Gosh, has it really been so long? As always, I don't intend to stop writing, it's been an especially interesting time. There is much to catch up on so I'd best get started!
So, my last post was sharing my news of pregnancy and impending trip to the UK at the beginning of May. The end of April meant the beginning of the summer holidays here - 9 loooooong weeks of extreme heat, bored children and still trying to work is *fun* to say the least. Anyway, I had just one week of holidays before jetting off to the UK for my visit.
C and K planned to take a little holiday too, just a few days after I left, heading down to Kodaikanal which is a former hill-station about 8 hours drive South of Auroville. Each summer, Auroville youth (aged around 8-14) attend a nature camp there and a number of our friends were taking care of the kids so it seemed like a nice idea to tag along. Due to it's location, high in the mountains, the climate is much cooler and a perfect place to visit during the scorching summer months. It's also where C was born but that's beside the point...
On the morning of the 7th May, we headed to the snack bar for my goodbye breakfast - iddlies, vadai with sambar and coconut chutney. Delicious!
The taxi to Chennai airport was booked for around 3.30pm so we had a few hours together whilst I gathered my last minute items. It felt really surreal to be leaving my family, even if only for a few weeks. The taxi arrived and we bundled the bags in the boot and one last hug and kiss to C and K and I was off!
Both times that I visited and then left Auroville (in 2008 and 2012) I left with a lump in my throat and this time was no exception. I kept reminding my self that it was only for 3 weeks, how good it'd be to see my friends and family as well as how my boys would be fine without me. I guess a part of me was nervous about doing the trip alone too, having never flown alone before. Still, the occasional reassuring kick from baby stopped me from feeling too sad and I took in the view whizzing past as we went on our way.
It was peak Jackfruit season so we drove past many piles of these gigantic fruits for sale by the side of the road. I'm not a fan of their taste but I love how they look...
|Not my photo, just to give an idea of their size|
We arrived at Chennai airport around 6pm, somewhat earlier than expected due to a rustic shortcut from the driver. Still, it gave me a chance to get my bearings, work out where my luggage would be checked in and settle down to a snack and a read of my book. I was once again struck by how much these past 2 years have changed me, I'm so much braver, sure of myself and it's a nice thing to appreciate, I started to look forward to the next few hours of travel and see it as an adventure.
Finally around 9pm, with luggage checked in, we all boarded the plane. We took off just after 10pm in the smaller of the journeys, landing in Abu Dhabi at around 1am. This flight was on a smaller plane and there was a big family with about 6 kids, grandmother, husbands and wives in the seats next to me and one of the kids kept moving from seat to seat and generally being a nuisance. Having been awake since 6am that morning, I wasn't feeling so tolerant but reminded myself that at least I wasn't needing to be responsible for anyone but myself.
We landed in Abu Dhabi and had just enough time to find the next terminal for the next flight at 3am. Then off we went in our larger, more comfortable plane. As luck would have it, my seat planning had paid off (I chose isle seats near the toilet, a tip I got online for travelling when pregnant) and I share a row of 3 seats with a chap who sat by the window and promptly fell asleep meaning I had an extra seat, pillow and blanket for the journey (the same location on the flight home reaped the exact same arrangement).
Finally, 7.30am the following day, we landed in London and I was home! I thought about how when we left for Auroville in Sept 2013, I'd not known when I'd be back. With face washed and freshened up as much as one can do during a long haul flight, I entered the airport and into a new world where I was no longer in the minority. In India, I will always be a tourist due to my skin colour and in a number of ways, I don't mind that but it was nice to experience anonymity again, not to be presumed rich, not to be targeted by beggars. To be just another face in the crowd.
I got my luggage and made it to my coach with a minute to spare and then onto the next past of the journey, 3-4 hours drive up to Nottingham to see my grandparents. The journey was spent taking in the grey and green landscape and dozing. I arrived around 2pm (I think??) and met my grandparents who got me home where I could shower, change and rest. It was so nice to see them again after two years and a few Skype chats. I slept so well that night!
I was quite jet lagged those first two days but felt better for Sunday, when we had lunch with my aunt, cousin and her children. One last day with my grandparents and I was off onto the next stop across to my grandma and uncle who like just over an hour away. I spent a lovely 2 days with them, joking and laughing with my grandma and enjoying my uncle's company. We even took a nice stroll through the lush green fields which I found so stunningly vivid and bright. These family visits are usually accompanied by C and K so it was a fantastic experience to have my family 'all to myself' for these few days.
Almost a week after landing I said my goodbyes and headed on the first of 3 trains on my way to Somerset - my home for a large portion of my life. As the train pulled away I felt quite strongly that I might not see my grandparents again. After all when you live in India and earn the equivalent of around £60 a month, it's not easy to plan regular trips. I felt lucky to have had this chance to spend some quality time with them all. Anyway, I shook such morbid thoughts away and thought instead of seeing my sister, nephews and friends and how much fun it'd be.
My two weeks in Somerset were a bit of a blur compared to the slower pace of the first week. For a start, I didn't have a steady place to stay so spent a few night on sofas but was lucky that an old friend of mine rents a house but spends every other month away working and when he is home, he stays mostly with his girlfriend, another dear friend of mine. This meant I had an empty house for a good few days which gave me some respite in between the visits, chatting and socialising which was ideal since I'm somewhat introverted and need quiet time.
First stop was my sisters, it was so good to see her, her partner and my two cheeky nephews again. They were happy with the hand-carved wooden swords I had a friend in AV make for them!
The next day was spent seeing my group of closest friends, I was so happy to see how I just slotted back into my little circle as if I hadn't really been gone for nearly 2 years. Here we are (my sister with the red hair). Seeing my friends felt like the biggest thing that I missed in a number of ways. I have a few friends here but it's not the same and nothing beats a good laugh and the chance to talk rubbish with people who truly 'get' you. I'm very grateful to these lovely ladies for that.
I also thought I'd best have a 'full English' whilst I was away. This is the Weatherspoons veggie version cos' I am classy, innit.
Staying mainly at my friend's house meant a good 20-30 minute walk to get back into town so I did get plenty of exercise during my stay. This was quite a difference to life in India where I rarely walk anywhere preferring my bicycle or motorbike. It did me good though and I got to see a beautiful double rainbow for my efforts.
My walks also took me past some familiar places that somehow seemed more picturesque in my absence. Here is the beginning of the canal from the dock area.
King's Square, next to the council offices.
The canal from above
I also spent a couple of nights at another friend's parent's house. They live just outside of Bridgwater and have a stunning house and garden. We actually had our wedding reception in their field. It was another lovely experience, waking up to this view, eating freshly baked bread, meeting their new tortoise, seeing the garden in full bloom and spending time with my oldest friend and his two kids who came down to visit at the same time.
I also got to spend a day in Bristol to see another very dear friend of mine and C's. I love Bristol for it's culture, diversity and graffiti!
My friend and his 'wall of equations' as part of his studies :)
Nice bit of street art on our way to have dinner.
The night before I was due to fly back out, one of my favourite groups, Sheelanagig were playing at the Bridgwater Art centre. It was an opportunity not to be missed. As luck would have it, I entered a Facebook competition and won 2 tickets for the show! They have such a witty, foot stomping energy that it's impossible not to dance. We had such a fun evening. I've missed seeing regular gigs since moving away. There's not such a music scene here unless you live in a city so I've been starved of live music and enjoying a dance for too long!
The next day I was due to leave Bridgwater by coach at 1am. We managed to gather a good few people for lunch and it was such a lovely send off.
Then it was time for goodbyes and a final evening with my sister. It was strange saying goodnight and goodbye at the same time since I was leaving while they'd all be asleep. Despite feeling sad I was also looking forward to seeing my boys again. We'd managed a few Skype chats but I just wanted to be home with them again.
The journey home felt longer, I had been awake the whole day of the 31st May, travelled to London arriving in the morning of the 1st June and then landing back in Chennai at 5am on the 2nd. I left the airport dazed and fell into the taxi with my beautiful boys by my side who had woken at 2am to come pick me up. Here's the sunrise on my journey back to AV.
All in all, I had a heartwarming, joyful visit back home and one that I cherish for all the wonderful times spent with dear ones who I miss. It was also really good for me to have those 3 weeks apart from C and K. I think we all appreciate one another more as a result. It also assured me that AV is home to me now. Even if the average temperature of my first month back was 38 degrees, it's still home.
I'll be back soon with the next installment.