The sweater sleeves end at the wrists, leaving the palms yearning for warmth. They rub against each other, crawl into woolen pockets, and hide in the folds of an old white throw.
There they rest, until that familiar-but-maddeningly-persistent ringing of the phone. They wriggle out, they have to, and reluctantly inch closer to the icy metallic touch screen that glows ocean blue.
The cold wrinkles the skin, numbs the fingertips and curls them shut. But open they must, to pour some chilled wine and cut some cool cucumbers.
Sometimes, to hide the shivers, the fingers cup the mouth as if in shock; run through the hair as if in doubt. They seek the heat in the folds of the neck, in the slope of the back and in the pit of the arm.
All the while blaming the sleeves that end at the wrists, leaving the palms yearning for warmth.
We welcomed the new year with a slice of pizza, a large bite of home-made beetroot chocolate cake, and a game of What do you Meme?
When the laughs died, and the friends left, we sunk into our couch, and spent the weekend watching The professor and the Madman, The one I love and The Hobbit: the desolation of Smaug.
The slow weekend dribbled into a week filled with the pressure of keeping up with new ambitious resolutions. Bursts of good news came in: A friend was getting married, another was buying a house, yet another was expecting.
Excitement hovered in the air. It was often disturbed by the familiar knocks that signaled the arrival of Amazon and Wayfair packages: a teal loveseat, a gigantic picture frame, and Turkish cotton hand towels.
Cabinets were cleaned, bedrooms were reorganized, and future plans were neatly laid on the table. New blank journals were opened and in them were written thoughts about embracing the year… no matter how it played out.
There was no big celebration inside the hotel room. Outside, the whole town of Nice had come together for the annual carnival. Abba’s Dancing Queen blared from the speakers. We walked past children with painted faces, adults with masked ones. Past the line of high-end boutiques and restaurants with al fresco settings warmed by outdoor heaters. We stood watching the sleepy Mediterranean sea gulp down the hot sun and turn grey.
Back in our hotel room, we switched on a French reality TV show. The participants seemed angry. Probably used expletives. But in French, the words shed their bitterness. It was a new moon night, a pitch dark sky engulfed the last hours of my 20s. When I woke up, I expected a new world. But the sun was already on its long slow dive into the sea. And the sea… the sea lay with a certain disinterest, stretching its blueness like a long yawn, stripping the day of its significance.
That morning, my husband and I caught the train from Gare de-Nice Ville in Nice, to Gare de-Lyon in Paris. We walked along the fifth arrondissement to a bright blue door at 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, where writer Ernest Hemingway lived and loved. Here’s probably where he wrote ‘The end of something’, we wondered while lunching at an Armenian restaurant amid French-speaking crowd. It was our last night in France, we spent it in a hotel that stood floating on Seine.
From inside, we watched the resilient river reflecting with clarity, the bridges that rose from it, the tall yellow street lights, and the high-rise buildings that shimmered in the background. The reflections danced the entire night. Until the dawn swallowed them just like it did the last of my 20s.
Time sometimes severs some relationships so far apart that you have to unspool some old threads of memory to sew them up. Like when meeting a high school friend after long — every conversation inadvertently begins with “Remember when…”
2019 was life changing. My husband and I, we walked in the darkness of Mammoth cave in Kentucky, explored the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and strolled the busy lanes of Miami on a sultry summer evening. We moved houses, and slowly, carefully, turned it into a home. We laughed over Frasier on Netflix, hopped in and out of several art galleries in Texas, Maine and Tennessee, and tasted the best of Bourbon in Kentucky. We had Amish ice cream with his folks, and lazed around in Rehoboth beach with mine. Most evenings, we sat on the couch, enveloped in a white throw, watching a tearjerker like Marriage Story (my pick) or a mythical action flick like The Witcher (his pick). Sometimes, the nights were short, sometimes, they continued to the wee hours of night, with conversations and arguments over several glasses of wine.
Somewhere in between all this, we, he, and I turned a year older.
In 2019, I read 23 books, watched 94 movies and 25 odd series. Over the course of last two years, I covered 29 States in the United States. With each new book, movie, or place, I came to know a little more about myself. Insecurity, fear and doubt surfaced at several instances. But so did bouts of courage, strength and resilience. There were episodes of sadness, happiness, excitement and dismay. Like clouds in the sky, they appeared, and disappeared. This year, I started learning a new language; built a routine that included Yoga and meditation; and took up a new position as the editor of a newsletter in a local women’s club. All the while, writing content for a Pennsylvania-based non-profit (Friends Association for the Care and Protection of Children) that helped 354 men, women and children find a home. I also Marie-Kondo’d my closet, finished a sketch book, and turned to plants as the new home decor option.
It’s been a magnificent journey. And for that I am grateful.
On the week preceding our second year anniversary, we find ourselves at the garden center of Home Depot. From among a plethora of options including Boston Ferns, Burgundy rubber plants and Yucca canes, our eyes rest on a modest looking plant named Peace Lily. Its white shell-shaped flowers wrap around a baby corn-like spadix like a secret. We bring it home, and place it next to our bookshelf. Haruki Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink are its new friends. Every once in two days, we water it. Every friend that comes home drenches it further in compliments.
Two weeks hence, we find a new baby leaf. Elated, we buy a new overarching acrylic shade floor lamp, just to shine on it.
Everything is peaceful, until one morning we find a leaf turning yellow. It slowly wilts and falls. The yellow, like over-watered paint, spreads on other leaves, and then to the creamy white of the flower. Concerned, we move it closer to the window hoping the first rays of sunlight would heal it. We fill our living room with plant friends — Anthurium, Kalanchoe, and chocolate mint; we feed it sugar; and till the soil with surgical care. We also bring in the Masters. Vivaldi, Chopin and Beethoven. Every morning, at the strike of dawn, they fill the house with music.
But Lily seems obstinate. She continues to shed some leaves, sprout some. She has grown taller ever since, but now and then, as if overcome by a sense of sadness, her leaves droop and turn color. She is not ideal, but she is resilient. Full of peace, hope and beauty. Just like love, just like a relationship.
Aren’t we glad that – on the week preceding our second year anniversary, we found ourselves at the garden center of Home Depot.
There was a nip in the air, giving away a subtle sign that Fall had begun. Brown dried leaves and yellow-green walnut fruit lay scattered on paved roads, along the trail that ran through Rockwood, Bringhurst Woods, and Bellevue Park. Occasionally, we hopscotched to avoid horse manure, and paused in front of William duPont’s elegant Bellevue Hall to click a picture or two. The five-mile walk, peppered with laughter and conversations, lasted for over two hours.
The first time I made an angel in the snow; that cold cold day when we bought our first car; the lazy evenings spent in hammock at our friends’ place in New Jersey; the freshness of a six-month-old wedding; and the exhaustion of moving into a new house… we have captured them all. These fleeting moments remain immortalized in 1.8 * 2.4 inch photos, lit now and then by soft yellow LED bulbs. They are souvenirs of moments drenched in love. Little reminders that life is good. Bursts of memories that keep us warm on cold sunless days.
“There is something strange about settling in to a new place, the laborious adaptation and familiarization…” wrote Mann in Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain). And as my husband and I journey through these times, I cannot help, but think about the home that we moved from.
We started our lives there as a newly married couple. Everything was new, right from the feel of the carpet to the workings of a relationship. But as we grew familiar with sharing a holder for our toothbrushes, a rack for our bath towels, and one closet for all our shoes and clothes, we also grew familiar with the grey doors, eggshell-painted walls, and the smooth wide kitchen counter top.
Together, we made the house our own; covering the floors with purple rugs, and walls with paintings — some done in the quiet of a weekday afternoon, some done on a cheerful evening after a glass or two of wine. Some mornings, as we sat soaking in the first rays of sunlight leaking in through the window, we sensed the sound that was unique to our home. It was a mix of the traffic noise on Philadelphia Pike, the melancholic call of mourning doves, and the muffled footsteps of our neighbors upstairs.
These days, on afternoons, as I sit sipping tea, I can’t help but think about the goings on in the world that we left behind. Around this time is when an elderly lady in her long skirt, and full-sleeved shirt came out with her Chihuahua that had a small limp; she would most often pass a group of kids walking back from the pool, still in their colorful neon swim clothes. Here, in the new place, afternoons are marked by the sight of a jet black cat lounging under a pine tree, grooming itself leisurely. There is indeed something strange about settling in to a new place. The laborious adaptation and familiarization…
Home is where the bathroom door groans resisting a push; where a black cotton curtain hangs limply over the bedroom window trying its best to keep away the fierce morning light; where a faint smell of rose petals hangs loosely in the air like a fragment of memory.
Home is where a row of Lego toys sits perched on top of a shelf of books; it’s where the paint on the bathroom wall is slightly peeled off because of a stubborn artwork that refused to let go. Home is where hats and bags adorn a coat stand, and a cactus called ‘Pokey-Mon’ rests on top of a wooden chess board. Home…it’s where mornings are defined by the uproar of Nespresso machine; the clunk of the toaster; and the sight of a listless white cat that sits solemnly at the neighbor’s window.
Home is what we left seeking great adventures, but always came running back to for its yellow lights, soft mattresses, and the familiar cool temperature. It is where we loved, laughed, and grew to be better versions of ourselves, in the last two years.
Home, sweet home, is from where we leave now, with our bags, and a truck load of memories, to start anew. Only, this time, we won’t be back.
Imagine love as a star shining in the sky. Twinkling; sometimes bright, sometimes faint. Stars twinkle because of turbulence in the atmosphere of the earth; love twinkles because of turbulence too. The fights and make-ups after. The separation and closeness. A constant see-saw. A twinkling.
DNA, a new English-Marathi movie, is about this twinkling love. A couple in love with each other want to see themselves in their baby. Only, the miracle of giving birth is so damn common, until it isn’t. The movie gives a brief lesson about hardly-heard-before Mitochondrial disease, which the wife carries. It reduces her chances of natural birthing to almost nil. But their desire to pass their genes to the next generation has now grown into a monster of an obsession. A monster that causes turbulence. The twinkling. Love is now a star whose light is blocked. Until, they find themselves in a situation where they must parent an infant temporarily. Will the infant let the star shine again? The movie is a tearjerker that leaves you silently rooting for love, even as you sit through all the turbulence that rocks a young marriage.
This movie is close to my heart, as my husband Nitish Vasudevan is the Assistant Director for it. He was part of a fabulous team that worked night and day to make this project happen, and hopefully, touch several lives. If you have two hours to spare, check out DNA, now available on Amazon Prime. Click here to watch.