Monday, 12 May 2014

Canberra Calling

On a windy day last month, Shabdita and I moved to Canberra to start a PhD at the Australian National University. I was sobbing with apprehension, not sure if I was making a big mistake moving with a child younger than two, starting afresh in a new city. Vipul's job, unfortunately, is in Adelaide, and so we have become a three member family in two cities. He comes on weekends and whenever he can, and stays as long as possible. When he's not around, mostly on weekdays and sometimes on alternate weekends, I learn what it is like to be a single mom, and we both learn anew how much living together in one house means to us.
As I settled down in Canberra, the apprehension slowly turned into excitement. Yes, it is challenging to be on my own, whether it will be less or more difficult also depends to a large extent on what I make of it. I am really happy to be back in a University environment, and just walking around a University campus with Shabdita feels so good. I hope I pass on this sense of excitement to her; I hope that she is happy to be in an atmosphere of learning someday. There are logistical environments to be established. I need to get Internet at home, for example, which has currently become a task akin to climbing Mt. Everest. Yes, that's not entirely true. Climbing Mt. Everest is surely easier! Anyway, I am on my way to getting these things done and sorted. When I look back to last month, I can see that I have come a long way. Shabdita and I have a home and are working towards a routine. She comes into my office with me, which has toys and a table for her, and sometimes she lets me work while she plays!
What are the biggest lessons that I have learnt in the last month? First and foremost, I have learnt how much Vipul's presence matters to my life. It is but a half life, literally, when spent apart from him. I have also learnt that it is important for me to work,to have hopes and dreams and plans and goals. I have also learnt that I am stronger than I think I am, and I am not as much of a disaster in the domestic department as I thought I was. Food gets cooked, the house gets cleaned, the laundry gets done and the dishes get washed. The house has not fallen apart. I think living on my own revealed to me the beauty of self reliance. As long as there is one more person in the house, there is always something that you think the other person will do. Now I don't have that mental luxury any more. Shabdita is not really cleaning up yet! I've realised that rather than think 'X (or V in my case!) needs to do this', it is not just simpler to do it yourself, but also more satisfying. After throwing out the trash, killing insects and cleaning up after dead insects, I realise that normally I would have waited or nagged for these things to be done. It is incredibly liberating, for I now feel that these things do not matter at all. Chores get done. They are not worth arguing or getting worked up about. Doing them everyday has a rhythm of its own and can become comforting and even beautiful if you want to see them that way.
I have also enjoyed getting to know Canberra. It is a quirky city that takes some getting used to. Its combination of roundabouts, greenery and sector-like suburbs makes me feel as if I'm back in Gandhinagar again. It is slow and sparsely inhabited, and again this requires an attitudinal adjustment. I've heard people complain that there is nothing to do here, and I've had difficulty motivating myself to leave the University to return to my empty house. The house is filling up now, and my books and Shabdita's toys will arrive soon from Adelaide, and then the house will be populated with old and new friends. Even now, it is the leaving that is difficult. Once we are home, I have the radio playing (no Internet so no Bollywood music, sadly) and the whistling kettle on the stove. As my make dinner, Shabdita plays around. Often she wants to be carried and see what I am up to. She babbles alongside the radio, and is definitely more entertaining. Some nights she is full of energy, running around, babbling, dancing and trying to jump. Some nights she falls asleep soon, and I curl up next to her under the warm duvet, reading until I fall asleep. I like this pace of life. I must be officially old, but I think such an evening is a wonderful one, and the only thing missing is Vipul to talk to. I like not having a tv any more, and am planning not to get one. I want to try other things, which I shall update here as and when vagary strikes.
One thing that I'm very grateful for is the kindness of strangers. In my very first week here, desperately house hunting, I ordered a coffee and then couldn't find the card in my purse. I was already exhausted and started blabbering to the owner 'I can't find my card. I'll call my husband on the mobile and he can read out his card number to you, that you can fill out. I'm sorry. It's just one of those days' even while dialing the phone to Vipul, who was not able to take a call then. A woman walked up to the counter and paid for my coffee. Once Shabdita and I were in the bus and it started raining heavily outside. On top of that, she sneezed and that too more than once. The girl sitting next to me asked me 'when you get off, do you want my umbrella?'. At another time, Shabdita and I were caught in a sudden burst of rain and made a dash from the car park to my office building. A woman who was about to start her car rushed out and insisted on giving us her umbrella. When I told her I only needed to get till the building, she personally escorted us to the building, holding the umbrella over us like a protective charm, which is what it was. To all these women, thank you. Your kindness has warmed up this cold city for me. A note, especially for the grandparents: I have an umbrella and I now carry it everywhere. I wouldn't let Shabdita get wet, so please do not worry.
This had to be saved for the last. In Canberra, when a bus reaches the final stop, the announcement inside the bus reads thus "This bus, on arrival at the next stop, terminates. Please disembark.' I get a mental image of a bus, empty after the passengers have disembarked, exploding in a flash of self-pity, a la Marvin the paranoid android. Ah, bureaucratic town. Wouldn't it have been simpler to just say 'The next stop is the final one' and leave me without visions of exploding buses in my head?!