Tag Archives: Lavender

A month’s worth of hosting

Two grinning faces, actually three, including the portly Malay helper who was pushing my dad’s wheelchair ( probably happy from sighting relief beyond the arrivals gate) waved at us from the luggage carousel. I wrapped my scarf tightly around my shoulders; it wasn’t just the air-conditioning giving me chills.

Ever since we moved to Singapore, we’d been wooing our parents to visit us. Five years later and about a month ago, I and my husband set off one early morning to pick my parents up from the airport.

Baba sitting on the window sil and playing Scrabble first thing in the morning

Baba sitting on the window sill and playing Scrabble first thing in the morning accompanied by a cup of tea and two Jacob’s cream crackers.

Even though we keep in touch i.e virtually ‘nudge’ each other everyday when a scrabble move is due, it was thrilling to see my parents in person and most importantly find them emerge out of the immigration gates unscathed and unflustered.

Most first time visitors i’ve met wax lyrical about Singapore’s airport, it being one of the world’s best or at least rave/ rant about inflight food and entertainment, which make the usual post flight conversation, but my parents, and I should’ve known, drove straight to the point. “I can’t download Whattsapp on my tab, how soon can you fix it?” asked my dad as I bent down to embrace him and my mom said she had to pee, urgently.

Mom playing scrabble too, only when every other member in the house is playing that game

Mom fiddling with her phone or perhaps playing Scrabble but only as a last resort

Back home, unpacking and settling down went unexpectedly smooth. Making a tiny couple’s apartment habitable for 4, that too for a month wasn’t easy but after an extensive and exhaustive bout of spring cleaning (I am backslapping myself as I write this)  I had miraculously created space inside wardrobes, bathrooms, bookcase (since my dad travels with at least 6 books) and on the study table. Not only did I arrange for extra mattresses and linen, I also found clever nooks in the house to store these bulky items neatly without making our pad look any smaller.

Icing of the cake – my husband got a leaking pipe replaced the day before our guests arrived, so we were even mould-free. Only if the wooden door to our electrical closet – hoarding space for all displaced items in the house – would hold up for a month without crashing under pressure, we’d pass off as perfectly conscientious hosts.

Baba's Samsung Tab encased in a bright orange cover became a permanent fixture on this table because he would hog this charging point day and night.

Baba’s Samsung Tab encased in a bright orange cover became a permanent fixture on our TV table because he hogged this charging point for the entire duration of his stay.

The door did hold up for a month but circumstances didn’t. The thick pall of haze over Singapore (from forest fires in Indonesia) rendering the air quality ‘unhealthy’ compromised imminent sightseeing plans. A family emergency on my husband’s side needed him to fly out for 2 weeks the next evening, leaving two overeager elderly raging to make the most of their first visit abroad at the hands of their hapless daughter scrambling for plan B.

I didn’t have plan B. What I had instead  was this incipient fear. Retired folks like my parents being creatures of habit become petulant once their rhythm is upset.  How long until the fascination and wide eyed wonder of the new place started to wear off?  Surely the novelty of clean and safe roads, manicured parks, disciplined traffic, cars that didn’t honk and gave way to pedestrians and the miraculous ability to ‘drink water straight from the tap’ couldn’t keep them dazzled for a month? I had to give them a routine and get them to repeat it everyday till it became second nature.

And so I did.

Baba would often relate these simple yet pithy sayings that he read/heard somewhere. I thought of writing them down one day.

Baba would often relate these simple yet pithy sayings that he had read/heard somewhere. I thought of writing some down one day while he was so eagerly delivering them.

Mornings would be dedicated to tea and Jacob’s cream crackers. My trusty canary yellow teapot which sadly met its end in the line of duty, entertained my guests with countless cups of champagne coloured beverage from  Japanese Green Tea, Chamomile to lemongrass, lavender and Chilli Roiboos infusions. While I let the tea steep, my dad, always in white pyjamas and vest when indoors, would sit on the wide window sill and watch the constant retinue of cars, schoolchildren, infants in prams and fancy dogs being walked by their owners, all the while clutching his Samsung Tablet encased in a lurid orange cover.

If he made a word of considerable points in Scrabble, my level headed father, a man of few words and fewer displays of emotion would pump his fists into the air and let out a victorious cry – ‘yes, yes, yes’.  He’d also bite into his biscuits and dribble the crumbs on the floor. I started skipping all the double and triple words just to watch him get animated every morning, and then clean the floor inconspicuously with a brush and a dust picker.

Reading the book 'Chanakya's Chant' and watching a hindi comedy flick on Youtube

We would always watch a movie post dinner. Here’s my dad reading the book ‘Chanakya’s Chant’ and watching a hindi comedy flick on Youtube

My mom would sit on the sofa, propped against two cushions, sip her tea and either continue to read a particular travel article on Antarctica she’s been following or fiddle with her phone like the rest of us. Meanwhile I’d check the hourly psi readings and declare if it would be safe to venture out of the house. If all was fine, we’d quickly pick a place to visit and I’d try to convince dad to come with us and eventually get into an argument because he wouldn’t want to exhaust me by pushing his wheelchair and I wouldn’t want to leave him behind. Some days he let me win and some days I let him win, especially when I and mom wanted to go shopping.

Baba's precise infallible routine contains an hour of meditation twice a day. I've caught him nodding off couple of times while at it but he denies the accusation fervently.

Baba’s infallible routine contained an hour of meditation two times a day. I’ve caught him nodding off couple of times while at it but he fervently denies the accusation.

There were days when our mornings would stretch longer and take on a didactic tone with my dad drifting into a discourse about religion, spirituality and life in general and how to live it, occasionally concluding in pithy sentences drawn from the Gita, Vedas or his life’s experiences. My mom, having heard these before would contribute background score to his soliloquy in the form of soft snoring sounds.

On the days we stayed in, I’d cook an elaborate lunch, usually cuisines my parents were new to, from Greek Lemon Chicken, to Indonesian Red curry, Vietnamese Rice paper rolls to SriLankan Prawns. They’d always fuss over the dish when I laid it down on the table, saying how beautiful it looked and how good it smelled and then surreptitiously grab some ketchup for added flavour until I started sweetening my dishes more than my taste buds would allow.  We were getting along perfectly well.

Evenings would mean a walk (minus the wheelchair) to the park and then on to our neighbourhood Starbucks, where he'd first read his books and then play scrabble.

Evenings would mean a walk (minus the wheelchair) to the park and then on to our neighbourhood Starbucks, where my dad would read his books and update his scrabble moves. He’s very competitive and somewhat of a sore loser!

Around 3 in the afternoon, come rain or shine, my dad would hobble to a quiet corner in the house, spread a mat on the floor, set the timer for an hour and sit down to meditate. Though on several occasions I’ve found him in a state – shoulders slumped, back relaxed, head tilted forward, taking deep slow breaths – that could only indicate post-lunch dip, when confronted he would fervently deny the accusation and counter it each time with some iteration of ‘I could not have dozed off. I was alert the whole time’. I sketched him in the said posture one afternoon to tease him and also to prove my point but then didn’t have the heart to show it to him.

Nearly 10 years ago, a severe cerebral haemorrhage had permanently incapacitated my dad, rendering him unfit not just for his day job as a mechanical engineer at a Steel Plant but for performing simple tasks like buttoning his shirt or wearing a shoe. Then again, I haven’t met a more positive person who’s picked himself up from deathbed and constructed a life without regrets. Years of care, support and physiotherapy may have improved his situation by a minuscule percentage, the rest was his own doing, with sheer will power and conviction. I couldn’t trample on that, not even in good humour!

This is the trusty wheelchair that saved the trip - I had to draw it before returning, although the moment wasn't quite agreeable.

We had hired a wheelchair for a month to take dad around for sightseeing with ease. I had to draw it before returning it the next day.

Unless the haze was terrible, on most evenings I would take my parents to the neighbourhood park, where they’d spend a little time on a wooden bench watching people go about their businesses, and then walk another 150 meters to the mall to lounge at a cafe, listen to jazz, drink lattes, read books and most importantly, at least for my dad – play scrabble until dinner. Back home, we’d huddle on the sofa, put on a Satyajit Ray flick on Youtube and end the day in the throes of monochromatic Kolkata.

After my husband was back we did manage to take them around Singapore, and though it was precious to watch my parents get excited at every sight just as we did when we moved in here, it is the rhythm of our days together – the little tasks that cumulatively formed our routine –  that I’ve come to miss the most after they left. Goodbyes are hard and this one was too, but then again, ‘distance’ – however menacing it is in the beginning, is restorative eventually. With each passing day our memory fades out the disagreeable and holds in light only the best of times. Like when I taught my dad the phrase ‘ni hao‘ (‘How are you?’ in Mandarin) one day and he went crazy with it by testing it out on every unsuspecting cab driver, shop assistant, waiter and school kid that crossed his path till the end of their trip. It was incredibly funny!

 

 

 

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Trip to the Antipodes series : New Zealand (part I)

1st January 2015 : Sydney to Christchurch –  As you can see from my sketch I started the year with a tall glass of promising ‘Green and Lean’ juice at Lumiere Cafe on Bourke Street. Five seconds later, a massive portion of Egg Benedict followed. New Year resolutions be damned.

To work that off we voted for a walk from City Hall to Sydney Opera House and see the iconic building one last time. What seemed like a great idea, gradually lost its appeal as the day became hotter. Most shops were closed and there were understandably few people on the streets after last night’s revelries, making our stroll even less fun. The chilled passion fruit smoothie at Starbucks saved me from passing out before the flight.

Sydney to Christchurch / 1st Jan : Highlight of the day was picking up Charlie from the airport.

Sydney to Christchurch / 1st Jan : Picking up Charlie from Christchurch airport was the only highlight of the day.

And then – Kia Ora New Zealand! We picked up Charlie, our rental car from Christchurch airport around midnight. John Steinbeck may have something to do with my naming our red Toyota Corolla. Charlie’s Odometer Reading showed : 43300Km at the time of pick up. I kept a record of the readings on my sketchbook to gauge how much we drove each day.

2nd January 2015 : Hanging out in Christchurch –  The scars of the 2011 earthquake, were prominent on Christchurch. Vast spaces lay bare in between buildings. We walked past piles of rubble, damaged structures, collapsed, stripped to the core with iron rods sticking out of them. It was heartbreaking especially the plight of the 100 plus years old Christchurch Cathedral. Outside these cordoned off areas containing the wreckage, the story was one of resilience and hope.

The Re:start mall seemed such a beacon. Everything from food, carpets, sweaters, shoes, clothes, souvenirs and kiwi knick knacks were sold from inside of colourful shipping containers! We shared a bench with a family from Wellington and sipped lemonade right in front of a bright red metal box that had become the home for Scorpio books.

Christchurch / 2nd Jan : We had dinner at Indian Sumner, an Indian restaurant at Sumner. After surviving on Egg Benedict, Fish and Chips, sandwiches, wraps and burgers for days, a slice of home felt heavenly.

Christchurch / 2nd Jan : We had dinner at Indian Sumner, an Indian restaurant at Sumner. After surviving on Egg Benedict, Fish and Chips, sandwiches, wraps and burgers for days, a slice of home felt heavenly.

If there’s one place I’d like to return to in Christchurch, it would be the Risingholme garden, inside the Botanical garden. The serenity of nature, the meditative silence and the feeling of being minuscule, inconsequential amid the giant oaks, cedars, beeches and Spanish chestnut will remain special. I flitted from one tree to another, hugging, smelling, caressing their massive trunks, finally settling under the shade of Cedrus Atlantica, from where this sketch was done.

In the evening, Charlie drove us to Sumner – a pretty seaside suburb of Christchurch, about 12 km away. We watched a dramatic sunset and walked on the long beach in the golden light, listening to waves violently crash against the jagged rocks. It was cold, so we huddled up close to each other and held hands. For a little while, the poignant reminders of a brutal calamity writ large upon Christchurch was forgotten.

3rd January 2015 : Onwards to Lake Tekapo  – Black Betty, a stone’s throw from Southwark Apartments, was open for business, post new year. We were among the firsts to show up. The gothic accents were interesting but thankfully not overpowering for detractors. The hot chocolate and blueberry muffins lived up to the great reviews.

But we didn’t want to fill up because our next stop was Lyttelton Farmers Market, in the port town of Lyttelton, about 12 Km away. I was so enamoured with Sue’s marinated olives that we spent an inordinate amount of time at her stall. It was very hard to turn away from the rest of her wares – semi-dried tomatoes, dolmades, marinated artichokes, several kinds of dips and hummus – everything fresh, fragrant, glistening and ready to eat! “I used to own a cafe there (apparently the legendary Volcano Cafe)“, she said pointing to her right. Then added “..but after the earthquake destroyed it, I do this.” Sue has developed the volcano brand of delicatessen food that she sells at various farmers markets.  After she helped me pick out 4 different kinds of olives, I sketched her little set up. She graciously signed her name under it, at my request.

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo / 3rd Jan : We were lucky to be able to experience something as local as a farmer's market at Lyttelton. Meeting the people, chatting with them, hearing their stories and, watching them go about their business trumps any tourist attraction. And sketching is the fastest way to make friends!

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo / 3rd Jan : We were lucky to be able to experience something as local as a farmer’s market at Lyttelton. There were times when I wished I was a local just to be a part of their spirited community. Meeting the residents, chatting with them, hearing their stories and, watching them go about their business trumps any commercial tourist attraction. It felt real and authentic. And sketching seemed like a great way to start conversations and make friends out of strangers!

Walking through the market felt like gatecrashing a private party. ‘How’s your mother doing?’, “You looked great in that bikini the other day”, “Were you out of town?”, “Happy New Year!” were some of the snippets of conversation I heard been exchanged between the bread, mince pie, cheese, sausage, herbs, fruit and vegetable stall owners and their customers.

A band played slow music beside a cafe and the harbour across the street looked beautifully blue. Armed with a gigantic ( about 20cm in diameter) Focaccia bread that took us 5 days to finish, 100 gm each of herb and garlic cheese and my treasured olives, we forged ahead towards our destination.

The first sight of Lake Tekapo had us swooning over its terrific blueness. It was bluer than the bluest blue I had seen. Up at St. John’s Observatory, the air was so clean and transparent that the farthest mountains in the backdrop became visible, forming a soft undulating dark green outline in contrast to the stark and edgy blue foreground. For urban dwellers heavy-handed with photoshop and Instagram filters, this sight would be a revelation.

4th January 2015: Mount Cook bound – The owner of Glacier Rock B&B – our fantastic lodging (the view from the patio alone makes it worth the stay) in Lake Tekapo said to us at breakfast, ” I have a feeling that you’ll have a clear view of Mt. Cook today“. Apparently, it isn’t uncommon for the weather to turn without warning and for us that could mean losing our only chance to view the highest peak of New Zealand. Already the radio was abuzz with the news of the three missing mountaineers attempting to scale Mt Cook after the weather deteriorated. I hoped Mrs. MacLaren was right.

Lake Tekapo - Mount Cook - Omarama / 4th Jan : Peak of the day was dipping my feet in glacial water at the end of Hooker Valley Walk. And the bland under seasoned pea soup I had at Shawtys in Twizel has to be the slump of the day. Yes, it was worse than the 120$ speeding ticket.

Lake Tekapo – Mount Cook – Omarama / 4th Jan : Peak of the day was dipping my feet in glacial water at the end of Hooker Valley Walk. And the bland under seasoned pea soup at Shawtys in Twizel has to be the slump of the day. Yes, it was worse than the 120$ speeding ticket.

After a short stopover at Lake Pukaki, the plan was to drive non stop to Hermitage Hotel, take in the famed view of the mountain from there, then start on the 4hours tiring yet spectacular Hookers Valley Walk that ended at the Hooker glacial lake. But the closer we got to the mountain, more compelled were we to make random roadside stops just to adjust our senses to the beauty unfolding. Unsullied nature at such a grand scale was a lot to take in. It was humbling to stand on that listless road snaking feverishly though a sweeping landscape of massive forbidding mountains surrounding us, rising from the ground like mighty waves.

The day ended at Omarama – the starting point of our ‘gold heritage trail’.

5th January 2015 : A long winded route to Dunedin – There is of course a straightforward and quicker route to Dunedin which we did not take. Relaxing is something we forget to do on holidays. Instead we carved out a day long plan to drive through the preserved goldrush towns of Cromwell, Clyde, Alexandra, St. Bathans, Naseby, Ranfurly, Middlemarch and finally to Dunedin, that claim their origins to the discovery of gold in 1861.

Otago's Gold Heritage Trail/ 5th Jan :  I got myself four souvenirs from this trail - a 'Lavender, Lime and Spice' soap bar from Cromwell, a maori dolphin tail locket made out of bone from Clyde, a tacky fridge magnet from Alexandra, a sticker for my diary from St. Bathans. I cannot bring myself to use the soap. For now it perfumes my study table.

Otago’s Gold Heritage Trail/ 5th Jan : I got myself four souvenirs from this trail and none of them was gold. I picked a ‘Lavender, Lime and Spice’ soap bar from Cromwell, a maori dolphin tail locket made out of bone from Clyde, a tacky fridge magnet from Alexandra and a sticker for my diary from St. Bathans. I cannot bring myself to use the soap. For now it perfumes my study table.

The historic precincts in each of these towns being pedestrian, it’s easy to slip back in time just by walking past the retro architecture. Art galleries, restaurants and cafes are housed in some of these establishments. Some act as museums, some sell handcrafted soaps. But together they exude a cute picture postcard beauty and nostalgic charm that made the detour every bit worthwhile.

6th January 2015 : Touring Dunedin – Except Omarama, where our lodging didn’t turn out as expected, I did a pretty good job in finding unique accommodations on this tour, the creme de la creme being Lisburn House in Dunedin – a stunning 19th century Victorian property turned into B&B that will feed your fantasy of living as a member of 19th century English nobility.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time at the Otago Settlers Museum. Not because it was hot outside and I needed the shelter, but because it was of the best curated museums I had visited – one of those educational establishments that believes in telling a compelling story through its exhibits, encouraging its viewers to join the dots instead of spoon feeding them.

Dunedin / 6th Jan: We woke up in a Victorian dream home, toured a chocolate factory and climbed the world's steepest street, all in one day. Pretty productive, I'd say!

Dunedin / 6th Jan: We woke up in a Victorian dream home, toured a chocolate factory and climbed the world’s steepest street, all in one day. Pretty productive, I’d say!

After romping about the city some more, we drove 70 Km to see an unique geological sight that had intrigued us ever since we saw its pictures. Moeraki Boulders seemed like gigantic concrete cannonballs randomly lying on the beach, some in clusters, some solitary. There were deep cracks all over their surface, like some sort of design. Some boulders were intact, whole – people climbed over them and took pictures, while others lay cracked open like an egg shell, with fragments scattered all over the sand.

At sunset, the tip of the boulders became golden tinged. The waves crashed against their smooth bodies, trying to pull them in, but failing and sliding off the sand around them instead. It was hard to make sense of their existence, but that was a good thing because it’s better to be curious than blasè. Isn’t it why we travel?