(This will be the first of a series of little vignettes about a couple of years that I spent in France with my parents. It's too sketchy to be a full-blown memoir, so I thought of publishing it on the blog as an ongoing series. Do let me know if you like it and would like to see more.)
Those were thistles splayed all over the dingy wallpaper, though she did not know their name. This was the first bedroom she had all to herself. A tiny space with faded carpet, beige painted steel wardrobe dotted with rust, single bed with a thin mattress and sagging pillows, room radiator giving out much-needed warmth for her shivering body despite the pair of woolen blankets. Light poured in from a single window with nondescript drapes, overlooking a spacious concrete courtyard behind the apartment building. Beyond was nothing but dreary high-rises, roofs and more roofs in the distance.
A far cry from what she had left behind in India – shared cozy bedroom with her parents, where she could always reach across the gap separating her bed from her parents’, searching for the warmth of her mother’s hand when night wakefulness struck, evening sea breezes rustling the coconut palms, fans whirring through day and night to keep the heat at bay, morning birdsong and raucous litanies from crows competing with the “Kausalya supraja” blasting from the tape recorder, dazzling teeth in polished brown face of the boy delivering the milk bottles, maid servants rushing to work with clean white towels draped over their colorful lungis and blouses.
No more familiar faces, familiar sounds. Here, the windows were closed to fend off the cold, shutting out birdsong and vehicular noises. The only background noise was sporadic gabbing in an unintelligible tongue on an ancient black and white TV, which displayed the picture only after a half-hour warm-up. Strange figures in period costume filled the screen, with sad tweets of flutes and lutes playing softly as they spoke. Suji groggily stumbled away from the living room and entered the small galley kitchen.
“You slept through the morning, it’s lunchtime now,” said Amma as she struggled to create a substitute for sambar, sprinkling precious spoons of sambar powder into the mix of sauteed onions, tomatoes and canned split peas simmering on the stove. Cooking done, she set it out on the kitchen table in freshly unpacked and scoured stainless steel vessels. Suji refused it, her stomach still queasy from the greasy airplane fare of the day before. She clutched a china plate, afraid of its fragility, as she transferred it from the kitchen shelf to the dining table, and piled it with what was to be her staple food in
"We'll be taking you to the American School for admission tomorrow." He spoke between mouthfuls. "Sleep well tonight and you'll be over your jetlag in no time."