Bringing in 2022; By Amrita Valan

It is another new year, and another glance at a cloudy mirror of possibilities, hopes, and


fears.


2022 arrived for me, neither with enough bang for my buck nor with a whimper.


I slaved the entire morning of the last day of the year, merrily fashioning burger patties


out of chicken mincemeat and grating carrots, beans, onions, and bell peppers for a fried


rice. Preparations for the last supper of the year, which shouldn’t be too shabby in my


opinion.

Husband had informed he was swamped over by work so he would not be making it home on 31st night, which was a Friday.

Did that mean he would at least be with us on Saturday, the first day of 2022? Alas! No. The Omicron variant of the corona virus once again has put Indians, especially in the state of Karnataka, where I am living in, on high alert, with a strict 5 day workweek, and weekend curfew! So not even on the 2nd day of the new year, a Sunday, would our little family be together. It felt dull and unreal.

So I decided to go into denial. As far as I was concerned, this New Year was not happening. Or was at least postponed. But I couldn’t really do that to my two boys who deserved to bring in the new year in some semblance of style.

Lunch was sandwiches, which they preferred to their daily staple of rice, especially if the filling included, cheese and mayo. So I made them a varied platter, PBJs, egg-mayonnaise sandwiches, cucumber and mashed potatoes and grated carrots in a cheese chilli spread dressing.

It was fun to tuck in to easy to prepare-and-eat food, and it felt like an indoors picnic, especially with some ambient music on the Mac courtesy YouTube. I was chopping parsley for the salad, and happily in a trance, humming “…parsley, sage rosemary and thyme”, as Simon and Garfunkel crooned there tender and wistful rendition of Scarborough Fair, El Condor Pasa and The Sound of Silence,

Yes , the mood was nostalgic and kind of saudade, at least for me. I was drifting back and forth the whole day in my solitude, shorn of adult company into a reverie of happier times in the past, surrounded by friends and family. I missed Baba acutely. And our flat in Calcutta, all sunshiny and cosy and comfortable, with books spilling out everywhere, and people popping in and out of Baba’s home. Prior to the enforced isolation of Corona, Baba had a steady stream of visitors, clients seeking advice, kin visiting on a weekend, neighbours dropping in now and then, from our friendly bustling neighbourhood.

As I finished washing up the lunch dishes, and stretched on the sofa for a brief afternoon siesta of twenty minutes or so, I dove straight through a time portal. Back to the summer of 2019, summer etched with sorrow and grief and remembrance of a mother lost in springtime. As the flowers blossomed and birds chirped, as new life crept into the world, as my young neighbour delivered her second baby boy, as Nims Purja, prepared to scale the 8090 feet high Mt. Annapurna, my vibrant loving mother passed away forever, into the tender vale of memories.

And I remembered how my neighbours rallied in to keep our grief at bay!

I will not forget darling Ghost aunty, a widowed seventy plus lady in the apartment opposite, who had a mind of her own behind her pretty face! She had converted her saris into cute Maxi dresses with Brocade borders, and she walked all over town with an unsteady but determined gait. I saw her once again clearly below Baba’s house, on the stoop, raised on tip toes, ringing our doorbell; It was three in the afternoon, she came with a medium sized ripe jackfruit from her garden as an offering! Then regaled us with imitations of the laughing club she had once been a member of, to keep up our spirits!

“Ha!Ha! Ha!”, she laughed in imitation of her club’s vocal exercises. “Ha!Ha!.” Then she sang up a storm of old nostalgic film songs in a shaky voice, as we all listened, tears of laughter and lightness misting our eyes with both the happy and sad memories. What a deeper understanding comes through this easy communion of spirits, that the essences of happiness and grief, mingle in each other. One is incomplete without the other. Today, in 2022, I have heard with a heavy heart, that she is no more.

Slowly the filters dissolve, and I come back to my present home, to my time with my children. The late afternoon sun is fast receding. In the red tiled veranda the wash hung out to dry sways and flaps in the breeze, conversing with a deep blue sky! It is in the silent language of innumerable households over generations of homemakers that spring up in the brisk day to day chores of lives!

As my thirteen and twelve years old boys take in a sci fi movie on Netflix with zest, (13 plus and pre-approved by me), I smoothen the sofa, fetch the clothes in, and decide to sit in the veranda for a while, to take in the greenery across the canal that runs perpendicular to my house. Folding laundry can wait a bit.

The swaying green wall of foliage hypnotises, my heart shifts back into February 2020, to another vignette from another vintage year, when it was still young and filled with possibilities.

For me 20th February 2020, beckoned an imminent finality, a last reckoning.

I recall flying to Calcutta, to attend my late mother’s annual ceremony, her Batshorik, to bid her immortal soul an earthly goodbye, so that, freed, her soul could then commence new journeys and advance to higher levels. Barely a month later, such casual travel to and from cities would become near impossible with national lockdown declared in the third week of March 2020, on the 24th, in India.

After the several hours long sacred rites, to set ma’s soul free from earthly bonds of attachment to us, I stretched my cramped muscles and walked over to the front room, to be greeted with a blissful experience, that eased my soul and gave it an abiding strength that I carry today.

All of the ladies of the cluster had gathered, to form an impromptu musical choir and taking my hand in theirs, they sang songs of a spiritual ilk, from Tagore’s eclectic collection of soul soothing songs.

“Aachhe Dukhko, aachhe mrityu, birahodahono laage, tobu shanti, tobu anando…”

(Sorrow is real as is death, the pangs of separation blaze, yet also is peace and joy despite…”)

Then to honour my Christian association and ties by marriage, they sang hymns which I had grown up with from my schooldays.

“When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, Let it be…”

…And

“This is my prayer to thee my lord, strike, strike at the root of penury in my heart…Give me the strength, lightly to bear my joys and sorrows…”

This was actually a translation of my beloved Tagore’s songs adapted as a hymn in our Indian churches.

And … many, many more, each with tenderest of memories of mother, associated with it. I was reliving my life with her, as each song passed our lips, and reconnecting with seeds of truths hidden, stored inside long ago, for this time of need.

But I had no more time to reminisce, as a fresh and crisp new year was being heralded in by the cold drafts of a fading December day.

It was late in the evening and the sun was already far below the horizon, and the sky above was a varnished violet-blue bowl, vast and opaque to both past and future.

Into the now I stepped, smiling and tickling my kids out of their couched potato selves, teasing them out into a brief evening walk with a muted heart as they chortled and attempted vive le vent, the French version of Jingle Bells with glee.

I am the quintessential droll child within, and soon I joined in with gusto, as we leapt up the stairwell back home, lisping our awkward French innocently!

“Boule de neige et jour de l’an et bonne année grand mère” we shrieked in union.

But ...bit of a confession here. Home felt empty this year, without hubby to greet the New Year in with.

Which sigh… reminds me of yet another song by Passenger, a rather wild card number I came across accidentally, which says it like it is, at the moment.

“… you only need the light

When it’s burning low

Only miss the sun when it

Starts to snow

Only know you love her

When you let her go…”

(Do I live my life in music metaphors? I wonder.)

For what it is worth, I do live with my heart open, seeking new experiences and hoping to cultivate an openness into my growing and impressionable sons. I always tell them to do the research, to be neither yes men nor nay sayers but … only time will tell if lessons stick.

At the dinner table at nine we chose to watch our favourite series together for a while.

My fried rice passed muster, the chicken chops or patties were declared delicious by the kids.

But this year wasn’t about goodies and cake, and we even did without dessert.

It was at midnight the fireworks burst over the Bangalore skies, shimmered and gleamed as we stood at our threshold, and that of the New year, drinking in the night sky extravaganza…

The nonstop relentless Putt!putt!Putt! of Kali Pataka, a noisy roll of tiny red fireworks came from the lane across. It was 12:01 am, January 1st, 2022.

Off to make a few phone calls, first to my dear daddy to wish and pray for his health and a safer kinder more sociable new year…

Perhaps every curse is just the blessing turned inside out, so we shall see if in 2022 we can finally realise what it means, to be human, to be able to connect, and be a little kinder, a trifle saner too in our daily business. Perhaps even a little over the top insane in empathy? After the travails and hardships we have ourselves faced and the hardships of those even more unfortunate than us that we have witnessed? Surely it is time to emulate the gallantry and grace of our country’s blue collar workers.

I lack the money to aid charities, but since 2020, I no longer sell our old newspapers, books, plastic bottles or any discarded household furniture but give it away to the people who are forced to be out on the streets gathering our junk. And I try not to be wasteful and remain grateful to all the true brave-hearts! Our vegetable vendors and hawkers in threadbare worn woollens who are making our lives easier by bringing produce to our streets and doorsteps. I have stopped haggling because the few rupees I don’t save could be much needed by the tired worn palms receiving them.

And on the negative side of the balance sheet, I confess to paranoia; I shoo away any door to door salesmen for fear of contracting the invisible covid variants on the prowl. To my way of thinking, necessities coming to my street corner are a boon, but luxuries like Tupperware and scarves and saris are not! I know that these people too need to earn a livelihood, but I fear to risk my dependents’ lives with unnecessary contact. Perhaps I err, but we all must live with our own selves and the decisions we make. It is a difficult time, even a deadly time because of the insidious nature of the virus. And while the vaccinations are there now to prevent fatality not much can be yet done about the spread of the contagion, except for staying indoors and maintaining caution. I hope we all get to be a little more chill this year, while taking necessary precautions, because living in fear is not life.

In a nutshell the saga of my journey from an unusually isolated 2021 to a still nascent 2022, is an ongoing process. Everyday day shall shape the journey, as we face an unknown future.

© Amrita Valan 2022

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