2019: One Hundred and Eighty

Another exchange tale beckons. It’s Dubai Summer Surprises, so you’re getting all these surprises for a reason (as am I, I promise).

I’m very attached to my suitcases. I only purchased one for myself last year, but prior to that, my parents bought me suitcases I would use on my travels. I travelled alone a lot, and I always have – so my luggage had to be something I was comfortable accessing, but also one that had the ability to stuff everything my parents wanted to send to India, and then everything my family wanted to send back to Dubai. I was a 5-year-old express courier service connecting places at a rate far more expensive than other courier services would charge. But I was more entertaining, so people didn’t mind.

My earliest memories stem from sharing spaces in Black and Navy Blue Delseys we owned. Shaped exactly like the old Delsey logo, those luggages had these handles on the side. We stuck RAO on the bottom to identify the bag, but there were always two: one dad’s and one mom’s, and a black Delsey duffel bag that was incredibly for all the paraphernalia we carried. Then I got a dark great Delsey soft-case luggage: a MASSIVE bag, which lasted a while. I identified that at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, because someone was stealing it away and had mistaken it for their own. That was a proud moment. I was 7 at the time. Or 8.

My dad’s a real suitcase aficionado. We’ve got different sizes of suitcases in our house, for different purposes, largely because my dad knows what different kinds of travel require. As a family, I ended up inheriting a business suitcase my dad once used, just because it was downright amazing. And for a while, we were all Victorinox users. Those Swiss Army/Swiss Original construction that were extremely durable, and launched luggage volume extensions far before others, we were instantly in love. All black suitcases, with TSA Swiss safety locks, and identifying ribbons (largely yellow, sometimes none), we became a family that used business luggage for personal travel – and loved it. They were classy.

My dad’s always had an eye for bags. He bought us some really high-quality, long-lasting stuff. Including my own school bagpack, which literally lasted me 7 years of school and is at home even today – I use it for sleepovers and such.

My mom’s always been more functional. Those Victorinox bags were heavy, and they have odd volumes – which aren’t enough for my mom at times. She broke the mould & moved off to American Tourister and back to Delsey. She even broke the mould of having black luggages, buying an electric blue one that is so easily distinguishable, it’s amazing.

I’m a mix-breed. I like functionality and lightweight stuff, but durability matters to me.

My old luggage tore. I denied it. But it tore. It was old. The handle was tearing too, and you could legitimately pretty much see into the suitcase without opening any zips, if you looked through the corner. We discovered this only while checking in at Bombay, and my dad shot me a look saying “that’s gotta go”.

It hit me then.

I was definitely going to let go of my suitcase once we got to Dubai. It was definitely going to get replaced for free, given its condition and given its lifetime warranty, but, it was going.

That’s countless flights: as a minor, as a major too. Innumerable cities. Camps. Memories.

One stands out though. My mom placed a googly-eyed sticker on the edge of my luggage, just before I went to college. It was her way of saying, wherever you go, I’ll be watching over you.

That was going away too.

In its place is a new bag.

A Victorinox. Slightly smaller. Black. Squarish. With a TSA Swiss lock.

It’s here.

We’re putting a googly-eyed sticker now too. And as we do, I’ll remember my parents are always watching over me irrespective of which city I’m in. But I’ll also remember that old Victorinox bag, which isn’t getting to see me go to these new places I’m about to visit.

I’ll miss you.

Here’s to you, new bag. Time to go places.


2019: One Hundred and Seventy Nine

I get attached to my electronics really quick. I’ve written about my pangs of separation at various points in the past. Having to give away things, especially electronics that I have used over long periods of time, or have forged memories with. Letting go of my laptop last year (just before the beginning of my 4th year in University), hit me really hard. That was the first laptop I picked out for myself – with my dad giving me minimal assistance, just nudging me. But he had encouraged me to figure out specifications and exactly the kind of machine I desired before we went into the store, and buy what I wanted (within our budget). That machine was a beauty. It was everything: my first memorial drafted, my first memorial submitted, my first fiery e-mail sent out. It was my first all-night binge-watching, my first e-book speed-reading.

It meant so much, that I struggled to see it was past its prime, and I tried reviving it three times, to no avail.

The machine that came after that, which I used throughout my fourth year. That was something else entirely. We chose it with the same process, but naturally, my usage had changed. I was a heavier user now. I spent more time on screen. I needed a lighter machine.

But wow. That machine, I developed no emotional attachment to. It failed me numerous times, when I needed it the most. I traveled far and wide for its service, as you may know. I resorted to using others’ PCs.

We found an exchange offer and I now own a new laptop. I will miss you, my Lenovo experiment. But you were just that – an attempt to try a touchscreen, flexible laptop out. I will love you, but you were not the one for me.

To my new Dell Vostro, let’s make some memories. I will love you. I will care for you, and I will treat you right. We’re going to do some incredible things in the next year, and I hope you get to see all of it.

2019: One Hundred and Seventy Eight

You see, my mom relies on me for entertainment a lot.

I mean that in the most literal sense anyone can mean that in. My birth meant that my mother was gifted not only with a baby son, but a device she could use for her own entertainment however she desired. To some parents, children are sociological experiments. To some parents, children carry the burden of their expectations. To my mother, I was better than any film she had ever watched, because she had the opportunity to Produce, Direct, Guest Star, and Promote me.

Basically, she did whatever she felt would result in the greatest entertainment value. Think of me as a TV show now. My mother, as a Director, ensured that I would receive the highest possible IMdB rating imaginable. There would be no Rotten Tomatoes, only nice Ripe ones. For example, my mother wanted music: therefore I learnt the piano. My mother wanted someone to fight with (she argued with her sister a lot back in the day, playful stuff): I became a lawyer. My mother wanted comic relief: therefore I fell down on my butt while trying to sit on a chair. My mother had demands that I fulfilled. I used to get irritated easily with her antics – like her tickling. That meant that it had the most entertainment value for her.

I’ve learnt a lot of stuff just because she sat opposite me and asked me questions. Or engaged in conversation and wanted entertainment at the end of it. It’s been good fun.

Aside from this, she relies on me for traditional entertainment a lot too. I’m often the reason she binge-watches shows, or speed-reads a book. She trusts my recommendations and often ends up finishing shows before me, which is saying something. I trust her recommendations too, which is why I do pretty much what she says (except watching WhatsApp forward videos), because they’re pretty exciting.

Whenever I come to town, we do two things together. Binge-watch a show, and watch a movie in a theatre. We’ve even been the only two in an entire theatre hall once.

Today we ticked off one of those boxes by watching Modern Family after lunch while sitting on the sofa.

Time to tick off the other one, Amma.

2019: One Hundred and Seventy Seven

I always love visiting my parents’ workplaces.

You see, as a family, the three of us have always made it a point to take an active interest in any space we inhabit. Whether this is a hostel, a temporary room, a hotel room, a mountain peak, a sleeping bag, or even a desk, there’s a large amount of fascination in getting to know each others’ environment.

It’s been this way since I was a child. I used to head to my dad’s workplace to draw while he worked. His office was super chill with me hanging out back then, and everyone found a child in the office a golden opportunity to take breaks from work. It’s also the sight of my most famous piece of art, “The Home”, which is complete with scenery (please refer this if you want to know more), and some of my favourite photographs. Including me sitting opposite dad with him in a suit, and me sitting on top of our car. His old office had amazing restaurants very close by, including Fuddruckers, where I (And then half of Dubai) celebrated birthdays.

I’ve done the same with my mom. Her old office in Dubai used to be in a Caterpillar building. I even visited her at the World Trade Center once, because there was this AMAZING auto/car show happening that my dad managed to take me for – and we went up and picked mom up after that. This other time, I think GITEX happened there, and I visited my dad’s set up for that too. Super fun. I continued this in Bangalore as well, finding ways to entertain myself in a clinic was quite the challenge. Meeting people my mom worked with was always fun though.


What I’ve loved the most about it is that you get a feel for what they both do. You also understand what makes them stressed, what makes them smile for half of the day when they’re away from you (when you’re at home, that is).

More than much else, I think you gain a deeper appreciation for them. That’s priceless.

2019: One Hundred and Seventy Six

There’s this really cool phenomenon I’ve noticed since I’ve come to Dubai called the driver-pedestrian nod. I feel like this happens in countries where there is mutual respect for the lives of both drivers and creatures crossing the road. By which I don’t just mean humans, but also every other form of living being crossing the road. I’d also like to insert another condition to this phenomenon. It works best where there is a respect for the noise levels and general sound pollution in any given space, and a culture that wishes to protect the ears of all bystanders in the best possible way. Basically no honking. Essentially, I don’t think this works as well in Bangalore. While I might be biased, I’ve driven on those roads (recently) and I frequently jaywalk (with several others), so I know why people hate pedestrians, and people generally dislike drivers.

It works so well in Dubai though.

I think this stems from the driving culture over here. The process of getting a license is ridiculously strict – people have to enroll with institutions which are Government approved, subject to which there is a fixed curricula of sorts (in terms of how many classes you take, what sort of classes they are, how many road hours you need, how many solo road hours you need) after which you give the test. Your first three attempts are on a single payment, because people usually fail atleast twice. There’s a discipline to the driving instruction and the driving here, and the fines for breaking the law are nuts. Nobody dares to do it. In addition to that, on the pedestrian side, the fine for jaywalking is ridiculous too. Nobody’s going to do that either. There are also distinctly marked pedestrian crossings which are constructed very close to each other – maybe at most, 1 kilometer apart, so you’ll definitely find a crossing spot for yourself.

All of this has resulted in the default rule of pedestrians having right of way.

Where there is confusion, however, pedestrians turn to face the driver, who then nods and gestures with the hand that’s on the steering wheel: very calmly signalling to cross. That’s the phenomenon to which I refer. It’s so powerful. In one singular gesticulation, the driver communicates so much. “I respect your life. I am in a hurry, but you are in a hurry too. You have the right of way. I can continue driving because I am likely to reach my destination quicker than you. This is despite the heat outside and my general frustration with the traffic. I will not redirect my anger at you. Instead I will drink water as you cross. And then move.”

It’s beautiful.

However, pedestrians here don’t seem to care where drivers let them by.

As a result, I have instituted the pedestrian-driver nod.

Wherever someone gives me the right of way, I turn to them, smile, and nod. It’s equally powerful, and it communicates so much to them.

“Thank you for not running over me. Thank you for not moving as soon as I moved one inch away from your car. Thank you for not hitting my ankles with your tyres.”

It’s beautiful.

2019: One Hundred and Seventy Four

Today was my mother’s birthday. Which naturally calls for a grand celebration.

My mum’s birthday has always been a very special family occasion. She’s basically a young child at heart (and in appearance too), so the birthday is an added excuse to demand the attention of both males in the house. Of course, we always give it to her. Anything to see your mother happy, right?

Over the past few years, we’ve seen various avatars of her birthday. There was the birthday bash she planned and executed for herself (invites included) inviting about 80 people. That was actually quite the scene. Right toward the fag end of my Grade 10 Board examinations, with my dad in Dubai, she learnt how to design her own invitation (which she printed and circulated personally to people), scouted venues, figured out a cake place and a menu, and a theme, on top of that, assigned roles to family members, and had everything laid out perfectly for the party. It was a really fun day. That was the first ever time I spoke in front of a crowd giving a toast where I ripped her to shreds.

Good times.

Then there was the birthday that we celebrated last year. Just the three of us at Bollywood Park in Dubai for an entire evening. It’s pretty rare that the three of us are together for my parents’ birthdays (although we end up together for my birthday really often), so that was really special as well. We did activities as a family, enjoying attractions themed like movies from the yesteryears and the present day.

Then there was the birthday where my dad and I bought her an iPod I had been eyeing. Using miles. Which means we bought ourselves an iPod.

Then there was yesterday. A birthday buffet, spent in the company of people we enjoy keeping company with as a family (another rarity). I could’ve slept, woken up & eaten some more food. It was heavenly. A real quiet evening, spent with all eyes on the birthday girl AND I got the opportunity to crack jokes at her expense through the evening. There’s not much more I could ask for.

2019: One Hundred and Seventy Three

I napped in the car today.

Honestly, there’s not much you can compare to a nap in a moving vehicle. If you give me a blanket (I don’t need a pillow), and leave the AC on in the vehicle, I genuinely believe I can get a good 8 hours, without much difficulty. What wakes me up isn’t moving on a hump, or even a sudden brake/accelerator shift, but rather when we come to a standstill. Even if it’s for 15-20 seconds at a traffic signal that’s halted for too long, I feel that. It disrupts my sleep.

Maybe it’s the rocking motion of vehicles I’m really in love with.

I wonder how I’ll survive driving full-time.

2019: One Hundred and Seventy One

I left the United Arab Emirates when I was 10 years old, on June 30, 2008. I left, knowing that my visa would have a big red “Cancelled” stamp right across it, and I wouldn’t be able to access the country the way I did for the past 10 years of my life – literally all of my life at that point. I left on an Emirates flight with my parents.

Far before we moved, on one of my earlier trips to Bangalore, my dad took me to a few schools. He had prepared a shortlist of sorts, but wanted the final decision to be mine: for me to pick a school I was happier at, based on the first impression it created. Schools in Bangalore were so grand, they had this grandeur about them – their campuses were massive, there were swarms of people everywhere, they had just about every facility one could imagine. I knew I would really enjoy my life in the Bangalore schools I had seen. However, the thought of losing the comfort of the friends I had here, and the school routine I had settled into in Dubai, was a little unsettling. What my parents and I were most concerned about was how I’d adapt to the new crowd, but also, how I’d manage to pass time in a 1.5 hour bus ride to school, when I had previously lived 600 metres away from my school and could walk back in under 10 minutes if I wanted to.

You see, my school was my home. I was a lifer at the school, I knew that myself. Dubai Scholars, where I studied till Grade 5, was not going to be a school I was ever going to leave if we continued to live in the UAE. We joined the school because my mum’s boss’ wife taught HKG over there (she ended up being my class teacher only – which allowed mom to have more eyes on me than usual), but I had really blossomed into a fun 10 year old, looking back – in large part because of my school. My friends circle at home was the same as the people I spent time in school with – we literally went together everywhere.

It was fantastic. The activities were great, the concerts were always super fun. The field trips were the best field trips: to the beach, to parks, to shopping malls, to 5-10 dirham stores.

And I met the coolest people. I met people who I was continuously surprised by, every day that I showed up to school. Who made me really happy to be in school every morning, and whose evenings I was super curious about. I spent time in the company of people who enjoyed the simpler things: like Caesar’s pizza, and a nice set of doughnuts. It made me really happy.

While my family’s destiny meant I continued to visit the UAE, I had no touch with any of my school classmates. We were separated before the age of the new social media, and only connected via old e-mail IDs that were now defunct, or on chatrooms that no longer existed. Aside from becoming virtual friends on facebook and vaguely knowing what we were upto, I had no idea what each of them was doing, personally. I was only in touch with 2 people who continued to be in the UAE. Two of my best friends. The others had relocated, and whenever I visited, I never saw reason to go back to school.

I did visit once in Grade 9 – where I went till school so I could pick my friend up, and also meet some of the administrative staff and some teachers, and then once in Year 12, again, to pick the same friend up.

Not much had changed, facility wise.

On this trip, one of the two friends I stayed in touch with told me about a reunion that was happening, and told me I could join. It would be a fun “surprise” for everyone, he said. I was super excited, so I said yes, instantly. However, a few days later, I wondered if I would know anyone in the crowd over there. Moreover, would anyone know me? Forget knowing me. There is so much context in their lives I’ve missed out on, and vice versa. What if we’ve changed completely.

Yet I went.

Best decision I’ve made.

They had rented out a party hall in someone’s apartment complex. And there was the bare minimum aerated beverages. Aside from that, t’was just enough seating arrangements to accommodate everyone and really catch up through conversation than much else.

I had a whale of a time. Managed to catch up with everyone, and really recall all the time I spent with them in school – where we went after, and what all transpired broadly in our lives ever since. We caught up with Grade 5 gossip also.

We also played musical chairs (I came second), and ended up ordering pizza (which I refused, would you believe).

I was welcomed back with open arms. Like a friend quipped, “Scholars is family”

It really is. 10 years may have passed, but nothing has changed.

2019: One Hundred and Seventy

There’s this place in Dubai called La Mer that I really, really like. The name itself makes me very happy, it’s a literal translation of “the beach” from French, which brings a smile to my face every time I hear about it. It’s quite literally a boardwalk they’ve constructed along the beach, so you can play in the sand and touch the water and soak in that awesome beach feeling, but there are literally a 100 types of food/shopping outlets you could go check out if the sun is scorching or if you’re done with the beach for the day. The walk is phenomenal, it’s a very picturesque setting, and it’s got the coolest vibe I have seen.

The vibe stems from the amazing lighting, and the speakers they’ve installed around the walkway which plays really great “bounce”-style music. So fun.

Here’s a glimpse: