Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Music for the home sick soul

(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…’

27 comments:

Vivek said...

this is my first visit to your blog and I must admit after having read countless emigrant experiences, this one sounds very honest and real. ( I have not even boarded a plane, let alone go abroad)..I truly agree with you where songs transport you to a different time and you become oblivious of your surroundings....will read all you archives now!!

F e r r a r i said...

Excellent. By the way nalangu la 'minnale' paata? Technology has improved very much!

neha vish said...

I loved this post Shoefi. Could relate to so much of it.

blogger said...

"The hollow feeling that was once in my stomach is gone though the odd pang does surface every now and then." - how long did it take u to reach this stage?? !'ve been here for the past 6 mnths..but I still long for the familiarity of the place I call home!

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Vivek - thanks!

Ferrari - :D

Neha - Thank you

Blogger - I mailed you - are you still in London? We should meet!

Just Mohit said...

Even though I do not understand Tamil, I can totally relate to the feelings. We arrived in UK in Feb, not knowing a soul here, and spent the first week in utter despondency! Once i got a laptop & a cd player, our cd's kept us from depression!

Anonymous said...

Good one. Strangely enough I have been away from home so long now that when I go back I miss the feeling of *knowing the place. I feel lost there. Esp since my parents moved here and I mainly go to my in-laws place now in Bangalore...somehow walking around there makes me wish I had never left India in the first place. I wonder if I lived there for a year if I will once again start feeling at home there...

MumbaiGirl said...

Your post brought tears of recognition. By "home soon" do you mean you're going back to India?

Anonymous said...

*hugs*

lol @ Ferrari...was just gonna comment on that myself :D

JK said...

been reading ur blog for quite sometime.could relate so much to ur current post!! channel vectone,vellarika song oh what a coincidence! I only feel that u r in a better position than I am cos I live in a german speaking land and my initial days were sheer mandai kaayal!!

Siri said...

Wonderful post. Very honest. But one question - whats nalangu?

Anonymous said...

Hi this one might be strange to you but I can not relate to your site.. i guess it has got a lot to do with your childhood.. mine was full of nightmares and sometimes when i interact with my family it still is.. so, i guess i have blocked out all thoughts associated with "home".. feel totally at peace whenever am unidentified and in a strange land where I can be me.. with nobody commenting,correcting, comparing..

Orchid said...

First time here. Thanks for summarizing that so well for all of us who decided to leave home and make another country our home. I can relate to most things but not the "sun does not shine often enough" part.....I moved to Texas. Go, figure!

newatthis said...

I have been an avid reader of your blog, I figured it was time to stop being lazy and to let you know that I absolutely love it. Your honesty comes through every single time!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh.. that was so well written.

I could feel myself being swept off to England... well, almost, as I'm sitting in my office.

But, yeah, I can totally relate.

Szerelem said...

that is such a wonderful post shoefie...enough said

Anonymous said...

that is a wonderful post for someone like me who is going through the same experience..although i dont feel like confessing am homesick!!!

DesiGirl said...

ahh, been there, shoefi - can understand how you feel. My lifeline was musicindiaonline.com!! It's funny how music can uplift you and transport you from the darkest of places, isn't it? I was travelling deep into Essex last week with A R Rahman was blaring in my ears and I had this surreal feeling of being in England but not really - if you know what I mean!

Akira said...

Very well written. Could visualize every bit of it...glad that music saved your soul :)

WA said...

The experiences and the times were totally different, but same hollow feelings though :)

Ravages said...

Bravo!

Ravages said...

Compelled to leave one more comment. This is incredible a post. Before I exhaust my woefully short collection of adjectives, bravo.

And loved the IE piece. Laughed at all the right places, and continued to, after it ended.

Dog's Best Friend said...

Not for a moment during the initial months did you tell me how it really was out there...I just had to guess that it must be tough...But i have to say I've never met a person who adapts as well as you do...you don't just resign yourself to things - you embrace them...:-)

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Ello all! Being home sick is pretty much the same for everyone I guess... we all just deal with it in different ways - chocolate, music, hiding under the duvet hoping that when you come out you'll be magically transported back home. Oh well.

San said...

Shoe fiend that was a touching post, even though i don't really relate to that feeling as i've never lived in any other country other then UK but your post best describes what my parents felt when they first arrived here.

Shilpa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shilpa said...

Loved this post. I have been here for a little over 2 months and can completely identify with all that you've described..i wish i reach the two-year stage much much sooner though.