After the return



The weather statistics reveal that the four weeks we spent away from Germany were the warmest in this country in a long time. On New Year’s eve, when we were near a beach in Chennai enjoying a warm breeze at 25 degrees Celsius, Munich, at 18 degrees, was not far behind. (It was a good time to buy winter jackets, which the German retailers were selling at a 30% discount.) But the weather charts tell a different story after our return. Mercury dipped as our plane touched down in Frankfurt, and since then the cold has been relentless. Shovelling snow next to my car the other day I noticed my neighbour grinning at me. He was standing by his car, watching me struggle with a large mound of snow. “The weather was waiting for you to return from vacation,” he said. I laughed with him, holding back an urge to hurl a handful of snow at his nose.

If India was like a hot and busy bazaar full of colour and noise, Germany, with its crystalline white orderliness and silence, feels like a large deep freezer. You survive only because you’ve been in the deep freezer before, and this familiarity offers much-needed comfort. But the silence, which adds to the chill, is hard to bear, and the frozen landscape hangs outside the window like a Timo Aime painting. No one knocks on the door all day – the newspaper guy, the flower woman, the servant, the ironing man, the driver, the gas cylinder distributor: no one. There are only a handful of phone calls, to and from friends here and family back home. The roads are empty, almost. At the supermarket everything is in its place; even the potato bags are neatly stacked in a pile. Only the bakery shows signs of life, with brief hints of movement and conversation.

All this seems incongruous, as both heart and mind are still in India: at home, in the temples, the concert halls, the homes of friends and relatives, the beach, the autorickshaws and buses, the restaurants and shops, the bustling bursting streets. The first few weeks after a long trip to India are always strangely dislocating, but this time the response has been unusually intense. I’m still writing my way towards figuring out why.

* * *

There was little space for reading and writing during the trip, which is the excuse I now fall back on for missing a couple of messages to readers here. Firstly, thank you all for an interesting 2012 – your posts and comments kept me going all along! And wish you all a wonderful new year ahead.


12 Replies to “After the return”

  1. Welcome home. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts as you process the trip, and your feelings on returning. Sorry about the snow and cold!

  2. Sometimes, when I have had too much noise, too many calls and too many questions from inquiring neighbours, I imagine living in a Scandinavian country (why Scandinavian, I do not know), walking the streets alone, subsisting on coffee and sandwiches and spending long stretches of time with no one but myself. And at such times, I always go back and read your post Week and Weekend.

    1. SJ, ‘Week and Weekend’ is one of my favourite posts – your comment made me reread it, and it triggered many memories.

      I’m sure my response will be similar after a longer exposure to noise and intrusive society.

      On sandwiches: Veg or non-Veg?

      1. It is one of my favorite posts too. I think there is something so fulfilling about one’s own company, but Indians tend to belittle such an attitude. Almost as if you should feel guilty for not needing people in a country that has so many of them, everywhere.

        As for sandwiches, non-veg.

  3. “Germany, with its crystalline white orderliness and silence, feels like a large deep freezer. You survive only because you’ve been in the deep freezer before, and this familiarity offers much-needed comfort. But the silence, which adds to the chill, is hard to bear, and the frozen landscape hangs outside the window like a Timo Aime painting. No one knocks on the door all day – the newspaper guy, the flower woman, the servant, the ironing man, the driver, the gas cylinder distributor: no one. There are only a handful of phone calls, to and from friends here and family back home. The roads are empty, almost. At the supermarket everything is in its place; even the potato bags are neatly stacked in a pile. Only the bakery shows signs of life, with brief hints of movement and conversation.”

    From what I have read about North Korea, you might as well be describing that country. Well, except for the potato bags which apparently would have been incongruous in North Korea … and the well-stocked (I would assume) bakery.

    But yes, India does bring out those very conflicting emotions out of us, ain’t it? We kinda dislike the noises, the knocks on the door, etc but then we miss it when we are away as well (if only for a short duration – right after we return).

    1. North Korea has no heating in the buildings, I learned. Another big (and important) difference to the environment here.

      Those emotions you mention also evolve over the years – this time I loved all bits I experienced, which hasn’t happened before.

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