Day 70: Growing up

I went to my ancestral home this weekend. My paternal grandfather built it as his generation progressed, moving the large family out of their rented home and into this single floor house, and eventually adding another floor too. I spent two years, kindergarten and grade 1, here and it has been a constant for all summers.

I drove into the lane that the house lies on and I was shocked at how everything else seemed to have grown up, while the house stayed the same. I remember climbing up the tall gates as a child and being scared of hitting down hard if I fell. Now, if I put my hands up, I hit the ceiling to the entrance. I remember the little water tank in the back of the house and how we’d use it as our personal bath tub. I could wet a hand completely now before it begins to overflow. Even the terrace and it’s little benches all seemed to have shrunk.

Life was much better before, us tiny selves and everything around us too big to grasp.

You used to slide down this railing as a child? I’m scared to go down these stairs, and you used to slide down? Crazy, S” Scotch 

Day 69: The great Indian madness

The great Indian madness called the roads. Driving home to visit the parents in Coimbatore, and the 6-hour drive has been fun. It’s almost symbolic of our manic lives – a random pedestrian walks across your path, carefree and wanton; a cow parks itself squat in the middle of the highway, oblivious to the high speed travel; an annoying family honks their way past you from behind, unaware that multiple lanes exist for a reason. And through it all, you’re stuck in your little metal bubble, behind the steering wheel, with the false illusion that your control is the reason you’re still alive.

Fish fry… Strange incense… Hot poodle poop… Man not showered in three days… Biriyani, Oooh where was that biriyani. Turn around, S” Scotch

Day 65: God’s Scratch

I got scratched on the left side today. Oh wait! Not me. My car got scratched on the left today. A shady looking auto-tempo swerved into my lane, when the bus in front of him stopped. Of course, he expected me to disappear the minute he turned right, but I have still not figured that skill out. So, I now have three new scratches on the left side of the car and paint ripped off from the passenger side handle. He even managed to give me those wavy, curvy lines; not the boring straight scratches.

Something snapped in me when I saw the callousness with which he hit me, tried blaming it on me and then made nothing of the matter by waving me to drive on. I asked him to pull over, made a mountain out of  the mole hole of three scratches, and a ripped paint, and yelled my heart out. When he realized that I was not one of those girls who would break into a tear, or accept blame and walk away, he hurriedly pulled out a crisp 500 rupee note from his wallet, stuffed it into my hands, said Sorry a few more times and drove away.

I stood there for a minute, a 500 note in hand, and three new scratches on my car, confused about the seriousness and the triviality of the scene confusing me. A number of vehicles passed by, looking over this discussion. A teacher I usually rode with called me to check if everything was OK. Of course it was. This is India; you are expected to get into a traffic issue at least twice a month. No?

Earlier that morning, when I was about to step out of the house, I realized that I hadn’t done my morning prayers before heading out. My morning prayers typically constitute a general nod in the direction of the prayer room, a ‘Dude, thanks for everything, and take care of everything’ conversation, and a little game with Scotch and the vibhuti; she loves licking that ash. I brushed the thought aside and went out the door.

I hadn’t done this crazy morning routine today and that’s all I could think of as I drove to college after this early morning drama. Was it God’s little way of punishing me for not having our early morning conversation? Did he really care about such little shows of gratitude? Shouldn’t the almighty be more worried about bigger things? And anyway, what true-blooded brahmin would consider my morning ritual a formal prayer? I mean, which Hindu God really speaks English now! So, it wasn’t technically a prayer in the first place. And what if I went for a few days without this morning ritual? Would it then be a bigger dent instead of a beautiful, wavy scratch?

Hmm! This God that you speak of… Will he give me the power to control your mind so you can give me good whenever I want? Like right now?” Scotch 

Day 56: Growing old with parents

I was 16 when I sat behind the wheels of a car for the first time. Our phoenix red Maruti Omni seemed like the perfect testing ground and I was super excited. We hit the under-construction inner-ring road post-midnight and after a few debacles with the clutch-accelerator pedals, we were go. And in a few, I was cruising down that road; it was a time when Bangalore did not have the manic traffic problems of today. I had heard from friends about the gears and shifting, and I was switching over seamlessly when my dad let out a strong yell and I hit the brakes immediately. 4th gear? I was just a newbie and I had switched to the top-most gear? We’ll wait for some hours of driving before we get there, OK?

 

Driving has always been portrayed as an overly-technical feat that requires extensive hand-eye-leg-brain coordination. Add to that the general societal stereotype about women driving and it is made to seem like a humongous achievement. When dad got his first car, the phoenix red Omni, mom got behind the wheel as well. To this day, her driving down the roads of Bangalore and Coimbatore are shared as humorous anecdotes in family gatherings. This comes mostly from relatives who have been driven around by their husbands all their life. When I came back to India and started driving again, I felt the need to ‘practice’ before I got on the road because of the huge task that driving on Indian roads was made out to be.

 

Add the importance attached to driving to the Indian mindset of gaining one’s parents’ approval to be considered successful, and I was always conscious about my driving around my parents. When the folks visited me in the US, there was always an extra attempt to be the responsible driver. A smooth lane transition, a successful overtaking maneuver or a last-minute save-our-lives braking and the ears were always perked to hear that nod of appreciation. Most drives were spent in utter silence, and I could feel my parents holding their breaths, not letting conversation distract their attention from the road. Somehow, the thousands of miles driven and the 8-hour non-stop drive back from Niagara falls were all validated only by the approval from the boss.

 

This week when the parents visited though, things seemed very different. The pressure was strangely gone. And they did not mind me driving them around as well. I did not have to do the usual fight when dad is around, to get into the driver seat. Very few have won that fight with him and I did not even have to make an effort this time. There was very little pillion-driving as well, and except for an occasional remark, they continued on their conversation, almost unaffected by the driving.

 

As I thought some more about this, I realized that we had all grown up a lot since that night from 2000. My parents had grown to accept me as an adult, specifically in the last few years. I had grown to accept them as human beings, with their fears and insecurities. We had grown confident in each other’s strengths, and weaknesses, and turned to each other for advice when needed. We knew when to hold off on those uncalled for suggestions. And i think that maybe my need to prove my worth to them was all in my mind after all. Maybe they knew from the beginning that was good at it; I was their child after all.

You will always have my nod of approval, S. Who else lets me sit up front while in the car!” Scotch 

Day 47: Drive-bys

I drove to college today. I was lost in my usual morning thoughts, when I saw a two-wheeler parked near the median, way up ahead. As I started getting worked up about the lack of traffic discipline in the country and the audacity of some people who flout basic traffic rules, I drove by, and noticed an old man by the two wheeler. He looked like the one driving, still had his helmet on, and was sitting with his hands on both knees, head bent down. Panting, maybe? It took me three seconds to see all this and I drove past him.

Was he hurt? Did he need help? Was he hypoglycemic or dehydrated, and needed a a bottle of water? I had water, and some biscuits. Was he in trouble?  But, I didn’t stop.

I drove away. By the time I’d processed what I’d seen, I had driven past him. Now how could I inconvenience people, driving in reverse back to him? I could take a u-turn. But then I’d have to take two, and thats such a bore. There’s anyway going to be maddening traffic already at that junction ahead. And I had places to be. I drove away.

Sometimes when I take the bus, and I’m in my seat, looking out the window, I see something similar, that moves me. A dog with a bottle stuck in its head, a haggard lady needing fresh clothes, or a child begging for food. I consider myself helpless in helping them. I was after all stuck in a bus. I didn’t have control over when to stop and where. I console myself saying I’d get my chance when I’m driving on my own.

And, when I do drive on my own, I’m so caught up with reaching the destination, that I never stop. I just drive away.

That is some deep thinking from in there, S. Are you OK?” Scotch 

Day 36: Monday, Bloody Monday

It was one of those Mondays that make people hate Mondays. Stayed up till midnight finishing up an assignment. Got me thinking about my growing desire to procrastinate, while retaining my old urge to be a perfectionist. Can the two really co-exist?

Something popped up on my facebook wall, that moved me deeply. It’s something I’ve argued with a number of people in the past year, because Scotch and I have very little room to walk in today’s congested streets. If a grown woman and her self-restrained dog cannot walk without stumbling and tripping, how can a disabled person even imagine getting around in this country?

Will this change in messaging make it a problem relevant to more people, and therefore force some action?

 

“Accessibility is really a major issue, S. For example, there’s something stuck behind this little bush of yours. But it is inaccessible to me right now. Can you please?” Scotch