Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hay fever

It’s a Saturday afternoon in April. Driving out of Whitefield, the light is clear, the fields – yes there are still a few – are green, the lake is blue. A breeze rises on the bridge and rocks the trees around the old airport. One of those freak winds is pouring out of Wind Tunnel Road, so the raintrees in the satellite research centre are raining leaves and pink needles down on us as we pass. The gulmohars have suddenly asserted themselves orangely , the jacarandas are noticeably purple. The creepers on the walls of old houses are in full bloom. Everywhere the air is full of yellow petals and the pollen that is Bangalore’s trademark in health care circles. It is summer in my city, both old and new.

These come together at an unfamiliar restaurant on St Mark’s Road where I meet two old friends for lunch. The last time we met was at our graduation, but contrary to all rules, the lunch was fine. One of the lunch companions had been one of my two best friends all through college. Now, all through lunch, I constantly feel not so much an absence as the presence of one more chair at our, the echo of another laugh far away across the Atlantic. Just as when she and I reconnected in Philly two years ago, there was an echo of this laugh all the way from Seattle. Spritzers and starters, sandwiches and grilled fish and I am on the road again. Heading down Church Street looking for the used-book store and missing all three storeys of it for the second time, I spare a thought for my driver who must have the most mind-numbing job in the world.

By five-thirty I am wandering into Mocha, a little shisha break between lunch and dinner. I’ve only been here twice over the last four months but they greet me as a regular. At 6 pm, the place is filling up fast with the pre-pub, pre-club crowd. I begin to feel guilty about taking up a table and ordering nothing but endless glasses of Moroccan tea, but I'm clearly being considered sacred because I’m writing. As in so many other cafes, the staff are showing an unsolicited respect for my pastime. But also, this is Bangalore, where someone releases a book on the hour, every hour, so they never know who I might turn out to be. If I ever publish my book, the acknowledgments list is going to read like a Time Out directory.

I notice some of the (very) young girls looking at me and I can see in their eyes the same ambition I had at their age to be the “cool” woman sitting on her own and writing. I want to tell them all that glitters is not what it’s cracked up to be but am safe in the knowledge that most of them will take the other road. As the crowd empties, it’s time for me to go too, to meet other friends at Empire, a Bangalore institution in a standing-room-only part of town that the complaining IT immigrants seem never to know. Ten years after I last ate here, the food is exactly as it was, no nasty surprises, no disappointments. Our voices come from a place that does not age, the conversation is eternal.

It’s an early dinner so I arrive home before my parents have had theirs, bearing gifts of fried sheep’s brains. I find them talking to my cousins in Providence on Skype. Right now, I can’t remember my age or what year it is, time is sublimated into a vacuum, in spite of the visible fact that the niece I held when she was two days old has now been around for almost as many years. It is summer in my city, as it was then.

1 comment:

Sue said...

You make it seem like one can actually go back..... *sigh*

But like you've said so much better than I could, what I miss the most about that Bangalore was me.

What it felt like when one was 18, when you could smell the summer arriving before the gulmohars and the jacarandas changed color ....
whe you looked forward to the long break after the dreaded exams that made your stomach churn...

Combine that with the cool of the morning, yet the light of the sun just after dawn broke, while I was walking outside partially studying, partially staring at the dew on the jasmine.... where is that me???

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