Gardens also put an indelible stamp on my heart from the books I read. First and foremost among them was The Secret Garden. Then there were the gardens from Daphne Du Maurier's novels. If you have read Rebecca, you will forever remember the gardens of Manderly, and especially the 'Happy Valley' where rhododendrons and azaleas are pleasantly fragrant even in the rain, in colors of “salmon, white, and gold.” Again in My Cousin Rachel by Maurier, you would witness two different types of gardens. The Italian one in Rachel's Villa Sangalletti in Florence, and the English one in Cornwall (Remember the 'sunken garden'?) I am still enamoured by both of these 'literary' gardens.
My kaka (a term Gujaratis use for their father's brother) had a garment factory in Dar-es-Salaam, and he would often get some swatches of synthetic fabrics. My mother would fashion these into frocks, curtains, covers for my writing desk...Sometimes my dress and desk cover would be from the same swatch of fabric.
Two travellers, after an eventful trip, ponder over a pivotal issue – what is behind our innate ability to trust strangers?
When I visit my mother in India, I try all the remedies of my childhood. The flame of the forest flowers aren’t available as easily as they used to be, so I simply fill two buckets of water when it’s still early morning and keep them aside for my two showers of the day. I try different kinds of ittar. I revel in the mulberries, how beautiful their stains appear on my fingers, and how lush they feel on my lips. I eat all the mangoes I can. I grate the muskmelon to thin, long shreds and dust it with powdered sugar and let it chill in the refrigerator. I read the books of my youth, The Bridges of Madison County, The Bridge Across Forever, with the hope that they would lull me into romantic dreams filled sleep.
On the day we were leaving, I was looking out of the car wistfully. We were past the beach in a blur and now whizzing by the Baga road and suddenly I saw a bungalow. It did not stand alone and proud amongst a quiet locality as I remembered it from years ago. It was surrounded by shops and establishments, and ugly electrical wires were jutting out from the stores, and almost touching the bungalow’s boundary walls. And yet it seemed familiar. Like an old friend. A past life acquaintance suddenly making an appearance in this life. And then, I saw a restaurant. It was called Plantain Leaf.
Vikram Seth took it and turned a page. I felt the colour rise to my cheeks. Because this copy of A Suitable Boy was bought in 2003 - a year when I was still incredibly dreamy-eyed and foolishly romantic. I had a habit of scribbling something down on every book I would buy. On this particular book I had scribbled, "... There goes a Pantaloons top and a new leather purse. But oh, the pleasures of buying a book..."
We lost him in his birthday month. On the 23rd of December. He died of an aortic aneurism, and as he lay on the hospital bed, awaiting his surgery, he called my mother and me to him and said, "Aruna, I had promised to outlive you. I am sorry that I may not be able to keep that promise. This surgery is difficult and complicated and I may not survive it. I apologise to you for all instances in our married life that I may have been angry or unreasonable with you."
As an Indian, I have grown up with the familiar sound of a pressure cooker whistling each morning. Sometimes, you would hear a lot of whistles at the same time or in the same hour - it would be your neighbours doing their cooking and their cookers whistling in sync with yours. So the sound of the whistling is not alien or discomforting to me.
Summer in India meant the terrace being taken over for pickle and papad making, of waiting for dusk to fall, of afternoons of unbearable heat made kinder by attar infused water splashed all around the house, by the curtains who fought a war against the sun, and the hour long comforting siesta as the afternoon roared and raged outside. Summer in Europe sometimes meant a Facebook wall being filled with 'We are in Malta' or 'Spain is lovely' or 'Greece - you are such a beauty.' Of photographs of cobbled streets and maddeningly blue beaches, of sunsets the colour of a rainbow, of vineyards and country roads. Of picnics and barbecues, and trips to the beach , of long queues on the M25, of longer ques at the parking, of the aroma of roasted corn on the cob, beef and chicken patties, of hot dogs being worked upon on little barbecue stoves.
When I go to India now, it will no longer be there - standing faithfully like an old family dog, waiting for me in the courtyard, waiting for me to put it to life, bouncing over potholes and dirt roads and cruising through summer evenings and winter afternoons, through love and loss and so much in between. Farewell, my friend. You have served me like no other. There will be no one else like you.