Oh, the vicissitudes of moving! So many things could go wrong - and do if you're moving from somewhere in Europe to a cacophonous, unabashedly sweaty Chennai. But when you realise you're not in a house but at home... bliss.
I wanted to shout it from the rooftops: ‘we’re going back home’. Home was Chennai, Mylapore; home was blaring horns and searing heat, and unbearable humidity. But home was also family - kindly, wrinkled grandparents, soft, caring parents, and the iron-wallah and milkman and newspaper-boy. The world I was then living in, the pearly-white one outside the picture window, couldn’t have been more different. Scotland was battling one of its coldest winters and a thick blanket of snow ate-up every footstep, smothered every sound. Small things became a big challenge; getting the garbage out meant risking a frost-bite; setting out for milk and bread involved treacherous, icy foot-paths; the child braved the journey to school in 7 layers and snow-boots, I waved to her from behind the plate-glass.
It was that bitterly cold, breathtaking stillness that finally decided it for us - we had had enough. And it really did seem like a terrific idea, until we made that sentimental Skype call the next day.
‘Ammama we’re moving back in May’ I squealed.
‘It’s very cold here too’ she replied.
‘Could you check with someone about getting the apartment painted appa?’
‘How was the child’s Latin test?’ he asked in return.
‘Amma, could you please find out which schools have French as a second language?’
‘You know, maybe your father and I will come and visit you all next July’ she replied thoughtfully.
‘But we’re back in May’ I protested.
‘Ok, bye, cover your ears well when you go out’.
That call clearly didn’t go very well. Then again, in typical IT fashion, we’ve been doing this ‘we’re moving back in May’ routine for six straight years. Every summer we would faithfully make the pilgrimage home, flying over the snow-covered Alps, getting drenched in the Mumbai monsoon and taking an obscenely early-morning flight to Chennai. Perspiring freely, we would greedily suck the flesh off the plump murungakkais and fight for the tender vendakai; we would fish-out the Toblerone, they would dole out the therratipaal; and we would tell every visitor, ‘we’re moving back next May’.
In the beginning family and friends looked around for schools and painters; they said they understood perfectly well that we would want to move back as we had a daughter, and wasn’t India the best place to bring them up? But two moves later – both to other countries - they started giving us the indulgent ‘of course we believe you’ look reserved for small, chronically lying children. So last May, we quietly shipped our pans and pottery and flew to Chennai.
The euphoria of the move lasted 23 hours.
‘I cannot shower there; a lizard is watching me’ said the daughter.
‘This a/c is haunted’ said the husband, putting his ears next to the window unit. Two hard knocks later, three pigeons flew out. The kitchen was wreathed in fungus, the paint peeled off the walls.
We hired a crack team to get the shut-down-for-years apartment up and running. The painter laughed at our colour choices; the carpenter took 4-hour ‘power-naps’; the plumber was a darling, but his boys fixed the floor tiles on the wall. In the fullness of time, the house became habitable. We moved in, only to miss the string of apartments we had lived in. We missed the peace and quiet, the long Sunday walks by the river; blueberry yoghurt and warm scones with clotted cream; and with a white-hot May sun bent on cooking us whole, like jacket potatoes, we started speaking fondly of long, freezing winters.
The door-bell shattered the little left-over peace; an old-man stood by the door, with a neat heap of our clothes, all beautifully folded and ironed; behind him stood the driver, a snake-gourd draped over his shoulder, and a basket bristling with puli, paruppu and perungayam. I wept with gratitude; it felt good to be back. As long we never switched off the a/c…
(Aparna Karthikeyan is a mother, traveller, freelance writer and true-blue Chennaiite. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org)