(Something I wrote a few months ago and never posted for some reason)
Come October, and my husband and I will have completed two years in London. We arrived as October was drawing to an end, gracefully making way for the colder, darker months of the long English Winter that lay ahead. The day our plane touched down at Heathrow was bright and sunny with just a hint of warmth in the air – one of those rare gifts October bequeaths before passing on.
As our friends drove us through the tony streets of Kensington and Chelsea to the temporary accommodation we had been provided with, I felt only the mildest twinges of melancholy. The gorgeous white terraced houses, the riotous basket of flowers that hung outside the red doors of local pubs, the Chanel boutique at Old Brompton Street and the newness of a city beckoning to be explored expanded and fill the emptiness that had been in my stomach since boarding the flight 14 hours earlier in Chennai.
It was short lived. After a week of watching day time television in our tiny hotel room and eating Spicy Bean Burgers I was depressed. Long walks around my beautiful surroundings did little to lift my mood. I felt like a Victorian waif with my nose pressed up against the glittering glass facades of the bijou boutiques and gated communities. This was not my pettai and the newness that had till then enamoured me now seemed alien and inaccessible. I yearned for familiar streets and the whisper of known tongues in my ear. I was homesick.
The situation didn’t improve even after we moved in to our new home – a decidedly English semi-detached in one of North-West London’s many Dickensian suburbs. Despite the sickly green carpets in the bedrooms and the tiny galley kitchen, the idea of living in an ‘upstairs-downstairs’ house as we called it was hard to resist. The overgrown garden and damp attic completed our image of the proper English home.
With 6 weeks to go before our belongings arrived from India, I was all alone in a large, empty house with a pressure cooker, some sambhar podi and Leo Coffee powder to remind me of Chennai. Calls home were dictated by the minutes left on phone cards and free internet access at the local library meant endless queues for half hour slots. I had never felt more cut off from home before.
During my second week in our empty and increasingly cold home (poor insulation and a maladroit furnace), a close friend dropped by to see how I was. Cold, lonely and with no television or music to fill the silence that pervaded our home, I’m sure I seemed rather pathetic. The next day they brought over their spare television and I wasted no time in having cable installed.
I cannot describe the joy I felt as I surfed through the 500 plus channels we could access and stumbled across Vectone – a Sri Lankan Tamizh channel. While most of their air time was devoted to newscasts from Colombo and shows answering the legal queries of local immigrant population, every afternoon from 1:00pm to 2:00pm they would broadcast Isai Thendral; 60 minutes of Kodambakkam’s best. It was heaven.
The phone could ring all it liked. The Queen could invite herself over for tea. Hugh Grant could ask me out. But for that one hour I was oblivious to the goings on of the outside world. All that existed were the familiar strains of long ago and much loved actors, actresses and a hundred extras doing their thing in the verdant hills of Ootucamund.
As I heard the songs that had been the soundtrack to my life I was overwhelmed with nostalgia. Each track brought with it memories, snippets of conversations and snapshots of my childhood and adolescence. Like a balm, it soothed my soul. Even the annoyingly chirpy anchor and her rhyming banter couldn’t deter me from watching the show.
Soon, 50 boxes that contained my life turned up at our front door. By then we had acquired a laptop and were connected to the rest of the world via broadband. My cousin sent me a link to the music portal raga.com. With a collection of music that spanned M.S.V to Udit Narayan and Illayaraja to Rafi, the website became a new link to life back home. As I unpacked and became reacquainted with old friends in the form of beloved coffee mugs and frayed quilts, setting up my new home I would listen to melodies that reminded me of all that I had left behind. Funnily enough, the flood of nostalgia didn’t plunge me in to a deep depression. Instead it lifted my flagging sprits and warmed me up during those cold winter months.
Two years have flown by faster than I would have thought possible and have seen me settle down in this country where the sun doesn’t shine often enough. The hollow feeling that was once in my stomach is gone though the odd pang does surface every now and then. And for those moments I have my songs. The 80s hits that bring back memories of sitting on my mother’s lap in our darkened family room and watching Rajni and Kamal. The opening strains to Chinna Chinna Aasai that are as delightful today as they were the very first time I listened to them. Millennium number 1’s that remind me of college days and endless rounds of antakshari. The song from Minnale that I sang to my husband at our nalangu (bless him for not cringing as my voice hit those higher notes).
A week ago I was walking down platform 11A at Kings Cross Station to catch the tube home. The engines of the train were rumbling away and a sweet breeze was blowing. I broke in to a song so spontaneously I took myself by surprise. It wasn’t homesickness that prompted me, just the pleasure of knowing one will be home soon.
‘Vellarika pinju vellarika, yenna paakama porale Chandirika…’