The One in Which I Am Moving, But Not Moving Back.

You are moving back? Are you going back home?

I am not. But that isn’t completely true.

I don’t know how to give an honest answer to these questions.

The place I am moving to is not one I am familiar with any more. It is not home either.

Every time I go ‘back’, it’s a little bit more unfamiliar, a little bit more indecipherable. I seem to fit in a little bit less less with every landing. A little bit more acclimatised with every take-off.

Yet, there’s no conflict in my mind or heart about moving to India after 17 years of living in Qatar. It seems the right thing to do, to expose my daughters, especially the teen, to another way of living. Pleasures and challenges that would be very different from what Qatar offered us.

Doesn’t that make India home? Then why doesn’t it seem so?

I am frequently asked if Qatar is home after 17 years.

Not in the least (this is one reason why). It’s a place I am comfortable in and find myself defending fiercely against ill-informed assumptions. It is not home either. And I don’t think Qatar wants to be the home for it hundreds of thousands of foreign residents. At best it wants to be a  comfortable transit house. At worst…

So then, home?

It is where my children are. And where I have access to MY people. Sometimes it is a messaging app. Home is in that rip-roaring laugh of a friend. A hug so tight it squeezes out all the melancholic thoughts. It’s watching my 7-year-old caress my 76-year-old mum’s wrinkled neck. Home is often in three simple words over an international call: “Are you alright?” Home is in all those moments, in all those memories. It is not a physical space.

Just because I don’t feel at home in any one place, doesn’t mean I feel estranged.

I started writing this post at an airport terminal… The closest to feeling a sense of belonging, I’ve now realised, is in spaces such as this. Departure terminals. Be it at airports or rail stations or bus stops.

When you know you’ve left, but have not arrived yet. In that suspended physical space of myriad possibilities I feel truly at home.

PS: Check out my instagram account @vanishforever for some #LongKissGoodBye posts on Qatar. This is not my good bye post, that will come in due time.

FAQs

1. Where are you moving to?

Bangalore

2. When are you moving?

End April, early May

3. Why are you moving now?

Because O is going into high school, and if not now, then when?

4. That means you are going away for good?

(This question always throws me off a bit) I will still be in and out of Qatar for a few months longer, as the man continues here for a bit and I still have ongoing projects/work here.

5. Will I miss Qatar?

As much as Qatar would miss me.

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the simplest things work magic

like this evening. i’ve had an exceptionally tough few weeks. unbelievable work pressure, O falling ill, petty politics…

and not to mention grappling with unsolicited judgements on my mothering and home-making skills.

and through it all, the lack of friends i’m used to and can trust, didn’t help.

i know one part of the problem is entirely my fault — i started ignoring the firm, clear line i have always drawn between the personal and professional. i’ve been thinking about it, and i realised that my hormones went for a toss during my pregnancy, and the lines blurred, the tongue loosened.  i never got the focus back. time to get back in control. NOW.

but meanwhile, i have a few (very few), carefully selected friends here. i can’t call them best friends. but they are MY FRIENDS.

Not friends because our spouses get along, or because our children are buddies, or because in an alien land, ‘friend’ is the tag you give to people whom you don’t dislike.

just MY friends.

today one of them came to my rescue. when i dashed off a mail full of self-pity on how since 2007 I haven’t had a proper holiday because i’ve been too busy working, being pregnant and handling a new-born; and as much as i love all the good things happening to me, i was TIRED!

instead of binning the mail or giving a courtesy reply, she gave me options (i haven’t taken her permission to reproduce this, but i am sure she won’t mind):

1. If you are in the mood for a drive, and like being driven around while you just sit and listen to easy music – you just sit and I’ll do the driving!

2. If you think flavored tea  or coffee sounds a better idea – let’s do that.

3. If you want to just come out and be grumpy and not say much – let’s do that.

4. If you want to go out and eat whatever feels sinful – let’s do that.

5. If you want to go to a salon and have someone just give you a head massage while you doze off – let’s do that – my treat.

6. If you have better ideas – I am all ears.

we didn’t do 3 and 5; 6 was not required, her ideas were fantastic enough. and as for 1, i did the driving.

so we spent a wonderful 3+ hours driving and chatting. and spoke of the silly, the important, the good, the bad. my kids with the baby-sitter, hers with her husband.

i hardly spoke of what really bothered me, but by the end of the evening, i felt refreshed. no answers really to the million things worrying me, but lots of leads.

i am going to be easier on myself;

i will wait for my daughters to grow up and pass judgement on me (so, no thank you, all!);

will redraw the line, a little softer this time;

tighten the tongue a bit, but not too much — because now it’s a matter of survival;

i will say no, and i WILL slack off a bit — i DESERVE it;

& while i am at it, i am going to go easy on judging others too. live & let live.

thanks K!

People

It was only after I moved away from home, family and madras, did I get a clear perspective of what people were really like.

After living all my life in one particular kind of environment and routine, I had no real ‘separation’ to see things for what they were.

You realise whom you thought of as overbearing was just a caring sister.

The person who questioned your decisions and criticised your actions was only being a true friend.

The colleague who spent every night at your place was probably just sponging off you…

Put some distance. That’s when you get a clear filter.

That’s when you learn to separate the chaff from the grain.

Like the management joke that goes – not everyone who shits on you is your enemy, not everyone who pulls you out of shit is your friend…

It’s merely a myth that the more time you spend with a person, the better you know him/her. You need distance to gauge a person.

After being ensconced in a routine of sorts over the last 5 years, I got my distance and my space, when I took a break for my second pregnancy.

So you move away, and see yourself and the people around you from a telescopic distance. And their character just pops up. Like pieces of a puzzle things just fall in place.

The insecurity behind a person’s martyr act;

the defensiveness behind a person’s long drawn explanations;

the rabble-rousing behind the uncalled for confidences;

the guilt behind a person’s exaggerated laugh;

and also the trustworthiness behind a person’s brutal honesty;

straightforwardness behind their indifference;

the care behind the non-stop calls;

the warmth behind the silence…

You get to see people for what they are when you remove yourself from the environment.

Just as distance is supposed to make the heart grow fonder, it also helps in shaking yourself out of false intimacies.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t repeat the mistakes, trust blindly and get taken for a ride. It just means that you fall a little less harder the next time around.

Antenatal hormones can really bring out the philosopher in you.

Marriage Stereotypes and the ‘Catches’ we make!

I seem to be doing this way too often. Linking other people’s post, and expostulating on it. Why don’t I just comment there or shut up?
Probably because I’m a journalist, so when I run out of ideas, I rehash other people’s cues.

Anyways, this is to MG’s post — I was splitting up after reading this. How inane is that dry cleaner lady? Silly woman.
About 9-10 years ago, in a situation like that, I would have gotten terribly upset. But now I just find it ridiculously funny.
Why do typecast people in a relationship?

When my relationship with R took a serious turn and we decided to get married (or rather our families decided for us), a friend (yep, a friend hmmpph!) snidely commented to me, “quite a catch, huh?”

I was STUNNED. What shit was that?

We not only had similar educational and professional backgrounds, I in fact had a few extra diplomas thrown in.
She hardly knew R to decide he was a catch in any other way, unless she thought her dumpy, bespectacled friend was marrying a not-so dumpy and un-bespectacled man?

And even if I had been illiterate with no future prospects and looked like the backside of an ass, and he was the heir to the Gates’ fortune and looked like Clooney, how the hell can anyone use that phrase ‘a catch’.

Is marriage a charity? If two people decide to wed, they must have their reasons. Even if it’s an arranged marriage. There is no question of one being a catch over another.

Probably because I am far more secure in my relationship, and am older and wiser (!) I can laugh this off…

Like this conversation between Acquaintance 1 & 2, which a ‘pal’ reported to me not only verbatim, but with her share of insights.

Acq1 (who at that point had met R & me for all of 90mts, half of which was with a group of people): V & R are very different.
Acq 2 (who knows me professionally and has only had a glimpse of R): Oh, yes. They are. He is very nice.
Acq 1: Absolutely. So different. He is very sweet.
Pal to me: How can they jump to conclusions, they hardly know you.

ME to R, my sounding board: What the eff! Whether they jumped to conclusions or not, Pal was sure they did… And what difference does it make to me to get opinions of people I don’t know or care for? Why was this even reported to me?

That’s the whole problem with expectations, marriages or any relationships. The two parties are placed on a balance with their plusses and minuses.

Absolutely no one outside of the two would know the truth of the relationship or the reasons why it works (or doesn’t). So why talk about catches and one being too good for the other?

So whether MG looks or really is romantic, or not, it was really not that stupid dry cleaner’s business. It’s for MG and her husband to know and find out!

The good kinds that make my world…

… as opposed to the weird kinds I mentioned in an earlier post.

People tend to think I have a bustling social life. And that my weekends are a series of parties. That I have more friends than most. And I always wonder, what the hell gives them this impression?

I am 34. I’ve been to 2 schools, 1 college, and 4 vocational courses. I’ve worked in 5 different companies. I’ve been a member in 3 different gyms/clubs.
I know people who would have used every opportunity to make friends, and build a hectic social life.

My friend Yauleen collects friends likes Imelda did shoes, and nurtures them like they were her sole sustenance in life.

But through my years of school, college and workplaces, I’ve been friendly enough with people, socializing with them, getting drunk and having fun. I keep in touch with most of them even today. However, are they my ‘friends’ as in my bum-chums, as in my shoulders to cry on, as in laugh till you pee, as in fart without a thought, as in confess without fear of being judged, as in till death do us apart?

The simple answer is: Nopes.

There are friends who would do good in one situation, but not in another.

There are very, very few who are my all-weather friends. And I place so much value on these friends and am so used to the ease of being friends with them, that I find it difficult to make news ones easily.

I’ve been thinking real hard on who my can’t-do-without friends are. If I were asked to choose as many or as few of them as I want, and keep them for life, at the cost of the rest, who would they be?

I came up with 5 names. I am tempted to say JUST 5. But I know that would sound greedy.
And of the 5, except for the first, I just can’t choose one over the other.

1. Roshan. My husband. I know it sounds all soppy and clichéd. But the fact is R is a better friend than husband or boyfriend. Over 12 years of knowing each other, and nearly 10 of being married, I still wonder what inspired me to marry a guy who was – to put it simply – a lousy boyfriend. We were not good friends who ended up together. It all happened simultaneously. I know one of the reasons I married him, and the reason I continue to be married (despite some very trying times) is because he is my best friend. It would break my heart to lose such a great pal. He knows just about everything about me. From my email passwords to which parent I prefer; from my pet peeves to my moments of hypocrisy. And he never judges, and never holds me ransom to the grave and embarrassing confessions I’ve made to him. Even when I am depressed or angry and feel I am done with this marriage, I know I am not done with his friendship.

2. Teesu. She is the only one in the list who is most like me. If I ever nag and harass and dump on anyone (barring R), it’s her. I met her in 1992-93, at college. We liked each other right away, but became friends over a period of time. We both shared a passion for letters. And we even now write a letter or card to each other, though we chat almost daily. Over the last few years, she has fished me out of terrible bouts of depression and loneliness. She is an awesome listener, and can be quite honest. She is a proper mother hen, and can make you float with the way she cares. But frankly, as great as all these qualities are, the reason I really will hold on to her for life is because she is MAD. Everyone needs a mad friend in life. She is mine.

3. Sangi. We’ve been together since high school. And we are SO different from each other. She loves to dress up, is artistic, but is in a boring profession (to me), very hardworking, can get her way with most people, loves to window-shop, is religious and disciplined when it suits her. That just about sums up what I am not (I have the interesting profession though). She is also the person whose habits and attitudes I most disagree with. S and I ended up doing things in tandem – we fell in love, got married, moved out of the country all within weeks of each other. She is someone I am so comfortable with, I can drop in unannounced at her place. Something I am uncomfortable doing even with family. We were there for each other, in a phase of our life when were metamorphosing from insecure adolescents to slightly more confident youngsters taking baby steps in our careers, to confident women who were ready to take the plunge and set up our families. If you can survive all that together, that friendship is for keeps.

4. Renoo. I laugh the most with her. Sometimes at her. The reason she and this friendship is so special is that she is worse than me at making ‘friends’. So let’s say I feel chosen! We were in college together, and have known each other for 17 years. She was the brain of our group, always willing to help us with our work. She was the only one amongst us who behaved and looked a lady. It’s very difficult to have a serious conversation with her. If you have a problem you want to dwell on, she is the last person you ought to ring up. But if you want to forget or trivialise the problem and have a hearty laugh, put her number on the speed dial.

5. Mythili. She is the only friend from Doha. I met her in my 4th year here. M is very different from all my other friends. And why I chose her for this list is not because of what she is to me, but for what she is. I haven’t come across a simpler, more accomplished and more just person. She forgives without an effort, is sensitive to other’s needs and goes out of her way to help people. Yet she never looks a martyr. I made friends with her on the very grounds that I thought I never would – your child’s playmates parents. We lived in the same building, our kids went to the same crèche… but I do believe that I didn’t strike up with her for convenience. She is just so warm and positive, you feel like being around her. Even when she is upset about something, her response is: Why is this so? How can I change it? She is the one friend on this list I kind of look up to and learn from. I am sure she has no idea I would put her on a list such as this, as I bully her all the time, despite the fact, she is 4 years older to me.

PS: I do have a gang of friends, my ya-ya sisterhood. And I have 2 dear friends I’ve made in Doha, Yauleen and Seetha (now in Abu Dhabi), and I do hope I would never have to make a choice to exclude them for the sake of the 5 mentioned.

PPS: Re-reading this, I guess, I do have more friends than most. At least Friends who matter. Mazel Tov!