A slice of motherhood; with a side of guilt

Being a mother, you get used to quite a lot of things. You learn the art of doing everything one-handed. You learn to deal with sleep-deprivation like a pro (Sleep is for losers, baby!) You learn to ingest meals rather than enjoy them. You also learn that motherhood is a lot about unlearning as well, because what works one day does not necessarily work the next. But most of all, you learn to live with guilt. Motherhood and guilt go hand in hand, no exception.

I remember when we brought Miss Munchkin back home from the hospital, and how I spent the first night crying because I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing. I mean there she was, this tiny little helpless bundle, entrusting her life on the hand of this utterly clueless new parents, and I had no idea what to do! I remember feeling guilty because I thought I should have, I don’t know, known more? Prepared more? Read a little more (although I highly doubted that) As day melted into weeks the guilt manifested itself in different ways, but it was a constant presence. If she sneezed even a tiny sneeze, I’d feel guilty because maybe I hadn’t wrapped her right and maybe she’d felt cold. If she spit up her meal, I’d feel guilty about not knowing when to stop feeding her. One evening, after a marathon nursing session, when she refused to go to sleep, I whined and asked her (maybe a little harshly) why she hated sleeping. The very next moment I wanted to duck under the covers in shame and guilt.

Guilt made room for itself and decided it was there to stay.

For an entire year, I forgot everything else. Even myself. The first time I went outside without Miss Munchkin strapped to my chest, guilt held my hand and walked along with me. While I focused wholly on the act of bringing up this child, I made the cardinal mistake of neglecting my marriage. I would feel guilty about being too tired or wired up to be the wife a husband would love coming home to. My husband would accuse me of over mothering, and I would tell him that I was just trying to do everything right.

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Over the years, as she grew up and I learned to let go, I think I accepted that guilt was something I would have to learn to live with. But I never really did.

The day I went to work for the first time after becoming a mother, I was a terrible mess. I felt as if I had betrayed my very own self; the one who believed in being nothing but a mother. I was missing out on her naps, missing her mealtimes, and by the time I came home I would be too tired to do anything remotely physical with her. I kept telling myself that I had given her three whole years of my undivided attention, and that in a place like Singapore it is near impossible to provide the best education (the only kind of education you want for your child) on a single income, but that provided little solace.

The first night we (the husband and I) went out on a dinner date as a couple and not as parents, I was delirious with happiness, and terribly guilty all that the same time. I mean, we were righting a few wrongs, kicking back and enjoying each other’s company without distractions after a long time, and yet I couldn’t wait to come back home and cuddle her.

And now, after almost a year of working, and countless dinner dates and even a couple of overnight stays without our daughter, I am yet to come to terms with the idea of being half a mother. Because that’s what I feel: that I AM just half the mother I used to be. I look back at the countless hours I spent with just her for company, and how I would cook fancy snacks for her, and think of activities for her, and just be… involved. I knew which TV shows she loved, and which songs she loved listening to, but the best part was that I knew exactly where she was learning all those wonderful new things she picked up every single day. I wonder now how I had even done it: written a book while taking care of her, given up on everything else, even my reading time, and never doing anything for myself. I think about the times when I would do everything around the house and still find time to do something special with just her, about how I thought it was possible to baby wear and conquer the world. I wonder now how I had set aside the rest of the world and put my life on hold for her.

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She surprises me even now, by saying things I had never taught her to say, by singing songs I hadn’t even known that she knew, by coming up with dance steps on her own, and mostly by knowing just what to say to make me melt into a puddle of mush. Of course, now that she is going to preschool, I expect her to learn a lot of new things, but what amazes me is watching her develop a personality of her own that has got nothing to do with the way I have raised her.

I know I cribbed when I was the mother I used to be, and I am cribbing now about the mother I have become. I do realise I am being true to myself, finally setting aside time to read books and write, taking care of myself emotionally and physically. Yet, as I sit here in my study, listening to her splashing in the bath tub, spelling out words as if it were a game, singing a song I don’t even know, I wonder if ever I’ll get back a time when I know what happens in every second of her life. I think it’s high time I accept that I won’t.

But then, I’ll get up now, bundle her up in a towel and dress her up and make the most of this beautiful long weekend we have been blessed after a long time. Because being melancholy won’t help, but doing something about it will.

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Rivers and Roads

“No… no no no,” she said,
“I’ve walked down this road, I’ve seen where it’ll take me,
It promises me everything, and yet, where it ends,
The river is dry. The trees are brown as can be.”

“I’ll hold your hand as we walk down this road,
Together you and I, can conquer the world.”

“The world?” she smirked, showing her palm.
“Look at these lines, you see what I see?
Destined for disaster, that’s who I am.
Queen of this world I’m not meant to be.”

“You are a Queen. The Queen of my heart.
Come, it’s getting late. Come let’s start.”

“You know just the right things to say,
And I am scared. You make me feel a little too much.
I tremble when you speak my name,
And I melt at your slightest touch.”

“Scared, you say? Scared of what?
I know you can’t be. A coward you are not.”

“No! Not a coward. Don’t dare call me one!”
She pulled her hand away.
“I’m being… Prudent. Practical. Pragmatic.
I am being sane, no matter what you say.”

“Sanity is overrated, you of all people should know.
And I’m telling you again, it’s time to let go.”

“No! Not this road again. My poor heart!
Battered, shattered, broken and tattered,
I can’t do this to myself anymore!
It doesn’t matter now, and never had it mattered.”

Road Through The Woods Forest Wood The Path Nature

“What doesn’t matter? You? Life? Love?
Tell me you believe that. Swear on the Gods above.

“And there it is. That word I hate.
Why are you obsessed so?
I’m telling you. I’m done with all that.
You know my answer is no.”

“Listen to me, woman. Look into my eyes.
I’ve heard you say it a thousand times.
And before I tell you what I am about to say,
I’ll have you know, I know the way.
The road back home, the road you want to take.
And I’ll leave your hand, your journey you’re free to make.
But before you leave, I want to know from you.
If the past was different, what would you do?
Maybe it is not the road, but who was holding your hand,
Maybe it was how you looked at it before. And
maybe, just maybe, this time you will see
The river flowing free, just like it is meant to be.
Maybe the trees have shed all the brown,
Maybe the green is peeking through, this time around.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. How would I know?
What if you leave my hand and let me go?”

“Scared again, my love? Scared of being left alone?
All this while have I not said enough?
You need to know I’m here for good.
Holding your hand, even when the going gets tough.”

She bit her lip, and shook her head.
“This is moving too fast.
Paper burns the easiest and brightest,
But that fire doesn’t last.”

“All it takes is a gust of wind,
To turn a spark into fire.
Haven’t I told you, you glow inside me?
Are you calling me a liar?”

“No… no. I don’t think you lie.
It’s just that…” she let out a sigh.

“You’re running out of reasons now.
I can see it in your eyes.
I know you’re thinking I might be right.
I hear it in your sighs.

“So come my queen, let’s talk a walk,
The day is yellow and blue.
For all you know, when the road ends,
You will realise what I say it true.”

She held out her hand, and he clasped it tight.
She said, “I am such a fool for love.”
“Oh yes you are, and so am I,
And will be, for as long as I’m alive.”

“Look at us, two fools in love, taking that downtrodden path,
Littered with broken promises, scattered with broken hearts.
Here I go again, bracing myself, wondering why I do.
Just when I thought it was all over, I find myself at the start.

“What if this road never ends? What if we never find the river?
What if we keep walking till eternity?
Do you think you could live with that?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, with certainty.

Hotel Salvation : Not a Review

I got to know about Hotel Salvation straight from the horse’s mouth in the month of June, when I first talked to Adil Hussain regarding my book launch in Delhi. He told me he would be coming to Singapore with the movie, and would love for us to be there for the screening with him. I watched the trailer of the movie, of course, and the first thing that came to my mind was how beautifully the movie, even through the trailer, manages to bring out a few laughs while dealing with something as morbid as death. Having watched the trailer, and then getting to know about just how critically acclaimed it has been, I couldn’t wait to watch the movie.

True to his word, Adil Da set aside passes for me and my husband and so today evening, we went, specially because the screening also involved a Q and A session with the actor himself, courtesy Darpan Singapore, who arranged for the screening in Singapore in the first place.

Gentle disclaimer: I am not a movie critic, so I can not and will not comment on technicalities (the awards and screenings speak for themselves) Which is why, this is not a review. But I am a keen observer, and an empathic one at that, which means I get highly involved in anything I read or watch. What follows below is my unadulterated undiluted emotional takeaway from the movie, because believe me, if there is one thing this movie is assured to evoke in an audience, it is emotions.

From the very first frame I was hooked by how natural and real everything felt. Adil, being the kind of actor he is, never makes you feel like you are watching someone play a role (if you have seen his other movies you would know what I am talking about) but in this case, it was not just him as Rajiv, but the entire setup that felt that way. It seems utterly effortless, this whole depiction of an ordinary middle class life. From the dining table with its mismatched bottles of condiments, to the bedroom with its creaking ceiling fan and again, mismatched bed sheet and pillows, to the wife with her nighttime skincare regimen and the typical “maxi”, from the kind of clothes the son wears to work (trademark untucked shirt and trousers) to even the mobile phone pouch he wears on his belt… it is these tiny details that make up for an entirely relatable experience. This is not your on-your-face out-and-out dramatic conflict. It is a simple dilemma, really. The father has dropped a bomb on the family saying he wants to go to Varanasi because “his time has come”.

You know the son is disgruntled. Irritation is perpetually etched on his face. Torn between a demanding boss and a somewhat emotionally manipulative father, you know he’d rather be anywhere than in this situation. But sense of duty supersedes everything, and despite not wanting to, the son finds himself squished in a taxi on their way to Varanasi. The last thing his wife has to say to him is to leave his ATM card behind.  The dialogues continue to be lighthearted without being flippant, and we laugh along at the absurdity of the whole prospect.

And then we reach Varanasi, broken staircases and dingy narrow streets in abundance. We see Hotel Salvation itself, where the manager specifically mentions that one can only get a room for 15 days, and if a guest hasn’t passed away and gained their much desired salvation by then, they would have to pack up and leave. We see father and son check in into a tiny little room, and we wait, along with them, for death, and salvation, of course.

What follows is a poignant portrayal of the reality of death, but while it does, it reflects on relationships, particularly that between this pair of father and son. What I loved the best is that there are no profound revelations. There is no moment of epiphany and long-winded dialogues to show for it. What there is, instead, is sincere apology, acknowledgement, admittance and acceptance.

In a society where we are still not comfortable talking about death, Hotel Salvation takes it up, and manages to surprisingly leave the audience uplifted. It is a very personal movie; one that will reach into the deepest crevices of your heart and evoke emotions you might not even have known existed. It will make you think, and feel and think about why you feel the way you do. It delves deep into life and loss, and what each entails. It is about holding on and letting go, and knowing exactly when to choose which.

What remained with me, and will linger with me for a really long time, has to be the last scene. Without giving away spoilers, I would say that the last scene encapsulates the movie perfectly.

I have always been a fan of Adil Hussain and his acting, and this time around, the spotlight shines equally on all the actors. Lalit Behl as Dayanand Kumar (Rajiv’s father), Geetanjali Kulkarni as the wife and Palomi Ghosh as Sunita, Rajiv’s daughter, all come together to make Hotel Salvation an extraordinary movie.

What went on in my mind, as the credits rolled in, was that if as a viewer I was this deeply moved by the movie, how did it affect the actors? How did they deal with their emotions? During the Q and A session, someone from the audience asked Adil Da how he distinguished himself away from his character, and Adil mentioned how he was a totally different person during shooting and after, and how it was a slippery slope to smear yourself with your character so much that you forget who you are. I personally asked him what his reaction was when he watched the movie for the first time, and he told me that he was deeply touched (one can’t help but be touched by the movie) because seeing himself play that role on the screen was a very different from acting it out.

Oh, and this was from after the movie. The smile should say all.

The Birthday that was.. 

I have never been the kind of person who dreads birthdays. Birthday blues and I, luckily for me, don’t know each other yet. I am on the other end of the extreme actually. Over three decades of my existence on this earth, and I still get all giddy with excitement at the idea of celebrating the day the surgeon slit my mother open to bring me to this world.

This year, I had all the more reason to celebrate. Between last birthday and this, I crossed that beautiful line from just a blogger to published author. I took up teaching, something that I am thoroughly passionate about. I bought books and more books and then some more books. I managed to lose some weight and regained the confidence the post-pregnancy weight had snatched away from me. All in all it was a fruitful year.

I woke up in the morning (the midnight episode where my husband scared me out of my wits by waking me up to wish me by torchlight long forgotten) feeling quite perky like I always do on my birthdays. Miss Munchkin woke up and suddenly remembered that it was Mamma’s birthday and that she had been working on a card which was meant to be a surprise for me. She ran to Jenny’s room and fetched me this card. My heart melted and poured out of my eyes (and this was just the beginning of the day)

Once I reached school though, the day turned from beautiful to phenomenal. From the moment I got off the bus, students started wishing me, and when I walked into my class, I saw two cakes on the table. What caught my attention more was a can filled with Post-it’s. After cutting the cakes I read out each note and for the second time yesterday I tried fighting back tears and failed. My students wrote to me about how I was their second mother, and just how much they loved reading books now because of me. I could tell all of them were bouncing on their toes trying to get started on the grand celebration that they had been planning for over a week.

They cleared up space in the classroom and made me sit on my chair, put a crown on my head and called me Queen for the Day. They’d had a whole talent show prepared for me, and two hosts for the entire show. My students wrote me poems, sang me a chorus, danced for me and a student even displayed her exceptional yoga skills!

As if my cup had been overflowing already, two of my colleagues prepared an elaborate lunch for me, and one of them, a really special friend of mine, even brought the payesh that’s the essential birthday ritual. Just as I was about to start eating though, a student from another class that I teach came up to me and asked me to go to a certain classroom. I went, a little reluctant at having to give up my lunch with friends.

When I walked into the room though, I realised they had decorated the room with balloons and tinsel, and yet another cake was waiting for me. I looked around and saw students I hadn’t even taught, waiting to wish me a happy birthday.

“But I don’t even teach you!” I exclaimed.

“It doesn’t matter Ma’am, we love you!” they all shouted.

Amidst all of this, a student I had taught previously came and handed me a note written on tissue paper, and I was so touched that I had no words. But this needs a little back story so bear with me.

Flashback to a few months ago when I used to still teach his class, on an idle class I saw him scribbling something on a tissue paper. I snatched it away from me but laughed out loud when I saw what he written. Because I love a good joke myself I wrote something in return on the same tissue paper and gave it back to him and we did it about two or three times until the whole class caught up on what was happening. I guess it became sort of an inside joke.

Which is why, that he thought of writing a note on a tissue paper to give me on my birthday touched me more than I care to admit. It was just the kind of stupid mushy stuff that appeals to the sentimental fool in me. Ah yes, the cup kept overflowing.

Grinning ear to ear I came back home to see and had barely finished talking to my Mamma when the husband came in demanding that I get ready as fast as I could because we had somewhere to be. And that somewhere turned out to be just one of our favourite places by the beach to hang out. My sister reached a little later, the breeze was perfect, the restaurant kept playing one good song after the other, the kiddos kept running and squealing and to top it all, the Husband had an Awfully Chocolate cake in hand.



Birthday = Complete.

P.S. Looking at my birthday haul (bath products, dresses, accessories, perfume, lipsticks and more accessories) I almost wonder what opinion people have of me. Have I really become THAT woman?

Teaching, and filling buckets. 

At the beginning of this year, when I was asked to be the class teacher of one section of Grade 7, I was part excited and part anxious. Teaching, in my opinion, is a lot like parenting. It requires patience (a lot of patience!) dedication and leaves no room for errors. It requires you to think on your feet, specially when it comes to defusing tense situations. I embraced the role with arms wide open.

On the very first day of class, I had a heart to heart with my students. I told them what was expected from them and asked them what they expected from me. The second question surprised them, because they had never thought that their opinion mattered. I let them know that their voice will be always heard. I stocked my drawer with a thick wad of post-its and told them they could write to me anything they wanted and I will reply to each and every one of their notes. For the first few weeks, fifteen minutes of my day was spent replying to the multiple notes that sneaked their way to my drawer and found their way to my heart.

It was love at first go. The moment I walk into class, I feel wrapped in warmth, and so much unconditional love that it makes my day just to hear them say good morning. I remember one day when we were out on a field trip and I was fixing a student’s hair and she remarked, “Ma’am, do you know you’re like our mother?” I laughed and said, “Of course I am! I am Mother Hen when you are in school!”

Then one day I showed them a video of the book “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” being read. I asked them what made them feel like their bucket was filled, and they shared their stories. Why I mention this is because of what happened yesterday.

One of students, who always gets called out for being tardy, got held by senior students keeping tabs on students coming late to school. The class witnessed the entire thing, and my first thought was to be stern and let her know that this was not something to be taken lightly. The moment she walked into class I asked her, all business-like, “What happened?”

“Ma’am… Ma’am,” she stuttered, “my brother. He was there too. Ma’am, he knew I was late because I had to take my medicines and still, Ma’am…”
I had never expected her to cry. Being the mother I am, I instinctively took her in my arms. The teacher in me took leave for a bit. I could see the boys in class sniggering.

“She doesn’t seem to have started her day well, has she? Could we do anything to fill her bucket?” I asked the class. I said I would go first and complimented her on how she brought so much energy and enthusiasm to the class that it made me happy just to be her teacher. The class delivered, and how! They had nice things to say about her, and even though she sniffled the entire time I could see the beginning of a smile that later turned into a grin.

When I walked into class later in the afternoon, I saw this note inside my drawer.

The mother in me, and the teacher in me both melted at these words. Teaching can be thankless, yes, and there have been days I wonder what I am doing, but yesterday, was definitely not one of them.

Events, and moments.

My Facebook wall tells a beautiful story these days. It talks about a book that I put my soul into, and how it walked into people’s hearts. It also mentions how the book has been doing well and is holding its own for over three weeks on a list that gets updated by the hour. Through pictures, it talks about ever loyal friends who have put faith in me and have gone ahead and bought the book. Scroll down further, and it’ll show you pictures of the gorgeous launch events and how I was beaming and glowing in august company. It talks about the culmination of a long journey, one that started with least expectations. But it also hints on how this one event has changed the course for the rest of my life.

What it doesn’t show, however, are those tiny little moments that shaped it all. The moments that were my very own, the ones I held the closest to my heart as everything around me seemed surreal. So yes, of course, the unveiling of the book was a big one. Having esteemed writers hold up my book for everyone to see felt like a rite of passage, but even before that, I will always remember the moment I first saw the book, which was just a day before the launch. I was at my Mama-Koka’s place, to talk about the programme for the next day because he was my Guest of Honour, along with my Mahi who was the beautiful host for the evening, when The Husband walked in with the books. To be honest it felt a lot like holding my baby for the first time. I ran my fingers over the cover, flipped through the pages, sniffed them, closed the book, kept it on the table to see it better, and then two second later would pick it up again, and do the same thing over and over again. I couldn’t stop smiling. The Husband gave me a pen (for me to sign copies, he said) and asked me to sign the very first copy for him. That moment, right there, penning my signature, was one that will always be etched in my memory: Mami-Aita’s dining table, with the tea things not yet cleared and the faint smell of mangoes in the air because Koka’d insisted that I try the mango puree that he’d made, my head brimming with a thousand thoughts but my heart pushing through with just one feeling – accomplishment.

The next moment luckily I have a picture of. This.

This was on the dias, right after the unveiling of the book. My Mahi pleasantly surprised me by inviting my parents along with my sister on stage to unveil the book and it was extremely emotional. Mamma, Deuta and my sister held the book right there with me, and all I could think of was how they have stood by me all throughout, and how this was all their doing: Mamma, the wind beneath my wings and Deuta, that rock-solid wall that sheltered me from self-doubt, and my voice of reason, my sister. After the book was unveiled, my Deuta hugged me and all I could think of was how I will always be his little girl, no matter how old I grow, no matter how high I soar.

The third moment I also have a picture of.

My little one, of course. Who’d skipped her afternoon nap that day because she was so busy playing with her cousin. Who’d thrown a tantrum because she didn’t want to wear a dress and had to be coaxed and pleaded by my sister to attend the launch. Who was over tired by the time the launch ended, and could be kept silent only with the help of a phone. And there I was, after the launch, right back to being a mother. While we were trying to wrap things up at Vivanta by Taj (which is where the launch was), I had asked Jenny to take her home so she could be put to sleep right away, but Miss Munchkin absolutely refused. So I carried her instead, and poor thing was asleep in my arms within seconds. We’d planned a dinner with Mr. Nagaraj and his family who had travelled all the way from Bangkok for the launch (more on that later) and also to celebrate my finally being a published author, and I was to get changed right after putting the little one to bed but she decided that enough was enough and clung on to me. And that’s the moment I remember: asking my husband to leave for dinner without me because I couldn’t bear the thought of her having another tantrum; realising that no matter what happens, I will always be a mother first.

I also remember this tiny little moment the very next morning when I was walking up the stairs to  our terrace with a bucket full of clothes to hang out to dry and I remember recalling how ordinary and normal life felt. I had been on tenterhooks for every single day leading up to the launch, and it wasn’t until it was finally over that I realised just how anxious and uptight I had been! I felt like I could finally relish the thrill, and I’d started walking with a new spring to my step!

This next moment I will never, ever forget. Two days after the Guwahati launch, The Husband and I traveled to Delhi for the Delhi launch. I was already slightly apprehensive about leaving Miss Munchkin behind but we’d decided that it would have been too hectic for her. The previous night I had received a message from Adil Hussain that he was suffering from viral fever and was hoping that he’d recover enough to make it to my event. Even before that, a series of events had dampened my spirit, and it was with a deliberate intention to keep myself positive and not be bogged down by disappointing thoughts that I boarded the flight and buried myself in The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (beautiful, beautiful book by the way). The moment I landed, however, I received a message from Dipankar (the face of Readomania and my rock throughout this journey) letting me know that on its very first day on Amazon.in, the book had reached Number. 4 on the bestselling list in the category of New Releases in Indian Writing! I remember grinning ear to ear, I remember giving a high-five to The Husband, and I remember repeating to myself: everything will be alright. I almost bounced my way out of the aircraft. I had always liked the Delhi airport, but from this time on,  I will always associate it with how victorious I felt. That moment, shivering slightly from the cold, watching an advertisement on rare species (the one going on at that moment was about an Aardvark) and informing my Deuta over a pathetic phone connection about the good news… that has to be one of those moments right up there, on top of the list. Three weeks later, as of today, the book is at Number. 6.

Then of course there’s this moment:

That’s Adil Hussain, saying something funny and I am laughing that typical smile of mine that makes people wonder if I can see while I smile or not (I do, folks. I do)

Now we’re back in Singapore, and normal life, so to speak, has resumed. Except of course, it is intercepted by these moments when I read a wonderful review, or when friends tell me that they liked the book, and I feel like I must have done something right. The Husband and I went out on a date yesterday, after ages, and I asked him, ‘So which moment was the highlight for you?’ He thought for a bit and he said, ‘When I saw people queuing up in the Delhi event to get their copy signed by you. That’s when I told myself, she’s made it!’ I reminded him of that one evening in our Dubai apartment, sitting on that cold leather couch when he’d promised me a Macbook the day we get to know my book is getting published and I had laughed it off saying, ‘Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen!’ I don’t think I have ever eaten my words as happily as I do now.

Cheers to that!

Oh, and here are a few links:

You can buy the book in India here: http://www.amazon.in/Revelations-Imperfect-Life-Sankhya-Samhita/dp/9385854429/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8

The Amazon.com link here: https://www.amazon.com/Revelations-Imperfect-Life-Sankhya-Samhita/dp/9385854429/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499481050&sr=8-1&keywords=revelations+of+an+imperfect+life

Goodreads link here, with this amazing review a wonderful reader has left: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35528184-revelations-of-an-imperfect-life

 

 

The “Let’s freak out!” Meal

This is the story of a meal. But before we talk about the actual meal I need to back trace just a little bit and talk about the place where we had the meal.

So if you’ve ever been to Singapore, or even met anyone who’s been to Singapore, you would know Mustafa Centre. What is Mustafa Centre, you ask? Why, it is our go to place for every little thing! From the turmeric we use every day to the perfumes I love to collect. Reasonably priced, amply stocked, Mustafa is probably the first and last place you go to for anything Indian, be it Good Day  and Bourbon biscuits or Kurkure or even the Mysore Sandal Soap. But this is not about Mustafa Centre. You see, the area where Mustafa is situated is Little India (pretty self-explanatory) and in the maze of alleys and streets surrounding Mustafa is tucked a nondescript Bangladeshi restaurant called “Khana Basmati”. And that, is the real hero of this story.

Now the Husband is a die-hard fish lover. Brought up in a typical Assamese household where fish was a daily affair whereas chicken was saved for Sundays, he had obviously developed a taste for simple home-cooked fish. I, on the other hand, am a chicken person through and through, which sometimes, poses, err, problems. Specially when it comes to deciding where to eat and what to eat when we are outside. One day, having spent hours shopping in Mustafa, checking off items on a long list and veering dangerously towards starvation from having missed breakfast and lunch, we chanced upon this place. When I say chanced upon I really mean we scoured the place for a half-decent Bangladeshi restaurant which served fish, and when I say “we” I really mean the husband because he had a particular hankering for fish that day.

The moment we stepped inside the place, I felt like I was in the dining area of an Assamese wedding. You know that smell? Of fragrant rice and dali and bhaji and Maasor jul with lemon squeezed over everything? Yep! That was the exact fragrance. Fine tuned that my brain is to associate that smell with hunger, I suddenly realised I wanted in on that meal. Deciding that the place was definitely the take-away kind and not exactly the proper dine-in location, we packed some fish and chicken (because of course I wanted chicken) and came back home and sang paeans about just how tasty the fish was and how authentic it tasted. Filled to the brim with oil, dipped in the red of chili powder, it was the very epitome of guilt and indulgence. The very next week, despite not having to buy anything from Mustafa, tempted by the taste, the husband traveled all the way there just to pack lunch and bring back home. And so it continued, even though like it always happens with chance encounters, the frequency waned until it’d been months since we spared a thought to that place.

Until tonight. Busy that we both are trying to arrange everything for the launches, tying all loose ends, coordinating things in India from here, we decided to get the final leg of shopping out of the way. It was only when I sat in the cab that I started feeling the dull headache that I get from being hungry, and I realised that I was so absorbed in work that I forgot to have anything after lunch. Despite having a lot of things on the agenda, the husband and I decided to have our dinner first. I tried suggesting options, but my husband being my husband, as in the kind of person who hates having to deter from his plans, wanted us to have dinner in Khana Basmati. He did have the courtesy to ask, “You okay with that?” and I said yes.

Which is how we ended up having a meal that I will never forget. It’s not so much the food that we had (plain rice, daal, some aloo bhaji, some lesera bhaji, and rou maas) but the feel of it. My steel plate was overflowing with rice and the daal was “hostel-variety” watery. I was ravenous, and after restricting myself for ages (I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had rice) I nearly attacked the food. It was about five minutes in, completely oblivious to my surroundings I was, that I realised I was the only woman in the entire place. The restaurant was slowly filling up with blue-collar workers getting off their day-shifts.

“You know what I love about you?” my husband said, between morsels. “That you are equally at ease in a five-star restaurant and a place like this.”

I shrugged and said I’ve always been like this. And in the next moment sent a silent thank you to my parents for teaching me to be like this. Days away from one of the biggest days of my life, anxious about even being in the same room as celebrated writers and artists, I was irrationally blissful about sharing a simple meal with my husband in that ordinary place.

I polished off all the rice with no regret whatsoever. We even ordered “dessert” which was basically three rasgullas and three gulab jamuns and the moment I took a bite out of one I was transported to that dingy little teashop (Ajanta, if my memory hasn’t failed me) in Orang, which is a pitstop if you’re traveling by bus from Tezpur to Guwahati via Mangaldoi.

“Doesn’t this remind you of home?” he asked me.

Of course it did. And in the end, that’s what matters. Not where you are, but who you are with, and what experiences you gather, and finding simply joy in the simple things life has to offer. Even if it is a $4 dollar meal in a Bangladeshi restaurant where they gave me the kochu bhorta for free. Life does offer you revelations everyday, doesn’t it?

I wish I had the photo of us in that place, but I don’t. However, today, just because I am feeling this sudden gush of gratefulness to my partner in crime who is just like me when it comes to experiencing life with abandon, here’s a photo of us that I particularly like.