Of the theory of relativity, beating hearts and PhD topics

The last month and a half have been the longest of my entire life. I’m not being dramatic. They really were. It feels like the first ten months of this year happened at warp speed and then everything just started going in super slow motion. I know what you’d say, “You were occupied with internship and thesis so you didn’t realise time passing by but now with everything done and nothing left to do you’re bored and hence time seems to pass by slowly”. But the fact of the matter is that I’ve had plenty to do since I finished my thesis. For one there was the report, which by the way, is a nightmare in itself. Then the job applications, online tests, telephonic and personal interviews. You name it! Last but not the least, there was also the master thesis defence presentation. I was by no means idle.

I’ve also tried everything in my power to make the day go faster. I’ve slept in. That usually does it for me. I sleep in, wake up late and realise half the day is gone. But not this time, the rest of the day just seemed to taunt me. Even the sun which used to set so early in the day towards the end of the master thesis seemed suspended just over the horizon as if mocking me. And don’t even get me started on today. Waking up late, taking a long shower, watching lots of anime, roaming around the city, hanging out with friends and still it was only 8 when I got back. As I sit here typing this post, it feels like time has stopped just to annoy me.

I never quite appreciate Einstein’s theory of relativity as much as I do now. When I say now, I mean every time I am flying back home. It always seems like the days before my departure are extremely long. Even the flight seems longer than its 6 and 3 hours and the waiting time during transit, Good lord!! It seems like an eternity as you wait for the boarding to your flight to be announced.

Sometimes I feel that the closer I get to going home the faster and louder my heart beats. Maybe that’s why I feel like the day goes slower. How’s that for a theory to research? Any takers for a PhD? I’ll willing offer myself up as a subject. When I say faster and louder I mean crazy fast and loud. Just like it does when you run a race or some equally exerting physical activity. Right now I can hear it despite the sounds from my keyboard. That’s pretty loud.

At times like these I really wish I were a more calm person compared to the excitable idiot I am being right now. It doesn’t really take a lot. A free shell sticker that you get at the petrol bunk, an orange candy, hearing a song I like playing on the radio. What amazes me is that despite my racing heart and the adrenalin coursing through my body, I still function as I do on a normal day. Just more high pitched and talkative than usual. It’s like my mind is above my body and looks down at it sneering, “Oh! You pathetic little thing!”. At times like this I really wonder how my heart will take some really shocking news. Aren’t heart attacks a result of too much excitement? Maybe I need to be doing more cardio. Or more like start doing cardio.

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Happy Deepavali!!

My calendar on the laptop says it 32 minutes until Diwali/Deepavali and my FB feed is filled with wishes for a safe and prosperous new Diwali. It’s one of my most favourite festivals and once again, I find myself far from home. This is a pretty big festival in our household and one for which preparations begin much earlier.

The weeks preceding Deepavali is filled with cleaning the house. At least for my mum it is. I get too distracted discovering half forgotten things found during these cleaning sessions. It means moving the showcase on which our TV stands and finding the million pens my mum loses, or the rubber bands and hair clips that my sister and I do. Climbing the attic to bring down the giant mandap and in the process finding some old books or photos.

Cleaning the mandap and fitting the pieces back to actually make it resemble one is another one of the very fond memories that I have of this festival. Its pretty hilarious trying to fit the columns into their holes on the roof as my mum and sister hold the base and the columns together. And it never works on the first try. Several failed attempts and many nearly crushed fingers later we manage to put it all together.

The market near our house is always abuzz during festival time but Deepavali adds a certain charm to it. The overcrowded streets, vendors trying to get you to buy their wares, people bargaining, the autos and other vehicles trying to make their way through the cacophony of it all, just add to the festivities. I find it incredibly amusing and fascinating as my mum manages to bargain four stalks of the banana plant, a dozen banana leaves and mango leaves all for the price of one. Let’s not even discuss her skills when it come to flower and vegetable vendors.

After finally managing to get home the chores are set aside for the next morning. Of course, it all falls to Ma the next day but she likes to think she’s incharge and we let her. Waking up to the house in Deepavali mode is one of the best experiences. It’s never before nine, you didn’t think I’d rise earlier did you? it’s a holiday after all, the house is filled with music (devotional songs of course, I actually like these and can sing along to most of them but I resist the urge) and delicious smells. After brushing my teeth and washing my face a good part of the next half an hour is spent trying to annoy Ma by trying to touch her (You see, she’s been up for probably 3 hours now, had a shower, cleaned the front yard, drawn a rangoli and got started with the cooking for the day. Since everything she cooks is first kept in front of God, we’re not allowed to touch her without taking a bath because we’re still dirty.) It’s more exciting than it sounds trust me.

When I see that she’s not amused anymore and her face is starting to get that annoyed look, I escape into the bathroom to take a shower. After I’ve had a shower I’m immediately put to work. Decorating the front door with the mango leaves (it’s called making a toran), cleaning all the portraits and decorating them with flowers is all my work. It’s actually harder than it sounds and takes me a good hour to be done with it all. Then there are small chores and errands like cutting some vegetables or running to the store to buy some last minute things we forgot. By one in the afternoon we’re free to do whatever we want and this time, of course, is spent sprawled on the sofa watching some mindless Diwali flick playing on TV while waiting for lunch.

Lunch is always a late affair on these days, what with all the cleaning and decorating, and usually happens after the pooja. Even though it is late, it lasts quite long. Ma then retires to her room to read something and the sister and I follow suit. We lounge around on the bed and read until Ma falls asleep and we make fun of her snoring noises. After a quick ten minute nap Ma is up and refreshed (I don’t know how that woman does it but I hope that gene was passed on to me). She then starts preparing stuff for the evening pooja. I find most of this stuff irrelevant to this post except for one – kajjaya. Kajjaya is the sweet Ma makes every Deepavali. This means the gas stove comes down on the floor, Ma sits in the centre and is surrounded by banana leaves with kajjaya batter on them. It’s quite difficult to make and takes longer than any other sweet she makes but it’s all worth it!! It’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Easily the best sweet around during this time.

Promptly at five in the evening when the noise of crackers starts to increase and the sister and I realise it will all go faster if we help, we offer our services to the mother. She begs to get ready and a round of arguments ensue over what to wear. After wasting an hour on it she makes us visit all the neighbours’ houses with sweets. By the time we’re back she has everything ready, I’m beginning to think she sends us out just to get the work done. I can’t believe I always thought we were being helpful!!

Now this is the best part of the day, there is normally a pooja again after which we can go light the diyas. Ma reads a story from a very old book. This book belonged to my grandfather and is so old that it’s yellow in colour and so brittle that it’s falling to pieces and don’t even get me started on that handwriting! Its all written in old Kannada and yet Ma reads it flawlessly! She thinks about writing it all out again before the book actually falls apart but so far every year has been a false alarm. I’m actually going to miss it when she gets around to doing it. The story she reads is about the rituals we follow during Deepavali and why its important. It’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve heard and even though I’ve heard it year after year I never tire of it. Once she’s read it she ties the nopi thread around each of our wrists.

Now these nopi threads are different from the normal threads you get outside every temple. They are only available in a handful of colours and they bleed on contact with water. So of course, we are picky about the colours we want. The threads also have a gold cylinder threaded into them, these are reused every year and we all have one which is ours and insist on just that one being threaded on. These nopi threads stay on all through Deepavali and my hand actually feels quite weird once its removed.

After the thread drama there is the lighting the diyas drama. You see, there are two parts to lighting the diyas. Step one: Fill diyas with oil and put the wick in. Step two: light the diya. Step one is boring and not to forget quite messy and hence, neither the sister nor I want to do it. Cue fight. Until Ma intervenes and manages a compromise. Diya lighting is my most favourite part of Deepavali. There’s nothing quite as beautiful as watching your house all lit up and beautiful. Year on year, its the same house, more or less the same pattern but ever beautiful.

As kids we used to play with crackers but not anymore. I gave up on crackers twice. As a kid I was very fond of the sparklers, flower-pots and chakras. I always had a love hate relationship with those gun cracker things. Every year I’d see other kids playing with it and be tempted into playing with one myself, sometimes it went okay, other times I ended up hurting my hand and swearing off it until the next year. Anyway, as I said I was very fond of flower-pots. When I was about eight, and lighting a flower-pot, it suddenly burst like a bomb. Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt but needless to say I was traumatised and couldn’t stop crying. Even watching my little sister have fun while playing with crackers was not enough to change my mind. Taking a pledge to not burst crackers the next year at school ensured my abstinence from fireworks but pretty soon I was back to bursting crackers. It was only when we got a dog and I watched the poor thing shake in fright that I swore off crackers for good. The pleasure I derive from bursting a cracker is no where close to the pain that these poor animals go through. It’s just not worth it.

One of the best parts of Deepavali is the oil bath. Traditionally, on the first day of Deepavali, you massage your entire body with oil and take a hot water bath. In my house, we have an additional tradition of drawing on the bathroom walls after massaging the oil and waiting for the water to heat up. We had a traditional fireplace and the water used to get heated up from the fire we made from the coconut husks in our front yard. Both the sister and I got half of the bathroom walls to draw on and it made us feel like artists. We drew diyas, flower-pots, rockets, chakras and everything else associated with the festival. Poor Ma who had to clean it all up later. This is all part of the Ganga pooja where you worship water.

It’s been three years since I’ve celebrated Deepavali at home and while I miss the noise and the general exuberance during the festival, I miss the little things more. Of course, I try to celebrate a tiny part of Deepavali by lighting candles in my room but I still miss the general brilliance of my house. I guess it is one of those festivals which you have to be home to really celebrate.

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My tiny Deepavali

Happy Deepavali to you all!! May the festival of lights bring new light into your life and fill it with brilliance.

Bangalored!

It’s been almost 3 weeks since I returned from home. Now with all the goodies from home finished and the empty packets in the bin, homesickness is slowly starting to creep it’s way back in. Little everyday things are all that are needed to trigger off a string of memories and start the waterworks!

They say you can take a person out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the person. I’m a city girl through and through; I revel in the chaos, the noise and everything else that comes with a city. Having been brought up in Bangalore I’ve seen the city go from the Garden city with a pleasant climate to the IT capital of India with a serious traffic problem. I’ve done more than just watch Bangalore evolve, I’ve lived the evolution. As a kid, Bangalore was just the city I lived in. I saw the city through my parent’s eyes. I hated leaving the city during the holidays but I always thought the hatred stemmed from my dislike of port of destination rather than the sadness of leaving the city behind. I never gave more thought to the city or what it meant to me.

But as I got older, the vision started to shift and suddenly there was so much more to see. Or may be it was always there but I could only see what was pointed out to me. But as I grew, so did the city around me. It was changing just the way I was and somehow it provided a sense of comfort. There was nothing said nor done but a strong bond was forged. One of understanding, security and mostly the sense of belonging – the feeling of home. The city stopped being just the place I lived in and became so much more. A friend, confidant and refuge. I was dead tired from the long journey home this time, but the moment I stepped out of the plane, all the fatigue just vanished! Just the Bangalore International Airport board was enough to make my heart swell up like a giant balloon! Nothing beats that feeling of homecoming, the sense of belonging and home that you experience.

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My mum grew up in a small town and moved to Bangalore once she was married. She could never understand the appeal the city held for me. For her, the city was big, crowded and chaotic. She couldn’t understand how you could live without knowing everyone around you. She found the pace of the city rapid and the people too weird. It was almost a weekend ritual for her and I to debate about which was better. Needless to say Bangalore always won! I don’t know why but I always have this inexplicable urge to prove the city is amazing. I can’t stand the thought of hearing something bad being said about it. You’d get a stronger reaction from me for insulting the city than you would from insulting me. And then there’s the fact that I mindlessly hate anyone who doesn’t like the city.

For me, being Bangalorean is a big part of who I am. It’s one of the things that defines me. The city has the same contribution in making me who I am today as my family and school. For a long time after I moved to Aachen I pondered over the deep sense of homesickness I felt. I would speak with my family everyday, most days over Skype. Talk to almost all my friends but the sense of loneliness never left me. I felt strangely displaced and out of my element. Like a fish out of water. Only once I went back for vacation did I realise that it was the city that I missed. No one understands why I’m so attached to the city. Frankly I don’t either. But I just adore it!

When you miss your friends and family, you call them, email them or skype with them. And once you’ve spoken to them you always feel much better. But what do you do when you miss the city? Now I know most people will wonder what I miss about Bangalore. The traffic? the pollution? When I lived in Bangalore I constantly grumbled about the traffic and the amount of time it took me to get somewhere, about how I had to plan my day around my travel time. But now, I actually miss it. The time I spent in traffic usually let me catch up with my friends. On the off day that I was traveling alone I got to think, some much needed time for myself.  Everyone complains about the noise and chaos but to me it’s comforting. Maybe it because I’m loud and the noise around drowns me out but I would give anything to hear the noise than the constant silence. The truth is, once you get past the traffic, you will actually find yourself falling in love with the city.

Bangalore does not have much to offer in terms of sightseeing the way cities like Delhi or Mumbai. You have to live here and you will fall in love with it. The city has so much to offer no matter who you are, where you come from or what you want. It doesn’t require you to learn a different language or change your ways, it’ll accept you the way you are and welcome you with open arms the way no one else could. That’s the most amazing part of the city. You will always fit in. You can never be too weird or too ordinary. You won’t be judged in any way. The city will always find a place for you and some for itself in your heart.

Now when I go back, I find that I can never fall asleep. I feel too alive. Like I’ll miss out on something when I sleep. I can never get enough of the city. Any amount of time spent seems short. No matter where I go or what I see, Bangalore continues to hold a special place in my heart. No matter where life takes me, I’ll always make the time to go back. No matter where I move, what the place holds or who I meet, Bangalore shall always remain home.

Home away from home

Like everyone else out there, I’d always wanted to get out of the house and live by myself. Until last year it was one of my most vivid fantasies. I constantly dreamt about living alone in a big city, away from home, and having the time of my life! The city in the background constantly changed according to my moods – bustling New York, royal London, industrious Munich, and the list goes on. One thing that stayed constant however, was what I would do. New York, London or Munich, I would stare at the glorious cars passing by, indulge in the variety offered by little cafes in the city, explore the streets looking for a place for each of my moods and last but not the least shop in thrift stores. And then reality came calling – no busy streets of New York, no Buckingham Palace, not even unique buildings.

Goodbye big and loud Bangalore and Hallo! quiet little Aachen. Never in all my fantasies had I imagined living alone in a little town. Perched on the border of Germany, Netherlands and Belgium lies the university town of Aachen. The city has a long and rich history to boast of and looks as perfect as a postcard picture in the Fall, with the orange and brown hues of the falling leaves, pebbled roads and old homes. The students attending the prestigious RWTH and FH Aachen Universities form the majority of the residents and the sole contributors to the noise on Ponttor every week night during the Semester. But come the weekend or exams, the town’s as alive as a person who’s been told they have 10 seconds left on earth.

Aachen

It’s been a year now since I’ve kissed my fanciful thoughts goodbye. There’s a lot that I’ve learnt over the year, and not one reaffirmed my fantasy. Reality can be such a downer! Living alone involves cooking, cleaning the dishes, doing the laundry, shopping for groceries, paying the bills, cleaning the house,…  I thought myself all grown up – Searching online for recipes, collecting the bank statements, making the grocery list, I couldn’t have been prouder of myself. It was fun, the first week. And then I realised that I would have to do ALL THIS, EVERYDAY, BY MYSELF! Not so fun now, is it? So much for telling Ma that I’d be “living it up” when I was by myself.

The day the mother cleans my room

When we live at home, we live such sheltered lives. Mum cooks, pays the bills, cleans the house, does the laundry and even cleans your room when you don’t do it after her yelling at you all week. Someone’s there to take care of you when you’re sick, worry about what you’re eating, check if you’re home on time and buy you stuff you want. All you have to do is study, and some chores. But then life is such a bore! There’s no fun, no adventure! Who would want such a life? Who would want such luxury and care? All I did was complain and yell. About how I didn’t feel like eating dal today or that the servant had ruined my white top. I didn’t realise how easy  I had it. Until now. Coming to Aachen has made me oh-so-wise and mature! I now know about the duty and responsibility that accompanies a life alone. I know the effort that goes into a home cooked meal. Not a day goes by without speaking to Mum over the phone or Skype. My sister calls me a sissy but I’ve learnt to ignore that. My mum can’t stop tearing up over how grown up her daughter has become and I can’t help but groan as I think of home and all it’s comforts.

Coffee at my favourite cafe

I’ve always thought of home as a place where my family is. But we’ve moved now to a different city. And the 3 weeks there was enough to show me that, it’s not home. Home’s just not the place where family is. Home is where your heart is. Cheesy, I know! But let me explain. Every day I spend here, away from home brings me one step closer to understanding the word. It’s not just the people that I think about and miss, but the place too. I think about Sankey tank and the walks with my sister and friends, about Coffee day and the Thursdays spent with friends over just one up of coffee in the first year of pre-university, of the evenings with my sister talking about everything from school to Harry Potter and movies to how to take over the world, about MG Road and the entire holidays after 10th spent watching every movie that came out because the tickets cost only Rs.60 when Garuda Mall had just opened, about Radio Indigo and the nights spent waiting for my request to be played, about Blossom and the smell of old books, about Nandi Hills and the trip there that happened out of the blue, about the airport and the time I drove there in Shiro Chan with my Older cousin scared for his life and the list is endless!

My retreat

The city is woven so intricately with my memories that it’s hard to tell where my love for people ends and that for the city begins. It gave me everything I asked for and more. Cheered me up when I was down, helped me think when I was confused, brightened my day when I was looking for something to be happy about. It took me in and embraced me and I didn’t realise when it was, that I fell in love with it. That it’s as important to me as all the people I love. That home would never be home without it.

Home

Aachen has made me appreciate home so much more than I ever would have otherwise. Yes, I have my own little world here. I have my room with my pictures of friends and family, my Panda, even Harry Potter when I’m thoroughly miserable. It’s what I come to after my daily battle with the world. It’s the place I study, eat, watch movies, talk to friends and fall asleep. A room full of reminders of the memories of home. But try as I might, that’s all it always remains, a room in the student dormitories. Not a home away from home.