By Sonya Rehman
Since it had been years that I had visited my mother’s side of the family in India, I decided that it was high time that I made a trip to Bangalore. Things had felt right somehow. I filed for my visa and soon after receiving the stamp of approval, booking my ticket and throwing a couple of bare essentials into a sturdy knapsack, I was off for one entire month to the other side of the border.
India reminded me of Pakistan in more than many ways. However, the only difference was that I felt people were somehow more ‘accepting’. How so, you may ask? On one of my many excursions down to Commercial Street (a mammoth shopping area where everything from spices to Nike gear is sold) I came across something that made me stop dead in my tracks. On one of the many streets, stood a small Church. Two shops away (on the same street) stood a Mosque and then to my incredulousness, adjacent to it, a Hindu Temple. I was mesmerized. The devotees of each walked in and out. Side by side. No one raised a fist, no one exchanged words of hatred with the other, nor did the people of each faith act oblivious and/or indifferent towards the other. So this is what acceptance looks like, I thought to myself, tranquil, quiet and non-threatening.
Being in India and on my own most of the time, I began to realize little things about myself, certain likes that I had never known existed and probably never had the chance to experience and appreciate. One such was motorbike rides. Yes, yes I know that paints a hilarious picture but let me reiterate an experience that had my heart soaring sky-high and beyond for twenty minutes straight! A distant cousin of mine rounded up eleven of her girlfriends in her apartment late one Saturday evening to hit one of the city’s most well-known clubs that was famous for its Dj who spun fabulous House and R n’ B beats. I was absolutely thrilled! Now since a majority of women drive scooters and motorbikes in Bangalore, I had no choice but to perch up on one, driven by a petite girl with large Indian eyes and long curly hair by the name of Meera. Little old conservative, sharmeeli-tim-tim me who used to be scared senseless when her friends drove faster than 60 km/hour (in a car) and who avoided Joyland’s rides like the plague, was actually delirious and giggling – as the bike tore down the open roads of Bangalore! I felt the wind whip against my face as I had my eyes tightly shut, grinning from ear to ear – secretly wishing the road had more speed breakers (that Meera actually ‘flew’ over), twists and turns. I truly was in paradise. “This is something, I yelled into Meera’s ear; “I could definitely get used to”, as she chuckled and shouted back, “that’s exactly what I told myself the first time around babe”!
The club that night was fun, but all I really wanted to do…was to get back on Meera’s bike and soar.
The South Indians have a very amusing way of wobbling their heads when they converse with you. Yes that’s right. Where we nod, they wobble. Which is, mind you, quite delightful and addictive. “Maam, you want to go to Vasantnagar is it so?” said one of the auto rickshaw drivers cheerfully one Sunday morning as I had stood by the curb of the road near my grandfather’s house on Palace Road. I was waiting to be taken to a cyber café near Vasantnagar (a small street just two streets away from Palace Road).
The auto rickshaw driver’s head had wobbled furiously as he asked and much to my surprise I wobbled my head back and stated the affirmative. Wherever I went after that day and whosoever I talked to, I wobbled my head to and fro in small rapid movements as my grandfather looked on in horror. As they say, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’, and so I did. I even picked up a bit of Hindi along the way with a bit of the accent and went prancing around the city pronouncing ‘really’ as ‘re-yay-lee’ and substituting ‘what’s up’ to ‘what’s up YA!’
Divya, my cousin, thought I truly had lost it and refused to take me out with her friends unless and until I dropped the head-wobbling bit, which she said made me look moronic. “But you don’t understand the power of the head-wobbler”! I said wide-eyed, as she looked on, poker-faced, obviously accustomed to my retarded statements. “It’s like magic! They think you’re one of them!” I shouted, my hands flying in the air in exasperation. “Okay then no more bike rides”, she said flatly as she sorted out her CD’s on the bed. Hit below the belt, I winced. “Sadist” I muttered, as she smirked whilst popping a blue CD carefully into its cover and clamping it shut.
The days had whizzed by – I was due to be back in Lahore in nine more days. My heart had plummeted a little as the realization had hit me, because this had felt like home too. Waking up to the call for Fajr prayers from a nearby mosque and accompanying my grandfather on his long early morning walks, the sound of the Ko’al bird as it koo-kooed all day, Anu, the maid’s spinach and daal roti’s and all the people I had met along the way not to mention countless Aunts, Uncles and cousins who had welcomed me with open arms. My trip, I felt, had filled a certain gap within me that I never knew had ever existed.
Sunday, Daily Times