This morning at Waterloo

Today, as I walked out of the Waterloo Station, I saw a slightly elderly man sitting at the intersection of the several crossings (that I cannot wrap my head around) when you exit the station. It was drizzling and he sat by the sidewalk with an umbrella and a small red blanket. The blanket covered him and as I walked closer, I saw a beautiful tricolour (black, white and tan) dog resting his/her head against his chest with a vacant stare. It broke my heart into a million pieces and I felt sick in my gut. I walked past hurriedly because I need to tear myself away in such circumstances. It is so hard for me to talk about such things that typing them here is the closest I can come to baring how deeply I get affected by certain moments and sights. But as I crossed the street, I wanted to go back. I wanted to go back and see the dog. It reminded me a lot of how Mili rests on us when she is being cuddled or when she is sleeping. She loves contact and somehow I keep thinking it was Mili there on him.

So I walked back.

I always like to help in anyway I can. It makes me a little less guilty and in my own selfish way, I feel a bit better though certain times, it takes me a few days to tuck it away in a corner of my mind.

I carry the whole world in my backpack, so I stopped under the roof near the station and took out a 5 pound bill. I did not know what else I could do. I walked upto him and handed it and told him to take care, very quickly trying to catch a glimpse of the dog but failing. I was too overcome to say more. I wanted to ask him to please buy a little something for the dog. But I could not bring myself to say it. Why would I want to say that? Here was a person who was holding an umbrella and covered the dog with his blanket. They had each other and kept each other warm this cold morning as everyone hurried with their tall and grande lattes and with their own challenges and tasks to conquer. He and his dog were a team. Who was I to tell him to care for his partner? He smiled with a clear, “God bless you and love you.” I remember nodding with a very tight lipped smile and walking away. I do not remember what he looked like when he said it, I do not recollect what I was looking at either. All I remember is I had crossed all the traffic lights and walked across the bridge before I even realised it.

The guard who stopped the train and made my morning

I made a dash with hesitation (do you know what am referring to? Like, when you run but also your legs give way and your heart wants you to try a bit more?). As I hurriedly bought my ticket, I saw the train doors closing along the platform that was about 20 steps of a run, maybe less. The guard at the barricade told me I can probably make it to the train and as I punched out, I saw the train guard standing out, keeping a door open and urging me to hop into that cabin. I foolishly tried getting into another wondering why the door did not budge open. He patiently called out, “Madam, this one! This one, I have it open.” That’s when I realised I had to get into that compartment and I gave him the most grateful sheepish look I could. The next train was a longer route and 20 minutes away and meant missing my first meeting with a senior at work (who probably would have kindly understood my predicament but that would have made me really guilty throughout our meeting). Anyway, I hopped in, he gave me a small smile as if this was nothing.

As I got off at Waterloo, I walked up to him. He probably thought I was lost and meant to ask for directions. And when I told him, it was beautiful what he did and am so thankful, he gave me the most beautiful smile and shrugged with a, “Ah no problem. Don’t worry about it.”

Almost always when I walk away from such people, the world around me stops. I have tears from God-knows-where spring into my eyes. I tell myself repeatedly, how beautiful people are. It makes me so emotional that I spend the next hour or two smiling at everyone and creeping them out. K has seen me do this multiple times. But really, it made my morning. I have lost count of how many times I have said this, but the people in train stations and the staff who work for the London Underground and South Western Railways are absolutely fabulous and everyday heroes. I mean every one of them. They have let me in when my app conked off, sometimes walked me to the correct exit, drawn a virtual route on their palm to show me the way, redirected me to better and shorter routes and just been absolutely wonderful with other fellow travellers every time I have passed by.

I thought long and hard about how I must title this happy event of mine that happened this morning. I quite honestly could not think of any way to do it. It really is as simple as that and yet so profound.

Petrichor

“Petrichor is the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil.

I must confess I quite did not understand what was so special about this until now. When so many people around me kept saying that they love the smell after the rains, I did not get it. It felt silly to be the only person who did not, so I nodded away every single time. Not saying anything. Neither agreeing, nor disagreeing but amused all the same. Was I missing something obvious? Had I not been through a dry enough patch to appreciate this? I wanted to be part of this experience and feel included in knowing I shared a scent with so many of my friends. So I built it up in my head – an imaginary scent.

This was back in school and college. And it stayed that way until day before yesterday.

As I walked back from the railway station, it started to drizzle and catch up. Not in a violent way but enough to moisten the dry soil that has been a welcome gift of English summer, for many. And that’s when it hit me. Petrichor. Ever so subtle and immediately taking me back to those trees on the playground around which we huddled as we discussed out favourite scents. I love petrichor now though not much for its scent but rather, for all the ways in which it brings me so close to my childhood and all those conversations that carried all the meaning in the world. It has been years and yet I feel closer to them in a special way.

Distant.

… turns out, I am not going to have much of a break.

The last few days have been transformational – things have come my way when I least expected them to and how! I am now caught in the several labyrinths of choices with each of them offering me a way to reach where I see myself.I am euphoric and thrilled and all that but the paradox of choice has never struck harder before.

Now that I know I have something coming up, I would not mind a reasonably long break. It is funny how this my mind works. I always prided myself on being cool about not having a certain place to go but I guess somethings change. As much as I am a homebody (I am that person who will proudly will tell you she cannot make it for a Saturday night out because she wants to stay home and do nothing), I love people. I love feeling connected and having an opportunity to care for others and be there. And going out, meeting people, hugging friends and then meeting some more makes me insanely happy when I feel like it. And the opportunities I have now will enable that, at least the way I see it.

Over the years I have come to view things and act on things in two ways: the first type is where I let go and just get into something with gay abandon, without so much as a care for the why, how and what ifs. These are times when my mind tells me, “go for it. I mean, why not?”. So every time I act on this impulse, I do not spend an iota of thought on it. The second type is where I really start thinking of why should I do something, how does it take me where I see myself, what purpose does it serve and how and why am I adding any value to what is out there already? How is my action making someone’s life better (mine included)? And I have a good mix of both these and being a Gemini has nothing to do with that (ask me tomorrow and my answer may change). I adopt these two approaches for equally important decisions so it is not a case of when I use what. Sometimes I just act on a whim even if it is something that can have big consequences. Without much overthinking, I view this as a strength. It lends a strange sense of balance and comfort to me knowing that there is no secret to figuring things out. Sometimes you just do what feels right to you then and really, things eventually work themselves out one way or the other. All the more reason why I have come to appreciate and value different approaches to living and learning. It has made me more tolerant, accepting and even appreciative of ‘to each her/his own’. It has made me less judgemental of how people approach challenges and made me less inclined to hastily suggest but rather be more empathetic and just listen even if I have nothing to say at all. Many a time, I have come away learning a bit more about myself when I have listened harder. I will even go so far as to say that learning to listen has made me like myself a bit more and be a little less critical and that includes listening to myself as I write this and the train of thoughts that emanate from something so distant.

Distant is the vision I have for myself. But I can see a path. It is really hazy and not without curves and tricky bends and straight paths I can tread with my eyes closed. I will have to make some choices. Sometimes I will just walk without a care and sometimes I may tread with caution. Maybe I will take a detour and try a different destination or a pitstop. I don’t know. I think I will never know. But that is the whole point. How is it fun otherwise? And why would you be excited for tomorrow and next week and the year after?

Where next.

I have no idea where to begin and how to say what I want to say. Some days trigger a deep rooted nostalgia and a strong craving to be more purposeful in life. It tickles me, inspires me and excites me so much that I want to spend time thinking of how to get around doing it and not start right away. I see it as a blessing but on some days I just cannot. The last few days have been transformational for me.

As a PhD candidate, my work and research formed a big core of my focus. I was/am proud of it, I mean I dedicated 4 years of my life and jumped on it with a lot of zeal and naturally wanted it to be truly insightful to others in the field. I wanted to discover what worked and most importantly that did not. And amidst all this, I was involved in a lot of other things. So, having a big focus but never letting it consume all of me was something I was proud of. So when that went really well, I defended successfully and submitted (Thank you God!), I find an urge to do something more. To push a boundary and to fight. There is a gap now and I want to be able to fill it with more things to pursue, to wake up to, to constantly have in the back of my head (at least most of the times). You see, breaks are good only until they are not. I never have had a ‘break’. I always told everyone and myself I would take a break after PhD, a break to do just “other” stuff. But the truth I have come to realise is, I do a lot of stuff when I have a lot of other stuff to do. It is just how I am wired. I do not think I can be productive if I am too reflective for too long. I love myself a good 2 days and then I need to have things to work against time.

But what makes this all so much weirder is how I take longer breaks and walk away when it gets a bit much. So, I have a very innate unique sense of balance that I am trying to understand, one that I cannot summarise or share in words but one that my body and mind dictate according to circumstances. That is a good thing. Yes, it is a good thing, I guess.

Which brings me back to where I started – I have no idea where to begin or what to say. I have a vague picture of things I want to try my hand at and I have already started on it. Somewhere amidst all this, we are moving homes again (I know!) but we will still be in the UK, so that seems like a pretty minuscule task compared to the big move last year. Right? Anyway, moving homes, shifting our physical locations has stopped affecting me. To me, they are things to be done and get done with. All other decisions on moving and whether we are moving to a place that makes us happy is something you can dwell on but never really know until you have given it a shot and tried your best to work with. And this sort of compartmentalising actions into, “what is under my control” vs. “what is not under my control but I can do my best with” offers a delightfully relaxing perspective of sorts. I save some of the overthinking for other things that prove me wrong (delightfully so) and ones that did not require any of it (as K always warns me). Most importantly, I have come to realise that one can start from anywhere and anyplace. 10 years ago, I had an entirely different set of plans and without giving you too many details, I’d have been sitting in an office in rural India. Five years later, I wanted to be providing services in a rehab clinic and that is what I did. Because at that point, that was what I wanted to do and to me that felt purposeful. So for a while, I wondered to myself of all the possibilities that could have been if I had pursued my first dream. And then I realise, I would not have it any other way. Being what I became and doing what I did opened up a lot of myself to me and helped me understand others better.

And today, I am here. A different purpose but serving a similar dream from a different location. It does not make me as guilty anymore (I still have bouts of guilt and that constant nagging feeling of missing being closer to my family but that is not something for today). I know I am in a place I am meant to be. Perhaps I can fight it and change it, but I don’t want to. Not just yet because I need to harness my energy positively. There is so much to do, so much to see and so much more to learn.

Secure in that knowledge, I will not dwell on the “where next” for now. For now, my mind needs a break. And after all, what are tomorrows for?

Of welcoming and bidding adieu to our first winter in UK

What excited me us most about moving to UK was winter. We love Europe and had always read and heard of the gorgeous English countryside but our hearts screamed for winter and just the thought of experiencing seasons. Singapore’s tropical weather and rainy-humid climate all through the year meant that we escaped to cold climates during winters. Such was our need for the cold. Naturally, we felt ecstatic. Also, while I love myself flowers and fall (oh, I love fall!), winter really is my aesthetic. I cannot get enough of feeling cold, being wrapped up in layers that leave me feeling perpetually in a state of “hug”, spending a good portion of the day brewing coffee and tea, forever having my kaDai out for that last minute bhajji/bajia, huddling in the warmest corner with a book, stepping out only to be met with a fiercely cold wind hitting and numbing the face leaving you feeling noseless.. I could go on.

So when people told us very politely about how we will now be facing “London weather”, we did not flinch a bit. We are somewhere amidst the last traces of winter now and I already miss it. None of the weather was remotely as “dreadful” as people made it out to be. On the contrary, the winter has been soothing and except for the short daylight, we loved every bit of it. I missed a good chunk of it as I was away in New Zealand for a good time enjoying spring and its blossoms but I was back for Christmas to hop on the winter bandwagon.

As I write this, it is getting to spring now. The super markets are full of petunias, tulips and a diaspora of blooms. The wild flowers in our yard have started to bloom from nowhere! I was not even aware that there were plants with such gorgeous flowers and to watch them appear miraculously on one fine morning, out of nowhere obvious, has been beautifully surprising. The root vegetables are replaced by berries and lots of fresh greens. Those big boots and huge cloaks are replaced by thin cardigans and denims and sandals. The entrances to the super markets are lined with the essentials for barbecue.

And all this has been utterly beautiful to witness. I really miss the winter but I love myself a spring and the joy it brings to so many people. There is nothing quite like watching people being happy for the weather. I cannot believe I am saying this, because a year ago, I used to wonder what it is that makes people talk of weather all the time. But I know and appreciate it better now. To be observant and perceptive of the changes around you is indeed appreciable. And in a way, that has made me very thankful for the weather and for all the privilege I have to experience the seasons comfortably.

A few days ago, we walked along the Ockham and Wisley Commons with gay abandon. After more than a week of warm sun, that day was quite chilly. We being us, headed out to enjoy that chill. We got our large coffees from the local bakery at the entrance and walked endlessly. Some days make you happy for no reason at all and this is definitely one of them.

An afternoon at Dorset’s Highcliffe Beach

We have for a while been raring to take Mili (our 4 month Cavalier pup) with us on a small getaway. Now that she has received her vaccinations and is free to travel, we jumped right to it. We were specifically looking for dog-friendly getaways (and there are quite a few of them, thank you UK).

One of our friends M recommended New forest and we decided to make a trip to New Forest and visit the Highcliffe beach, last weekend. After a day and night at New Forest (that I will share in another post), we spent a few hours on our way back at Highcliffe. Less than 10 miles away from New Forest, we totally recommend this experience.

It was such a chilly day with dark clouds looming over in spots as we started our drive but the sky opened up beautifully as we neared the coast. And then, it rained. So while we sat in the car waiting for the rain to soften a bit, we noticed how the sky over the beach was much clearer than over the parking lot. I can never get enough of these wonders seriously.

The rain mellowed down pretty fast so we literally jumped out of the car. Beaches are lovely (if not lovelier) in the rains, don’t ever doubt me on that. But I am a very cautious (new) mother and we had too many new things for Mili as it is, and getting her drenched was not something I was eager to do. But Mili? She was oh-so-excited to see so many cars, people and dogs! I think she’d be just as thrilled to be in the parking lot.

The beach line a la Jurassic coast is indeed very beautiful – very clean, lots of sand and gravel for Mili to walk and little rocks for her to climb and watch the sea in great contemplation. There are several promenades and paths to explore but we stuck to the beach. Despite it being so windy and chilly and being threatened to be blown away (not kidding), we loved walking it. There were quite a few fur friends and people around (have tried to keep that away in the pictures) despite the roller coaster weather. Mili absolutely loved saying hello to all of them, always reminding them if they didn’t.

It really was a beautiful morning watching people enjoy the beach with families irrespective of the weather (and the popular notion against it). We met absolutely delightful couples who took time to cuddle Mili and fuss over her as she happily lapped it all up. That’s thing about UK – how inclusive so many facilities are for pets, the acceptance and the love that people have for them. As first time pup-parents, it has been pretty breezy bringing her out thanks to this. We cannot wait to explore more of such delightful nooks soon.

It was only when it started raining we realised how far we had walked. We may go back to the beach and the Highcliffecastle (that we could not explore that day) in the summer!

That Jurassic coastline and this little girl.

Some tips: For those planning a trip I really urge you to go, no matter what the weather. This link has some good details to plan your trip. A word on the car parks – the two easiest ones are the cliff top car park (the drive to this is not steep, just that it is a cliff overlooking the sea but not all that elevated at all) and the Steamer Point Car park where we parked. There is a cafe on the cliff near the cliff top car park but we did not go there since we were not parked there and most importantly, we already had our coffees with us.