise, it's eleven at night - time to warm my dinner, work on it, and switch on the telly, not because I especially like 'The Big Bang Theory', but because it is only during meal times that the quietness all around me makes me uncomfortable and I long for distracting voices. 

A couple of days ago, while listening to some music I realised that barring the three phone-calls from my mother, reporting everytime that there's nicht neues im front, and telling my grandmother twice everyday that it's time for breakfast/lunch, I have no one else to talk to, have a real heart-warming adda with. I found myself standing in the mirror when I had this moment of epiphany, and I told my reflection, "If it had been anyone else in your place mon amour, he/she would have gone mad and would've fled the house in a state of hysterics." I looked back and said, "Chèri, I'm mad in my own way."

I am lucky to have a group of stout well-wishers who call me up regularly to say how I should get back to the university or start working. They say, "It's not good to remain cooped up in the house all alone." I try to give a patronising smile - not that they can see it, but because it's polite - for they can never appreciate the beauty of dolce far niente. So what if I'm alone? S had once told me, and I fervently believe, that we are all alone in our 'real' lives.

By this time next year, I'll probably be working towards another degree, I'll probably be half-way through my senior level of German, and with any luck, I will have progressed considerably in my singing lessons after a six-year break. But in any case, these "wine-coloured days" will never come back. I would like to look back then in happiness and nostalgia at one of the most beautiful phases of my life; when I read with reckless abandon all that I could lay my hands on; when I discovered little things (that Julie London was always slightly and unfairly underrated than her peers; that Yann Tiersen used the same track - Comtine D'un Autre Ete - in both Amelie and Good Bye Lenin); when I rediscovered and reveled in solitude; and especially when I realised that I'm a beautiful person inside. People have already begun to label me as 'Ms. Decadence', but what did I tell you about random people and dolce far niente? :)

                                                        With any luck, to be continued...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Day, 2012.
Last year this time, I had promised myself a la Scarlett O' Hara that I wouldn't be depressed anymore. Despite some blues over the months (persistent sickness, perennial gadget failure, unable to keep up with scholarship), with determination and grit I managed to tide off the worst of depression. And then I finished University, travelled to Europe alone with my best friend, and rediscovered a vigour in life which passively contests against all the pessimism that predominates it.

 I have never made resolutions, never really thought about them. The one I did last year (if it can be called as such), I managed to stick to it. This time I'm making a promise to myself. 2012 will be vintage - not wine, but premium scotch, kept in a casket to ferment for over a century. :)
Oh thou beautiful, beautiful world of the printed word, here I plunge into you in 2012.