Well, my nicely sharpened number two pencils, this is it.
Okay, not it-it. I still have another week and a bit to go before we leave this city and more crucially for me: before I leave this neighbourhood behind. I love our colony, it’s green and okay, over the years, it’s gotten much more noisy with construction and neighbours on top of neighbours and literally nowhere to park your car, but this neighbourhood is small, and there’s only so many builder’s flats you can put in. At some point, it’s going to reach its limit, even if it’s ALL builder’s flats. They can only go in this small splodge. I’ll miss it though—I know everyone, the vegetable seller and the cigarette shop man and the three grocery stores and the chemist and my tailor who does my dresses and my tailor who just repairs seams and who to message if my garbage isn’t picked up and the guard next door and the ones at the gate and the garbage collectors and everyone who lives in our building and everyone who used to live in the building next door and the man who runs a print shop, a photostat, a cyber cafe, a mobile phone screen guard shop and a pet store from the same tiny room in the market and my fancy dentist who is only two lanes down and has a framed signed photograph of Milkha Singh in his waiting room. We moved in in March of 2016 and now we leave it for a long time. The next time I return to Delhi (March. Visa.) I’ll be staying with my mum, in another part of the city entirely. So, maybe I won’t miss Delhi but I will miss our neighbourhood. And what is a city but the very small part of it that you call home?
Apart from all this, our cat Bruno has chronic kidney disease. There is no cure, only management of it. He’s pretty bad: stage 4, so at this point we’re just making him as comfortable as we can with daily sub cutaneous drips & a host of vitamins and phosphorous binders to make sure he doesn’t crash. He’s eating (but has become very picky about his food) so we’re currently trying all sorts of wet food to tempt him. All three cats are, as you know, coming with us to Berlin. We have to go get their export paperwork done and then Olga da Polga and Squishy will fly in cargo and Bruno will be in the cabin with us. (Not our original idea: we wanted all three of them in cargo for comfort—bigger cages, no people—but Germany in all its infinite wisdom will allow three pets to come in internationally but not domestically and we have a layover in Frankfurt before Berlin which turns our flight into a domestic one. *eye roll emoji*) Anyway, I’ve been trying not to think very much about Bruno apart from keeping him comfortable. Not thinking ahead, I guess you could say. I don’t want him to die. But that line from that Mary Oliver poem keeps going round in my head:
Doesn’t everything die at last
And too soon?
Funny, I contributed to a cat anthology (out in December) and I wrote about cats and death and my life as a writer, and at the time I had three healthy cats so I thought I had a while to prepare but doesn’t everything die at last and too soon?
Bruno himself cheated death several times as a kitten. Once he fell from our second floor house. Once he contracted an infection from another kitten we adopted who died of it (RIP Agni). When we came back from Berlin he had such high creatinine he may as well have been dead. Look at him now, his persuasive face asking for more food. How can he be dying? Aren’t we all dying?
Aren’t my thirties over and the life I lived in Delhi for a little over a decade and aren’t I starting something new?
Here is the stuff I have done in Delhi that I will forever associate with Delhi.
I have sat on the bonnet of a car and eaten egg parathas at two o’clock in the morning. Someone always knew where to go, it was never me driving. It was never even someone I knew very well. Why was I in this car, where had we been? A farmhouse party perhaps--there you go, my Delhi Things stacking up like nesting dolls. A Farmhouse Party. An invitation arrives, often a hard copy, stiff paper thing, oh we were proper in those days, it was a way of keeping out gatecrashers, and carrying a map, printed on the other side. Someone someone someone’s friend. Long narrow roads with one weak streetlight making it look even more dark because it was so dim. Rich people who lived there slumbered as we made our way through the maze of the roads. We were already drinking, I was expert at making what we called a “Party Pack,” a large bottle of Coca Cola, a quarter bottle of vodka. You empty out half the Coke on the road, it fizzes as it pools in the dust. You pour in the bottle of vodka. You screw the cap on tightly and turn the bottle awkwardly in your hands, around and around, like a rock tumbler. By the time it passes around the car and reaches you again it is warm and sweet, and burns your throat as it goes down.
I was always on the outside for these Farmhouse Parties, it was never my friend’s friend’s friend who was throwing it. I arrived in a clutch, in a gaggle, much after 11 pm, de rigeur. Those were the years where it felt like I had two identities: one that loved books and staying home and sometimes didn’t have a bath till 6 pm and the other that camoflaged herself perfectly among all the other girls who looked the same. The second me grinned, teeth full of shiny braces. I could not control my curly hair, so I wore it up, trying to hide that it wasn’t the smooth sleekness of everyone else’s. If I could have changed one thing about myself in those days, it would be to have glossy straight hair, so perfect that I could shake it to emphasise a point and it would fall like a curtain from cheek to shoulder instead of staying in exactly whatever position it chose. My hair represented everything I was trying to hide about my secret inner life. In those long ago days, we didn’t know better, so I brushed my hair with a regular brush (this makes me cringe) all the time (my poor hair) till I looked like a horse with an electrified mane. Because, of course, my own hair didn’t hang straight down and neat when I brushed it. It gleamed and it stood up around my face. No matter how much I tried to coax the ends of it to curl under, the very texture of it protested and became ringlets as soon as I stopped paying attention. For very special occasions, of course, I went to a beauty parlour and had them use heat and a blow dryer and three different attendants pulling and tugging at my hair—at the time it was very long, and straightened it hung halfway to my elbows—and I’d sit through all that because in the end, there I was, neat and tidy and beautiful I believed, my real face I believed, just because my hair looked so amazing.
I laugh about this now, but even now, even leaning into my new haircut which takes my curls and makes them 10x, I wondered just the other day, since I have a little extra money whether I should just have my hair permanently straightened as I’ve been longing to do since I was a teenager. I wouldn’t do it, I like my curls, really I do, but still. I wonder.
Delhi is that. Pool parties and a young woman who likes to read old children’s books at home clutching a cup of vodka and cranberry juice, wondering if she will ever be one of the shiny gleaming women who seem to belong. Wondering if everyone can tell she’s an imposter. Not realising everyone is an imposter.
I like to call myself a complete deshbhakt. A Made In India person from head to toe. I’ve never lived anywhere else. I was born here, I was educated here, I worked here, I lived here. I feel so international in my head: where did that come from? Books and movies and television? Maybe it’s also because I’m mostly monolingual with Hindi as a second language (and now some German!) I wrote a little bit about my Indian identity before, but mostly, I remember when people were trying to tell me that I wasn’t properly “Indian woman” enough, that I was too “Westernised” and I wanted to laugh, and I wanted to tell them, “Hey, I’m actually probably more Indian than you.” (A lot of these trolls were NRIs.)
Being from a country and living in that country, it’s a special sort of privilege. I get a confidence from my roots being right there visible for all to see, and I can use these as a foundation to break away from. But the problem with roots is that sometimes, like the banyan tree, they can completely take over, and after a while, it’s all anyone can see.
Joy. That’s what you should take from this world. If your life is filled with (mostly) happy days. (Who can be happy all the time except people who don’t think?) If you wake up in the mornings thinking, “Ooh, what wonderful thing will happen to me?” Or if you wake up in the morning thinking, “Today is the day of the Bad Thing but that means today it’s over.”
Delhi hasn’t given me joy in some time. It’s easy to miss this when you live in a city full of people you love and a beloved home, but there was no general happiness at being alive. I know this because I felt that in Berlin this summer. “Oh,” I thought, “This is what that feels like.” In Bombay sometimes I’d be in an auto and to the left of me would be the sea, and that soaring feeling in the pit of my stomach would happen: I’m so happy to be here.
I don’t feel like this about Delhi any more. If you took all those things: people I love + house and moved them to another city entirely, I’d have no sentimental attachment to this city at all. Isn’t that sad? It’s a bit sad.
This is probably my last newsletter to you from this life—so final sounding! But I’ll write again from Berlin in a few weeks. I’m turning FORTY next month, can you believe it? No wonder I’m a little maudlin.
The last line of that Mary Oliver poem, is, of course:
Tell me what it is you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
This is it, darlings, my one wild and precious life.
If you like what you read (or have read!) would you please buy me a coffee? It’s a virtual tip jar I’ve set up (super easy to use) and greatly helps encourage me in this long strange internet email project I’ve got going on. THANK YOU!!! And thank you to everyone who’s bought me coffee/s so far, I really appreciate it.
Some personal news!
I wrote about Mary Higgins Clark and her beloved blazers this month for my Auth Couture column.
The bizarre dog breeds time forgot.
Related: this great thread.
Everyone’s beautiful and nobody’s horny.
The autograph collector.
Goodbye, goodbye, speak to you soon.
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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