Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Rolling Stone’s Moss: The Chronicles Of Anicka – Memoirs Of A Chocolate Daughter

The dictionary mandates that I go on in order when I say ‘Chronicle’ but then I have to live up to my image of a rebel sometimes. So The Chronicles will be presented in no particular order. Having established that, it is befitting that the first story be dedicated to my European mother.

ZB was the project manager on the first of the projects in a set of 4 or 5 that were going to be executed. And from the little that I knew of her through phone calls and e-mails, I imagined her to be a hard taskmaster…someone who barely smiles and is driven beyond belief. The image of the ice queen may just have flashed across my mind once or twice.

 

All that changed the moment we landed in Bratislava. We had no clue what ZB looked like and had to rely on her identifying us. Not too difficult considering the fact that we were two of the only three brown skinned passengers were on the flight from Munich to Bratislava.

ZB easily marked out the only Indian woman on that flight and we received a warm welcome in Bratislava. The weather’s welcome wasn’t that kind with the tropical visitors landing into a temperature of four degrees below zero. But then we had been warned.

She assumed the role of caretaker from that moment. She had already bought us some fruits, chocolates and water (rare and a commodity, notice how I don’t put the two words together) to keep in our hotel rooms. She asked us if we would want to go out for dinner and look around if we were not too tired, she could drive us. We were only gladdened by the thought and ZB offered to wait for as long as it took us to settle down in our rooms and get ready to step out.

ZB then took us to the Christmas market in the central square. She also took us to the Slovak Pub on Market Street and our first ever meal in Slovakia ended up being their national dish – Halusky (pronounced Ha-loo-sh-ki). All this in our first four hours in Slovakia!

And all this while, as also over the next two months, she sought to understand Indian culture from us. Later on during our stay, ZB would have long lunch conversation with me and another Indian colleague, who had joined us in January and was married too, about Indian culture, parenting, arranged marriages. Sometimes ZB and I would chat after I would login from home and she would ask me questions about my marriage plans, religion etc and for once I could talk about all that without the fear of being misjudged. I would confide my deepest fears in her and she would give me advice from her experience.

ZB pretty much accompanied us on every office lunch. This became a sort of joke around the office, every time the five of us would start readying ourselves for lunch. We were among the youngest people in the office – all four of us under 25 – and ZB was over 45. They used to call us her kindergarten and would tell her to make us all ties our scarves together and keep our fingers on our lips while walking.

I have never seen anyone with such an objective approach to work as ZB. If she knew there was no work for any of us and we would be languishing our time in office, she would march us all out and drive us to a castle or somewhere like that. She would tell us stories of her country, her childhood in communist Slovakia and her family. We would sing Indian songs for her – film songs, ghazals, Kannada songs – and she would listen intently though she never understood what any of it meant. In fact we have sung ‘Panchchi Nadiya Pawan ke Jhonke’ (a song we chose for its reference to borders and how some things transcend them) almost 4 or 5 times on various occasions. And we gladly obliged. It was only our pleasure to sing for her.

It is because of ZB that I even have friends outside of my work in Slovakia. She introduced us to her wonderful sons and I have the privilege of calling them as my friends now (in fact you’ll hear a story on JB, the elder, soon). She also made it a point to introduce us to people at the Slovakia office who were outside of our line of work. And it was one of those people, my friend Rado, who christened me as Anicka (pronounced Ani-ch-ka). He thought Indians had complicated names (Anupama included). And so I became Anicka in Slovakia from that day on.

I have so many fond memories of ZB that this space will not do justice to it – memories of 6 AM messages she sent to me just so I could witness real snow in Bratislava on my windowsill, of how she wanted me to see the place they lived in for 15 years – where real snow fell, not dirty city snow – and was only too thankful that JB drove us there, of her telling me about Bratislava in summer and how she wanted me to visit in summer, of going over to her place to cook some Indian food for the family and then talking till 2 AM over cups of tea just like at home (in fact their tea was ordered straight from Darjeeling), of her hunting a cone of Henna down in far away Bratislava (it bore a Rajasthan address) because she wanted it applied and we were too happy to tattoo her palms with it (her skin, sadly, didn’t take the colour)…every day was a new page in the memory book when she was around.

A few days before we left, ZB took me and my other lady colleague shopping in Parndorf, Austria. I was way too excited about being able to pick up Tommy merchandise and we generally had a gala time in the discount sale town. Before leaving the place, ZB suggested we have some coffee and we walked to the coffee shop. And while we waited for the order, ZB pulled out a paper bag with a Tommy T-shirt inside and said, “This is for my chocolate daughter.” I can only remember but not express how touched I was at the gesture. In one moment it had all figured itself out. We really must have been family in another life.

The day I was to leave Slovakia for the year, JB the elder one, took me out for a farewell party. Earlier in the afternoon, I had made some Payasam for everyone in the office and burnt an assortment of Indian songs on a CD complete with an explanation document for some of the colleagues there. I had also attached small post-it notes to each CD with a personal message.

I had told ZB in her message that very few people in the world had the privilege of having two mothers and I was one of them…that I was going to miss her dearly and was thankful to her for everything. I really was going to miss her.

It wasn’t until that night when JB and I were walking to a music club that I realized what it had meant to her and to both of us. She told me she was glad she hadn’t read the message in office because she had cried all the way to home. She told me I should know I have family in Slovakia and I should visit whenever I wanted and I would be welcome home.

And that was the biggest present she ever gave me…family in an alien land. For not once in almost 3 months did I feel lost or lonely, not once. And I have no one but her to thank for that.

It is no surprise I cried too, on my way out of the country. Somewhere it hurt to leave and I will not hide the fact that sometimes I miss the place and people like one would miss home. I really do.

7 Thinkers Pondered:

Nirupama said...

Could feel the experience while reading D. When you came back from the trip and narrated the experience, it was like seeing Europe through your eyes :)
Love the way you have narrated it here as well :)

mentalie said...

like you say yourself, you lucky girl :) to me, it's always what lies at the heart of travel - the kindness of absolute strangers and the way they sometimes become family...

Anonymous said...

This is a nice recollection of good times spent in an alien country. Glad that somebody is talking good about this forsaken lost country and its people. The warmth you must have felt meeting these splendid people is getting reflected in every word of post.

Have been reading you blog for a while, and lady, at times I just feel its getting more descriptive than the turbo-charged emotional account it used to be. Had loved the way you brought out your true feelings and insights, than just mentioning what happened. Reading your earlier posts, especially the one titled "Budapest In Budapest" makes such a pleasurable travel memoir, this comes as a bit pale in comparison. Am sure you have much much more to offer to the world out of your travel and inquisitive nature. Would follow you to soak myself in the energy you radiate out through these fantastics posts. Carry on!

Siddharth Kumar Singh said...

I envy you now for being able to meet people different from our culture.... I would love to travel around the world and meet people of varied cultural ethnicity. Somehow I find it intriguing as to how different and yet how similar we all are!
Soon, hopefully! :)

Rahul said...

this story gave me quite a bit of nostalgia. I had a chance to live in a small town in Vermont for few months. the first morning, Kathy came to pick me up for the office with her mini truck, half of which filled with household junk. and the rest of the story goes quite similar to this one. I took her as my official mentor after returning (kind of corporate mother) and still when we have our monthly interactions, its always more about the fall and the photography and less about the professional goals :)
so thanks :)

Monika Meltzerova said...

Anupama,

these are wonderful words, I am so glad you have all the wonderful memories.

And - as a proud holder of one of your burnt CDs with Indian music - I have to tell you - every time I listen to it..it is like hearing you singing in that Indian restaurant in the Bratislava city center:-)

With love
Monika

Anupama said...

Hey Niru,

Thanks Sweety :)

Hey Mentalie,

Couldn't agree with you more on that...it's the people that are at the core of travel and make it special!

Hey Anonymous,

Whoever you are (and this time I am not sure I know it) I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I only wish I had a name to thank. It is when you tell me that you liked something better and come back to me on how you think it's not the same anymore that writing assumes a new meaning. The fact that someone cares and observes it all so closely...you have made a difference to me along with the others who read my writing.

Love you all :) and do keep coming back and telling me what matters...

Hey Siddharth,

Amen to that :)

Hey Rahul,

It is nice to hear an echo of thoughts from you...it makes me believe that angels still exist...

Hey Monika,

Thank you so so much for that comment, you have no idea how much that meant to me! And you are special...you know that. Every time I look at that greeting card it still makes me cry the way it did the day you gave it to me. I am convinced we knew each other better in another lifetime and that to me is special!