Places – 3

Earlier this week I was coming back through the lobby of my office building with the lunch I had just purchased in one hand, the other hand reaching in to find the electronic card that would let me in through the security turnstiles, when my boss, heading out to buy his own lunch appeared in my peripheral vision, his hand raised in a gesture demanding a high five.  I returned the gesture, trying to make it look as natural as possible given my discomfort with all high five and fist bump types of actions.  A few seconds ticked away during the process leaving nothing but a sense of absurdity in their wake.

A gesture of camaraderie such as the one noted above would have made so much more sense with anyone else.  In this case I just proceeded to the elevator with an expression of derisive mirth as I thought about all the stresses from just a few months ago, nights of lost sleep, expressions of lament to anyone who would care to listen, getting nauseous at the “this too shall pass” panacea that listeners offered.  All a distant memory now.  Not because these moments passed but because they became irrelevant.  How I felt a few months ago about the events that transpired was absurd, the events themselves were absurd and the way things stand now underscore absurdity encore because they don’t appear to have followed from anything that preceded them.  Context appears to be as fungible and perishable as bananas on a supermarket shelf.

Our memories define us and one would assume how we behave today has some relationship to how we felt the day before, or what we did the day before, or what was done to us the day before, but that is so rarely the case.   We look for themes, we yearn to impose an ex-post narrative upon the scatter diagram within the Cartesian coordinates of our lives.  But if there is a pattern it is stretched on a canvas so grand in scale that we can’t possibly discern it during our short lifetimes.

Take the cauliflower leaf for instance, the outline of which was being traced by my dad on graph paper, on a day when I had accompanied him to his office.  This was when he was working at Sabour Agricultural College in a place called Sabour, the back of the beyond of backward Bihar; not even remotely comparable to the whiteness of Canada or the bluish green Pacific charm of Hawaii.  I can’t recall if Sabour was a village or a town or just something in between.  We lived there for a couple of years.  I was six years old and my brother was three.  I was somewhat fond of the place.  I never forgot the seven or eight mango trees around the house, the other families with kids my age all living in close proximity, the parks, the gardens.  It was a carefree time for a six year old.

What could be better than eating mangoes by the bucket and romping around wild? But in retrospect I sense it was a dark phase for my parents who had returned to India after six years of being in the United States.  Sketching the outlines of a cauliflower leaf on graph paper isn’t something that a research scientist, used to working with state of the art electron microscope technology of those times, did.  It was random, it was absurd and I can’t understand how it helped along the general narrative of our lives.  Ranipur and Kumaitha to Honolulu and Ottawa and then a place like Sabour makes it all look so random and so lacking in any grand design, just like the high fiving moment with my boss during a senseless filler moment of the day. But these interstitial phases of our lives, when we are waiting and wondering if something better will ever come along, often cause our biggest miseries.

We shared our living quarters with another family at Sabour.  It was a type of duplex with a large shared courtyard.  The lady on the other side was well settled in the life of Sabour and directed some taunts toward my mom who insisted that her two babies would never do any growing up in that godforsaken place.  She insisted that we would be out of there soon and that my brother and I would not forget our English and adopt the slow-as-molasses Bihari Hindi drawl of that region.  She was quite alarmed at the prospect of that happening!

In retrospect these were just two years of our lives but the two years must have felt like an eternity of miseries and worries to them at that time, a time when as a young couple with two young children, they were at the peak of their worries about what the future held and how they could either mold it and shape it or let it rest, contented or resigned to “fate”.

Then out of the blue an opportunity materialized out of the ether, a new clearing in the woods, a new direction, setting us all on a path that could not have been logically deduced.  For my parents this was the move to Delhi.  The place where we were to be for the next ten to fifteen years.

So I sit here waiting for my clearing in the woods, for the path that’s out there, obscured in fog or just unseen by me even if it sits in plain sight.  I know this much is true: whatever that next step is it’s not something that will follow, de rigeur, from whatever it is I am doing at this moment.  I can’t plan for it at least not in any conscious way.  But I do wish I was blessed with some fog lamps!


  1. Interstitial phases of our lives. I don't know why this post gave me so much comfort. I guess I am in the same phase right now, and just surrendering to the idea that whatever will happen will hardly be anything that I planned, let me go of some of my anxiety. It's strange that your parents' stay in Sabour in the past, should help one to come to some understanding about one's stay here in the present.

  2. I am always so pleasantly surprised when what I write resonates at some level with a reader or two…leads to the warm and fuzzy feeling that we are all in this together even across generations. Thanks for reading and responding, as always! 🙂

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