Category Archives: London I

A Sussex story!

29 January 2014

The stage is set, the lights are on…the Brighton dome is electric with energy and booming with excitement. Miles away, I am sitting across the computer with sparkling eyes and a beating heart. Awaiting the live streaming to begin…awaiting my graduation ceremony to commence.

Today, 2 months into the professional world, I turn around for a peek into the student life once again. As my classmates walk across the stage, I share in their happiness, I share in their smiles and just a tiny shiver of disappointment travels through me. I envision them laughing their hearts out, breathing a sigh of relief for finally and officially crossing the bridge from being graduands to becoming graduates. ‘In absentia’ the University confers the degree upon me as well, and an audible sigh of relief escapes my lips. “Yes, I have done it!”

From being a Sussex post-graduate student, I have now quietly slipped into the Sussex alumni family. A single black gown and hat signifies so much. It brings about a transition, it signifies the end and it marks a new beginning.

Tonight with a throat that hurts from holding in tears of pride intermingled with nostalgic sobs, I would love to say that the University of Sussex gave me more than just a degree.

It gave me friends across the globe and a new family. It taught me life lessons and a whole new subject. It gave me new vision and the new perspective almost blinded me. In a good way, of course!!

But above all, it gave me one of the greatest treasures Life has to offer…

It gave me memories. For a lifetime.

Of struggling and failing. Of dusting my pants and standing straight up. Of rolling down grassy slopes for the heck of it. Of disasters in the kitchen and achievements in the seminar rooms.

Of new languages, dialects and accents.

It gave me a degree that encompasses it all, and so much more.

It added the two valuable letters after my name….the letters that made me travel across the globe just so I could puff out my chest with pride tonight and announce….

Now Presenting:

Shivani Kanetkar (M.A- Applied Linguistics)!

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Lon-done!!

9 September 2013.

England is at its gloomiest best today. The rains are back to grace the country after quite a ‘scary’ heat wave. It is exactly that kind of an evening when all you want to do is curl up on the sofa, look out of the window and think thoughts. Happy thoughts, sad thoughts, any and every kind of thoughts. But today, as the sun sets on the English horizon for the last time for me, a single thought dominates my mind.

In between settling in and making a habit of England, a year just flew past. As Brighton turned from being a random coastal town to my home city; and as London became more than just a Bollywood location, a number of memories created a patchwork of a year.

Today I sit and wonder, what would be my answer when people back home would ask me about my year abroad.

And in that case, would there be a single answer possible?

Because for me, each day and each hour has been an experience in itself. I wonder how I could fit all of those classroom discussions, those beach walks, those travels around the continent and cross-country, those sweet nothings and those deliberate everythings…into words, let alone a sole statement. Tonight I am vaguely conscious that each breath of fresh air that goes in and comes out, is the last of England.

For now.

And tonight I am also conscious of the fact that words, which usually rush to my mind, are evading me tonight. Terrified of taking shape lest this reality sinks in sooner than it should. On the other end of this journey, lies family. Stand friends. Loved ones who’ve been physically far away for a year and whose thoughts pull me closer by the minute. And yet, the journey here has not come to an end. As it slowly dwindles to a close, I have a number of Goodbyes to get through. All of which are going to be mentally exhausting, even in this age of technology. Because it’s not just friends and newer families that I must bid farewell to, but also to a fulfilling life provided to me by the Queen’s land.

As I quietly trod through the pebbles of Brighton and rolled down the grasses of Falmer, took in the grandeur of the London cityscape, my last stroll must occur in Croydon. A place of weekend getaways with a family where I found loads of love and laughter.

And yet, each time through this year that I took the train from Croydon back to campus, I was aware of a delicious feeling spreading through me at one mere thought. The fact that I was going ‘home’.

But this time round when I leave Croydon, a different thought comes to mind and for a minute, something within me flutters.

I’m not going home. Not this time.

This time, I am coming home… 🙂

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The Echoing Walls.

31 August 2013.

It is past midnight and I am standing in front of a plain soft board, trailing my finger aimlessly on the rim of the shelf just above eye-level. In my mind, I had visualised this moment a hundred times already. From the 1st day of August, a weird fluttering in my heart kept making me conscious of the time ticking by. The month of many lasts. The beginning of the end!

A glorious picture had formed itself in my imaginings. A silent goodbye to the room that’s always made me feel safe, a quick (hope no one’s looking!) kiss on the door of House 34, as it shuts behind me. Shutting me out forever. A certain romanticism in the mere idea of a farewell…and yet nothing had really prepared me for this. This unnatural numbness I feel as I strip the room bare of everything, leaving it stark naked.

Just like the first day I entered it, almost a year ago. A new campus, a new experience…this house was an introduction to so much. Adapting to strangers and accepting their whims and fancies, living with their flaws and weaknesses. The door to my new room opened up so many possibilities on that very first day. As the days slipped into months, the room developed a character similar to mine. I love sitting by the window, so a chair adorned that corner and photographs from so many wonderful moments with friends quietly climbed on the walls and created a home for themselves. I am no interior designer and yet steadily I could see the room moulding itself to adapt me, to let me be.

Here I have spent many a mornings lazing around, aware that no one was there to coax me out of bed and such a blissful feeling that! Here I have sat and cursed those birds which decided to wake up even before it was time for me to sleep. Here is where I have learnt to take care of myself and here is also where secrets, confessions and midnight gossip sessions have taken refuge. This is where it began, and today here is where it ends.

Because the house is no longer filled and the room will no longer remain mine in a few more hours’ time. So just for tonight, I take a moment and relive everything. The scary creaks at midnight, the loud late night phone calls from the floor above. The gushing water waking me up each time someone used the bathroom and the freaky taps on the window a random Sunday morning. I sit here and wonder how the year just flew away. In between settling in and getting ready to move out, somewhere the coin dropped.

Perhaps it was habit, perhaps it were the moments spent in here…but an attachment developed. With something as inanimate as a house, and yet with something as real as a home. Where strangers from different ethnicities realised heart breaks are universal. Where single children learned to share space. Where one’s ego took a break. And where experiments in the kitchen improved not just digestion skills but also our confidences. Because these four walls have given us not just shelter from the rain, but also laughter despite the pain. From handling unruly flatmates to cleaning up toilets after each other, there is perhaps nothing I haven’t learnt to deal with in the past year.

There is just one grudge I would always hold against House No.34.

The house that gave me so much, never taught me how to say Goodbye…

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The Spilled Coffee.

22 August 2013.

Late nights are becoming a frequent phenomenon now. What with the submission date creeping closer by the day (or as I should say ‘night’). And to keep the sleepy eyes at bay, coffee stands guard. Making its presence felt, if need ever arise. In the frenzy of getting the word count to budge forward, I never noticed when a little elbow nudge pushed the coffee mug a little harder than expected. And before my flexes jumped into action, the liquid had spread itself across my neatly written-out notes. Wasting absolutely no time, the brown milky liquid definitely made its presence felt, albeit in quite an unnecessary way!

Shocked out of my wits, I rushed to save the drenched sheets but no amount of soaking up the moistness could avoid the stains from leaving their imprints behind. As I silently mourned at the damage, a grumpy conscience yelled from within: ‘Great! At least now you would listen to me…coffee is just not your cup of tea!’ Much as I appreciated my own joke, I had to accept it was the ultimate kind of climax to perhaps one of the worst days I’ve experienced in a long time.

You know those days when nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, goes your way. When you discover the main ingredient from the recipe is missing from your refrigerator and when that moment of panic sizzles into burnt food awaiting your palate. When you rush into town to keep an appointment only to realise the shop is shut down for some ‘unavoidable reasons’ and all that you can do now is enjoy the sun since obviously you’ve paid for the train ticket! And then you enter into a random argument with a neighbour when the fault is not even yours’. As if a magnet for bad moments, you feel something scurrying up your arm just while you are walking back home only to figure out a baby spider has decided to grant you a lifetime opportunity of becoming Spider-woman. Scratching away the itchiness, you enter into your room and the door slips out of reach. You leap, try to catch it before it bangs shut and realise you managed. Not to catch the door but to catch your finger in it. Swollen finger in hand and tears of frustration starting to brim, you switch on the laptop hoping to get ahead with your work. But a pure blank greets you there as well. Great, my mind seems to have declared a whimsical strike. And then the climax we started with; the spilled coffee.

Fuming and suddenly plain exhausted, I pick up the mug and stand it up on its rightful bottom. I peek in to see if any coffee actually managed to stay back in the mug and the sight that greets me, leaves me suddenly smiling. The coffee is all gone, but the sugar remains. Unstirred and adamant.

In a day that was obviously not mine, the sugar had stuck true. Sweetening my foul mood, bringing back the humour in the situation.

The only irony of the situation: I woke up this morning to find my brand new sugar packet completely vanished from the kitchen (and the whole house for that matter) and yet the day ends with such sweet realisation.

There’s no point crying over spilled ‘coffee’ when the unstirred sugar is your saving grace! 🙂

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Har ek friend jaroori hota hai!

5 August 2013.

The Friendship Day fever is still in the air and the dedicated status messages on Facebook are still doing the rounds. My Facebook friend list has 1000+ people in it; all of whom I know personally and yet I wasn’t tagged in a single post yesterday. No photos with me uploaded as cover pics but yes, I woke up to an inbox flooded with messages. All heartfelt, all true.

What once had started off as a competition between friendship bands has now dwindled into a calculation of text messages, fuelled by the occasional lunch meets and dinner dates. And yet there is something about Friendship Day that keeps bringing a smile on my face, year after year…

I sit back and wonder at this juncture…if someone asked me to define Friendship, what would I say?

Would there be a particular character sketch I would conjure up; or would it be one photograph that I would produce as an epitome?

I’ve been fortunate to have made friends (and quickly) wherever I went. And as expected, each friend has been different. Each person adding a layer, each personality enhancing mine.

She who let me hide my shyness behind her ‘bindaas’ attitude; he who pushed me forward to fight my own battles. She who knew me like the lines on her own hand and he who made me explore myself like never before. She who cried in my arms and he who wiped my tears. She who shocked me with her mad antics and he who ridiculed me over mine. She who reminded me of my own worth; he who provided the much necessary criticism to keep my feet on the ground. She who chides me over not sticking to the time given and he who makes me lose all sense of time. She who will never expose me and he who will always protect me.

At each bend of the road, I have found a He and She waiting for me. Today I have a wonderful mix of such people who keep an eye out and ears open for when I need them; and yet who never actually need that call. Who just know. Instinctively.

Like that random group chat that repeated its own history and got my stomach aching with so much laughter. Like that surprise package that landed in my postbox, having no sender name and yet speaking clearly through its contents. Like that movie marathon never complete without its last member and like that joke never funny without the third set of eyes as a witness.

Today all these people are across the screen, miles away. And yet this is exactly how I would define Friendship if anyone asked me tonight.

It is that feeling when even an empty room is capable of overflowing with just sheer memories.

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Fruit salad.

29 July 2013.

It is summer time. Is that why I am thinking of fruits?

I love sweets. Is that why I am thinking of a fruit salad?

I can’t put my finger on the exact spot but out on the green strip of lawn, that word suddenly popped into my mind. Caught between the delicious giggles of young children, I remembered when I was 8 years old as well. We used to play this game called Fruit Salad. Back then I think the name fascinated us more than the game. But going over the rules of the game, I realise what a huge lesson that game taught us through such a seemingly simple name.

In short, the game was played in a circle and 3-4 fruit names were alternately given to all the participants. When one particular fruit was called, all bestowed with that name rushed and exchanged places. A person standing in the centre of the circle (perhaps known as the ‘spoon’!) tried to snatch the place of an unfortunate fruit who wasn’t fast enough to cross the diameter of the circle. I remember the real fun in the game, however, lay when ‘Fruit salad’ was called. That was when the entire circle went crazy and switched places.  Screaming and whining, we all fell into place each time amidst much chaos; silenced only with the lesson learnt: ‘A single bowl has place for everyone, no matter how different; and it is only when everyone comes together, that the effect is delicious’.

A life lesson indeed. Today this playground where I find myself is one such fruit bowl. Children of all ethnic backgrounds play together and language really is no barrier. I am an Indian who finds herself teaching an African kid how to share; who exchanges smiles with an Afghani mother; who appreciates the fathering skills of an Iranian man and who offers rides on her back to Pakistani kiddos. And all this happening in a country that is motherland for none of us. Secularism is all right to read in textbooks, but to live it is a wonder. In the past 2 weeks, what started off as a harmless badminton game turned into one of the greatest learning experiences I’ve ever encountered. I have seen people harbour prejudices based on caste, religion and skin colour. I have had that momentary jolt of indecisiveness when someone says he or she belongs to another ethnicity. Thankfully I have been brought up without the blinders. And seeing these kids, I am glad there are more parents walking down this path.

For behind those burkhas and kohl-lined eyes and beyond dark skin, there lies a person just like me.

Behind those different vocabulary sets and a whole new phonological base, there is a mind that thinks just like me.

Why then, do we draw all these boundaries and limit the world for ourselves? I see these children congregate here each evening; their fights comical, their sulks adorable. Their English grammar goes haywire but they manage to get their meaning across. They tease each other but they stand up for each other too. At the year end, everyone will separate and go back to their own countries. Back into those safeguarded boundaries. But I hope they go back with this unconsciously learnt lesson safe in their hearts…

I don’t know if they will remember each other, but I know I will always think of each of them. Not individually but as a collective.

As the fruits in my fruit bowl, making each evening so delicious 🙂

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Calling it a night!

17 June 2013.

I am sitting by the window, clothed in half-light. There is silence all around, not even a blade of grass is moving out of its place. The sky is turning darker by the minute and the heater is bringing warmth amidst the cool night. With my feet curled up beneath me and my nose stuck in a book, I have lost track of time.

That is, until my eyes begin to squint in an effort to find adequate light. Following the words on the page is a task to the eyes and so the book is kept aside. What stretches in front of me now is the fading sunlight, the smoke from a neighbouring house marring the picture and a backdrop provided by a silhouette of trees.

I’m not a day person. I have always favoured the night.

From staying up well past midnight as a baby till studying into the wee hours, the night has always been a friend. When the world stops defining me and dreams come alive. When every rustle outside the window seems a friendly whisper and every creak in the house sounds like a rusty laugh. It is a time when I wake up; to my inner self, to my ultimate concentration and to the endless possibilities that imagination brings with it.

As the moon rises up, having switched duties with the sun, the darkness embraces me. It lures me, it fascinates me. My thoughts flutter into life and I spend so many happy moments weaving them together; transforming them into words; building a picture. It is a time when the impossible seems possible. When every single dream seems a definite reality…

Yes I love the night. Broad daylight makes me conscious but the night illuminates me.

It lets me be.

LittleGirlMoon