What will I miss?

I am relieved of my official duties, we have shipped our things, we made our one last final day trip within the UK to a place I wanted to always visit (more on that later in the day trip post on the other blog), we have given away all the things that might be of some use to others, found my plants a new home with my friends, etc. etc. There are a few last-minute bits and pieces left to do until the next weekend when we finally board the plane. But there is one question that a few asked me for which I am trying here to find an answer. What will you miss when you go back to India?

Honestly? I don’t know. Materially I don’t think I would miss anything. Life has taught me (without being too maudlin) that it is easy to replace the material things if you have some savings left with you and you might even come to know if you absolutely needed those things in your life or not. And with the globalisation of things, we can get a lot of stuff that we get here in the UK back in India too (although I should say I remember seeing more American stuff than British stuff… times might have changed…who knows…I will update you if I do see a change 🙂 ) Jokingly, I would say I would miss the concept of a bath. Just soaking in that hot water until I turn into a prune is just heavenly during the winter. I can never have that in my place. Half of the time we have water shortages, especially in the summer. What about English Breakfast? I might have to travel to Bangalore to get one but definitely not in Coimbatore 😀

What did I miss when I moved to the UK? I am sure some folks asked me the same question when I was about to leave India. After living here for 5 years, what did I miss? Did I miss the dosa and paratha or the temples or my travel fridge magnets (100’s of them) that I had collected over the years which are now stored in a locked room? Honestly? No. What then? People in my circle, my very small circle. This circle consists of my close friends and immediate family. Thanks to WhatsApp, Skype, GatherTown, Zoom etc., the distance between them and me seems to be that bit smaller.

Having been here in the UK only for 5 years, my circle is much smaller than the one in India 😀 and since the sudden change of work, place, country etc, is gonna hit me hard next month, I guess I will miss them sharply given the way we have been together. So here is a shout out to those few poor souls who happen to be in my circle and for whose presence I am forever grateful because they made my life a bit more colourful here. (Only pseudonyms in my blog sadly… but I hope you can spot yourself in this post 😀 )

When I moved from software engineering to teaching I didn’t have much help and was floundering to find a way (thanks to some online courses and books) but Mr Millwall came to my rescue with his 30+ years of teaching experience. He just took me under his wing and taught me the ropes of education and became my very close friend. He is also the first to call me if there is some interesting news in the cricket world 🙂 I am glad he is enjoying his retirement and is doing well. Hopefully, he will learn how to call via WhatsApp soon so that I can connect with him.

The tall Croatian teaching assistant has been there to give me an extra hand whenever I needed one and kept me sane. We didn’t have anything in common and in spite o that we bonded very well. Being much more experienced than me both at work and in life, she was a good sounding board and we started hanging out of work too, sharing bus rides and life stories and eventually became friends. I am glad that I could get her a churidar from India last time I was there and she looked absolutely gorgeous in it.

Ms Iskcon was Mr M’s friend but she is now a family friend, thanks to our heritage and shared native language. We used to spend our Christmas Eve at her place playing board games and puzzles with her family, which gave us the feeling of being a part of a big loud, amazing, and chaotic family from now and then. She used to come to our place for the Sunday lunch (she had a knack for calling us exactly at lunchtime and would be invited inevitably 😀 It helped that she lived only a floor below us.) Any time we talk, we end up discussing and debating everything under the sun. I will cherish her ability to discuss anything and everything (spiritual, political, socio-economic, you name it). I sincerely hope that she can visit us in India.

Now comes the group in Swansea 🙂 Who knew that a kick (literally) would start a friendship. I keep telling Mr Half-Trousers that in terms of his age he is closer to my nephew than to me but that has only made the friendship more fun. He has tried to teach me frisbee (emphasis on the word tried…). He has also fed me so much baked stuff it feels like he was fulfilling some debt he owed from his previous life 😀 His sticky toffee pudding is one thing I will never be able to replace. I wish he keeps up with his star baker abilities in spite of his busy software engineering lifestyle, which he has taken up now. He has also been my yoga student for the past 6 months helping me in my journey.

Mr Tall and Grumpy (I can say this and get away with it because he knows he is, lol) was that person whom I thought would the quiet and studious one but turned out that he is all that and also the naughtiest. Both him and Mr Half-Trousers have been the reason I am known in my team for throwing squishy toys at people. They drove me nuts with their antics 😀 but he was also my partner in crime at work. We taught together quite a lot and that gave us a lot to share in terms of knowledge and experience. I am very glad he is having a stint at the industry now and I will miss seeing his daughter grow (hopefully he will keep me posted on that and would take a trip to India and go on a good food tour).

Mr Badmintennis is one of a kind. An old soul trapped in a very young body. He amazes me with his knowledge of all things old and historic. I should call him Mr Minecraft or Mr Gamemaker because he is very well known for that but more than that he is/was my badminton/tennis partner. We have been playing the game for a while now and I hope he continues to play it with the rest of the group. I am sure I will engage his expertise in my new job when I have to do something in Minecraft or even take us on a virtual tour of computers.

Ms OrganizedArtist joined us during the first lockdown and so there has been a delay in getting to know her but my god, she is talented. I am always happy to be associated with very artistic friends like her and Anita. They bring a lot of colour in my life 🙂 She is the second person in my life (after my friend in Bangalore) with whom I haven’t felt any reservations whatsoever, while being before their camera and knowing that they are taking my photograph. She is yet to perfect her art of hitting Mr Badmintennis on his head during the tennis/badminton games but I am sure she will get there with a little bit more practice 😉 (make sure you let me know when that happens, girl!) She did a painting of my portrait which is available on my Instagram and I am very thankful for that. It is definitely getting framed. I am sure she will definitely make her way to South India and I will get to visit her home country (Ukraine) soon.

There are a couple more people I know and are part of that small circle but this is my group whom I would like to keep in touch with no matter where I go and what I do (assuming that they feel the same 😀 ) I am again hoping that the various communication channels that helped me keep in touch with my group in India while I was in the UK would help me do the same with this lot. This is also my way of conveying my thanks to them for being part of my journey and saying a proper goodbye I guess, even though we did say our goodbyes by doing a South Indian food tour and what a day it was 🙂 So much fun.

Diolch yn fawr for everything and hopefully we will get to meet again sooner rather than later.

No Wrinkles

My nieces are at the age where they just make an impromptu video call on WhatsApp and can go on for a long time. But it has been a while since I had spoken to them as they were busy with school and exams and such. I had sent them a selfie when I had received my reading glasses and I was trying to smile and take a selfie at the same time. I am very good at multi-tasking except for taking a selfie and smiling at the same time. I have never got that right and trust me, I have tried it way too many times and have failed every single time. Something about seeing yourself in the camera and trying to smile and yet thinking about the composition… never works for me. I applaud every single one of you who can take a good selfie.

So last week, when my nieces called, the first thing my niece said to me was “Your face looks so nice and so smooth…no wrinkles”. I wasn’t sure where this was coming from and why I wouldn’t have wrinkles. I am at the age where when I try to concentrate or when I try to smile or laugh you do have wrinkles on your forehead and your mouth which are otherwise called laugh lines. Also, I wasn’t sure if this was a backhanded compliment of sorts. So I asked her what she meant about wrinkles, she told me that in the photograph I sent with the reading glasses on, my face was full of wrinkles and that I looked old but now when they see me on camera there isn’t any and I looked the same as always. I couldn’t help but laugh and be surprised at the same time.

The more I spoke to her I realised that they still see me as the person from 5 years ago. They are surprised when I look a little bit haggard, especially on a bad day and show my age. They are not able to understand how I could age so much in so little time. By the time I finished the call with her, I felt so much older 🤣. I hope that when I move back and they see me more often, these kinds of comments will reduce (not expecting it to cease but at least reduce).

It’s been a year already…

Ever since I moved to Swansea, I guess I have fallen off the blogging bandwagon and have been posting here only once a year (approx), which is sad really. Because so much has happened since we moved here and I could have kept the record of all the stories behind it if only I took some time to post about it. Here is hoping to do more in the new year.

2021 hasn’t been any different to 2020 to most and I am not going to add to the doom and gloom of it because we have had enough of that. I have kept myself busy with my post-graduate certificate course in higher education, started training in yoga (online), prepared two new courses when I had a break for a term, visited a few places (safely and within the permitted guidelines) etc. etc.

Now coming to the end of this year, I have successfully completed my PGCE and am now a qualified yoga teacher. I have already started teaching yoga to a couple of my friends and have been doing so for the past few months (online, of course). I recently finished writing all about my travels on my other blog. I have thoroughly enjoyed travelling in and around Swansea and making sure we take breaks whenever we can and as safely as we can. Neither of us is getting any younger but the year-long training of yoga has kept us in good shape. I should say that I have never been better, health-wise, than now and may long it continue. I have also never written so many essays in my life. This year has seen me write so many essays (both for my PGCE and for my yoga training). I think that is why I didn’t feel the need to write anymore in any blog. People are surprised when I tell them about the essays in yoga teacher training. Those essays have enabled me to read various classical texts on yoga and have given me a lot of things to think about and reflect on. It also reiterates the fact that yoga is an all-encompassing thing, a way of life, not just a physical exercise.

I have also witnessed a few heartbreaks, a few disappointments, a few sad events, but who doesn’t. It is part of life and growing up, I think. Just recently my nephew had a breakdown because he wasn’t happy with his Christmas present 😀 and he thought that Santa could have done better. I had to tell him that his message to Santa about his gift was very ambiguous and in future, he would do well to remember that ambiguity would lead to heartbreaks and he better make it super clear as to what he wants.

At work, after being together for almost three years, slowly things started to change as and when folks moved on to better prospects and I ended up finally identifying who my friends are and who are just acquaintances and I am glad for my friend’s circle, which is very small but very good. I also had a good term recently where a very difficult module was totally redesigned and there were no tears. That is a huge success in my book. Even though I wasn’t super happy about going back to face to face teaching this autumn term, we did it and touch wood, no one got ill during the term. We maintained social distancing, face masks, letting people learn from home when they had any slight symptoms etc. What the next term is gonna be is anyone’s guess at the moment. All I know is I am ready for both online and in-person teaching and I have managed to keep the learning experiences similar-ish either way.

Another year without any choir to attend (not even an online one like last year) which is sad, but at least we were able to visit a few churches and see their nativity displays and enjoy a couple of Christmas markets. This is the first holiday where I haven’t been working or even thinking of work. All I have been doing is relaxing, doing odds bits and pieces that needed to be done at home, doing my regular yoga, and finishing some last-minute books for this year (according to GoodReads, I have read 130 books this year, which is quite good) etc. Just chilling out really.

To top it all, I have finally been offered a teaching job back in India in my hometown which I would be started during the next academic year (Indian academic year). That means that we will be relocating to India next year, which is going to be very exciting more for Mr M than me, as it would be like going home after a very long break I guess. The move might not be as smooth as it was when I moved to the UK as it was just me then and this time we are moving as a family. There will be so many things to sort out and on top of it I would have to start my work without much break, but I guess I deal better when I have things to do and Mr M is more than capable of dealing with the admin stuff anyway. My nieces and nephew are quite excited about my move back and are looking forward to it very eagerly.

This virus is not going to go away any time soon. It is in their nature to mutate and spread and then mutate some more and spread again. It is their cycle of life, just like we have ours. Having seen the worse of it in 2020 and then some in 2021, all we can ever try and do is be safe ourselves and ensure that we protect our near and dear ones as much as we can within capacity. Some things are beyond our capacity and control especially, how the governments behave during such a crisis (I am trying hard to not get political here), but we should do what is within our control and capacity and get through this together. I am getting my booster jab today and Mr M has already had his a couple of weeks ago. Here’s to hoping that these boosters help along with some common sense.

Looking back, this year has been jam-packed with loads of learning and travelling and the new year is starting with new opportunities and new experiences. Let’s hope and pray that it is all for the best.

May this New Year bring with it hope, health, and happiness to all of you. Keep smiling and keep spreading joy wherever and whenever you can. Blwyddyn Newydd Dda! Happy New Year! 

When Mr M became a celebrity – Part 2

Continuing our journey from Coimbatore and Mr M popularity over there, we travelled to Pondicherry / Puducherry (as it is called now). Puducherry was a former French region and you can see the remnants of those areas, streets, people living there. When we entered the city, Mr M commented that he was glad that he wasn’t the only foreigner around there and that he had spotted quite a few on the streets.  We had a huge drama on the day we arrived in Pondicherry, thanks to the hotel we had booked and the driver we had hired for the trip. Let’s just say that we had to book a hotel then and there and also ensure we got a new driver travelling from Coimbatore overnight to ensure we still have a driver for the rest of our journey. I would have driven the car if it had come to that, but I really wanted to enjoy my vacation without the hassle of driving.

After sorting out all the problems thrown at us, we started the next day to book our Auroville Matri Mandir visit for the day after. We had no expectations of Auroville so it was quite surprising to see how huge it was. We didn’t stay there much longer as we had our visit planned to Chidambaram. We stopped by the beach for our lunch and there were two movie shootings going on. I was trying to get Mr M to appear in at least one of them, given his penchant for Indian dances and such 😉 But sadly it wasn’t his day. We were shooed away from the place because we were seen in the background somewhere in the dance scene. It wasn’t a popular movie anyway. 😛

Chidambaram is a very popular Hindu Temple. It has references to the Cosmic Science and you could see the idol of Nataraja in CERN too. My brother wasn’t quite sure if non-Indians were allowed or not (because some of the temples in South India, at least, have strict rules) so I had to check before we made the trip and it looked like we would be OK. As usual, Mr M was the only foreigner in that place and people seemed quite happy to ensure that he got a good darshan. We had a good darshan, went around the temple, took our time seeing the murti’s (idols) etc. When we were at the outer praharam (pathway) we came upon a few school kids (6th grade). So far, people went about their work, hardly bothered by a foreigner amidst them. But these kids were different. One of them (she was the gang leader) said hi to Mr M and he smiled and waved back. That was all the encouragement she needed. She called to her friends (total 6 of them, 4 girls and 2 boys) Seeing that I had a camera with me and was taking photographs of anything and everything, they gathered around us and demanded that I take their photographs too. I told them that I wouldn’t be able to send the photos back to them, but there weren’t bothered. They also wanted Mr M in the group photo and the girls wanted me in their group photos too (#GirlPower 😉 ) And then the volley of questions started. Where is he from? What does he do? Why is he here? Was I his wife? Do I have a baby? What language does he speak? etc etc etc. I was the official interpreter. It was quite funny to interact with them. Then Mr M offered to teach them some Gaelige (Irish). They were so excited. He taught them Good day (Dia Duit), Good bye (Slan) and another one which I have forgotten. Of those three things, they only remembered Slan. It was getting late for us and we had to get back to Pondy which is a 2-hour drive. We said our goodbyes and they responded with Slan until we turned around the corner. The whole temple heard their goodbyes in Gaelige. Mr M was very happy that he was able to bring Gaelige to Chidambaram even if it was just one word. We apparently made those kids day because they will have a story to tell their acquaintances about this Irish guy who taught them to say goodbye and we were glad that we met these lovely kids out there and share some good time with them and brought home memories (and photographs).

I told Mr M that any more interests in photographs/selfies with him will incur 20 Rs cost for the people. It would be a good business decision to do so 😉 In Auroville the next day after our trip to Matri Mandir and lunch etc, we decided to try cycling around the place. Auroville is home to lots of Europeans who moved there and are living there for years and years. It is a global city and has its own citizenship. He wasn’t an odd man out there. So I left him to find his way and I cycled a little ahead and waited for him. When he didn’t arrive I had to go back to check on him and found him being part of a selfie by another visitor 🙄 I knew I should have stuck to him and got my money.

The funny part is that when I try to take a selfie with him (and I suck at taking Selfies, so I have to try and take more to learn) he grumbles and mumbles. But throw in a stranger and he is alright with selfies. When asked, he said that if a photograph with him makes them happy, who is he to deny it. Grrrr!

Not just the places we visited, the restaurants we go to, there are two or three waiters are ready to serve him and then they stand close to him to attend to him. It is quite funny and freaky too. He was a little bit uncomfortable with that in a couple of places. But that goes with being a celebrity, doesn’t it? With popularity comes some awkward moments too.

Overall, he was glad to have those moments of popularity and that he could make someone’s day too. Travel is not just about visiting places, it is about these kinds of moments too and we had many such good moments during this trip.

When Mr M became a celebrity – Part 1

During our recent visit to my hometown, we did a little bit of touring around. This is Mr M’s proper visit to Coimbatore, where we have stayed for a little longer than 2 days and have seen the essence of the city. He has seen enough of it now to know that he likes it much better than Bangalore. Coimbatore has its own share of foreign visitors but not in the league of Bangalore or Chennai. You don’t see them out and about even in the very posh area of Race Course or RS Puram. It is not every day you see a white man (aka Mr M) amidst them having a go at some of their food options (and rejecting most of them because they all have chillies in them) At least he is not stared at blatantly. You can see that the people are intrigued as to what the white man is doing there in a busy place like Town Hall wandering among the crowd in those narrow lanes which at best of times feels like a never-ending maze but they don’t stare at him and make him uncomfortable. He is definitely an odd man out but only for a few seconds and then everyone gets back to their own livelihood.

The only place he was asked for a Selfie in Coimbatore was at an obscure restaurant where there weren’t any other customers and we were quite early for lunch ourselves. The waiter was very shy to ask him and kept mumbling to him but finally, we figured out what he wanted when he showed us the phone and Mr M was only very happy to oblige. I wonder what was written about Mr M in that waiter’s Instagram photograph? At least Mr M made his day.

When we visited a remote rural school the two girls who took us on a tour of the school were only too happy to show their expertise in English and they were really very very good. I didn’t have to translate at all. (In most places I was the official interpreter for Mr M) During the tour, if I remember correctly it was the 3rd-grade student’s room we were being shown and how they are taught using wooden puzzles and such when the students started filing in after their break outside. The moment they saw Mr M they all got very excited and quite literally mobbed him and bombarded him with questions. I quietly let them enjoy their moment alone and went and stood outside laughing my heart out. He was trying to answer each and every kid’s question as to where he was from, what was his name, what was he doing there. You know how kids like to ask questions when they encounter someone very new to them. He was rescued after a few minutes by the teacher. You should have seen the look on his face when he stepped out. It was hilarious. The two girls apologized profusely to him as they couldn’t prevent that from happening and were equally flummoxed. This time though he asked those girls if he could have a selfie with them and they were only too glad to oblige.

At least those were the only times (as far as I remember)  in Coimbatore he was treated like a celebrity. I told him that it would be the end of it as we were travelling to Pondicherry (Puducherry) next and since it is was former French region and with places like Auroville, he won’t be the only foreigner out there, so he can relax and enjoy the place. Well, I forgot that we were making a trip from Pondy, which turned out quite a different experience for him 😉