2 a.m. In My Part of the World

“So know that if one day you’ve wondered about a stranger on the other side of the world,  if you’ve lived through 2 a.ms that seemed surreal and strangely detached, if one lonely night you have thought of me, I have thought of you, too.”

sketches___002_by_aenami-db81b5r
Art by: Aenami

I fell asleep to the sounds of thunder ripping apart the skies, and to the pitter-patter of rain soothing its pains. The vaporous veil of sleep fluttered against my eyelids and I fell gently into unconsciousness, the way a feather flutters to the ground.

Later, I awoke to a semi-realistic world and to puddles left on my balcony. My fingers, which had been so gently stained by watercolour, probed the cool surface. Once, a younger version of me had believed that there were forgotten cities and dormant forests hidden on the other side of puddles. That, if you weren’t careful (or if came your time for an adventure) your curious, probing finger would get sucked into whole other worlds. Other times, an older, quieter me would glide her fingers over these cool puddles and believe they were portals to places where it had also rained in the world. But not many people knew that.

I imagined my heart growing, aching as it did, as I left the lonely morning  in my part of the world to reach a cold balcony bathed in night, in some restless city. And right there, would be another version of me. Someone who did not look like me, who did not speak the language I did, who did not believe the things I did. But someone just like me in all the ways that mattered. Someone with a flickering inner light, cloaked in gentle loneliness.

There would be wonder. Delight. Two flickering lights would halfway meet, and like the dying fire of two candles, would each rekindle the other. There was a lot of quietness, of bathing in the soft glow of unspoken friendship, of not being alone on cold nights.

But there was an ache, too. The piercing constriction and expansion of hearts growing redder, fuller. As the night wore on, dreams and fears spilled into the milky way, over the city. There was something so simple and yet so singularly important about it. About sharing an overwhelming loneliness into the uncaring night.

The stars witnessed it all.

But they never saw the goodbyes that were really farewells, the “sleep wells” that veritably meant: “Please have a good life, be happy. I’m rooting for you.”. Because it was only by morning that the puddles would dry and life on the other side would call.  And we would never meet again. Because the same kind of rain never falls twice.

And now, today, on my balcony, as I watch the clear yet somber skies, I remember all the people I have thought of in my life. All those idle moments when I realised: “Oh! It’s someone’s birthday today!” or “Someone in the world is doing the exact thing I am doing right now.” and “I wonder how many other people are watching the exact same moon in this moment.”.

So know that if one day you’ve wondered about a stranger on the other side of the world,  if you’ve lived through 2 a.ms that seemed surreal and strangely detached, if one lonely night you have thought of me, I have thought of you, too.

 

“Oh, après tout, pourquoi pas?”

” Breakfast was going to be cold milk and chocolate cereals, and I felt I could pass. Besides, anytime someone has milk and sugary cereals for breakfast (at 11, of all times) a dietitian dies or feels extremely offended without knowing why. So why not have no breakfast at all? It’s probably not a good idea to go into a heated kitchen without eating breakfast, but I’ve woken up at nearly 11, who’s saying I know anything about good decision-making? “

Alice
Gif from Alice in Wonderland

I woke up at 10:45 today.

By the time I started thinking about breakfast, my aunt called. She was going to make roti today, an indian sort of pancake. But not just any kind, no. Today, she was going to outdo herself. Today was going to be the Roti Olympics, the Tour de France, the Superbowl. Breakfast was going to be cold milk and chocolate cereals, and I felt I could pass. Besides, every time someone has milk and sugary cereals as breakfast (at 11, of all times) a dietitian dies or feels extremely offended without knowing why. So why not have no breakfast at all? It’s probably not a good idea to go into a heated kitchen without eating breakfast, but I’ve woken up at nearly 11, so who’s saying I know anything about good decision-making?

So I pull on some clothes, stuff that unruly hair in a semblance of a bun and glide down the streets, staring down anyone who dares look my way because I’m also not a morning person.

My aunt, or rather, one of my aunts, is well beyond 70, carefully reaching for that octogenarian status, the way a patient hand plucks a berry from a vine. You would never be able to tell though; she does not look a day over 50. Her eyes twinkle, as they always have and her face is smooth, lacking any deep wrinkles. But it is her energy for life that will leave you disbelieving. It’s something I don’t even have. More often than not, she is out of the house, going to some charity event or organising little gatherings with friends.

“Today,” she tells me “I’m doing it. I am making that layered roti.” She says with such glee, because she’s already started and it’s looking to be one of her best attempts yet.

Soon enough, my hands and shirt are covered in flour. We are rolling out dough balls so soft, so freaking soft that I cannot fathom what sort of witchcraft must have gone on to make that possible. Roll it out the thinnest you can, she says in that tone of the teacher she used to be, because we are going to do some magic. It turns out, after we are done sprinkling flour and glazing with purified butter, that we are fixing two of the stretched out dough pieces back-to-back and then folding them into layers, the way you fold an origami fan. Then when you have the folded dough, you roll it into a circle and watch as the layers form countless ridges that you can feel even when the dough is again rolled out.

It feels like you’re rolling time away, tucking seconds into seconds, stacking minute upon minute. It is work so detailed and delicate that even Time helps you out and slows down a little. As though it is also waiting with bated breath, pushing back the hand on the clock, hushing it, saying: “Oh hold on now! What’s the hurry—let me see what’s going on.”

Now that the dough has been rolled out again into its final form (In other words, frighteningly round), I run my finger over the ridges left between the layers. It’s calming and hypnotic, just running your finger around this soft mound, tracing the contour the way you would trace patterns in the sand. It’s effortless yet amazingly satisfying, the kind of simple thing that makes you appreciate being alive.

This time around, my aunt is making roti. But the time before, it was Baklava, before that it was Wonton soup, and before that it was Quatre-Quarts, which is, for all intents and purposes pound cake. But many of our cakes here tend to be French, even though we have a certain appreciation for all things British. But it’s mostly, I think, because we’ve picked up on the French way of being all : “Oh, après tout, pourquoi pas…” (Oh, after all, why not…) , that sense of indulgence that makes you reach for another piece of cake when you know you shouldn’t. La gourmandise, they call it, un petit péché mignon (literally, a cute sin). Yes, we are the kind of people who think that if you are eating a piece of cake and feel guilty, that you’re doing something wrong somewhere. How many times have we said: “Oh, après tout…”, giving up on diets just to enjoy a sweet, milky cup of tea with family and friends, colleagues even? How many times have we said : “Eat now, diet later”? And oh, all the times we get laughed at when we get back from the doctor’s with strict diet rules AND NO CHEATING THIS TIME. But we can’t help it mostly, we’re hobbits for crying out loud.

Although that’s something I love seeing. Rotund people. People who look like they just got married and have put on weight. You know, round, rosy cheeks, arms that turn soft and a little pudgy. On men, you see it especially well when they insist on wearing slim-fit shirts. You can see some of the buttons really struggling to keep it together, but the man wearing the shirt couldn’t care less because he’s well-fed and glowing, and still thinking about the dinner from yesterday. It’s never too much weight really, just enough that it spills over, like when you pour batter into a cupcake paper liner and it overflows just slightly, to everyone’s delight. I like calling this phenomenon The Weight of Happiness. Like you have too much happiness and some of it just had to go somewhere, you know? You are happy, so you eat. Or you eat and you become happy. University has made me all sallow-cheeked though and my hobbit family is constantly trying to feed me.

The rotis are still frying on the pan, so I let my eyes wander. The kitchen is a world of its own, a laboratory full of ongoing projects. There’s half a coconut lying on the marble counter, more cartons of fresh eggs than any one person strictly needs, a macaron recipe tacked to the fridge, fruits waiting to be pressed, bananas hanging out with oranges and a bag of semolina. A strange herbal tea concoction is steaming by the sink, as though that were normal. There are herbs drying by the open window, sunlight pouring over green glass bottles in which unidentified fruits and vegetables are slowly pickling. And the sunlight on the dark green glass is creating delightfully enigmatic patterns of light against the tiled kitchen wall.

Outside, it seems Time also went all: “Oh, après tout, pourquoi pas?” today and is swaying on a hammock on the beach somewhere. Or at least, that’s what it feels like when you see the tall sun-stained plants with their red leaves turned pink in the light. The ferns and some other vine are hanging down from the slightly rusty shelf affixed on the stone wall. The wind is blowing, all sweet-tempered and reverent, rustling the leaves gently, entrancingly, almost lulling the garden to sleep, sprinkling sunlight on it, rocking it like an infant, singing it a lullaby so that it may finally dream.

The roti, it turns out, is everything you would want anything to be. The crust, a thin layer that cracks under your teeth, gives way to the most pillowy texture, something so dangerously soft I am now absolutely certain sorcery was involved in the making. Because the first bite melted in my mouth like sugar in warm milk, I have to take another and another until there is nothing left and I am eyeing another.

Oh, après tout, pourquoi pas?

 


Note: This is Day 26 (O.O) of my NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. You can find the entry (which is quickly turning out to be my favourite one) for the previous day here. We also totally made flan today, and the entire day was busy and slow and too warm and amazing, but this is already the longest post I’ve made. If I were to write about the whole day, you’d easily be reading this until tomorrow.