My parents arrived last Sunday. At Frankfurt airport, waiting outside gate E of terminal 2, I watched a parade of ethnicities and colours walk past like a Benneton ad. Mom and Dad, trailing this bunch, stood out in my line of vision. They appeared tired but sounded enthusiastic, excited to be in Germany after four years.
On their last visit, in the summer of 2008, Wife was still living in Brussels; their stay was split into three parts, two in Germany, one in Belgium. It was also a short vacation. Dad later noted, as a reflection more than a complaint, that the trip had seemed hurried, with too many places packed into three weeks. This time they’re here for nine weeks, and Dad says he wants to see more of Germany.
The initial days trace a familiar pattern. Dad observes everything keenly, and compares what he sees here with its imagined Indian counterpart. On our drive back from Frankfurt, he marveled at the greenery on both sides and added that this could never exist in India: “they would have chopped off all the forests in no time, and built apartments or hotels in such areas.” (The irony here, which he missed, is that as an engineer he’s frequently involved in such construction projects.) This morning, crossing a telephone booth on a walk to the local supermarket, he praised its elegant design and added that back home “street urchins would have smashed such an unmanned booth in no time.” Mom, following her nature, reserves all attention for her son. When she’s not trying to feed me she wants to know about my health, about that mark on my forearm (a mole, really), about the redness in my eyes (too much time in front a computer, of course).
Dad’s daily routine begins with a walk in the woods, which he finds more “refreshing” than his memory of recent walks in Bangalore’s Cubbon Park, where trees look “burnt-down and dusty from pollution”. He carries in his pocket a slip with our address printed on it, just in case “I get lost and cannot find my way back”. He hasn’t had the occasion to use it yet. In the meantime Mom prepares breakfast, a South Indian dish like uppitu or awalakki, common for them but extraordinary for Wife and me, bread and cereal eaters since years. Then Dad spends time with the newspaper, scans TV channels (mostly German), while Mom finishes her prayers and sits down to read. Soon it is time to cook lunch. After lunch both take a short nap, then there’s tea, and more reading – Dad has been digging through my collection of Economist and Time back issues – or watching TV. Occasionally, Mom calls one of her sisters in Bangalore for a conversation. In the evening, after Wife and I return from work, we sometimes walk to the town center (less than fifteen minutes away) or drive to a nearby place. Later, for dinner, a joint cooking session follows, and I pick up new recipes or techniques from Mom, the resident Masterchef.
Both have been assigned “projects” at home. Dad will help me setup some IKEA furniture we bought recently, and Mom will read to me the Kannada originals of novels I’ve read — or will soon read — in English translations. We started with U.R.Ananthamurthy’s Samskara, and already, after just one chapter, I’m struck by the beauty of sentences in Kannada, and the inadequacy of English to convey its poetic expressions. (I also wish I’d listened to Mom when she tried, during my childhood, to make me practice reading and writing in Kannada. It isn’t too late yet, perhaps, and this exercise in hearing the language may just be the right spark.)
This weekend, a long one in Germany, we’re off to France, for the annual music festival in Belfort we’ve attended many times before. The weather forecast promises sunny days ahead. It’s time to practice our Bonjours and Mercis. And yes, Au Revoir!