I wonder who among us doesn’t occasionally sit down and have tea with their memories. The past, whatever it is, just is. Or was, whichever is more appropriate. Memories are a strange and wonderful thing; sometimes you remember perfectly, that chunk of recollection is there in your palm, and yet at other times you embellish, add on to it, mould it in some way. Whatever the case here, I’ve decided to sit down and invite my memories to tea, in hopes of nostalgic conversation.
The one strong memory that comes forth sings of a foreign land, of earth beneath my feet that felt alien and familiar at the same time. It reminds me wistfully of a December morning when I stood toeing the line that divides my country and no man’s land. And I was thinking that surely, this was a girl thing, that men just weren’t allowed there in that strip of red earth and wasn’t that just something? I was also eleven years old and an idiot. We walked over that line, stepping over manmade borders to India, the land of masala chai, Shahrukh Khan and Bollywood dreams. I thought the earth would move, or someone would spontaneously burst into song, but none of that ensued. We simply walked over into another country and…took a bus. How is it that you step into another world, and don’t pause to think; this is another country, and the heart that beats in it isn’t the same? However at the time I recall thinking about how cold it was and that I should’ve worn the extra sweater mom had asked me to wear, even if it was brown and gross.
So we took the bus to Amritsar, and ended up in these tiny twisting streets. The one thing I remember about Amritsar was the sound of it: the clatters and yells and barks. Needless to say it was sort of a blur, what with me being shy and not deigning to look out of the bus window, less someone spotted me and yelled “Pakistani!” I was a stranger, and yet I felt like I had lived here all my life. I hadn’t gone to India alone; we were a group of people, and the ratio of guys to girls was unfairly portioned out, with way more boys than girls. Even as a child, I always got on better with guys; girls had a whole dramatic side to them I didn’t quite understand. Boys were easy, boys were transparent. If he liked you, he’d punch you on the arm or throw a pebble at you. Not like girls, with their snide whispers and fake-shy looks. So I made friends…in a way. In my way.
And what sits patiently waiting at the fuzziest edges of my memory is our trip to the Taj Mahal, in Agra. I remember feeling not so well, and ignoring my body’s warning signs to the fever that would soon spread. Instead, I took off my shoes like everyone else, and walked on the slick, freezing marble that makes up the monument, looking about me in a dazed way, as if there was too much and I couldn’t take it in. At one point, we stood underneath a tree that I thought was covered with brown dead leaves, and I felt sorry for it. However, an aged Sikh man pointed out that the ‘leaves’ were sparrows and I was looking at them open mouthedly, like the most naïve child in the world. I (no other word for it) freaked when they all flew away, and remember thinking that inanimate things might be alive, and I just hadn’t noticed them and maybe all of India was like this: surprises layered on surprises. And living breathing life had been hidden to look like dead rotting leaves. It was a most confusing thought, and I left it at that. I also got a high fever after that, which caused me to sleep with my mouth open, so there you go. Illness makes you mental; although as I always say, there is no definition of normal.
India was an experience, from buying Boro Plus to looking at authentic haldi, to sitting in cramped train bunkers, to being stranded on a Delhi train staition at two am, to visiting a dispensary with an amused nurse and a generous, comfortable doctor, to seeing the Red Fort blanketed with squealing brown monkeys like flies on honey, to staying in hotel rooms and sleeping on rugs, to going to Mcdonalds and eating vegetarian Big Mac and so much more. Oh, and to playing UNO, relentlessly, over and over, and over.
My memories keep me going.