It was early in the morning yesterday when I glanced at my phone to check my workout for the day. There was a notification from Google Photos. “Look back on this day last year.” With a start, I realized as the photos showed up that it was on the same Friday last year that Travelling Birdy and I undertook our first long drive with Toopi to Chennai. Has it been a year already?
Last year on July 11, I still remember standing in front of my old office in Bellandur, waiting for a cab to draw up. I could scarcely believe that Birdy and I were finally meeting in India in peace after an acrimonious meeting the last time around. As we got inside the car, my phone flashed a message. I glanced at it before throwing the phone down in frustration to my friend. She saw it, and then gently patted my shoulder. I took a deep breath. We were quiet for a moment. I didn’t want to ruin our reunion by getting angry, but there I was, still annoyed and irritated with that message. “May I please request you to drive Toopi?” Birdy asked, and just like that, we burst out laughing because we found the excessive redundant politeness in that funny. It would be the start of what has been a continuing process of both of us trying to inject humor in situations that would otherwise blow up in anger. Every now and then, we really need to stop taking things or ourselves so seriously.
We would drive Toopi for much longer a couple of days later on our way to Chennai. I don’t like stopping much while driving and I had the best road companion who understood me. We passed cute villages with funny names on the Chennai-Bangalore expressway, (Zoozoovadi, anyone?) and had ice-cream for breakfast even as the waiters looked bemused. About five hours later, we were in Chennai, knocking at the door of our friend’s house in Besant Nagar. Our friend in Chennai, the fearsome Coach as I will call her, introduced us to the cutest dog in Knocky (So named because he has all his teeth knocked out in a street fight) and the mad-as-ever labrador called Diesel, a hunk of dark, black goofiness.
We ate a lot of good food in Mylapore, which was the only place that Birdy insisted she wanted to see after all the work she had done on that area, browsed for books, and then met a very bookish man who regaled us with stories from Tamil movies and poetry from Mary Oliver on Elliot’s Beach.
And, I think, a certain receptionist in Hotel Belstead in Nungambakkam will remember this day as well. You don’t tell me, after I have driven more than 400km through the day, at 10:30PM, which is so not my time, that my room is not yet ready. No, you just don’t do that. You can mess with me at 7AM, and I am very peaceful then. But not after 8PM. I am embarrassed now when I think of my tantrum there because I think I have mellowed a great deal since then, but it remains an enduring travel memory. I obviously had to book at Boutique Hotel Bangkok which ended up being even better.
More memories unwind – strolling through the beautiful temples of Kanchipuram. Having a bajji there in the evening. Driving back where we discover the ‘ragi koozh’ drink that dots the highways in Tamil Nadu. I lock these memories up, safe in my non-digital mind, hoping that one day Google will remind me of these all over again. Some apps do serve as our memory-keepers, and for that, I will be grateful to social media.
As my mind traveled back in time the whole of today, I was struck by the number of people I love who are not in Bangalore. Today, I bid farewell to yet another friend who is going back to Abu Dhabi. We sat in a cafe called D View which really did have a view of our beloved Bangalore, and watched the skies turn dark and moody. We listened to songs, discussed movies, and talked about the frailties of marriage.
As the evening drew to a close, and I dropped my friend, the Happiness Ambassador as he calls himself, off at the Metro Station, I was left with the sense of another ending. We hugged, wondered when we would meet again, and then as I sat in Toopi, I glanced at my phone. A message has arrived that my new passport has been dispatched. It seems to have a very James-Bondish number of 777 at the end. I glanced at it and smiled. How wonderful is it that on this day of journeys that something arrives that reminds us that journeys are forever? That some people are forever. That some memories are forever. Another journey is set to begin. My beloved Universe loves looking after me. July 2018 is a Number 9 month. My passport numbers end in 9. It’s the month of new beginnings.
We will meet again all of you, the ones who are my dearest friends, my wonderful family. We are on this road together. We will take flights, buses, and drive our cars. But we will continue our journeys.
Thank you for being there, Happiness Ambassador, and accepting every bit of my moodiness and crappiness. You have seen me at my worst, and you still choose to have me as your friend. Such people, I realize, are the ones I want to hold onto in life. And these are the ones I consider precious. May your next phase in Abu Dhabi grant you peace, light, and new beginnings.
With all my love, be well.