CREATIVE FICTION | Between the Past and the Present by Sowmya Ravichandran
I wake up every day to a view that would seem perfect to quite a few.
Stretching myself with a yawn, I can see the silhouette of my husband’s back as he pulls back the curtains, revealing the first streams of sunlight for the day.
The gigantic mulberry bush, a replica of an impeccable mushroom cut, sits admirably in the centre of the front yard. Peeking out from either side of the window, the blush pink roses cannot be missed.
That’s not all, the lush green garden and the vast blue sky gives me the feeling of a cosy little cottage home in a country side.
In short, I roll out of bed looking at nature’s best portrait right outside my windowsill. Sigh! Yet I wish, I woke up in some other part of the world…
Four years ago when I first landed in Melbourne, I had butterflies in my stomach, partly because I was a nervous wreck even though I was equally excited about my journey ahead.
As my husband Ram and I walked out of our security check, carrying a truckload of bags on both trolleys, we heard someone call out.
‘Hey there, lovebirds!’
Turning around we saw our herd, my brother-in-law Abhinand, his wife Preethi and their bundle of joy Shreya who had just turned one. All three of them grinning from ear to ear seeing us blitzing through the crowd.
As soon as she caught sight of us, Shreya jumped onto me with an excited smile. Though I shared her joy, something was gnawing at the back of my mind. I pushed it away as we were engulfed in a big bear hug over cries of ‘Welcome home, you guys!’
Now, that was a first in the last 25 years.
‘Earth to, SASHI’, Ram was screaming at me with an exasperated sigh of relief as I looked at him.
Wow, I can’t believe I backtracked that far. Giving him a quick peck on his cheek with ‘a Good morning, my Ramu’ smile, I dashed out of the room to get ready for work.
On my second night in Melbourne, Ram with a twinkle in his eyes said, ‘Get ready Sash, I’m going to show you how beautiful your life will be with me’.
As much as I fell for that line, I was curious about what he had up his sleeve at 11.00 pm in the night. I went on my maiden train journey to the city and as we got off the train, I was swimming against the vibrant crowd to get a breath of fresh air. It looked like the whole country was partying out there. Pulling Ram out of the station and asking him ‘What’s going on?’ I marched straight on and crossed the road to escape the hustle.
Suddenly, I found my husband’s hand blindfolding me and turning me around a full 360 degrees, the same way I had just come. He whispered in my ears ‘Baby, stop. Remember, what I told you before we got here.’
Saying, ‘I love you Sash’ he slipped his hands down from my eyes, unfolding the most stunning light show on a magnificent 100-year-old building that looked like it was straight out of a movie set. The grandeur of it all was so intimidating that I couldn’t take my eyes off the twinkling lights and the chrome coloured structure with patches of green highlighting the intricate architecture engraved on it.
I realised it was the train station I had just walked out of, the famous Flinders Station. To my pleasant surprise, an electronic display showed ‘Melbourne loves you SASHI’.
Gaping at it, I looked at Ram, a tingle of warmth shot through my whole body and instantly I hugged my God sent gift rubbing my happy face on his shoulder. He ruffled my hair and beaming at me, said ‘I’m no Romeo, but I’d like to always be one when I’m with you.’
Looking at him puzzled, I saw the display changing to a picture of Masterchef winner Sashi, holding out his trophy and a note at the bottom reading, he was going to do a special class at one of the Indian Restaurants in the city soon.
I burst out laughing poking him in the ribs I said ‘I love a romantic Charlie Chaplin who can make me laugh like this, any day better’.
But despite that, the reality of my life hit me hard. I was so far away from the comfort of my own home and people. It felt like plunging into an abyss with a leap of faith and hoping it would be as good as the last few hours. I circled my hands around Ram, although I wasn’t alone, this newfound freedom felt different.
Had my mother been here, she would have created a ruckus for staying out so late in the night. I definitely missed hearing her voice just then.
I dropped my husband at his workplace and as I started the engine, he called out to me ‘Drive slow, you are already down by 3 de-merit points for speeding’.
I rolled my eyes at him and said ‘Yeah, right’. We were waiting on a confirmation of my nomination to his traffic violation notice. Any more points down and his licence would have been suspended, so we couldn’t take a chance.
He chuckled, blew a flying kiss at me, mouthing the words ‘You are my saviour baby’.
Waving a goodbye, I looked at him fondly. Years of married life hadn’t changed him a teeny bit – my romantic Charlie Chaplin forever. I pressed on the gas and noticed the time, I had exactly twenty minutes to reach office without being late and I couldn’t afford another ticket.
Back when I was still hunting for a job, my days were longer and less eventful. I had the good fortune of waking up at 10.00 am to a deafening silence and an empty house. Ram, Abhi and Preethi were already at work while little Shreya would be playing in her childcare. It was a complete contrast to a clamorous and a warm morning in Chennai with a house full of my people scrambling around to finish their morning chores. Granny cutting vegetables as she watched the astrologer on TV predict her future, mum packing lunch boxes for our college and her work, dad in a state of bliss with newspaper in one hand and sipping his strong filter coffee in regular intervals, uncle and aunt at their favourite place, nurturing their terrace garden while my cousins and I got ready for college. I let out a silent giggle reminiscing, wondering what they were all up to now.
No matter how many years have passed by “Down Under”, the heart swayed back and forth to my most favourite city in this world – MADRAS.
One day Ram asked me, ‘It’s been on my mind for quite some time, why shouldn’t we invest in a property now, Sash?’
I liked the idea and it was time for us to step up, so I immediately agreed to it. We were secretly thrilled about the whole aspect of buying our own property that the investment part was just a facade. We started off doing the usual pre-buying safety checks by discussing with our friends and Abhi, especially since he was the expert with two houses to his name. His only tip to us was ‘Be patient and you’ll be rewarded’.
We locked in our finance broker after about a month and every weekend we went to inspect houses around different suburbs in Melbourne. It was quite fun the first few times, Ram and I would mockingly argue over how we would decorate our little yet-to be-abode.
‘Ram, remember the picture of both my grannies kissing me on either side of my cheek? That goes right there’, I said once, pointing to one of the walls in the living room. He looked at me like I was nuts and disputed it with a ‘No way’. I gave him a sad face and we hopped on to look at the other houses that we had shortlisted for the day.
While all was well in the beginning, things got heated up a few months later. We couldn’t agree on a single house and when we did, the price was exorbitant. I was beginning to get tired of the whole process. It was taking up too much of our time and I realised I hadn’t spoken to my parents for about a month. By that time, my phone easily had at least two missed calls a day from them. I was just texting them a ‘Good Morning’ every day, not bothering to read through their messages after a long day at work and after bustling about auctioning and sending quotes for houses.
Finally, after another swamped week and six months of house hunting, we closed in on a deal and hit a jackpot. Ram and I pumped our fists in the air and let out a whoop of ‘WE DID IT’. I felt the weight lifting off my shoulders and now I couldn’t wait to talk to my parents. Instantly, I called my Dad to share that ecstatic moment. After all, he and mum were the ones who inspired me to do better in life.
After coming back from work, Preethu and I caught up on some family gossip while cutting vegetables for dinner, as usual. From the kitchen, we could see Ram and Abhi playing Legos with Shreya in the living room, trying to build the famous Al Burj.
My dad picked the call on the very first ring, his voice fatigued and dull.
‘Finally! How are you, Sashu ma?’ I knew something wasn’t right.
‘What happened, daddy? You don’t sound the way you do usually. Are you not feeling well?’
‘No baba, I’m fine. It’s your grandmother. She had a minor operation for her heart problem yesterday. She’s still in the ICU but doctor says she’s recovering quickly and they will shift her to normal ward soon.’
The news felt like I was plummeting rapidly and slamming on a trampoline with a harsh thud after soaring sky high. A sense of shame and remorse swept through me. I had been so engrossed in myself the last few weeks that I neglected to look at what was happening beyond my horizon. The fact that I couldn’t be there with my dear granny shattered me. She was the magic charm that bound our family together. Someone who worked relentlessly for our well -being and derived joy from it. So much sacrifice and selflessness, that I sometimes wondered how it was humanly possible.
By the end of that call, with tears streaming down my face I had made up my mind. I didn’t want to be that person who grew old in a land far away from home with the guilt and regret of not being able to make the best memories with people who matter the most - share that morning coffee with your mother, tease your dad on his salt and pepper look, cook a nice meal for your grandmother for a change, sleepovers with your best friends and countless such precious moments.
Here I am four years later and three months pregnant now, after umpteen discussions, arguments, fights, love and shedding tears in that order, Ram and I decided to move back to Chennai for good.
When my little bub steps into this world, he will be greeted by a big family, I thought merrily, rubbing my stretching tummy.
I was diving again, not into an abyss but to my fairyland with the same leap of faith that I can shoulder my responsibilities in its entirety and keep my tribe as sunny and vibrant as the splendid morning sun.
About the Writer :
Sowmya Ravichandran is a Chartered Accountant by profession. She loves anything related to arts and creativity better than numbers.