So let’s see. I began the year with a trip back home. I whisked myself off to Bangalore, as usual, for just a little more than a couple of days. As usual, I started off by telling myself once again that I will stick to doing just the things I really want to. Because, you know, my time in the city is limited yadayada. As usual.
Of course, I failed. I was torn between two homes. I struggled to find time to see people I thought I should and finally decided to just cut back, stop trying to make time for it all. And just chill.
As usual I realised how my equation with the city I once called home has changed. Bangalore no longer feels like my home. But my home, the little space within the walls of the apartment that I grew up in, the on that houses all the years of my life until I moved out, has come to encapsulate Bangalore to me.
Growing up, surrounded by layers and layers of family, with relatives and friends strewn all across the city, it was easy to feel at home. Like I was one of them. It was natural to thrive in their presence, to enjoy the company of many. I might have never imagined there would be a day when my whole world could essentially be wrapped up into a bundle of five people. Six including myself. And today, every trip back home reminds me that my sense of family has shrunk. As the years roll on, the layers within which I insulate the core of my family, peel back. What remains, and what I hold close are my folks, my grandmother, my sister and the husband. It pretty much begins and ends there.
The trip was expressly planned so I could visit ammama, who was in Bangalore at the time. Our relationship has done the whole 9 yards, from chatter-y nights spent with her spinning endless stories to get me to sleep, sandwiched between ajju and her — to a silent kind of love and adoration today.
I can breathe in her presence, and feel whole again. She exudes a silent positive, enthusiastic energy that few people in their 80s can. And because it had been over a year since I had seen her last, I wanted me some of that.
The sister flew in to surprise amma, and it was wonderful to melt into one giant mattress again, the four of us, spilling out from either side.
My home is still the home my father built, with all the little signs that refuse to go away. The garden, the blue glass vases, the kitchen with the doubly deep sink that I now envy, the dinette where I had every breakfast of my life in that home — all so very unmistakably anna.
Going back home almost always means going back to the music. Whether listening to the background music that is ammas lessons, or anna’s apt pick of every day, there is no escaping it.
And amma, being amma cooked me meals, stocked up on goodies, ensured I cleaned out that suitcase of old CDs and that I carried my saris back as planned. In between all the guests and the hectic entertaining, continuing to take her lessons, she made us a massive batch of halwa the old school way. No condensed milk, no khoya. Full fat milk, sugar and carrots, stewed till they meld into a giant mess of deliciousness. I’ve been meaning to make a batch myself for the last few years, and somehow I never have. the kind of thing only ammas can do.
Family is no longer the gigantic tree that it was, with its spidery branches spread wide. It is sparse, skeletal, brief. My family, though nuclear at the centre, has always held the larger ranks of extended family close. We’ve grown up with a generous amount of familial togetherness whether it was travelling distances to be at weddings and other family get togethers, or just stopping by a relatives and camping out there for no apparent reason.
The younger me was fairly used to the sense of the sprawling family, meeting multiple sets of cousins, and the fond memories of visiting their homes, spending days and nights together, never wanting to leave. Something about being younger, made me want to surround myself with the abundance that is the Indian family, complete with doting grandparents, fawning aunties and gregarious uncles, without which no family seemed complete.
This trip back home gave me the opportunity to meet extensions of the family I didn’t expect to. A significant part of my mothers family had gathered at home, and I landed bang in the midst of a tea party, watching cousins who seem to have had a growth spurt since we last met. Over the next few days I met a couple of cousins I hadn’t seen in over 5 years, some who have relocated back from a different continent, another who was on holiday in Bangalore. An aunt who I usually meet in transit in Bombay, stayed with us for a couple of days. And all I wanted was to get out. To was sieve out the chaos and spend the time with my folks.
My time in Bangalore has come to mean just family. The new kind. My time has become beyond precious to me. I treat it with utmost care and usually feel like doing nothing but stay home with my folks. More and more, I feel fiercely protective about this, even though I am useless at taking a stand and showing it. I realised too late that I have no time to fritter away in snaking traffic jams to get somewhere I don’t really want to be. I don’t need to endure five different aunties who make no conversation with me beyond enquiring about the happenings in my ladyparts. I have even less patience for those who make it their prerogative to tell me how and when I ought to procreate, and even worse — why.
I have a a fair number of friends I could meet, even more new blogdosts. It’s hard to do it all, and most times I try and meet a few. This time, I only made time for the Tin Man. Because I didn’t have the energy to do much else and because he makes it worth it. And most of all because he is the kind of friend that has become family. I enjoy our no frills Koshys sessions and it says a lot that after all these years, that’s pretty much all it takes to get the crazy going in me.
What is it about growing up that changes such fundamental things? For someone who enjoyed every family gathering, though sometimes as a silent spectator, this need to shut out the chaos and just be with mine and my own, is a new and gradually cultivated one. Perhaps it has everything to do with living so far away (not in terms of distance, but in context) from what was once home base. It facilitates a spawning of new thought, brings perspective of a different kind — from afar, re-shapes the very idea of kinship, shows you what matters most, and ultimately, whether you like it or not renews your sense of self and what makes you who you are. It has a way of smoothing the rough edges, filtering out the fluff and bringing to the fore only that which matters the most.
No matter how hard I fight the Bangalore-moonlight, it draws me back sooner than I expect it to. Like most trips back home, this too was a hectic, rushed one. As always, squeezing in time at both homes, meeting a friend or two, getting some essential shopping done, spending a bonus few days with my folks and sister, and doing all in a maze of traffic, city noises and general chaos, I felt like the last week was a dream that zipped by when I was asleep.
Like most trips back home, this too left me with many a mixed emotion. The city continues to leave me in despair. On one hand I yearn for the old signs, the little things, all our loved haunts that made my home city my own and I want to cling to what’s left of them like an unreasonable child that refuses to grow up. Yet, on the other hand I feel rage and increasing distress and hopelessness when I realise that this phenomenon of moving forwards and backwards all at once, is peculiar to Indian cities. Where there is the glitzy growth of things like the Metro, a gazillion shiny new malls and the ballooning traffic and population; there is also the undeniable sense of chaos disorder as if most things are diverging in too many directions, each at their own pace, rather than a in a systematic, orderly fashion towards a common point. I see in Panjim today, the beginnings of the growth spurt I saw in Bangalore about 8 years ago, and with every trip back, I return to shudder when I think of things to come.
I am completely aware of the fact that I sound like a stuck record everytime I go back to Bangalore. What with all the same cribs and rants, and the gushing about all the same things I love. Without trying to hard though, I seem to have subconsciously found a way to deal with this inevitable trauma I feel. I minimise getting out into the city completely, paring it down to only what is absolutely essential. A trip or two to see the in laws, a couple of dates with some friends and I’m usually bushed. So I have to choose wisely. Hopefully next time, I’ll be wiser still and avoid the probing aunties and uncles completely.
This time, I realised I don’t love going to Bangalore, as much as I love going home. To my home, to the places and the people that make it homely for me. While the sprawling city around morphs into an unrecognizable beast I no longer have the time for, every trip brings the resounding affirmation of the fact that literally the only thing that draws me back time and again is family and friends. That, and the weather.