It is so funny the way memories are linked to so many things--people,places,smells,foods and texture---each of these has a way of bringing back crystal clear recall of various stages of the Past and life we have lived.Yesterday was one such day---a huge chunk of the Past came flooding back!!!
Mummy and Prabha Maushi--or Praa Maushi as I used to call her, got married a year apart.Both were young Marathi women who belonged to Bombay and were thrust from a bustling City life into rural India--that too into the very back of beyond!!! It was this feeling of initial discomfort in adjusting to a completely different environment that formed a very strong bond between the two of them--so strong that in a short while they became as close as sisters.Luckily for the two of them Daddy and Madhukar Kaka shared many similar interests and this cemented the relationship into one of bonds that last---and even today we think of them as a very beloved Aunt and Uncle--an integral part of our lives.
All 6 of us were born within a year of each other--Anju came along a year after me,Rahul a year after Mikki and Gauri a year after Ritu.Those days we children bonded as siblings--and since Rahul was the only boy amongst us it was his privilege to act pricey at both "Rakhi" and "Bhau Beej" the two Festivals on which brothers are felicitated.Anju and I were very close---being just a year apart made us both friends and confidantes to each other---besides we thought that we were actually "first" cousins--the truth that we were not related at all dawned on us much later in life!!!I married early and shifted to Bombay---but because Sudhir too fell in love with the magic of Chandigarh we were frequent visitors there before my parents shifted to Mauritius.Later we still visited Chandigarh with the Girls and it was an accepted arrangement that we lived with Praa Maushi for the times we did.
Sudhir was a introvert and very cautious when it came to forming deep friendships.While on the surface he was extremely charming and friendly, he also had a "thus far no further" quality before accepting someone as a true friend--and to date Sunil remains his one true friend with whom he shared a fifty seven year old friendship--they became fast friends at their ages of 10 years in School!!I on the other hand reacted according to my "gut feelings".My like or dislike of a person would be instant----and lasting!!!Luckily for me this has always stood me in good stead-----and I have large circle of really good friends who do care for me!!!However I digress---so back to the topic on hand.
Both Anju and Gauri had come over from Pune just to meet and spend time with me--since both lived abroad--Anju in Dubai and Gauri in Muscat.The last time they had come home I was in L.A. with Lotta so this visit was actually a Condolence visit.Just seeing them brought back a wave of Memories--my childhood and adolescence,the early years of our marriage when we'd visit Chandigarh--the fun times we'd all had together and most of all the Get Together Gauri's husband Shekhar had organised in August last year in Pune for Gauri's Fiftieth Birthday---a Party that Sudhir had been insistent we attend!!Yesterday was a day to recall our lives--while both Anju and I are almost 60 and our siblings all into their 50s-----we still connect on the same level as we have always done--Time and Distance haven't made a dent in our relationship!!There are Plans afoot to visit Chandigarh together and revisit our childhood and the places which even today are etched into our memories--how and when the Trip materialises only Time will tell!!
Lotta and Meha's Homecoming was pretty poignant but extremely awaited too as they came back after a little over 12 years.The biggest void was Sudhir's absence but despite that, the welcome she received from her Aunts on both sides as well as extended family did much to assauge her pain.Although she'd just celebrated her Birthday with us at Sayali's in London prior to coming back to India her daughter Meha decided to give her a surprise Birthday Party on the Sunday after we reached---15th. July.That really made for a hilarious Game of "Hide-n-Seek" for the rest of us!!
My neice Shilpa had also come down from Singapore with her sons Aseem and Soumil.Added to that one of my grand nieces--Malavika or Molly as we call her--- was also down on an internship stint in Law from Cornell.It was the first time that Lotta had returned after Sudhir and to lighten her mood Meha came up with this idea.Irritation heightened as we began planning and executing the Plan---her favourite Food was ordered from her favourite Restaurants and while I kept my fingers crossed for it to meet her nostalgic memories---her inquisitiveness about each and every 'phone call made fobbing her off difficult---for whoever was around would just say anything that came to mind---only to be contradicted by the one who was unaware of the excuse given--leading to convoluted explanations!!When the D-Day arrived getting rid of Lotta was our biggest hurdle---for she woke up in a leisurely fashion,dawdled over her Tea and finally bathed---all this after my sister Mikki threatened to drag her out just the way she was.Poor Mikki kept her out for 4 hours---first taking her to Lunch,then Shopping and finally the Beauty Parlour where Mikki got her hair cut just to keep her away whilst we brought in the Cake and some other Stuff that was needed.The Food was scheduled to arrive at 7 p.m. and the next hurdle was keeping her out for that period.
Luckily her Aunt-in-Law called and invited her over as she lives nearby and that solved our problem.Lotta and Meha left for their visit at around 6 p.m. and the entire family assembled in our home during her absence.The Food arrived as scheduled and when she finally rang the Doorbell at 7.30 p.m. the Living Room was dark and apart from a few suppressed giggles there was nothing to alert her to the surprise!!The entire Plan went off without a hitch---except for the fact that both Lotta and Meha had forgotten to carry Umbrellas and a sudden heavy downpour had drenched them to the skin!!!It was with mixed Emotions that she and I participated---and that little Party brought home Sudhir's absence very sharply to me---for this was the first time I celebrated Lotta's birthday in all the years we'd been married alone!!!
The presence and the warmth of the entire close Family at this Party helped me to keep my balance and also brought home once more to me that how lucky I am that I belong to such a loving and caring Family unit!!The fact that the Surprise Party was a Success need not be said for it was that and more---a deep bonding of Family Ties for all three of us--- Lotta,Meha and me!!!
Lotta and Meha left last night---dropped them off at the Airport at 11 p.m.--their Flight took off for L.A. via London at 2.35 a.m.The last six weeks have been poignant, extremely emotional as well as enjoyable---I have run through the entire highs and lows of Emotions during these---it was like being on a Roller Coaster!!!This began when we entered the home on our return together with a Mind filled with a host of Memories and the days that were.For me this is where my heart lies now---there are many things about Mumbai that I still don't like but now after Sudhir surprisingly this is where my heart lies---thus this is now my home in every respect.
Sudhir loved the city of his birth with a passion---and while he enjoyed his Vacations away from here immensely there always used to be an urgency about him to reach Mumbai----he could never have stayed away from the city he was born in for long.For me the only reason for living here was Sudhir---and as long as he was there with me,I could tolerate this City!!!Today he is not there with me physically but his presence still surrounds me like a Cloak--enveloping me in it's warmth and today I realise that I've grown to love this City--very much!!Besides after having been married to him for 41 years and lived here for 37 years with him, it has become "Home" in the truest sense of the word--- because after all Home is where the Heart is!!
The crushing weight of Nostalgia,Sorrow and Excitement made a very desperate mixture in both Lotta and Meha's hearts when we reached home----taking them onto a Roller Coaster Ride through the Excitement of being home after 13 years,Sorrow for not doing this homecoming during Sudhir's lifetime despite his repeated cajoling and a deep,poignant Nostalgia for the Memories that entered with us.This was the home that Lotta had grown up in--for we shifted here when she was 3 years and 6 months old-----and Sayali just 7 months old.
This Flat is choc a bloc with so many Incidents from those early years---filled with the Love and Laughter between Sudhir and his two daughters.This is where they'd snitch Money from his wallet---aligning the notes so that he could see only one when in fact there would be several!!This is where we spent our Vacations playing Carrom and Scrabble-----and each time Sudhir beat me hands down I'd accuse him of cheating!!Lotta remembered the day Sudhir and I got locked in our Bedroom during the Summer Vacation when the latch turned so freakishly that we had to remove the Lock before we could ultimately be let out.Also as she showed Meha Pictures of their childhood it brought our four legged babies into sharp focus when Meha remarked at the greater number of Doggie Pictures in the Albums--in comparison to those of both her mother and her Aunt!!
Reacquainting herself with everything made Lotta very sensitised to the fact that Sudhir had left a great big void behind him--one that none of us can ever fill and that makes us miss him all the more!!
This is an interesting tale of a Castle that most T.V. Viewers know as "Downton Abbey"----the popular British Series!!In reality it is called Highclere Castle and has a very near connection to Tut-Ankh-Amen----the Golden Boy King of Egypt-----for it is the home of Lord Carnarvon--the man who funded the Dig for Howard Carter. Thus this was a must visit for Meha---as an avid fan of "Downton Abbey" and me as an avid follower of Archeology since early childhood----and both of us were joined by two resigned members--Lotta and Sayali!!!It is a beautiful train ride from Paddington Station to Newbury from where Taxies are available for the Castle.our Taxi Driver was named Roger--but more of him later.
After a beautifully scenic ride through the Country Roads and lanes we finally arrived at the Castle.On the way we passed through the Picture perfect English Countryside---filled with rolling,grassy meadows and hedgerows spilling over with an abundance of Wild Flowers--scenting the wet Air--for it was drizzling.After passing through the entrance Gates we wound our way through lush Green Fields and Meadows----dotted with grazing Sheep.As we made our way into the Castle it began to pour in earnest-----and the huge bulk of the Castle provided a dry haven!!!
The route through the Rooms on Show covered magnificent Artefacts and it was really very interesting to see all those Rooms in person after seeing them in the Serial--they were just as lovely--with lots of light from the windows facing the Gardens.For me the real interest lay in the Cellars---for that was where the Egyptian Exhibition was laid out.As I browsed through all that Pottery, Furniture and Jewellery displayed there, it really amazed me to see the skill of those who fashioned this with their hands----more than 3,000 years ago!!The clear cut precise lines pointed to a very high level of capability from those Artisans.The high point of this Exhibition was viewing an actual Mummy---kept in a Glass Case!!! The Mummy is a replica of Tut-Ankh-Amen's actual Mummy and kept alongside is one of the Burial Caskets---embellished all over in marvellous workmanship in Gold Leaf.The people working there hint at the haunted Premises and one can well believe it is so--there is an eerie atmosphere down there----I just couldn't get enough of it much to the dismay of the Girls!!!
After an extensive Tour that lasted over two hours---could have been longer if the three girls had not dragged me from the Cellars---we sat down to a gorgeous Tea at The Coach House.A beautiful wooden floored structure,there is an exclusive Family Platform built above the 1st (USA 2nd.) Floor Tea Room----both accessible by sturdy wooden Stairs.Eating delicious Sandwiches accompanied by big Cups of Earl Grey we recounted our experience---with Lotta remonstrating both Meha and me for "digging" for Artefacts in the Sand Pit down there!!By now it was raining in earnest---but the Gardens--specially the "Secret Garden" beckoned.Clutching inadequate Umbrellas and squelching through the Pathways we made our way to the Secret Garden and The Monks Garden near it---and the experience was truly something I wouldn't have liked to miss!!For me this was a taste of both England and Egypt in one go---for I don't think I will ever see the real Stuff in this Life--too much of a bother travelling alone to distant lands!!
Roger came and picked us up and on the drive back asked us about our impressions of the Castle.His next question was about having been to the haunted Chapel there.Since it was not on show we'd not seen it and this set Roger off on the Ghost Story that thoroughly rattled Sayali and Meha.A few months back one of his numerous nephews (he belongs to a large family of 9 siblings) got married there--in Highclere Chapel.It seems that one can rent The Chapel and grounds for Weddings at a price.Pictures were taken during the Ceremony and after it and when these Photographs were developed they showed a white faced Lady dressed in a long,white Gown,with a large white Hat among the Guests present.The alarming fact was that this Lady did not appear in any of the Copies that were made for the extended Family--she was very much visibly present in the original ones though!!!!