Let me tell you a little about my childhood. I grew up in a non-cosmopolitan building (where I still live), with neighbors who were either cuckoo or musical geniuses. Dogs were called Waffles and Rufus. Grandmas wore dresses and earlobe-length hair and said things like “Hi dearie!” and “Good day-good luck” to you as you drove off to school. Ma sang me English songs from the ‘60s as lullabies and Mozart serenaded us at lunch on Sundays at my Daddy’s insistence. His inner coterie included Beethoven, Brahms and Liszt, and Strauss was my favorite uncle from toddlerhood.
I knew what scones were at 6 but found out what dalia is at 28. Hindi movies were banned at home. I saw my first at 11 and it did nothing for me. At 31, they still don’t. Since my early years were spent under the omnipotence of good old Doordarshan, apart from some “acceptable” telly serials, my idiot box entertainment flew in from London, courtesy Dad’s best friend. So ask me about Kermit and Miss Piggy, Benny Hill, the Two Ronnies and the Royal Variety Entertainment Performance and I’ll chirp away excitedly. Tell me about S.D. Burman and I’ll nod. But mostly only because you’ll judge me for not having a clue.
Until 10, the world was Enid Blyton. Every book re-read in double digits. Queen Elizabeth was “aapri Rani” to my grandparents’ generation. We still have a “Rani ni cupboard” that’s nine feet tall and dates back to the early ‘20s with ye olde grand dame’s face engraved on it. And a dumb waiter that’s about as old. Adi Kaka, the granduncle who lived with us, demolished all finger foods with a knife and fork and my brother carries on that legacy. Nana rang for her tea at 3 p.m. sharp and the tea cozies she used were hand embroidered by Aloo Mami with the classic “Mudum” with a parasol in an English garden. My clothes and shoes were frequently sent over from Kent and I remember the musical Mickey Mouse tee and the red plaid dress that could only be worn at the peak of Bombay winters and the ballerina flats with detachable bows.
I went to a school named after an English Queen and am still the member of a club named after a Princess. My literature teacher in senior school worshipped Shakespeare. So Marc Antony’s speech was to be blazed through in our sleep. And Venice and Verona were the backyard, never mind Virar and Vasai closer home. So. Bloody. Angrez.
If I haven’t alienated you already with what sounds like a bizarre life to lead in 1980s India, then hear out why I’m telling you this.
After 31 years of hearing paeans to London and having it brought to me, I will finally be setting foot on the land that has so shaped my community, my family and, of course, my country. As Indian as I feel—and I very strongly do—my upbringing has had me at the receiving end of remarks such as “Angrez chale gaye, tumhe chhod gaye.”
So I’m off. To see where so much of it filtered down from, the monuments and towers hitherto seen in snow globes and family pictures, to hear Sir Colin Davis conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in its home city, to be fussed over by my surrogate parents, to watch The Lion King at the West End, to dance to Celtic music in Eire, where my Aunt comes from, to meet college pals and university pals, twitter friends and blogger friends, wear scarves and jackets and all kinds of pretty, step back, let loose and unwind, however I please. For One. Whole. Delicious. Month.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I’ve had a fairly privileged life, but this vacation, my friends, has never been more richly deserved. Or needed. To say I’m thrilled is an understatement. I only hope I don’t squish a stewardess to death in excitement as I embark at Heathrow. Three days and I’ll be gone. And hope to bring the rain back with me. Big hugs to all of you. And throw in some respect when you send them back, y’hear? You’re now in the presence of a mem.