Starting Over

Discovering myself, my family and friends in a foreign land, second time around


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Craving quiet

“Music is the space between the notes.”

                                                               – Claude Debussy

Children love to hear the story of their birth. And I was no exception. While the actual event of my birth was as momentous or uneventful as any other, the part that was of great interest to me, came a little later in the narration.

“People told me that giving birth to the second baby would be much easier” said my mother, “but for me all three of you took a long time to emerge. You specially. You were the chubbiest of the lot.” I was perhaps 10 years old when we talked about this the first time.  “Were you sad that I was a girl?” I asked, knowing the preference for sons that prevails in India. “I was not sad that you were a girl, but a girl’s life is a hard one. Looking at your smiling, innocent face, I felt a twinge that my little baby girl will also have to endure all that a woman has to bear in her life.” I didn’t really grasp the depth of that sentiment then, eager to proceed to the interesting part. “When I was a teenager, I once heard a neighbor sing a melodious song and I asked what raga it was. Ranjani, she replied. Even before I thought about marriage, I knew that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Ranjani.”

I was named after a raga in Carnatic music. So was my mother. I loved this story because it made me feel special; the fact that I was in her mind long before I was in her arms, an inquisitive and demanding daughter. Growing up between two brothers in a society that favored boys, this fact built my self-esteem along with so many of my mother’s statements during my growing years.

 I didn’t particularly develop an interest in Indian classical music at a young age. But I heard a lot of it. First there was radio, then television. The cassette tapes made music more accessible to that generation. My mother sang often. Although not a trained musician, she had a lilting voice and was a quick learner. She was an encyclopedia of knowledge about Carnatic music. Each morning the chanting of the Vishnu Sahasranama or hymns sung in praise of the Hindu gods roused us from slumber. The day would then gradually fill with a cacophony of sounds of the busy metropolis that was Bombay.

 Many years after I left home, I turned to music at a time in my life when I did not find meaning in anything else. I found a suitable Carnatic music teacher in America, drove 20 miles for every lesson. I memorized the notes, repeated after my teacher and practiced. I talked about music to my mother. Much later, World Space radio came to India with its dedicated Carnatic music channel, much to the delight of my mother. Although we lived in different cities in India then, we discussed shows and artists, dissected the nuances of compositions, praised the melody and beauty of the words. We bonded over sound bytes. Our favorite game was “guess the raga”. She was much better than any app that could guess the tune from the first few bars as it played over the sound waves. My best memories in recent years include the two trips we made to Chennai during the December music season to attend music concerts that play daily all over the city, a veritable feast for music connoisseurs.

 While my mother and I bonded over many things, there were some things about her that didn’t make sense to me in my early years. We would travel by train during the summer holidays. The scenery would run by, dry and barren at places, lush fields at others. Occasionally a lonely house would be seen in the distance; a dim light in the middle of nowhere.

“I would like to live there,” my mother would say.

“Really? Why would you want to leave the comforts of city life to live all alone?”

“Sometimes I want to be quiet and be surrounded by quiet. It’s not possible with the three of you all around. Plus the noise of city life doesn’t give me a moments peace.”

I found it odd that the charm of living in a big city didn’t fascinate my mother. Why would you trade the glitz and speed of a metro for a place where you hear no sounds except perhaps the moo of a cow?

 Only later when the need for solitude arose as a nascent sigh within me did I empathize with my mother’s wish for some alone time. The parenting path is filled with activities, responsibilities and demands. Whether it is the tinkle of childish giggles, the laughter of kids horsing around or the clang of pots and pans in the kitchen, there is always noise. Sounds surround you, mark your day and clutter your thoughts. Getting away from it all seems to be the only way to experience quietness.

And in that solitude you find the energy that keeps you going, humming softly through the days that seem to never end, with errands that pile up just as you finish others.

Just as the cadence of music is made up of the notes and the spaces between them, life needs these periodic pauses to help us reflect and rejoice in just “being”.

Here’s to reveling in rejuvenating solitude, refreshing silence, revitalizing stillness. Image

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First Valentine

Valentines day cake

I am completely lost. Its Valentine’s day today and I have no plans. Don’t get me wrong, I have a date but no plans for THE DAY. There are enough helpful hints in the print and digital media about the obvious and the subtle ways in which to impress your date on this most romantic day of the year.  But nothing I have read so far seems remotely right. You see, this is my first Valentine day with my new husband.

In my teens, I considered the notion of devoting an entire day (and perhaps a month’s wages) to celebrating togetherness in a couple to be romantic. In later years, the pragmatic me regarded the day as a contrived excuse to atone for all the mishaps of the year. After my divorce, the cynical me dismissed the idea entirely as a commercial exercise fueling materialism.  But now as I anticipate the day with my spouse, I wonder which of those selves that I have evolved into over the years will dominate.

A part of me wants to do something special. Mark the day in some way. Dinner for two sounds perfect, but what about the kids? Breakfast in bed? But its a weekday! A gift perhaps? Too trite. Flowers? Too cute. Chocolates? Too sweet. A night at the Ritz? Too expensive. A party? Too crowded for our taste. What then? All of the above symbolize the public celebration of love between a man and woman. And falling short on these socially acceptable displayed modes seems to be huge personal failure of some sort.

I am still looking for ideas that don’t fit traditional expectations but will communicate my feelings for the wonderful man who is now my husband. Is it the little girl in me enamored by prince charming who wants to ensure a happily ever after second time around? Is it the hopeful teenager scouring the net for love poems? Or the young woman who wished she had a secret admirer who is looking for the perfect gift?

I am not sure what my husband expects. We have both been married before. At our age, we have had our share of shattered dreams and heartbreaks and survived them sufficiently intact to try again. It doesn’t help that we belong to a generation in India who were brought up in stable families but have witnessed the collapse of this structure in our own generation. There are no relevant role models to rebuild a happy family with a second spouse and step-children involved. To add to the mix, we chose to move to another country to start over.

Life sure is interesting. Having always been a working woman, I am struggling with the unfamiliar tag of a home maker. I am trying on the identity of a wife and mother to two girls. My husband has taken up a job with a different work culture. The girls hitherto used to being an only child and the center of their respective families universe are now wrestling with the reality of having a sibling at home and new friends in a school in a foreign country. As we all hobble along alternating between harmony and frustration, the best we can do as a couple is to hold on to each other while we figure out our way as a family.

The only certainty is that things will change. We will get more comfortable together, the girls will grow into young women and seek their own future and we will watch them soar. It will be just the two of us at home, me reading a book, him watching sports on TV. It will be two for dinner. Breakfast in bed won’t be so hard to organize. We will go on holidays without too much advance planning. We will hold hands as we make two sets of footprints in the white sand of an exotic beach.

Maybe fairy tales do come true. In life as in the story, there comes an opportunity to walk into the sunset with the person you love. It doesn’t matter if the chance comes second time around.  And to honor this prospect, I want to do something special for my husband to acknowledge Cupid and his errant arrow that struck us.  On this, our first Valentine’s day as a couple, it is not the worldly-wise woman who knows that the road traveled alone is harder who wants to appreciate her fellow traveller but the eternal optimist in me who seeks to express her gratitude for each day we have together.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear!