Monday, August 24, 2009

An Excellent Adventure

It doesn't take much to make an ordinary day exciting. At least when Nutan is around.

Last night my adorable sister-in-law informed me that I would be taking everyone out the next day: Mummy, Dad, her daughter Nisha and herself. We would start with a visit to a bookstore, have coffee, buy some things for the house and then go out for lunch.

Obediently, I called in to say I was taking the day off and we all piled into the car at 10:30 in the morning. It had been a long time since I have had a holiday. This month in particular has been back-to-back events, with weekends all over-scheduled and evenings packed as well. So it was strange and a bit unsettling to linger over breakfast ("Another cup of coffee, Dad?") and not even glance at my email or try to return phone calls.

Unsettling, but GREAT. "Are you taking a holiday in your head as well as actually, Jo Auntie?" Nisha asked. Good point. It's all too easy to be out of the office but still at work in spirit, especially when you love your job. Sometimes it's a physical effort to tear yourself away and be somewhere else.

Today I managed it. I guess it was partly the elderlies and their calm acceptance of being ordered about by us young ones. Mummy didn't really want to go and Dad would have been happier staying at home too, but Nutan ("God's Elder Sister) pays no attention to small details like reluctance or back pain or inertia. She knows people sometimes need to be pushed and the force of her conviction got us all out the door.

It was so good to begin in a bookstore. The wonders of the world were all there on display, and there was something for everyone. Dad found a Toni Morrison novel, Mummy spotted Jaswant Singh's tome on Jinnah and the India - Pakistan partition (the one which got him thrown out of the BJP), Nutan got a book on diabetes and nutrition, Nisha grabbed one on bird-watching for a friend, and me - I found a fairy tale.

Over coffee in the adjacent cafe, we shared what we had discovered with each other and mapped out the rest of the day: a vacuum cleaner to be purchased for our house
(Nutan's gift), a fridge for Vikram (an inspired plan we all wanted to be part of, but which Nutan insisted on doing by herself) an assortment of gifts Nisha needed to get for her brothers and cousins and friends and finally, lunch.

The Vacuum Cleaner! That was for us, inspired by our helper's 10-day sick leave, during which I swept and washed the floors myself and finally realized how arduous Sheila's work really is.

The Fridge! That was for Vikram, our live-in Man Friday and Helper Extraordinaire, who very infrequently takes cold water from our house up to his flat and who has to eat his ice cream before dinner because otherwise it would melt.

And finally, Lunch. Lunch in a place called Chhaya. Chhaya means Shade, and here in India, that's a word and a concept and an experience we all cherish. Sunshine is for the Western world. We like rain. We like shade. We look for the cool spots, the hidden sanctuaries where we can escape from the heat and relax with a drink and a fan and a spot OUT OF the sun.

Chhaya is a women's cooperative, a restaurant as well as a gift shop for clothes and quilts and jams and baked goods. It's a quiet haven, out of the city and away from the traffic and the noise and the craziness.

We ordered sandwiches and soup and quiche and French Fries and pie. Some of it was good, some of it was great and some of it was just so so. It didn't matter.

The last photo of the day was this one. Three generations: The 92 year old, gazing calmly into the future, not worried either by the past or the present - just there, herself, brave, confident and ready. The young one, looking straight into now, eager and expectant and beautiful. And the one in the middle, delighting in the glory of youth while secure in the wealth of age.

A good day.

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